Bippin’ – Bum In Public – Day ? – Excerpt
Panting and slobber filled the air early morning. As Pam stretched her hind legs and limbered up, the rest of the crew tried to squeeze out a few last minutes of sleep, before giving into the blistering heat. I lay there half-zonked pulling my sleeping bag over my head to savor my last minutes of comfort while the others started to pack up. Todd pulled his tent stakes out of the ground, and broke down his tent poles, while Doug knelt on the ground cocooning his bedroll. His grunting forced his bottom lip to curl out as he wrestled to quickly bungee it to his pack. I shook my head holding back laughter, squinting into the sinister sky, rubbing my eyes one last time. I did not know who looked goofier, him working over an inanimate object like an oaf or his dog drooling with her red, fruit roll-up tongue that dangled between her toothless canal.
“How’d you hold up last night Todd,” I muttered tilting my head back towards him.
“Meh…not too shabby…was fuckin’ cold last night though bro, but thanks for the tent. It helped a lot since I only got this one blanket…still pissed those fuckers stranded me and took everythin’,” ranted Todd in a heated voice.
“Eh…don’t thank me bud…Doug gave me the tent yesterday outside the Love’s. Figured I could use it, but you needed it more…so it’s all good.”
“Well, thanks bro…preciate it.”
Then, there sat Doug by the far end of the store. He huddled up by the only trashcan in walking distance to the front entrance, hoping to stir up a quick conversation with any passerby. He hunched over with his back curved against the wall in a scoliosis-manner, smiling through jagged pits of decayed teeth. His glasses gave him a googly-eyed look making him rather unapproachable and scary-looking, but his dog always eased him into conversation with his typical ice-breaker. Pam lay there sprawled out along the cool concrete sidewalk, her tongue slung out of her mouth like a red carpet, drooling profusely. Doug leaned his sign against the wall which simply read, “EAST” and just waited to interact with any person within eye-contact. He twiddled his thumbs and at the soonest glance he always stuttered, “Hiii…” Sometimes people sped by with a slight head-nod and muttered nothing. Other times they stopped, completely exasperated by the dog and her sunglasses and as soon as a word rolled off their tongue of any vernacular, English, Spanish, it did not matter. Off Doug yammered onto his story.
“Ohhh how cute…she has glasses,” they’d say with a slight sparkle in their faces.
And there went Doug again runnin’ his mouth with his usual antics, a real raconteur.
“Well ya see…she has the glasses for a reason…see when she was young she was kicked in the face by a moose…almost lost her…I made em myself from supplies at the Home Depot. See we’re from North Pole, Alaska,” he’d mumble, fixing the bridge of his glasses with his index finger as he spoke in a grungy voice.
Last, there was I, who sat Indian-style between Todd and Doug with my sign stuck to the window of the store. It read, “EAST,” in as big of letters as I could fit on my piece of cardboard. I did not crack spange as Todd started to do, harassing the customers for spare change to buy food. I also did not embark on fairy-tales of magical moose stories where little dogs survived the thrust of their hooves. Instead I sat there making eye-contact with the customers I thought might extend their sympathies to my situation. Often I kept strong posture, maintaining a bit of sadness in my eyes to look desperate, but not too desperate, and with a slight head-nod I sounded off a, “Hello there sir or ma’am,” in a friendly voice. People remained courteous, but rarely extended any offers for rides, except a few select hippies, but they all drove westbound for a festival.
“Man…dooooood…no waaaayyyy…all you guys are hitchin’ outta here? Doooood…you guys know where we can get any buds at maaaaan? We’re goin’ to this festival in Cali and all eight of us ran outta ganja bro. We’re fuckin’ desperate…how am I gonna make the drive there sober maaannn? Shit dooood…if we were headin’ east, we’d grab all of ya…sorry doood.”
“Uhhh…there’s a border patrol checkpoint like 20ish miles down the road dude. Probably don’t wanna be drivin’ with any type of fuckin’ drugs on you unless ya wanna end up in jail. So, I’d say hold off on the weed til you pass it,” I pontificated in a gruff tone.
“Thaaanks dooood…kinda forgot how close we were to the border ya know…bein stoned and all. Safe travels brothers.”
Our heads all shifted back-and-forth blinking furiously at each other in stupefaction.
