Travels 23: I Meet Jade, The Young Hobo

You who live on the road, must have a code that you can live by.

Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Teach Your Children”

We were just west of Tulsa.  We needed gas.  Mariam needed the Ladies Room and I needed to get out of the car and see if my right leg could actually function again…as a limb of mine, that is.  There was the beginning of a disconnect between my right hip, thigh and calf and the rest of my body.  They were more intimate with the gas pedal than with the rest of my skeleton.

I also needed a baked potato.  At least that’s what I planned to have as a side for dinner this evening.  I had eyed a sign for Wendy’s, which, unlike Burgher King, carries a variety of them, mostly dripping with Velveeta.

As we pulled off I-44, I did some serious multi-tasking.  Professional multitaskers like attorneys, brain surgeons and private school parents would have been proud of me.  I was keeping an eye on the left fender of the R-Pod to make sure it didn’t come in contact with the Jersey barriers on the exit ramp.  My eyes flicked to the right rear-view mirror to ensure that there was no Oakie trying to pass me on the right.  I was flying New York State plates and you never knew what the locals would think of the Yank exiting on the west side of Tulsa.  I was also checking the left mirror for signs of a semi that had plans on using the same exit but whose brakes had failed and was bearing down on me at the legal highway speed of 75 mph.  That kind of experience could ruin a whole day.

Hey, it’s happened.  You have to be ready for such things when you’re an experienced Road Warrior like me with some hard traveling under his K-Mart military-style belt.  I mean I still had dust in my hair from a diner parking lot somewhere east of Kingman, Arizona.

All of this was happening while I tried to connect with the slightly sexy female computer voice on our GPS that was telling me what to do.  When the programmers put her voice into the internet/satellite system, they took a young pretty voice model and layered her intonation with mid-western wildflower honey.  We call her Moxie.  She’s available at the touch of a button, like an escort at an Atlantic City casino hotel.  Yet, all she ever does is tell you where to go.

I know marriages like that.

I was sitting at the red-light at the end of the ramp when I saw them.

Two of them.  A young man and woman walked across the road just in front of my car.  They carried backpacks and each had a dog on a leash.  I noticed an overstuffed teddy bear sticking out of the woman’s coat pocket.  It was the yellow-ness of the toy that caught my eye.

Look, run-a-ways, I said to Mariam.

No, just kids traveling, she said.

Two older teens with dogs don’t walk the roadways anywhere near Tulsa, I thought.  My imagination kicked in.

She’s pregnant, I said.  They’re running away from unaccepting parents.  In a few miles they’ll be at a friend’s house.

The light changed.  I pulled slowly around the corner and looked for an entrance to the Conoco gas station that was attached to the Wendy’s.  The young run-a-ways were nowhere in sight.

You gas up, I’ll get the spud, I said to Mariam.  We’ll take turns for the rest rooms.

I ordered my potato (baked, with chives and sour cream on the side…we’d add cheddar later)  To go, please.

I stepped back to wait for my order.  Someone stepped to my side.  I backed up against the stack of “Happy Meal” boxes.  I know that’s MacDonald’s, but hey).  I knocked one over.  I replaced it to the top of the pile.  As I bent down, I noticed the woman next to me was wearing military boots.  As I stood to replace the box, something in her coat pocket caught my eye.  It was a very yellow stuffed animal.  It was her!  It was the pregnant run-a-way.

She looked at me and smiled.  Her big eyes were made even bigger by the blue eye shadow she was wearing.  She was holding a chocolate smoothie.

Hi, I said, I just saw you back down the road a moment ago.  You’re traveling, I said.  I think I heard her say “duh” under her breath.  Yeah, she said, my husband and I are going to California…that’s him across the street.  She nodded with her slightly spiked hair.

And then she dropped the bomb on me.  They were going to California ALONG ROUTE 66!

I was looking into her eyes, not the eyes of a pregnant girl on the run, but a real child of the road.  No, not a child (she was older than I expected) and she was willing to tell me her story.  We went to a corner and she told me how she was born near Tacoma, not far from where my daughter, Erin, lives.  She said her name was Jade.  I felt rushed.  Her husband was waiting with the dogs across the road.  Mariam had finished tanking up with the gas, but I couldn’t let her just walk away.  I wanted to listen to more of her story…her sad story.  I filled in the blanks between the facts she told me.  She was married and had three kids.  Divorce.  Trouble.  Back and forth to Tacoma.  A disjointed life.

