Old Friends

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

I picked Michael up on highway 84 outside of Clovis Texas. I had spent the night in Lubbock in a neighborhood that makes you want to take your car inside with you. A young program director for a local megachurch was nice enough to respond to my last minute request on my favorite couch surfing website. “Sure come on over!” So I did. And the drive from Austin to Lubbock was fantastic. It had one of the best windmill farms I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was the dramatic scenery that made it so. The winding highway ushering me toward dark storm clouds looming over a setting sun. Then the windmills. And have I mentioned the autumn air yet?
So when I got to Lubbock , I backed my 97 Saturn sedan into the driveway and emptied the methodically packed contents of my car into the guest bedroom. Everything but the 200 pounds of books in my back seat. I figured if someone expended the effort to steal 60-pound unmarked boxes of unknown content and lug them someplace where they could safely peer into these perceived treasure chests, the joke would be on them. And then what would they do? Throw them away? Set them by a dumpster? That was as far as I needed to imagine that scenario. I was comfortable with any derivation of a story that began with me waking up to a bookless car. So I unloaded the car and watched the end of Super Troopers with my host and his girlfriend and their dachshunds.
“So what do you do?” He asked me.
“I’m a writer. I write books about my journeys, both physical and spiritual. But don’t worry. I won’t be writing about this one.” And I meant it.
I methodically repacked my car the next morning.
I had already been driving a while when I saw Michael on the side of the road. I had to stop in Lubbock to change my brake pads. Once again I emptied the trunk of my car in front of an AutoZone in order to get to my jack. His sign said I-40 and there was a flower on the upper corner, which I didn’t see until later. I drove by him first to catch a good look. He seemed okay. Plus I’d have another chance to interview him before he got in the car.
This little two-lane highway wasn’t really the quickest way from any big city to any other one. That’s why I was on it. I’ve seen plenty of Texas highways in my life, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get to New Mexico. Santa Fe would be there when I was ready. It always is.
I passed Michael by, turned around and went back for him. He was tall and thin and had a scraggly homeless beard. His pants were dirty like a train jumper’s pants would be and his bag was worn and frayed. But his eyes were okay. Not normal, but okay. Maybe even good. Definitely intriguing.
“Hold on a second. I have to rearrange some things.”
Empting the front seat and find places for my boxes of books and other accessories gave me time to talk to him a bit. There were no cars passing by. I wasn’t sure if he was mentally sound or not. He could have been a schizophrenic or a prophet or a bum at this point. But he seemed safe. And I had a gun. But that wouldn’t be too helpful in a predicament. There’s no time to reach under the seat, pull out a gun, kick of the safety and shoot if someone sitting directly next to you decides to attack. And firing a gun in a car? Who wants to do that to your ears? I think I’d rather take the beating than damage my hearing.
Now that the front seat was cleared, the weight distribution in the car was completely compromised. My rear shocks would now see their respective bumpstops more frequently.
He looked like Jesus and he talked like Jesus. He has just cut his long Jesus hair the night before. His hair was awesome even at a shorter length. I didn’t know how a street kid could have such amazingly healthy hair, but he did. He seemed to have a clear and empty mind, and picking him up was like traveling back through time and picking up me 7 years ago in Mississippi or Louisiana. He was even the same age I was then.
I remembered feeling what he was feeling. Realizing there was no fighting to be done and that life was not under my control. There were few question in his mind. Few options. Just stick out your thumb and see what happens. But his nowness was invaded by thoughts of a woman that just left him. She had left him the night before and hitched a ride west. He was looking to catch up with her.
We motored down the road in West Texas. He spoke so softly that I couldn’t hear most of what he said. But he said good things. There’s something special about this one, and there’s nothing for me to do about it. Nothing to do but drive.
We pulled over for gas. We were almost friends now. Already more than friends. To become friends would take experiences and time and the transfer of information. We kind of skipped all that and got right to communing. I miss him.
In front of the gas station was this young Native American girl. Maybe 16 years old. She had a dog. She watched me check the oil in my road-worn, over packed car. There was something special about her. Like Michael. She has a sense of self, but she didn’t let it get in the way of watching me. There was something special about that girl. I looked at her and smiled. Every time I looked up, she was looking at me. I wanted to ask where she was from. Does she live here. Do we know each other. But I already knew. We did know each other. We knew each other well. And she was my teacher or I was her defender. And in that moment, I missed her. Before this, I never knew I knew her, but in this moment I knew. And I missed her. And I miss her…

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