We cheered our malt beverages and passed around the box, biting into the freshly cooked pizza, gulping it down as it singed the tips of our tongues with melted cheese. Each morsel tasted stupendous, like the best pie ever made, but only because of our hunger. Living on gas station food for multiple days did not really give us fuel, not that pizza was any more nutritious, but it sure felt filling, piling into our empty stomachs. Every last crumb, piece of crust, bits of cheese and pepperoni crunched in our mouths leaving the box empty with a circle of only pizza grease left behind.
I finished my steelie, and even with a plump gut, I felt a little woozy from the alcohol, but I stopped at the last drop. Overindulgence in a new group of people never appealed to me. Besides I overheard Doug rambling on about catchin’ out on a train.
“Train stopped just long enough last night few signals back…just long enough to hop onto…think me and Pam gonna check er out tonight boys. I wanna get outta here…if I gotta spend another day here tomorrow I’m hitchin’ back west to go east…this gas station just ain’t cuttin’ it…not makin’ any money or gettin’ no rides too,” mumbled Doug with a pouty face.
“Where did it stop man? I’ve heard trains fly through here all day, but I never saw one stop on the main line by a signal…not really any reason to…” I questioned him.
“Well…I’m tellin’ you it stopped richboy…You can do with that what ya want…my ears heard her…Pam’s ears heard her…and we’re gonna check er out.”
“Whatever dude, I just asked a fuckin’ question…no need to be a dick. Todd and Brian, you guys comin’ then? It looks like we’re gonna go full-out Dirty Kid status, try an hop out 4-deep with a dog on a train along the sunset line…you in?”
Brian staggered out of the store slamming down his third steelie, completely inebriated and slurring his words with a big grin shining through his red beard.
“Fuucck yeaah dude…I always..hiccup…wanted to ride…hiccup…a traaain. I gotta…hiccup…call my cousin…hiccup…he never…hiccup…believe me…”
“And you Todd,” I asked?
“I mean…well…we ain’t get no rides outta this shithole today…what makes me think we’re gonna get a fuckin’ ride out tomorrow? It’s like I said…people don’t fuckin’ pick you up in Texas, but they’ll give ya food…Yeah, I’m in…longs as I feel safe,” he groaned.
The mounds of ballast crunched beneath our footsteps, as we scampered along, following the shiny steel beams towards the next signal, drifting a few miles from the gas station. Doug seemed unconfident and lost, questioning his whereabouts on where the signal stood, or if even one existed. I questioned myself and why I followed this buffoon, but here I stood wandering along the train tracks with two guys and a dog. I only hoped that Border Patrol did not monitor these areas because if they did I put myself back in the same situation as my first day in Sierra Blanca, TX.
As I squinted, I witnessed the slight presence of red shone a few feet off the ground among a post. Doug confirmed it; so we ventured off to the side of the tracks, hiding behind barren brush as the tumble weeds bounced by with the whirring wind. We waited for hours. Would I ever get the fuck outta dodge? Who knew?
This vessel of emotion is like a sinking ship.
He tries to mend the wound, but the stitches are infinite.
To mask intense sorrow with a hedonistic lifestyle allows the depiction of happiness, through chase.
But, the demons always run rampant through his mind.
He travels thousands of miles to escape this agony, this exhausting beast, and acquire a few moments of rapture among the iron snake.
Once he disembarks he always finds himself walking down that same dark road of sorrow, drowning in his thoughts, antsy to wander.
He walks among the ballast, his head slumped low and catches a glimpse of light shimmering off the ground.
His eyes capture the reflection from the broken shard of mirror, a face of grime with stubbles of hair and bitter frosty blue eyes blink back at him.
Tendrils of filthy blonde hair drape over his shoulders and he realizes, this is me.
Slowly I tiptoe
Shadows drown glistening steel
She creeps to a halt
I wait patiently
Grass joins the chorus of wind
Whirs fade to a hiss
I jump to my feet
She starts rolling inch by inch
Rocks slip under foot
I clench her brisk rung
Throwing myself on the porch
I take off my pack
I hear the howling
She hums on the narrow steel
I fade to darkness
Squished in the foxhole
I embrace my solitude
My eyes breathe beauty
We are all misfits riding
Setting our minds free
Oh how I love it
Where will her tracks take me now
Wake up miles away
Dosin’ on Doug
Another lugubrious day squished my spirits right from the moment I awakened. I slept by the side of the road the night prior, bivy in the desert sand, between brittle bushes free of leaves, with dead tumbleweeds bouncing around through the gusts of her fury. That slight chill, cooling my sunburn, erasing the touch of fire against my skin quickly vanished with the clear blue sky. That good old Texas sun snarled down at me and with each mile I tired to a plodding pace seeking refuge under any lone tree or viaduct by the I-10.
