Stuck Hitchhiking Van Horn, Texas
When I first stepped out of the police vehicle my wrists pained from the cuffs jamming into my bones. A red groove appeared under each cuff as the officer twisted the key, removing them as he pointed down the road.
“County line is here kid…this is as far as we can take ya…got a good walk ahead of ya to Van Horn, but shouldn’t be too bad, try n’ start hitchhiking.”
He paused and hocked up a wad, tobacco residue dribbled down his stubbly chin staining it brown. Ptui! His spit ricocheted off the ground just missing my leg as I held back scorn and disgust.
“Four miles down there there’s a gas station kid.”
He pointed, wiping the pool of saliva off his chin with his shirt cuff and proceeded to crack out his tin of dip, packing another horseshoe in his lip. I hoisted myself up in the back of the pickup and grabbed my pack, shucking it over the tailgate.
“Thanks for the lift sir,” I whispered as I nodded my head in an unenthusiastic manner.
He spat one last time and slammed the door, speeding off down the I-10, as clouds of dust spawned from the screeching rubber. I walked lackadaisically down the shoulder of the highway, dreading the idea of hitchhiking near the border and baking in the piercing desert heat, lacking cover, and clouds.
Those four miles drug on for an eternity as I walked through the gates of hell, sweating profusely from the blaze grinning down. The pungent taste of my dry cracked lips screamed dehydration as my tongue moistened the craggy white film. I reached for my water, sprinkling a few sips in my mouth, but once quenched, I yearned for a chilled beverage, anything cold.
My face and forearms shined a rosy red from the disparaging Texas sun as I doddered into the confines of the Love’s gas station. People stared at me, my ragged clothes, dirt, grime, sweat, exhausted state of being, as I fumbled for a cold water. The A/C blasted chilling my tender burnt skin, spreading Goosebumps and standing my hair on its end, but it felt like my only oasis in this small town.
Once cooled, I drifted outside to check out the lot, hoping to fly a sign for a ride out to Pecos. An old crusty hobo came into view crouched in the corner with his pack and dog. His back lay against the brick wall hiding in the only small shadow as the sun slowly stole more shade. His Veteran’s cap held back his greasy gray hair, as he poked the frame of his glasses to keep them from sliding down his face. Then the man broke out a smile of rotten, smashed in front teeth. Where I saw not a grueling yellow, but pitted black amongst the roots. He hunched over, reaching out with his proletarian hand, the crevices smeared with black grease and dirt crammed under his nails. He looked like an older version of me as I shook his hand.
“Name’s Douglass Brown, but ya can call me Doug…this hur is mah dog…her name’s Pam…she was kicked in the face by a Moose. We’re from North Pole, Alaska…lived there mah whole life.”
The morbid desert heat tackled my brain, delaying my thoughts, ever so slightly as I looked over at his dog, registering just how ridiculous she looked. Her fur gleaned a goldish-brown with slobber dripping out of her mouth as if she swallowed a tennis shoe with the laces dangling side-to-side. As my eyes scanned upwards they latched onto her black safety glasses held onto her head by an elastic band guided behind her ears.
I held back laughter at the sight of her shades.
“What’s with her glasses, Doug,” I snickered?
“I told YOU…she was kicked in the face by ah MOOSE…happened when she was just three years old…ever since…she’s been extra sensitive to light. You like them glasses? I made em myself.”
“Haha yeah I guess…they look interesting.”
I squinted; holding back sarcasm and giggles at his ludicrous story.
“Kicked in the face by a moose…pfff….yeah fuckin’ right,” I thought.
I sat down on the smoldering sidewalk, propping my pack against the wall, as I melted in the Texas sun. People walked by us, unaware of our existence, avoiding eye contact or the sidewalk altogether, treating us like pariahs, well, because we lived on the margins of society. Obviously, that meant we were axe-wielding serial killers out to shed blood. Regardless, I did not care much. I understood. I just wanted to get the hell outta Van Horn and venture just 70 miles north to Pecos to get back on trains. But, surprisingly that deemed harder than expected.
I pulled out my black marker and bubbled in the big letters, “PECOS” on a piece of cardboard, leaning it against the wall near my pack. Not even two minutes passed before a Love’s employee scampered outside in a hissy fit.
“Sir, you can’t beg outside of the store or we will call the police,” she recited the lines as if they came straight from the Love’s employee handbook.
I chuckled, “It says Pecos…I’m not begging, just merely stating where I need to go,” I fumed at the lips.
“It doesn’t matter. You can either remove your sign or we will have you arrested.”
