I awoke next morning to the sun vexing my brow. My eyes flickered, perturbed with itchiness, as I rubbed sand and dirt out of them. I snuffled from congestion expelling coughs as if I inhaled plumes of smoke. I staggered to my feet unaware of where she stopped. That night, I slept at least eight hours, so I feared the worst, ending up in the Tucson yard. My eardrums resonated as a train rolled past, her sharp sound of brakes screeched the air, followed by a halt of metal, clanking like dominoes. Naturally, my curiosity spiked, and I peeked over the gondola. Sure enough, she lay stopped in the departure yard, next to a row of freight cars.
I plotted my escape, waiting to hop the five foot tall, mesh fence imprisoning me in the yard. With my head low, I stood silent, in jet-black attire. The faint sound of gravel crackled beneath tires as the bull drove past an intermodal train stopped on the mainline. I lurked hidden in the shadows, unseen, and continued my game of hide-and-seek. Once his vehicle became a black speck, I made my move, sprinting for the tumbleweeds near the fence. I wheezed as sweat dribbled down my forehead like a river. For a brief second, I recouped, and then pulled myself up the mesh fence, treating the sharp tiny holes like finger holds on a climbing wall. With one thrust, I heaved myself over and the shoulder of the highway broke my fall.
My toes tingled with sharp numbing sensation as they regained feeling. Breaks came often, followed by sporadic napping, as with each new step came a thousand needles pricking at my toes. I washed them diligently, but still suffered from a thick crust of athlete’s foot on both heels. Walking came with the territory of low budget travel through hitchhiking, train hopping, and taking the bus or finding cheap airfare. I did not complain, instead I rested outside of Walmart, and charged my phone.
My ass sat comfortably on my pack. Its straps hung onto its last threads. People avoided me as they walked by, the typical reaction towards travellers, in most towns and cities. I nodded respectfully and held my pride, ready to catch the next train to Texas, getting me one state closer to my wife.
Suddenly, a small puppy piled on top of me, galloping from his owner.
“DOBSONNNN…DOBSONNNN…get ova here…NOW,” yelled the Dirty Kid. As he stumbled into view, I witnessed a drunken man about my age scrabbling along the sidewalk. His scruffy blond beard, face tats, and punk clothes resembled a typical gutterpunk. He looked rough; his body covered in stick and poke tattoos, and his breath reeked of Steelies. “HEY kid…why ohn’t ya come over there with us…hiccup…got a group of Dirty Kids kickin’ it by the dumpster.”
“Alright man…I’m just chargin’ my phone real quick.”
“Awe c’mon…ya can do that later kid. Kick it with us…we’re drinkin’ Steelies…DOBSONNN…get the fuck ova here…fuckin’ dog needs ta learn…”
I took my eyes off the plus signs that curved up his cheeks toward his temples, following him and his yellow lab over to the Walmart dumpster. I felt out of place. I rode freight, and hitchhiked for fun and because I found myself unemployed with no place to live and nothing else to do. We all sat there Indian-style under different terms.
“Oh…almost forgot…I’m Star…this is my old lady Stacy…and these are two Dirty Kids we uhh…uhh…just met…I uhh…well what’re yer names again…”
“Olivia and John.”
“And where ya comin’ from Brian? How’d ya get ta Tucson.”
“Came in on a train this mornin’ from Phoenix…was with three other Dirty Kids, but I they stayed behind…they got too fucked up last night under a bridge.”
“Pfff…trains ya say. I got my fair share, 30 or so…where ya headed Brian?”
“Alabama to see my wife, think ima continue ridin’ the rails til Birmingham, figure it out from there.”
Star schwilled Steelie after Steelie falling deeper into a sloshing mess of slurred speech.
“Well fffuck…we’re all hhheaded to a rrrainbow gatherin’ in New Mexico for threee dddays. Ima cccook…ggonna be ddoin’ some ppeyote…acid…ggood times kid…ggood times…get ya a lil further.”
“Dunno Star…much as I appreciate the offer…I’m tryna get there sooner…”
“Wwell…ride…lleaves…rride…leaves tonight. If I…if I could jjust…get ahhold of this fuccckface…he probly…he probly…tripppin’ his face off…Went ta New Mmexico…hiccup…earlierr tah-day…to gget…acid…he’s def tripppin’ face. Sposed ta be hereee.”
“Thanks for the offer bro, but I think ima just keep ridin’.”
“Ya…okkkk…you say so…hop out eeeast…is all the way…the way dddown there…mileee…two…eeasst.”
“I already know where it is, but thanks.”
“Fuuuuccck…I neeed muh gearrr…where is this…fucck? Stacy…stacccy…grab meee a burrr.”
“Star? I been in there five times already today. Fuckin’ tired of walkin’. Go in and get it yourself and bring me one while yer at it.”
“But…but…babeee…you know I ohn’t have ID…puhleeease?”
“Damn you Star…makin’ a pregnant woman walk all the way over there…fuckkk…alright. Gimme a smoke babe and I’ll go.”
“Alriggghtt…Heyyy…Brian…hiccup…sorry…I keep bummin’ off yaaa…haave another…smoke?”
I reached down in my pocket and grabbed an American Spirit out for us both, passing him the lighter. My once full pack of smokes, I ground-scored now felt empty, with only a few cigarettes left.
“Feeel bad…keeep bummin’ off this kid…thanksss…”
Stomachs gurgled faintly through the sound of passing cars with solemn looks of hunger in the circle. I pulled out a loaf of bread, chilli and a can of peaches, passing them around. The lovebirds, John and Olivia, sat there cuddling hand-in-hand whispering in one another’s ears like schoolchildren. Olivia cutely twirled John’s lustrous, golden locks, around the tip of her finger and giggled. As the can of peaches returned to me, my heart shattered in jealousy. I missed my wife and the moments we shared while hitchhiking around Hawaii.
We all puffed on cigarettes until nightfall. Star continued to binge drink Steelies to inebriation until more non-sense rolled off his tongue.
“Neverrr…neverrrrrrr…wouldd I…suckk a DICK….awwghhh…just…nastyy…I’d cudddle…naked with a duuude…mayybe kisss em…buttt nahhh…justtt ohn’t doo it…”
Everyone chuckled and I felt like I stepped into the same shit-show as the previous night. Despite his cheerful nature, and harmless charm, my gut told me to leave. I tried to think of an excuse before it escalated any further, but fell short. Too many booze and Dirty Kids never bode well, especially with new encounters. Then it happened, while Stacy pranced back sippin’ a Steelie. John and Olivia walked off to setup camp, and just as I tried to speak up and politely leave…