Hey folks. I'm in Boulder, Colorado. The library here is awesome: there's no time limits on the computers and you don't have to reserve them or anything. You just walk up. Thing is, though, most of them have no chairs, and no software other than Internet Explorer. As I'm lazy, I got here at noon but, not wanting to stand, I waited for two hours until the "WHEELCHAIR ACCESS" station was finally available. I was able to upload some pictures and make some light variations to the blog: non-user comments are now permitted. THANKS TO THE HEADS' UP FROM BRANDON AND SOME OF MY OWN SUPER SLY SPY SLEUTHING, I was able to figure out how to make it so that anyone can comment.
In other news, I think I'm getting stronger. When I first left, I had to pick up my pack with two arms and some leg power. But now I can lift it with one hand, no problem. Also, I'm staying relatively clean, having taken two showers since I started off. AND PLENTY OF HAND-WASHING, TO BOOT! Oh goodness.
THE TALE CONTINUES:
After breakfast - the waitress had to reheat my food because I chugged so much water when I first walked in that I didn't touch my meal for something like 45 minutes! - I wandered West down a road in to town, not really sure where I was going but for a vague conception of the mysterious "Old Highway 81" which was pin-pointed by the State Trooper as being "probably a couple miles down that road there, I think." I stood on a bridge, drank some water, and then crossed the street and marched down some train tracks, spiting the threat of prosecution of passers of the tres. After about ten minutes of moving North on the tracks, I moved through a clearing in to a street in the adjacent neighborhood. Hot and sandy roads; a deep blue sky thick with the sun's light and heat; and DOGGY! Pupppyyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hanging out by a mailbox of a rather nice-looking home, wagging it's tail and kind of half-following me. But that was over quickly.
After a little while, maybe another half-hour of moving through this sparse neighborhood North of Wichita by about 5 miles, I heard the amazing tingling of an ice-cream truck. Rock on! Fudgesicle please, sir. Un dollaro. I enjoyed that as I walked, and also I just now realized that the dog thing happened after the ice-cream bag. But who needs continuity anyway, huh? I walked down a particularly long road, stopped by a home where some dude was working on his car, and asked to be hooked up with some very fine and delicious water. He offered to let me come inside - I was waiting under his tree while his stupid dog (a different dog) barked and growled and just generally rotweiled - but I couldn't help but be wary of hicks with big dogs. Hell, I wasn't even sure of the water: Did they drug it? Kansas Chainsaw Massacre... I turned another corner, flagged a dude down, and asked him for directions to "the, uh, the road that will take me to Salina? Like, Highway something or other..."
"Man you're way out in the middle of fucking nowhere. The Interstate is wayyyyyyyy over there."
"I know dude, but they won't let me walk on 135 and stuff."
"Well, I need to go drop some this trailer off over there, then I can take you back and drop you off at the on-ramp."
"Ehhh..." I wasn't sure. He kind of seemed like a creep, and it's important to be wary of who you ride with, of course. But shit, why not? I shoved my pack in the back of the cab and ascended into the passenger seat.
JP, the former hitch-hiking druggie who "fuckin' came here from fuckin' Olympia, yeah, it's kind of crazy. 'Cause this is just how I ended up here, hitch-hikin'." He gave me a ride down the Interstate about 20 miles, bought me some lunch and dropped me off at the truck-stop. On the ride there I had let him use my cell-phone to call Randy, "this dude up in Salina who, yeah, fuckin' got me clean and took care of me and shit, helped me out", so that maybe he could assist me in some way. And assist he did!
I sat at the door going in to the truck-stop eating my lunch and reading through Bad Trips (a hilarious collection of essays about the contributing authors' misadventures in travelling, appropriately enough, I think) asking truckers if they were headed toward Salina. Nope! Most were going South, and the ones going North either didn't want to give me a ride; simply weren't around; or couldn't give me a ride due either to a full cab or company rules against giving rides. Eventually I got shooed away, and so I wandered over to the on-ramp where I thumbed rides for about an hour or so.