I flipped the sign over and slid it underneath my pack, scowling at her as she shuffled away through the front entrance swing doors. Doug yammered on with spit projecting from his mouth.
“Did the same thing to me yesterday, but I was askin’ for rides. Then I tried holdin’ my sign up there on the I-10 ramp and a police officer cuffed me on the spot. Arrested me and took me to the small ass Van Horn jail down the road. Said hitchhiking was illegal and they don’t wan us round these parts. Brought me an my dog in the cell…cause she’s a service dog. Wasn’t so bad, got food and a bed to sleep in.”
“Well, fuck this man…how the hell are we supposed to get outta here then? Never heard of a truck stop not lettin’ you hitch rides…I can understand crack spangin’ and panhandlin’ but were not doin’ that. Where’s the next truck stop?”
“Got this hur handy book o truck stops…from my understandin’ looks to be 19 miles north of hur. If it’s still there…this hur book is old…done me well though.”
“Aight, well I’m too tired to truck it up there in this heat…maybe tomorrow if we don’t get outta here. So what brings you to Van Horn, TX anyway?”
“We got stuck here comin’ from North Pole, Alaska…been hitchin’ our way down and across the country to get to the Carolinas to see my mah…she’s not doin’ too well…haven’t seen her in 10 years. Figured me an Pam would go see her before she’s gone…”
“You served in Nam then?”
“Nah, not old enough to serve in Nam…only 55.”
“Oh, well your cap says Vietnam War Veteran…so I just assumed you served there.”
“Nah, I just do that when I’m flyin’ signs or spangin’ to get money. Been fightin’ with the government for years now tryin’ to get back the money they owe me from my medical discharge…that’s why muh teeth er all fucked up.”
“Shit man…that sucks…so you live in Alaska?”
He pulled out a thick wallet stashed with all kinds of ID’s and business cards and flashed me his Alaskan identification card.
“See there…NORTH POLE, AK…that’s where I’m from…born and raised…my dad built a six bedroom cabin thinkin’ he’d have other kids, but I’m the only one…I was also on Deadliest Catch Season 3…”
His extravagant line of stories continued as I listened to some truth mixed with utter bullshit echo from his foul-smelling mouth. The bike tour held true, so maybe he premiered on Deadliest Catch. I had no idea, but his dog gettin’ kicked in the face by a moose? Come on, no fuckin’ way I believed that.
I lounged outside treating the sidewalk like the front porch of a house, hoping to get a ride to anywhere, but here. The sky burst into a frenzy of reds and oranges clashing with vibrant yellows, solidifying the name of the line in which I got pulled off earlier by Border Patrol, The Sunset Line. My eyes twitched from the pure beauty streaking across the horizon and just before she dimmed her lights to the dark curtains of night, another traveler set foot in our group of misfits.
He staggered onto the sidewalk drenched in perspiration holding a tiny backpack with only water, and a change of clothes. He stretched out along the ground, his holey jeans exposing his sun-burnt skin to the brisk whirs of wind. His eyes drooped from lack-of-sleep and persistent walking as sweat dribbled down his face meandering through the gray stubbles of hair sprouting out of his worn exhausted face. He looked rough even compared to Doug.
His heavy breathing dissipated after several minutes and he finally spoke.
“Fuck…I just walked from fuckin’ El Paso, TX to here…without one fuckin’ ride,” roared Todd with a disdain about his voice for Texans.
“Damn dude, why didn’t you try to hitchhike,” I exclaimed?
“I figured someone would just pick me up if they seen me walkin’ down the I-10…ya know? Seems like the decent thing to do, especially considerin’ my shit got jacked in El Paso. Went in to use the john and my ride drove off with all my clothes n’ shit. Paid em 300 dollahs to take me to Corpus Christi bro. 300 fuckin’ dollahs…the last of my money. I been livin’ off ketchup packets and sugar packets for days. Fuckin’ pricks…So how long you’s guys been here?”
“Two days for him, a day for me…doesn’t look like we’re gonna get outta here from this spot especially with three people now tryin’ to hitch all the same direction…I’m hittin’ up the next truck stop tomorrow to spread out a bit.”
“Dunno if Pam and I can make that walk…19 miles is a long way…might try the other truck stop across the street down at the next exit. Least we all got a place to sleep tonight. That abandoned restaurant behind the Love’s, the officer said they won’t bother us there. Lay out some cardboard and call it a night, bout to head over there soon…Pam and I are tired, n’ if ya need to charge yer phone…Wendy’s in there don’t care if you use the outlets.”
Todd glanced over at Doug and smiled. “What’s with the sunglasses on your dog?”….