I asked, if she didn’t mind, could I ask her a personal question.  She said no problem.

Are you on the road because of necessity or just a long walk to California for the experience.  Both, she replied.

We plan on getting some work in Texas and save enough for a van to get the rest of the way.  She held up her Smoothie; this is lunch for the two of us, she said.

I hope you’re keeping a journal, I said.  This is an experience of a life-time.  She said that when it was over, they would be settling in California and planned on writing a sociology book about the people they met along the way.

I knew we had to go.  We moved toward the door.  I fished out a few dollars and handed the wadded bills to her and told her to have the next meal on me.  I asked if I could take her picture.  She said yes.  We walked to the car and I introduced her to Mariam.  Jade made a strong point that they were not Rainbow Kids.  I asked what a Rainbow Kid was.  She said that they were the young that were on the road (where? I thought) but they worked the system and always wanted a hand-out.  I calculated that these Rainbows could be the age of my grandchildren…the grandchildren of the ’60s hippies.  They (Jade and her husband) stayed clean and followed the Hopi Prophecies.  I looked her in the eyes and they looked clean and clear and bright.

We parted.  I honked to them as we pulled back onto I-44.

So, I’ve been looking for the drifters and the lonely along my journey.  I have been looking for unshaven sun-burnt men.  But they passed along Route 66 sixty years ago.  Then, they were fresh out of the army, families heading west, following the sunsets and hoping the new sun would rise on a better life.  Now, they’re out there again.  But, I wondered, were they ever NOT out there?  Did I stay too close to home to see the lives of people leaning against trees and fences, split-rail fences.  Or, did I just have too many maps in my collection?  Maps and Atlases that had colored lines and little dots on them.  When you see the world that way, as I did for so many years, you forget that along those colored lines, cars speed along and people roam.  And, in those little dots, in the big cities, small towns and the crossroads, old men still sat under cottonwood trees and diners smelled of real grease.

I had met the children of the children of the children of John Steinbeck.

This is Jade.


Travels 21: You Can Still Get Some Kicks On Route 66

We’re tucked away at an RV park in Albuquerque.  I can feel the shadow of Jesse Pickham and Walter White all around me.  I stopped at the check-in desk and asked where I could get a local newspaper.  She gave me directions.

I’ll bet you get a lot of questions about “Breaking Bad” from the tourists, I said.

Mostly foreigners, she said.  Americans don’t seem to care too much.

Any nearby places that were made famous, like the car wash? I asked.

I wouldn’t know, she said.  I didn’t watch the show.  People here say the show will make or break this city.

I thought about it, thanked her and went for the paper.  Ok, the show did highlight the dark side of the place…

Moments later, I passed by a prostitute closing a deal with a guy with a white beard (wasn’t me).  I went to the store to get the paper and a woman pushed ahead of me in the check-out line.  She had the body type of Calista Flockhart on an uncontrolled diet.  She didn’t even say sorry.  I looked at her well-worn face.  She may have had a molar somewhere inside her mouth…but I wasn’t going to look.

Ever since Kingman, Arizona, our route, I-40, wove back and forth along the historic Route 66.  I decided we should drive along a stretch of the classic old highway of Americana that went roughly from Chicago to Southern California.  Most of it is gone.  It turned into I-40, or was simply torn up and forgotten (by some).  I even ran across several sets of Burma-Shave signs.  The part we were on was the actual stretch of the historic road.  I know that because the signs said “Historic Route 66” at several exits.  The route is not much more than a service road for I-40 for most of the distance.  But if you’ve followed these stories I’ve done the trip, I wanted to see the “real” USA, and not from an Interstate.  So, you get off onto a “historic” road and are immediately confronted (smothered, really) by the “nostalgia” shops.  These places were filled with Coke signage, Harley plates, James Dean mugs and American flags.  Even refrigerator magnets!  I mean, really.  What would the hobos of old think of buying a refrigerator magnet with Route 66 on it?  They could barely afford a cuppa joe.  I stood looking at the assortment of post cards and key chains…all devoted to a bygone era.

