It is hot and lonely on this empty stretch of road. Thank God for Danny, and thank God he’s finally leash trained. This would be infinitely worse if I was having to carry a 55 lb pit bull, they are quite squiggly. I was so excited ot make my way out this time. I can finally travel alone, no drunk/stoned/crusty asshole to travel with. Just me and my dog and an endless stretch of New Mexican highway. It is far more desolate than I would have thought it would be. I’ve seen about six cars since I left that gas station 6 miles back. I don’t know if I should keep heading west or if I should stay close enough to get back before nightfall. The thing about the desert is that no matter how high the temperatures rise during the day, the nights are relentless in their icy aridity.
We have a beat up half melted 2 liter filled with tepid water, it’s 104 and I am all alone, save for my dog and the mountains. I never should have gotten on that bus with those hippies. It’s mind blowing to me that the first encounter with sexual assault I have as a street kid was at the hands of a peace loving rainbow family hippie that goes by the name of Grey Bear. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, or will be in the future, but disconcerting nonetheless.
After 18 hours trying to get a ride at the on ramp right past the massive truck stop that fills the horizon for miles we decided to go for a walk, Danny and I. We have to get out of New Mexico, we have to find civilization. I am starting to get worried. I’ve never been stuck in the desert before. I know my gear contains a can of Frank and Beans and some dog food, that’s not going to last us long. The freedom of traveling with a pit bull is not quite as free as I was hoping it would be. Not having to travel with some dude who may decide after a few to many rum and cokes that I am free game is awesome. I have gotten into too many fights to be passed off as a squat mattress. Sometimes being overweight has really and truly worked in my favor.
Still, it’s exponentially easier to get a ride when you are traveling as a pair. I haven’t gone off on my own until this trip. I need to make it to San Francisco in the next two weeks, I can meet up with some kids, take a break from the road, find some clean socks. I only have one pair left, but I can’t switch them out yet, who knows how long I will be on this trip. The old ones are going to have to last me at least through the rest of this state. My face is starting to crack across the apples of my cheeks, my lips have been chapped for 2 days. The old man, gospel singing trucker that picked my up in Amarillo and got me just west of Tucimcary left me off with a brand new tube of Chapstick, he told me I would need it. I haven’t done the desert before. I only hope I can get a ride all the way through to LA. That is a lot to ask for, but you never know. I stayed around that truck stop for a day and a half, most of the other truckers that came along would give me a ride if I gave them one. It’s crazy how so much of my worth as a human exists between my legs in this life. I always thought there was so much more to the person that I am, but very few people give a shit about that. It comes down to will I give you a blow job or not. the answer has always been no.
I fear sex while I am homeless. I can’t afford disease or a baby, hence getting the dog, he enables me to be on the road and not have to worry over my future. To an extent, I have forgotten about what is to come, live fast, die young, that’s all I expect from this life. It may prove to not work out that way, but now, it doesn’t really matter. It’s kind of amazing that if something goes wrong, my feet can simply carry me away, Some day there will come a time when this life gets harder than it is worth it for the lessons I am learning. So far, I know pretty much nothing, and If that can continue to be the case, then maybe I will be ok.
It’s been about four hours since we left the truck stop. I have to take breaks for Danny. I have a sarong that I used to carry him in when he was a puppy and not yet trained to a lead. We are taking another break, I’ve poured his water into the half-cut two liter that doubles as his water bowl. I hold the sarong over his head, try to bring him a little relief from the unforgiving New Mexican sun, we have to start our trek back towards the stop. We have less than a liter of water between the two of us, there have been no cars pass us by this lonely Wednesday. A few trucks have gone by, but I learned my lesson about those guys.
We stay to the westbound side of the highway, occasionally I throw out a thumb, though there aren’t many reasons to. Dark is coming. I’ll admit it, though never to my road dogs, I am scared. I don’t want to sleep in the desert, I know nothing of the wildlife, the environment. I left Texas with barely a bedroll, spent the night in Amarillo sleeping on some cardboard in the field beyond the Love’s, it is too cold to try my hand at sleeping in the desert. It’s time to turn tail, maybe we’ll be better off in Austin, at least there is family there. I see a car heading toward us, miles up the ruthless highway, “Here we go buddy.”
Out goes the thumb. They are getting closer, a bright green Neon with the paint peeling, I see them start to slow. MY heart is pounding, this is the fun part. I liken the moments approaching a car alone, in the middle of nowhere to the moment right before a skydiver takes that leap. My heart is pounding as I slowly approach the car. I am gauging Danny’s reaction carefully, I learned the hard way one time in the middle of the Arkansas woods, that Danny is an extraordinary judge of character. He is cautious, he often is approaching a stranger. The last twenty yards are so slow to a crawl. My focus is tunneling into this one moment. Will this person be safe? Will they try to hurt me? Will they be the most magical amazing person I ever meet in my life? Will this next moment change my life forever?
I approach the car from the back, the window rolls down. The first thing I see is a young girl in the backseat, she can’t be older than 4. She has a pink mohawk. Well, this is interesting. I come up on the right, I see a twentysomething woman in the passenger seat. She’s wearing a ripped up denim vest boasting a back patch that proclaims “The only good cop is a very dead cop.” The multitude of silver adorning her face and the rainbow liberty spikes seems to construe an odd sense of safety.
“Where are you headed?” she asks me.
“As far from the desert as I can get. But ultimately, California.” Because those weren’t words on the lips of a million mouths before mine.
