4. next

Two themes have emerged thus far– the coffee summit and the cross country hitchhike. Which way to go? Both, neither, either. The coffee shop has its daily visitors and the daily babble. I have to be careful about revealing Joel the lawyer, whom I recently consulted on the inheritability of coffee reward points. I have been after the barristas to transfer (other customers’) unused coffee reward points to my account. Some folks  have accumulated 600 plus, which means that they have spent $600 without cashing out from the rough and tumble game of caffeine consumption. I use my points as I rack them up because I would not want to be hit by a truck and leave them behind, unknown and unused. Seems logical to me. Joel informed me the other day that coffee reward points are “intangible personal property that can be valued at current market value and indeed left in one’s estate, thereby also being taxable under the Pennsylvania inheritance tax laws” (since the coffee shop is located in Pennsylvania).  Which sure takes the fun out of it all. However, if one simply transfers these points while one is living, no taxes need to be paid. They are like coupons or discounted prices. It’s comforting to know useless information sometimes. You feel less guilty after forgetting it, unlike forgetting how to figure the area of right triangles or the other one that starts with iso–. I’m not going to look up the spelling at this moment. See how the fickle stream of thought meanders around, following the path of least resistance?

Returning to the summit would require examination and concentration; the shoulds and shouldn’ts would kick in. Getting back into the flow of the hitchhiking story would put me in Nashville after two days of standing around major highways and riding in a lot of Volkswagen Beetles. But I wound up in Nashville, 1978 and was exhausted. It was not the first night I’d pushed through without sleep, but it was the first one spent standing in the rain and dark along a highway. I found the Sam Davis hotel somehow. It was large and couldn’t have  been very expensive. I slept the night…it would have been Saturday, and got back on the road on Sunday morning.

Of course another gay fellow picked me up. He was 18 I think. I was 21. No, we didn’t get jiggified. He was leaving his boyfriend’s place and driving home to Arkansas, which is across the Mississippi River if you are geographically challenged. I can’t recall his name, but he was dejected to be leaving his guy behind and wanted to chat with me, I guess. He could talk and I could listen, so off we went. He rewound his entire  high school experience for me, including being outed just before his performance as leading guy in the high school spring drama production. The most beautiful and popular girl in the school, and his close friend, of course, played his leading lady.  They had to kiss in one scene and it was more than many in the community could endure. Somehow they adjusted the scene to spare the sensibilities of the Arkansas audience. His other stories have faded over time, but he was a nice guy. Before he drove north and I continued west, we stopped at a restaurant and, no kidding, he got his high school yearbook out of his trunk and we sat on his bumper thumbing through his recent glory days. No shock, no surprise this time. Just a lit up Southern young man who was excited to be alive.  Amen.

I think the next ride I got was with an oilman in his Lincoln Mark IV. He’d had so many heart attacks, he told me, that he could not fly in an airplane. As a result he drove hundreds of thousands of miles in luxury cars. “No one would believe the kind of miles I put on my vehicles, and I don’t tell them at trade in time either.” 600 miles we covered. He bought me lunch and just wanted to talk to someone. Told me all about his family. How he’d sold the family home after his wife died. His kids got so mad at him that he had to buy it back. He was ready to move on but they weren’t.  He told me some dark stories about the bottom of life also. I’ll spare you those.

Somewhere in Oklahoma, I believe, he let me off. I hated to get out of an airconditioned luxury car only to stand still and sweat by the side of the highway. But it had to be done.

One of my next drivers was a drunk man who stopped and asked me if I had a valid driver’s license. When I showed him my then valid Virginia license, he said, “Drive” and got in the back seat with his whiskey. I felt oddly proprietary and careful of the vehicle. I drove for two or three hours until our ways split. He told me to pick up an honest looking hitcher to replace myself. I did. After a brief interview, my replacement drove this pathetic man away into his blackout.

Two paths diverged in the yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by.



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