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Brian Cray - Budget Travel

Hitchhiking, Train Hopping, & Wandering

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¡Runners in Snakeskin Botas!


The Misfit 4 – Prose Short Story Series

I dozed off for a few hours and woke to sudden squeals of steel wrenching to a halt.  Doug sat there perplexed, pushing the bridge of his glasses with his index finger.  His bottom lip curled out like a rug unraveling.  Pam lay beside him asleep with her tongue out dancing to the side.

“Hmmm…guess we picked the wrong stoplight Bri…looks like she stopped right by the hill down there…least don’t look like she movin’?”

“Yeah looks stopped to me man.  Wanna head down there anyway? We still might be able to catch her or the next one rollin’ through?”

“Hmmm…looks kinda far for me and Pam.  Uhh….gettin’ old…bones are brittle…Pam’s fast asleep like a baby…just look at hur…we’ll follow ya Bri…”

“Alright ima head on down there now Doug.”

The wind struck my face in a sullen chill.  My eyes peeled open from their dreary state of lethargy and I felt vigilant again, tiptoeing amongst the ballast.  I scuttled through the dark night sky down a dirt road parallel to the tracks.  Silhouettes of tumbleweeds pounced on by through the wispy shadows of desert plants, each of them joining the chorus of the wind.  Between gusts I heard the faint sound of footsteps pattering behind me, but after much walking, I stopped; hearing only silence between my short breaths and the howling of wind.

Puzzled, I turned around looking for blurred silhouettes of an old Hobo and his dog.  But, I only saw the crisp darkness of the night sky; they vanished.  I stopped briefly, granules of sand canvassed my boots with each burst of wind and the screeching sound of steel echoed in my ears.  The bright speck from the front engine now gleamed a ball of light, its rays glistened among the shiny steel, illuminating her tracks as she approached me.

She chugged along, her rollin’ and cruisin’ turned to a blaze of thunderous squeals echoing throughout the barren desert.  I lay hidden behind a bush in knee-high patches of grass, mere feet from her tracks.

“Shit…there goes my train…guess numb nuts and ole Pam turned around…all his huffin’ and puffin’ made em change his mind.  Prob a good thing…knowin’ my luck dude woulda fuckin’ died trackside in the middle of the night…”

My head tilted towards the clouds and for the first time that night I soaked in the radiance of the voracious stars consuming the night sky.  The once vibrant beam shone from her front engine rolled by me and for a split second everything faded to black as my eyes readjusted to the stars.  Her wheels shrieked, screeched and squelched loudly as a consist of IM/DS (Intermodal/Double Stack train) zoomed along the narrow bands of steel, quickly dissipating to faint whirs drowned out by the gusts of wind.

I curled up track side and dipped away into a dreamless sleep, interrupted by thrashing trains passing multiple times, in what felt like deja vu of recurring memories. By this point, squatting at this desolate gas station in Texas became quite nerve-racking.

Not one other train stopped at the signal that night so my efforts to catch out of Van Horn, TX remained futile.  I awoke that morning in the fetal position, rolling over on a soft cushion of grass nestled beneath my body.  It felt like a fluffy bed of pillows, my most comfortable sleep in many nights.

The malevolent sun accompanied the empty sky emitting its fierce grin down upon my brow.  Ughhhh…my day started far too early, shamefully following my sandy footprints back to the truck stop for another fruitless bout of hitchhiking.

I bickered to myself in a mocking tone, “I really fuckin’ hate Texas, at least near the border.  Why’s it so damn hard to hitch outta here…do people think ima illegal immigrant or maybe ima convict who broke outta prison…hahaha…fuck.”

As I reached the truck stop my feet crunched beneath empty plastic bottles and loose trash on the west side of the parking lot.  I peered into the faceless dilapidated shed in front of me, chuckling as I noticed Todd’s big white Mario thumb, which he persistently tried to use the previous days to hitch rides.  I wondered his whereabouts since he obviously slept there the night prior, discarding some of his items, scattered out across a piece of cardboard.

My boots finally touched the pavement and as I approached the front of the gas station I scrunched my brow in confusion.

“Did those bastards all hitch outta here,” I thought?

Not one of the misfit four sat in front of the gas station entrance against the wall.  Sweat droplets trickled down, curving around my cheeks, as I walked towards the east wall.  As I turned the corner, I saw a camo backpack tucked up against the wall and a putrid pile of puke infested the earth next to it.  Its foul aroma flowed freely through the air, twisting my stomach in a knot, causing me to dry-heave.  Brian lay there limp, his hat shading his drunken eyes from the head-wrenching light.  Four empty crumpled grape steelies weighed his cardboard sign down, and as I approached, he grumbled.

“Hey man…you alive? What the fuck happened to the other clowns,” I said jokingly with a smirk on my face.

“Ughh…so hungover, puked on myself last night.  Had to get a new shirt….ummm…they hitched a ride back east…hopin’ to have better luck at that Loves Doug was talkin’ bout the other day.  Fuck it…glad he’s gone.  Didn’t mind Todd, but shit…Doug was a bullshitter,” he moaned.

“Aight, well maybe we’ll have better luck today…storm’s supposed to hit hard, get down to 30ish or somethin’…wanna dip outta here before then,” I groaned.

