The International Writers
On the Road
Friendly Young Man
I remember I first spotted him standing behind the store, smoking
a cigarette. He had spotted me first, as I quickly made my way
to the clothes dumpster, which was overflowing with discarded
goods. It was the thrift stores dumpster, and no doubt this
employee had been helping to fill it. I didnt spot him until
I had my hand on top of the pile of clothing. When I saw him,
I pulled my hand back, though I knew it was too late. I knew I
wasnt supposed to be digging in the dumpster; there was
probably a sign around there somewhere. Yet he didnt protest
or wave me off; he smiled and gave me a little wave. Then he stepped
on his cigarette butt and came over to me.
I greeted him and then motioned at the black plastic bag Id set
on the ground, as if that explained things.
thought Id see if I could find a t-shirt or two, I said. I
had my backpack stolen the other day and all my clothes with it.
that sucks, he said, shaking his head. Go ahead, take what
you need. Most of its womens and kids stuff, I think.
I went through some of the clothes, I told him I had just gotten into
town that afternoon. I was on a summer tour of the area, hitchhiking and
walking, and I had sweated through the one t-shirt I had. I really could
use a couple t-shirts and some socks if there were any in the bin.
just traveling around, huh? The smile was back. He was a good looking
kid, even with the pimples on his face. On his chin was the start of a
beard. He was quite thin and his shoulders looked bony in his t-shirt.
His light blue eyes, along with the smile, gave him a kind look.
Ive never been through this part of the country, I answered,
giving him the brightest smile I could manage, though I didnt feel
bright and enthusiastic. It had been a long hot day and I felt sunburned
and worn down. Id been on my way to look for a place to rest for
the night when I saw the store. I thought it would be nice to put on some
clean clothes, if they were just sitting there for the taking. Ive
been staying as close to the lake as I can. In fact, I figure Im
pretty close to it now. Meaning Lake Erie.
lakes about four miles that way, he said, pointing in the
direction I was heading.
him if there were any parks near it, where I could camp for the night.
He wasnt sure if there was any place I could legally camp, but at
this point, I wasnt concerned with legalities.
sure youll find someplace down there, he said. Once
you get by all the businesses on this road. But its a long way.
He shook his head, not envying my position, and I guessed that I might
have looked as hot and bothered as I felt. You could catch a bus,
if it was earlier. But they stopped running at six.
I figured it was at least seven by now, seeing the sun just over the tree
line in the west. Another hour of steady walking and Id have gone
most of the distance to the lake. I wasnt having much luck with
the clothes pile I searched and I thought I might have to hoist myself
up on the side of the dumpster, in order to dig deeper. Yet before I did
that, the young man told me to hold on.
is it you need? Shirts, socks? I nodded my head. How bout
pants and a jacket? A sweatshirt?
him a pair of pants and a sweatshirt would be much appreciated.
at him and shook my head.
can only carry so much in this bag.
might be able to find you a bag. Just sit over here for a bit while I
pointed out an old wooden chair next to the back door of the store.
got all kinds of stuff that just came in today, he explained. Most
of it hasnt even been looked at yet. Ill fix you up.
Before he went inside, he asked if I would like a drink of water. You
look like you got burned pretty good in that sun.
the drink, too. With relief, I sat down and stretched my legs. They had
browned up from my full summer days outside, but my face kept peeling
and burning. Id used up the last of my skin lotion about a week
before and couldnt afford anymore. I couldnt afford anything
at that moment, being dead broke. As I walked along that day, Id
stopped in at numerous businesses, looking for any kind of job for cash,
but had been unsuccessful. At this point in the day, Id given up
on that. I felt too tired to do any kind of work.
still a little angry with myself for having lost my pack and all my things
two days earlier, when I had money and I got too drunk. I had blown all
the cash and woken up with just the clothes on my back. Yet I figured
the story of a theft would get me more sympathy than the truth.
kid came back out with the water and a candy bar.
didnt know if you were hungry, but
a matter of fact, I was, and the candy would have the sugar I needed for
another hours walk. After he stepped back inside, I ate it in three
bites and guzzled the water. I thought that it would be nice to reach
the lake that night, but it wasnt essential. I could sleep on some
cardboard behind a business if I had to. I wished I still had my mosquito
spray I could have used it the night before - but that had gone
with the pack.
ten minutes later, he stepped out the door again with a large brown paper
bag full of clothes. There were t-shirts, pants, socks, a sweatshirt,
even a blanket.
tried to find a backpack, but all of those are up front. But I did get
you a couple more garbage bags.
very kind, I said.
they have so much stuff back there, they cant put it all in the
noticed a big truck parked near the building and I asked him if that was
when someone wants to donate furniture or something like that, he
stuffed the brown bag into my bigger plastic one. I would go through the
stuff later. It was actually too much to carry, but I wouldnt let
him see me making my selections. He had made me feel better with his generosity,
and I needed a boost like this at the end of a trying day. It made me
feel better about people in general.
young man asked me what my plans were for when the summer was over and
I couldnt tell him for certain. I shrugged and grinned.
some place south for the winter. Ive heard it can get pretty cold
it gets cold. And we get some snow, too. You dont want to be camping
out, thats for sure. He laughed.
I gotta go where the weather suits my clothes.
is it getting rides?
been pretty fortunate so far. I try to look as clean as I can.
look like someone from college.
hear that a lot. But its okay with me if it works.
thought about doing something like that. Im not sure which way I
would go if I did. He smiled again.
pick a direction, I said, with a shrug. See where the road
takes you. Thats what Im doing now. No set plan.
he probably had to get back to work, and I asked him what time he got
thats not so bad.
its a pretty easy job.
him again and said that Id better head on my way before it got dark.
I slung the Santa sack over my shoulder.
man, you broke? he asked. Here, its all I got, but you
can get yourself a soda and a burger or something. He had a few
bills rolled in one hand, held out to me.
at him and shrugged.
sure could use it, I said, accepting the gift.
a problem, man. You take care of yourself. Enjoy the lake.
his hand and then was off, with some new energy in my step. A serious,
intelligent young man, I thought. A kid with some heart. If he had the
nerve to go with it, he might just do something like this one of these
days. If he did, I hoped someone would take care of him, as he had just
done for me.
© Mike Blake
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