“He safe?” she nods towards Danny.
“The only time he hasn’t been, someone was trying to rape me.” It seems the most impregnable response. A subtle warning wrapped in reassurances.
“We’re headed to Joshua Tree, we can get you that far at least.”
Joshua Tree is only 2 hours outside of Los Angeles. That would be incredible. Anything to get off of this highway. Interstate 40 is the most desolate stretch of roadway I have ever traversed, anything to get out of the desert, and a ride all the way with a family? There is no way we are going to pass this up. Danny has been wagging his tail since she started talking to me.
She’s Rosie, her green-haired husband is Alex, and the mohawk rocking little bit is Makiah. They are heading to Joshua Tree to go to Alex’s grandfather’s funeral. He tells me a few stories about his Pop, his eyes always slightly far away, wistful. Rosie turns to face me and we talk for about 100 miles, where I am going, why am I traveling, aren’t I lucky they picked me up and not some rapist/murderer/psycho. It’s always the same conversations when people pick me up. I’ve loaded myself with stock responses, never can get too close to these people. Heading to meet up with some kinds in San Francisco/St. Louis/Portland/Columbus/Philadelphia/etc. I am always traveling to destinations where I won’t have to travel for a while. Yes I am so thankful you aren’t one of those people who thinks a homeless girl is a target. Thank you so much for reminding me of that morbid reality.
Somewhere outside of Flagstaff I beg off anymore conversation, I’m so tired, we have been traveling for a week and a half. Danny and I curl up next to Makiah and blissfully allow sleep to claim us. I say it all the time, the thing I miss most about having four walls and a place to lay my head is air conditioning. Anyway I can get it.
It’s about 8 oclock in the morning when I finally rejoin the living. Rosie and Alex have traded off somewhere in the night, we’ve made it to Joshua Tree. This part is hard, I never know really where someone should drop me off when it’s my first time in a town. Where are the cops? What are the best roads for getting out of here? Where do the homeless congregate in this town? They can almost always point me in the right direction.
We settle on the Joshua Tree Library, it’s one block off 62 and a short ride (longer walk) to I-10 from there. That will get me to LA. I have a couple of friends in LA, a few who I know are planning to meet up in San Francisco around when I am trying to get there. I thank my punk-rock saviors and they see me on my way with a new canteen and a twenty.
The Joshua Tree Library holds the musty smell of old books as well as any big city library can. It’s a familiar and safe scent, it has never failed to make me feel at peace and safe. I use the computer for my allotted 30 minutes, hit up some kids on Myspace that I know are around the area. Where are y’all? What do you have going on? Know anyone around this town I found myself in? Inevitably, the internet makes this hitchhiking homeless thing way easier. Kerouac and his adventures down this highway are what drew me in initially, though his travel was far less connected.
I go outside to smoke a cigarette, post up with Danny, he’s been chilling with some kids I met at the church that feeds in this town. They seem cool, but meth is making it’s foray into this culture, it’s slowly taking over, and it is something Austin taught me to avoid as much as possible. I’m stationed on the curb, under a tree, just hanging out. There is a whole lot of just staring off into space and thinking about the world that goes on in this lifestyle. Pondering the great questions of the universe. How am I going to eat tonight? Will I make it to my next stop soon? Can I sleep under that same bridge tonight? Did someone see me when I stashed my gear? Heavy, philosophical stuff.
I’ve been here coming up on a day and a half, it’s time to move on. I go back in, check my page, there has been a response. Raven knows someone down the highway, she hit them up and they are going to come scoop me from the library, give me a shower and a couch for the night, then take me on to LA. It’s only a two hour ride, they don’t mind and have some shit to take care of out there anyway. I hit up my folks in LA, let them know I will be around tomorrow, find out the best place to meet up.
I finally make it to Los Angeles. It has been 12 days since that creep copped a feel while I was sleeping. 12 days since I took refuge under a table in a Walmart Mcdonald’s. Sleeping on the floor under the back table is not a moment I will soon forget. I meet up with some kids I know from my travels, Eva and Mickey are the two I know best. I missed the hell out of those kids when they were on their east coast tour. Somewhere in Pennsylvania they picked up an old model Chevy van, the kind with armrests and overstuffed seats in the back. There is always room for two kids and a dog, it’s veritable luxury for Danny and me.
They are headed to meet up with Pickle and Patches in San Francisco, just the fellows I am headed to see. We spend a couple of days on Venice Beach. It is always a good time out here, drum circles and dreadies. The best pot. Folks around here are often more welcoming to street kids, it’s a nice turn of pace from small town America where if you didn’t spend your life there you are suspect. Also, too many patches. That seems to always be a dead giveaway. But hey, if you aren’t offering a new pair of Carharts then I don’t have much concern with your judgments.
We take off early in the morning, when the chill of dawn bathes your skin in dew drops. It’s time to get to Frisco. Eventually, some of us will leave from San Francisco to Horning’s Hideout. We’re going to the Cheese show, brah. I’ll head out with that crew, make my way up into Oregon, stop off for an open mic or two in Portland and Ben and find my way home to Austin. I will be 22 soon, have to get back to my family of poets and crusties to ring in the next year of my life. I don’t know where I will end up when I get older, I’m not planning to get too much older. I am planning on grabbing this life by the balls and riding this epic wave of existence. As long as I walk away knowing nothing, I will be ok.