He stumbled and nodded his head.   He squinted with his bloodshot eyes in a befuddled state of delirium.

“Man you’re fucked up haha…lookin’ rough dude.”

“Ehh…I’ll be fine.  Thought fer sure you’d be outta here on a train by now hahaha….I turned around last night cuz I started pukin’…realized I was too drunk to learn to hop trains,” he said chuckling.

“No shit…I wouldn’t have let ya anyway dude unless it was stopped.  Shit rolled through too fast and one IM stopped briefly for clearance, but I did not make it in time so I just slept by the tracks.  Doug disappeared with his mangy mutt.”

“Well I doubt we’re gettin’ outta here…been here 4 days squatting at this same damn gas station…ppl in Texas hook ya up with money and food, but only rides is east bro…”

 

“Yeah I know, but I don’t retrace my footsteps and I’m headin’ west to meet up with my wife…maybe find some work in bama…so I don’t gotta choice,” I muttered sinking my head depressingly as the time passed.

“True…guess we’ll find out…”

Car doors clanked between the soft footsteps of customers, swinging open the entrance door, to grab their coffee cakes, over-priced souvenirs and old breakfast burritos.  Brian and I assumed the position, holding our signs firmly in our hands, grimacing from the vicious Texas sun above us.  It almost felt like a timeless experience.  The multiple days blended to one, separated by mild sleep and a mosaic of the same unfamiliar faces, except for one.

A white lifted pick-up truck pulled up to the pump, with black rims and a shiny glimmer to its paint, and out stepped the driver.  He stood there tall and lean, with a tanned complexion, in black snakeskin boots, each pointed tip curved to the sky.  He moseyed over towards the door, tipping his cowboy hat as he walked past us and I looked over at Brian in perplexing shock.

“What’s up wit you bro,” asked Brian.

“Dude, how much ya wanna bet, that dude walks out with only a case a water again,” I said.

“Ummm…ok?  Why we bettin?”

“Dude…I’ve seen that guy stop at this truck stop a few times already today…and pretty sure he was the same dude that rolled in yesterday too.  He always comes out with the same thing…a case a water…”

“What’s he drivin’ bro?  I wasn’t really payin’ attention, kinda fell asleep leanin’ up against the wall…”

“That raised pick-up over there by the pump, with the nice rims,” I pointed south.

“Oh…haha…yeah dude…you’re right…I remember seein’ that same truck quite a few times over the past 4 days of squatting in the same damn spot…He’s a runner.”

“Whatta ya mean runner?

“Ya know…like drug runner or border runner…I’d say prob border runner judgin’ from the cases of water he’s pickin’ up.  We’re so fuckin’ close to Mexico he’s prob drivin’ out through the desert over there…pickin’ up illegals who gone a few days without water.  I seen people come through here too, runnin’ drugs and shit…”

A few minutes later, sure enough, the man walked back to his car with a case of water slung over his shoulder.  He sped off down backroads turning off onto a desert road. Plumes of dust clouded his path, as his truck spit out sand, and when it dispersed the air, we saw a tiny dot speeding further south through the desert.

“Yep…he’s a runner…goin’ south through the desert…” said Brian.

“Yeah…it would seem so after what ya said.”

The day dawdled by with the sound of unfamiliar footsteps and not a soul offered us a ride eastbound. As the sun sank below the horizon a fleet of gloomy cirrus clouds staggered about in the sky, the scorching temperatures shifted to chilling lows, and instead of bundling into layers I capitulated to the old-fashioned, red, restaurant booths inside. Brian did so as well.

“Fuck man, looks like its gonna fuckin’ snow out there…it’s cold as balls…ima warm up in here for a few hours and head over to that shed for cover. Maybe grab some cardboard in a little or somethin’,” I said disgruntledly.

“Yeah man…we can prob sleep in here haha…I kinda passed out in here last night for a bit and then made my way outside once the early mornin’ came…they didn’t say nothin’,” chuckled Brian.
“Alright…”

My eyes shifted to the booth behind us at a stout Mexican man with a trim black beard. He stared right at us, placing his cowboy hat on the table. He twiddled his thumbs as if he waited for someone to get off their shift. His eyes pierced through me and that split moment of contact made me spark up conversation.
“How’s it goin’ tonight man?”

“Not bad. Esta fria…brrrrr….waitin’ to pick up me hija. She works here, but we live in Pecos.”

“Ohhhh…really. We’ve been here for a few days now…that’s actually where we’re headed…to Pecos. But, everyone’s goin’ west, so we can’t hitch a ride. It’s really hard to by the border,” I said in a chipper voice.

“Si…it is hard. Mucho border patrol. Vamos a Pecos. We leave when she off work. We give you ride to Pecos. You want ride?”

“Gracias…thanks so much, man. I need to get to Alabama to meet up with my wife and Brian needs to get to Austin, TX to meet up with his cousin…we really appreciate the help, givin’ us a lift to Pecos.”

“No problemo…”

I stared off across the room at a row of slot machines, feeling ecstatic and lucky. My eyes perused the handle of one and then his daughter walked out from behind the register, giving her father a peck on the cheek with a big hug.

“Alright we go now. This is me hija Emilia.”

We hit Lucky 7’s as we packed his trunk to the brim with our packs. Brian dozed off in the back seat of his silver Honda while I pondered about my next train.

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