It's been a bit so I better continue my story. I've had a couple of requests. Where were we...oh yes, I-70 in Colorado.
The first thing that happened when we hit I-70 was we got pulled over. I think we had been traveling for a little under and hour when Tom muttered, "Oh shit." And I looked to see two state patrol cars flipping a u-turn in the median. Tom must have been going pretty fast because the officers were aggressive about turning around and catching up to us. Of course, with no driver's license between the two of us, we were looking at some trouble--we were at least going to be searched and we had a bong in the back of the car. Needless to say, they found it. Frosty the Snowman. Tom tried to convince the cops that it was a gift from a friend who had since passed away, but they weren't buying his bullshit and they confiscated it. We actually were let go. Even though we had been caught with a bong and neither of us had a driver's license, they let us go. Amazing.
Try as I might, I'm never able to clearly remember all the events of this leg of the trip. Names of towns that I thought I'd never forget are failing me. Maybe if I look at an atlas I could figure it out.
Tried the atlas...I have no idea.
Tom had decided at this point that we would beg at churches for food and gas money. He said that if we made sure to go to Catholic Churches they wouldn't turn us away. However, the first church we stopped at was a Baptist Church. Of course, I have no idea what town we were in, only that we had definitely crossed the state line into the land of flat golden wheat fields; also known as Kansas.
On a Saturday night, we pulled in to the parking lot of a church and Tom approached a door to knock on it. When answered, Tom explained that we were passing through town with no money and no place to stay but we didn't feel comfortable continuing because we were so tired that driving any further would surely result in an accident. So the pastor of the church put us up in a motel and invited us to service the next morning. We obliged the congregation by attending the next morning's services and the most amazing thing happened right before my religion-denying, bitterly agnostic eyes. When the pastor sent the tithing plate, he told the congregation that, instead of keeping the donations from that Sunday's tithe, he would be giving it to us in blessing for a safe journey. We were then invited to brunch at a restaurant with all of them. After the meal none would let us use the money from that morning's tithe to pay for our food and even handed us more money. I think we left there with about $70.
We were floored. Astounded. Struck dumb.
When we left this congregation of people I had more faith in the goodness of God than I ever had in my life. Even to this day.
Of course, the money was gone by the time we hit Topeka, the only place we stopped in the great state of Kansas whose name I can remember. To this day I don't know what happened to all that money over the distance, but when we got to Topeka we were looking for another benefactor.
The two main things I remember about Topeka are the shelter we stayed in and the hitch-hiker we picked up. I'm trying to remember if we had already picked him up when we got there or if it was the next day, on our way out. I guess it doesn't matter. What matters is that he drove me absolutely mad. The shelter wasn't really that remarkable. It was not unlike other shelters I've stayed in over the years, but for some reason it left a permanent imprint on my brain akin to my first drinking or pot-smoking experience.
Anyway, from Topeka to Baton Rouge, Louisiana there isn't much to tell about. Somewhere in the first 24 hours of riding with the hitch-hiker we discovered he was an serious alcoholic, which posed a series of irritating circumstances in the dry counties of Arkansas. By the time we reached Texarkana on the state line between Texas and Arkansas (bet you couldn't guess where that was), I was about a step and a half away from murdering the hitch-hiker with my bare hands. The only whining I have ever heard, even now, that equalled this guys incessant blithering over the fact that he had no alcohol was the night Rabbit missed his vein and shot heroin into the decimated musculature of his arm. And so it was in the lovely town of Shreveport, Louisiana that we gave him a five dollar bill and asked him to run into a convenience store to buy some cigarettes...and left. Without him.
I think we rode the first 45 minutes in total silence. It was glorious.
Then we decided to switch drivers.
Tom had been driving pretty much straight through from Topeka to Shreveport, stopping a few times for gas and to either scam or beg money for food and gas, so we agreed to switch just outside of Shreveport. As I pulled out into the small amount of traffic, I checked my rearview mirror and saw no one. However, as soon as I turned left onto the freeway onramp, I saw blue and red lights behind me. I pulled to the right and awaited the officers arrival at my window. He asked for my license and registration, with which I quickly obliged, and waited for him to ask me why I thought he would mistake my Washington State ID card for a valid driver's license. Instead he asked, "What were you doing when this picture was taken?" Then I realized that the picture on my ID card had been taken shortly after shaving my head at the end of October of 1993. Not only was I bald, but I was pale, having been out of the sun for a few months. I think he expected me to say that I was a heroin junkie living on the streets of Seattle. However, I replied by explaining to him that I was living in an apartment and working as a CNA at a nursing home. He then took my ID back to his car for what seemed like an eternity. Upon his return he said, "Well, your name came back clean for now, but I'm going to keep an eye out. You can be sure that when I find what I'm looking for, I'll find you." His throaty southern drawl still rings in my head when I retell this story. I was terrified.
The rest of that day's drive was uneventful. Lots of oil rigs in people's back yards. Shanty towns and little villages and miles and miles of green highway with sometimes tiny canals giving the quickest glimpses of Deep South Swampland.
Heaven, or Hell?