I was starting to lose hope as people grimmaced, swerved, and accelerated (or, it's almost as bad: smiled, waved, and accelerated!), and so I took a seat on my pack. Musing to myself that having a water bottle out would somehow magically get me a ride, I pulled out my water bottle and took a swig. Before I was finished drinking, there were brakes and a honk and a sedan on the shoulder with its' window down.
"Okkkay.. I c'n take y'to Hesston.."
Mike, the Mennonite truck mechanic with a 7th grade education. He drawled more than a self-congratulatory child artist.
Hesston is a truckstop: washed my clothes, took a shower, did some reading. I spent two hours in the Truckers' Lounge watching Desert War! on the Military Channel and surreptitiously calculating the deployment of my sleeping bag on the floor behind the plant. Eventually I got tired and went ahead and laid down. Sleepy...
"Sir, get up." Oh shit, it's the bronze five-oh, and the piggly-wiggly is on the front lines of the class war: the battle of vagrancy, the propertyless! But a fox-hole of identification and the trenches of likely stories won me the (probably not very interested, anyway) heart of the copper flat-foot! "You can't sleep here."
"Um, why?" "I don't know. The people up there knew you were back here, and I guess they saw you sleepin' or something and freaked out and called the police."
I laughed and rubbed my eyes, still sitting in my sleeping bag smooshed between the wall, the potted plant, and the table under a shower of blinding fluorescent death rays.
"But yeah, this is private property and stuff. I mean I personally don't really care..." He doesn't really care! A comrade in digsuise, no doubt; a victim of the inertia of hierarchy and capitalism! "But there's a park down the road that I can give you a ride to if you want, it's pretty safe there..." Lotus tells me that the police in Sweden try to make sure the homeless - homeless by choice; the socialist state ensures homes for those who need or want them! - are safe and warm. "So I guess I can do that if you want."
"Shit, okay! Err, shoot, okay!" And I grabbed up my stuff. I was having a little trouble, and I knew this cop was cool: "Egh, can you help me with this?"
"No." Oh, okay then, maybe he is a dick-head...
"I'll tell you once we get outside." Fair enough. So with little more difficultly I collected my things and he "escorted" me (we were walking casually together) out of the truck stop: a wink and a smile and a big thumbs'-up to the trembling idiot behind the counter, terrified doubtless that had she tried to wake me herself I would have stabbed her or something. "It's because, one time, I was at a domestic disturbance and the husband asked me to hold the baby. As soon as he handed it to me, he pulled a gun out. I thought I was going to have to drop the baby and pull my gun on him, and I didn't want to do that. He wasn't pulling a gun on me, he just had it on him, we took care of it, it was okay. But yeah, I don't hold things for people anymore."
I wouldn't either. He dropped me off at the park and wished me luck, and also told me that he'd tell the next cop on his watch that I checked out and it was cool that I was at the park. How did he make sure I was safe? Something like this: "Do you have any weapons on you... knife, any guns...bazooka..?" I told him about my swiss army knife and handed it over while I rode in the front seat, and got it back when he dropped me off.
You wake up on a Saturday morning and you think, shit, I want to go to the park, it's beautiful out this morning! I wake up on a Saturday morning and I'm in the park. Luxuries like picnicking, breakfast and bed, enjoying the sun-rise and the ambience of grandparents taking their grandchildren to the swings, these come natural and common on the road. I sat there for a good hour and shared grandiose lies with the elderly about my trek across North and South America to raise money to fight AIDS ... okay, that's a grandiose lie: I just sat there and chuckled to myself about what I could lie about. I exhanged a few brief conversations with some kids, then decided finally to walk to Subway. Journey's "When The Lights Go Down In The City" was playing, and I bought a full foot-long cold cut combo. Complete with a bag of chips and a cup of syrupy water ... mmm, soda. After doing some people-watching, and finishing with the brunch, I wandered to the on-ramp and sat there for like 4 hours reading and pouting about the heat.