I squinted; my eyes witnessed a pull-off a few hundred feet ahead, with pavilions, a bathroom, and limited traffic. I stopped. My feet cramped from constant walking on the rough endless pavement as I cooled off in the shade, massaging my calloused feet, one toe at a time.
“Hey buddy…thought ya be further down the road by now. Doug’s still back there hustlin’ his moose story,” snickered Todd.
I guffawed, exposing my yellow teeth, as I took a drag of a cigarette I found from a nearby ashtray, offering the last few drags to Todd.
“Where’d ya come from anyway?”
“Got some miles in last night and crashed by the side of the road…figured I’d get some in while it was cool…no way was I gonna listen to fuckin’ Doug and his moose story at the Love’s for another day,” I said in a disgruntled voice.
“Yeah he’s still back there…he didn’t wanna walk this far.”
“I think we’re like 15 miles away from the next truck stop…not sure which side of the road it’s on, but anything is better than where we we’re at…there’s too many people there anyway tryin’ to all hitch the same direction.”
“Yeah I agree…you wanna get to walkin’…got a long fuckin’ day ahead of us with this sun…least we got smokes with all these butts on the side of the road. Won’t get no rides though in this fuckin’ state.”
And just when I thought it could not get any worse I heard a dilapidated Honda pull up emitting plumes of smoke. A chain jingled and a four-legged canine jumped out, her tongue drooped out of her mouth flopping side-to-side. My eyes widened as I stared at her ridiculous sunglasses and behind her frame stood the old hobo from the Love’s. Doug stood there with his bottom lip pronounced as if in deep thought. He looked like Bubba from Forrest Gump, waddling back-and-forth closer to us, fiddling into his pocket pulling out a wad of 20’s.
“Didn’t get a ride outta there, but crossed the street…held my sign that said, “East” and people kept handin’ me 20’s…even the cops gave me money before they tore up my sign…easily made 200 bucks…think it was my Veteran’s cap that did it or Pam layin’ down in the heat…Pam and I started walkin’ down the road and got picked up from a guy who got a speedin’ ticket…said he was goin’ further, but he’d give me a ride to the next truck stop…”
Todd and I looked at each other befuddled and perplexed. I sat there exasperated tilting my head towards the man whom woke up against the wall. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes and sat up from his slumber, initiating conversation while twirling tendrils of his beard between his index finger. This allowed me to break free of Doug’s ersatz behavior as he continued to babble on with his far-fetched stories. Todd and I looked blankly off into space as the fourth hitchhiker introduced himself.
“The name’s Brian…I been stuck here for a day already…walked from the Love’s the other day after Border Patrol stopped me back on the 10, at the checkpoint.”
“So you drove to Van Horn? Why’d they stop you,” I said confusedly?
“Hahaha…well…funny story…I was bangin’ this broad back in Vegas…and well shit was goin’ south…so I kinda “borrowed” her car without tellin’ her and started drivin’ it across the country…but ya see…I kinda forgot about Border Patrol. They nabbed me back at the checkpoint for drivin’ a stolen vehicle, but they couldn’ hold me cuz I knew the bitch, her numba, and all her information…so I just started walkin’…ended up here.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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…”
“Yeah I done that an last year Pam and I rode across the country from Massachusetts to Alaska raisin’ awareness for Veterans. I did 12 years in the air force as a helicopter pilot.”
“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.
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.”
I rolled and fidgeted in my sleeping bag for hours, aggravated from the noise spewing from Todd’s mouth, the idling of trucks and the loud conversation from the state troopers parked in front of us as we slept on the ground. I felt restless, and stuck. In no way could I withstand another day of Doug’s bullshit stories and compulsive lies, every word that poured out of his mouth made me irritated. I wanted to mute my ears, but instead I rolled up my gear, strapped it to my pack and started my early morning tramp down the I-10 for the next truck stop 19 miles away.
At 2 AM my chance of a ride was slim, but the moonlit sky made the presence of light much more bearable than that of the Texas sun, which stalked me each day, suffocating me of fluids, sanity and causing me to burn in my own skin. So I walked alone in the night. I walked away from Doug, and Pam, away from Todd, stepping further north towards Pecos. How many more days did Van Horn set aside for me until I met up with my train again?