You should know me by now.  And you know I’m fascinated by the lost and the lonely people who roamed the dirt roads (and Route 66’s) since the late 19th century.  I wanted to come face to face with Tom Joad and look him straight in the face.  I would look his wife straight in the face.  It’s like the Stones’ song…Mick Jagger sings: “Well, you know what kind of eyes she’s got…she’s got those faraway eyes.”

But, with the overabundance of faux-rural history, there were still places alongside the road that spoke to me.  I’d like to say they screamed to me…but they were too tired to even whisper.  “I’ve got a story.  I have a history.  People lived in me.  Guys named Bud changed oil in my ruins, while lying on their back on scorching concrete.  Men drank too much in my upstairs room, out in back where he could look out on the broken desert-like landscape.  Women welcomed drifters in order to have a warm night of closeness against an unshaved cheek.  Children played on tire swings in yards strewn with bottles and wrenches.  There’s hardly anything left of my walls, the paint has faded and the dust blows through broken windows and doors ajar.  But, don’t drive by me!  Stop and look at me.  I was something once…once upon a time.  Take my picture with your Brownie.  Take several, because once I’ve fallen, I won’t get up.”

I sped past these places and where it was safe, I stopped and photographed the ghosts.

Then we arrived in Holbrook, Arizona.  Yes, the check-in guy said, there’s some old places if you take a right on Yuma Drive.

So we did take that right.  And in about a mile, there it was.  The famous, Wigwam Motel.  There were vintage cars parked in front of the units that were actually constructed like wigwams, and you could rent one for the night.

Now that’s traveling in class.

But, it’s been a long trip and home is still over 1500 miles away.  It’s time to end this adventure soon, perhaps in about ten more days of driving.  Don’t laugh, you can only go so fast pulling a ton and a half of stuff.

Yes, I’d like to get home.  I can’t wait to attach my Route 66 magnet to my refrigerator.


Travels 12: A Rest Farewell

And though the line is cut,

It ain’t quite the end,

I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again.

—Bob Dylan “A Restless Farewell”

I’m sitting at Erin’s breakfast table composing the final post of our visit to Orting.  In an hour or so we will be on our way homeward.  The route back is going to be much different.  We’re heading down the Oregon coast for a few days, then into Northern California, Death Valley, Monument Valley (remember the John Ford westerns with John Wayne?).

On the way to Orting, each hour was just that many fewer miles between the R-Pod and Elias.  Now, each hour takes me farther away.

Thanks to the reasonable heads that reopened the Federal Government (and National Parks) late last night.  As far as I’m concerned, the Tea Party can go back to their districts and spin their loss any way they would like.  They failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in a way that made the USA the laughing-stock of the educated and informed world.  I’m glad to put this disaster behind me.  Our only real remaining obstacle now is to get through Tioga Pass and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the highway is closed.  But these challenges are in front of us.  What’s behind us?  What will I remember about our visit?

The answer is far too long to answer in this short space.  We had a wonderful time here.  Elias has made progress even in the time we were here.  He is pulling himself up to a standing position with no effort at all.  I watched as he enjoyed story time at the local library.  I carved a scary pumpkin for him.  And, I’ve seen him meet new people with my wife’s special friend, Maureen and her husband who live in Seattle.

But all was not glory.  We made a drive to see the Olympic Peninsula but I wasn’t feeling that great so we returned after one night by a road that took us over the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge (where a previous bridge collapsed due to wind shear back in the 1940’s).  We never made it to Forks where the “Twilight” books are set.  But there were plenty of signs of the occult and esoteric in places like Port Townsend.

I must say that I did enjoy riding my bike for a few minutes along the Foothills Bike Path, until my front tire blew out.  It’s a good thing that I was wearing my helmet because when I fell my head came within two inches of an un-mowed patch of grass!

I also regret having a real coffee from one of those cute little cafes that serve one’s lattes from a drive-thru window.  These shacks seem to be particular to the Northwest.  I actually did stop at a few of these…but not the ones where the female baristas where bikinis.  Personally, I am offended by such a practice.  It is so not politically correct.  The male baristas should be made to wear bikinis as well…just sayin’.

So, now I’m off on the final leg of the journey.  Adventure calls.  Strange things will be seen.  I’ll even be driving part of the old Route 66, where I hope to get my kicks.

Friends and readers, more posts will be coming your way soon.  So, sit back and enjoy.

This time I’ll be following the rising sun.