Back to my own on the road story, I was headed due west across Oklahoma, trying to stay on Route 40. It must have been daylight but my memory maintains that it was dark when a heavy set guy in a low slung Cadillac slowed down for me. He was bearded and rough looking. Told me he was heading to Chicago, just got out of prison, so he said. I believed him and wondered what might happen to me and my little backpack. He was a jailhouse philosopher, though. Just a big guy with big appetites. I think he talked about Neitzche and drugs. He had been in a Texas prison for something drug related. Might have been New Orleans, though. He could not drive fast enough to leave prison in the dust behind us. But I wondered as we sped along just what he might be inclined to do if a cop tried to stop him. Oooh. Not a good combination. And where do you get a Cadillac right out of jail? I needed to stop asking myself these questions. I was moving on toward my goal– Long Beach, California and my lovely, lithe tanned girlfriend. Yes, forget the Chicago mafia and a Godfather-type shoot out at a toll booth. These would lead to anxiety, anxiety would shrink my bladder, necessitating a bathroom stop and an opportunity to shoot me.
We drove on for a few hours without incident. The guy was actually very considerate and made sure I knew where I was pointed when he dropped me off at his turning point north. This is why my memory splits. The next ride, as I recall, was a young guy in a souped up Camaro. He and I drove west toward Oklahoma City as the sun was setting. It was a Sunday night, I’m sure. The kid was whacked out, but the road was wide open for the first hour of our drive. He bragged about his car and his police encounters. Told me he was going into the Army soon so he didn’t have to go to jail. “The only thing faster than my car is radar”, he bragged as we barreled along at 100 mph. I thought is was great to go that speed until we started to have some traffic on the road. He never slowed down. He just swerved and ran out on the shoulder lane to pass trucks pulling boats and campers coming back from a weekend at the lake. He turned to me and said, “Now it’s time for mah devil drivin'”. He stayed in the shoulder lane and terrorized law abiding drivers as he passed them on the right. My stomach grew knotted. I was sure that this ride would not end well. He told me that he wasn’t going to jail and would run if a cop showed up. At that point I thanked him very much for the ride and begged him to let me out on the shoulder. He complied and roared away. Jacked up and crazier than hell on wheels. My faith in God was briefly buttressed by the nut speeding west toward sure destruction. Crazies like that help affirm less crazy people’s faith in God.
It took a long while before someone saw me and slowed down. I was east of Oklahoma City but alive, so I didn’t complain. It was dark by now and I began to think of where I’d sleep or if I’d go all night like I had in North Carolina. I walked to a gas station/restaurant and called home. My mom told me that the new Pope of just a few days had died. Wow, that’s what you get for electing octogenerians to run a worldwide church. Finally a guy in his 40’s pulled over in a GM four door. Very forgettable car. This guy was from Ohio, Dayton, I think. Worked for Firestone Tires, so he told me, and when the business slowed down he jumped at a chance to go on paid leave for a year. He was on the leave and heading west for I don’t know what. Vegas maybe. He was a Catholic, as I was at the time. Somewhere along our ride I said, “Hey, did you hear that the Pope died?” He said, “Is that some kind of joke? He died a week ago.” I tried to tell him that the new Pope had just died that day. He had a hard time believing me till he turned on his radio and confirmed it. It’s never a good idea to be one up on your host driver, so I tried to talk about the process of Pope making and how they elect one. The papal schism of the Middle Ages. Words that rhyme with Pope– soap, rope, dope. It was awkward and I prayed to God that this brooding dude was not a psychopathic killer or even an even-tempered killer. I hadn’t killed the Pope, but I had brought him the bad news.
We drove into the night and the Texas panhandle. Very, very late we decided to split a cheap hotel room in Amarillo. Awkward again. One bed. I slept on the floor, which I think bothered the guy. “Hey, you paid for this bed as much as I did”, he said. I didn’t want to tell him about my homosexual magnetism history or find him canoodling me in the morning. I got my tiny pocket knife out and tried to sleep with one eye open. My right eye slept for a few hours, but the rest of me just lay there bathed in adrenaline.
There were no incidents, just more quiet weirdness of the unspoken. He dropped me off on a sizzling highway a couple hours west of Amarillo. There was nothing out there but huge sky expanse over flat land that ran out to the horizon. I began to feel very small, like a grain of cooked rice at the foot of Mt. Everest. The air was hot and dry. I had no sunscreen. I don’t think it had been invented yet. But I had a construction worker’s tan. Next stop, Albuquerque, if I could only spell it. Here it was Monday morning and I was in West Texas after leaving the D.C. suburbs on the other side of the weekend. I felt pretty good about my progress.