A cop flashed his lights. Man, pigs! His door flew open, his boots crunched in the sandy debris, and his gun, badge, night-stick and polarized sun-glasses (quite prolific, I've found!) stood out like ... I have a bad analogy about bar-hopping that I won't use. "HEY MR. DAVID!" Woah, what? Should I be relieved or intimidated? Relieved: he was the next cop on watch. He gave me a ride in to McPherson, the next town up, and I thanked him and asked him for his name and then promptly forgot it.
"That's a shotgun?" pointing to the weapon mounted on the squad car's upholstry, I squirm in my seat and study the contours as we speed up the Interstate, ever Northward.
"Heh, yeah. We call that the poop gun."
"'Cause when we point it at people, it makes 'em shit their pants. Or, it should anyway. I would."
He dropped me off at a Wal-Mart in McPherson Kansas. I bought some batteries and a charger for my camera and got some water from Braum's and was asked a favor by some yuppie ... "You look like a Tom! Haha, yeah! Tell that dude over there that Susan says she doesn't care!" No. Brandon called or I called Brandon or some shit, and we talked off and on the rest of the day, and text chatted and stuff. I tried out my camera walking west from the Wal-Mart, looking out North-East over the ever-present train tracks, this set running diagonally under the bridge.
I wandered further into McPherson, met some random dude who helped with finding the library and ensuring they were open for my grand arrival & also warned me of the cops there: "Yeah, they really fucking suck maaaan. Go and take this other street, 'cause if they see you on the main street they'll hassle you maaaan." I don't remember his name, but he does roofing. "I build ruffs maaaan."
Through the park, between the garages, on to the library we go! I had a bacon cheeseburger and a soda at the NasBar & Grill, a quiet Nascar-obsessed bar with two televisions: ones playing racing, the other with Heartland Fox News. I messaged Mom; "You know you're in hickland when...", finished and paid and nodded to the single, sad drunk at the bar, and wandered back to the park, stopping off at a curious book store on Main Street. It was such that the science magazines - and my readers will know I'm a science buff, or they should - were located directly abreast of the porn magazines! Well being a guy it can't be helped but to glance occassionally at the cover of these magazines - not lude, but beautiful, and there's nothing wrong with that! - while thumbing through Discover and Skeptic. It occurred to me that it probably appeared both to the old couple perusing novellas and the rather large woman at the register that I was, in classic Woody Allen style that Jesse would doubtless appreciate (Bananas!) looking at porn mags and trying to hide it by pretending to look at science magazines. The reality of course was different, and I decided to buy Skeptic and hurry back to the park before God's Holiest township of McPherson, Kansas struck down its' oh-so-righteous indignation upon the lustful Texan adulterer.
I read some articles, lounged on the grass, and marvelled at the fireflies until well after sunset. Firefighters across the street, I slept in the park and wasn't hassled by the - I heard twice more from other people - supposedly ass-hole cops of this little town. I was woken up around 2AM by very, very strong winds - lots of in-your-face debris - and scuttled over behind a tree, and later, due to rain and hail, to the whateverthefuckitscalled building. I woke up in the morning, talked with a quiet old lady who had sat down at a table near me about the history of the Mennonites and the different religious sects in Kansas, and heard about the Jam in the Park in Lindsborg. Fuckin' Lindsborg, dude!
I got some Wendy's (blaagh! no grocery stores around and I was starved), and dragged myself half-assedly down the longest, most barren road I've ever seen in my entire life. Two hours of walking and I'm about a third of the way to Lindsborg. A truck pulls over, the windows down and the radio blaring. "HEY! NEED A FUCKIN' RIDE!?"
