I was heading to Oregon for a festival. I hadn’t known that was my destination until I heard Lisa Love tell me about it. I met her under a sycamore tree, just west of Twin Falls, Idaho. Her dishwater colored bangs kept falling into her eyes. She had a glassy gaze and she hadn’t shaved her armpits in a long, long while. She was greasy, shiny, and mildly wholesome. Like mildewed wonder bread.
“You just left Ricci? You weren’t going anywhere, dude? Ya know, I can understand, sometimes you just hafta get out.”
“Yep. It seemed like the time to leave.”
“Well, we should gang up and travel together. Two girls have more fun, and get much better rides than one. Plus, its easier to deal with the creeps when we can play dumb and run together.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s so. Where are you heading?”
“To the rainbow gathering in eastern Oregon. It’s the best time ever. All these people get together in the forest and cook food and make love and smoke weed and talk about how we are gonna change the world. Its so much fun.”
“Well. I might as well try it out. The world seems like its changed too much already.”
“Ha Ha!! Your funny Ricci. I like the way you talk.”
I wasn’t joking. I was being serious. Why did everyone think I was sarcastic? I guess it was the easiest way to deal with what I had to say.
So we sat there eating our cheese and bread sandwiches, watching the traffic kick up the dust. The dried earth and roadside filth would fall down in powdery gusts that coated the highway grass, that coated our clothes, our faces, the food we were eating. The heat rose out of watery mirages off in the distance. The road shimmered, cooking its black tar fillings. I had a half empty gallon jug of warm water pressed against my side. I was free. This was my filthy, sweaty heaven.
After we had eaten our meager lunch and drank enough water to make us feel bloated and lazy, I told Lisa Love to wait while I handled our transportation marketing strategy. She gave me a blank and wide-eyed look in response. Funny hippy chick, I thought as I walked across the truck stop lot. She probably thought I was quite the piece of work as well. The sun was directly overhead and I could feel it burning my scalp thru my hair. I had little almost-sweat spots on my temples, but they kept drying and getting coated with dirt, so nothing really came of my body’s effort of water-cooling me.
I could see a fat housewife filling her beige minivan with gas. Three kids strapped to car seats were fighting over a bag of pretzels. As I approached the filling station she looked up, her too-close eyes measuring me with a stupid flat look, debating if she should be afraid of someone who was obviously different from her. She couldn’t figure it out, so her piggy eyes darted back and forth, revealing the confusion and fear in her heart. Revealing what she would protect and what she would compromise. Her kids, sensing her attention shift away from their constant chastisement, stopped fighting and looked up. The same quality of lazy cow-gaze already had taken root in their small, pale eyes.
I gave them a still appraisal, a look I was beginning to perfect. I imagined my eyes were a pond covered with a thin sheet of clear ice, and that the object of my gaze was falling down into its depth. It had a very disorienting effect on them, and they lowered their piggy eyes. I walked past them.
The truckstop dumpster was overflowing. It smelled terrible and had been cooking in the sun all morning, reaching an empowering noon ripeness. It drifted to my nose in waves of heat and smell. I shortened my breath and walked quicker. There was a big box to the side of the dumpster. I grabbed it and swiftly turned around. I headed back to the shade of the tree and Lisa Love. The minivan had pulled away into the infinity of the world.
“Hey Lisa, do you have a magic marker?”
“Yep. Ooo, lets make a sign. I have a couple different colors. The last ride I had gave me a blue and a green one. I have the big black one too, that is the best for making a sign real quick.”
“Cool. Lets just use the black one, I think we should try to get out there and catch a ride before these hicks call the police on us for loitering. Do you know what the laws are for hitchhiking in Idaho?”
I had learned in my brief time out here on the road that you had to find out if a state was an onramp state or a highway state. What that means to the thumb traveler is that in certain states you could hitch hike only on the onramp, and therefore you would only get seen by people who had excited that specific location. This often meant much more time sitting on the railing, waiting to get a ride.
Other states let you hitch hike directly on the highway. So highway states you are seen by a lot more traffic and most likely you would be picked up much quicker. People would stop because they were bored from hours driving by themselves, and wanted the company. Or they felt pity. Or they felt curiosity. Or as in the case of Frank, they were a creepy nut job.
“I have no idea about all the laws in Idaho, Ricci. But I haven’t seen a cop all day, so lets just see if we can get a ride from a trucker first, and then we’ll go to the highway.”