WAY DOWN IN TEXAS
It was well after midnight and I should have been tired but the whole scene was so big, challenging and of course tense that I felt more like I was about to run out onto the field in the orange bowl to take on the Miami hurricanes than to find a trucker going to El Paso; courage is courage though, so I just said to myself, I need this ride, the game is on; I’m a long way from home, now find yourself a ride.
I pushed through the big glass double doors looking right and left for all the truckers, but all I found was three young guys and a uniformed soldier gathered over by some vending machines. There was a clerk or some kind of employee behind the counter; otherwise, the big place seemed to be empty. With all the trucks parked outside, I expected to see truck drivers, so I ask the man behind the counter where they were; without looking up from his paper he said, “Asleep.” I backed away from the counter with my laundry bag and my embarrassment and glanced over at the group by the vending machines. The soldier turned away and walked toward the back so I spoke to one of the guys who had turned toward me.
It turned out that the soldier was giving the guys a ride all the way to El Paso as soon as he finished his vending machine sandwich and used the bathroom. They, of course, sized me up quickly and said they were sure he’d be happy to include me and Sure enough, in less than thirty minutes I was off to El Paso.
When I got into the back seat of the soldier’s car I was counting my blessings and for a short while, we all exchanged facts and stories about ourselves. Then after a while, everyone got quiet and my thoughts turned to Jack Redeagle and his school. Again, the school sounded interesting and I thought of the seven books I’d left with Connie a couple of them might be the textbooks Jack used in the school. Then I remembered that I told Connie that if I didn’t come back she could do whatever she wanted to with them; sell’em, give’em away or keep them for herself. With that last thought, I drifted into sleep.
Suddenly, I woke up, It was Sunday morning and daylight was just breaking. We’d been on the road for about four hours but now we were creeping through the streets of a tiny town that I doubt was on the map. Everything in the town, the streets, the houses, mailboxes, utility poles, everything, was dusty tan like all the country around it for as far as I could see. It looked like an old cowboy movie set for the 1880s. It was the most desolate town and country I had ever seen. There wasn’t a soul to be seen as we stopped to deliver one of our guys so we gave him a loud cheer as he took off for the small tan house where he lived. Nobody but me seemed to see the irony of how a guy like Terry could be from a place like this or at least they said nothing, so neither did I. He was such an animated happy character, I’m sure I would have been depressed as hell living in that place. I guess you have to be born there.
It was a long hard drive on to El Paso and the guys all looked pretty worn when they dropped me off on the interstate and headed for their section of town. I wished them well and watched them drive away.
It was April but it was hot out there on the concrete slab right in the middle of town. My rule of just standing still and thumbing didn’t make sense to me here, so I just walked forward, backward, and sideways with my thumb out. After a mile or so, and not getting picked up by the police, a college man in a little red sport Mazda buzzed in just in front of me and picked me up laughing at what a site I was hoofing, as he put it, out on this busy interstate carrying a laundry sack wearing a green band on my head.
Jeff was a very pleasant young guy. He was headed back to the University of Arizona in Tucson after a trip to New Orleans on his spring break. We laughed traded stories and discussed if it would be better for me to stay on Interstate ten and go up through California or turn north and take the scenic rout up by Flagstaff. I much preferred the idea of a scenic route.
It was getting late when we got the university and Jeff said he didn’t have a place for me to crash but that I could go down to the TV room in his dorm and sleep all night. I was really beat and that sounded fine to me. He said no one would even notice me there. I went right into the TV room and fell into a big lounge chair in the back of the room. Everything was fine until a little after midnight when I found the scruff of my neck in the hands of two campus cops.