Right place, right time. Anywhere else, any other time, I never would have accepted a ride from these guys: one looks like any farmers' dad, the other looks like Beetlejuice. No, not Michael Keaton. Beetlejuice. "WELL FUCK ME IN THE ASS RUNNIN' BACKWARDS!" Tom only needs to dye his hair green and get a striped suit. "Mmm.." Dave needs some over-alls. There's beer cans clankin' around on the floor, and speaking of floor, Tom was speeding like a fucking nut-case. These dudes rocked. Tom was taking rocks back to his house to make a path in the side-yard for his wife's garden. Dave was thinking, or drunk, or something, and so was apparently just along for the ride.
"Yeah, this music festival thing."
"NO KIDDING!? WELL SHIT ON A BIG GODDAMN STICK, LET'S CHECK THAT OUT!"
So they dropped me off, I wrote in my journal and checked out girls for a while (girls I was too shy to talk to, with such superfluous self-arguments as "I'm not from here!" and "They're already hanging out with people!" as if this had any role in socialization) and Dave wandered up and we entered in to a rather deep conversation, various local Kansas folk groups singing songs about hitch-hiking strumming and humming in the ambience of the Rotary Club and ice-cream vendor lush green park. It was a good day, with the clouds lazily tumbling overhead, the sun shinging through the leaves, carpenter ants sprinting along my jean-shorts and sugar ants looking for the water on my soaked cantine. The day slipped into night, and I was forced into a choice between McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and hunger. Big Mac with fries, I guess. The DoT had a complex across from the restaurants, next to the highway I was to take off on in the morning. I explored it, enduring silly questions from a distant cadre of small, curious children ("Are you a HOBO!? What's your NAME!?") and then came to a large, red trailer bed that was far enough away that I could lay flat on my back and see the whole sky light up - the clouds billowing and thulumping, but gone, now. So I did. My mistake, I guess, because apparently I was right in the middle of some fox's (or dogs'..?) place. About every forty-five minutes for the next several hours, this stupid little red bastard would yelp and howl at me from the line of bushes a few tens of meters distant. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Barrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!! "SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!" more silence .... BARRRR!!! BARR!! It was pretty irritating, and it's hilarious in retrospect: I can imagine laying in my bed in one of the nearby homes, hearing some kid shrieking profanities, this loud repeated banging of something that sounds like a large metal plate, and this ridiculous, shrill howl all mixing together in the middle of the night. I guess it got its' wish, because I packed up - leaving my phone that I'd thrown at it unthinkingly and could not find in the dark, the flashlight not being of much help - and wandered back to the park, fuming and pouting, to sleep where I had earlier slouched and listened and smiled.
4AM: Rain! I moved and fell back asleep. 8AM: Heavy rain! I sat up and read another essay in Bad Trips, this one describing a woman journalists' very bad trip into arctic Norway in February. I was cold and wet and hungry, and it was good to know I wasn't anywhere near the freezing blacked-out hut, nor any boiled fish. The rain subsided, I walked back through the college grounds past a throng of hurrying, giggling girls who I imagine were gitty new students, one smiling at the weirdo with the poncho and the over-sized blue backpack - I smiled back, it helped! - and I got on the highway. This was to be the day I would make it in to Salina, I decided. It was only 15 or so miles. I could do that in a day, for sure.
Moving down Old Highway 81, I encountered the quite-awesome intersection of Old Highway 81 (Kansas State Highway 81) & Lamer Road. Phear it.
Well I'm sick of sitting here writing, and I don't want to be left behind by the crew. (The crew: John and Joe, the tall "we look like creeps but we actually ARRRRRR kick-ass"; Lotus the spiritual being; Emma and April, the hippy chicks that picked me up in Salina), and in fact John and Joe just lumbered in here and let me know what's up: we're rolling out and we're gonna' go fly signs ("NEED GAS") to get gas money and food. And probably beer.
They think I'm a cop because I'm sober and I have combat boots.
How to know you're in a hippy town: