When I get to hell I'll ride there too. (the prequel) (1 Viewer)

derailed

Pilgrim
Joined
Aug 2, 2009
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101
Location
between here and there
The first part of a story I'd written on here...rapidly turning into a book.

I met Israel in a parking lot across the street from the truckstop. I had been looking for rides at the Flying J, hanging out with old timers, so I was excited to see another kid. From across the parking lot he looked like a backpack with legs. He had a gigantic American flag hanging from his pack, waving patriotically in the wind. Israel turned out to be a foster kid from Florida whose Dad had been killed in the Gulf War, he was heading for Florida and a Rainbow Gathering. When I told him I was heading for the West Coast he only took a few seconds to change his mind and decide he wouldn't mind a trip to California. He seemed like the kind of guy who really didn't care where he was going, if i'd have been heading for Argentina he probably would have stolen a Spanish dictionary and come with me. Israel had just spent, according to him, a "month from fucking hell", hanging out with homebums and meth addicts in Austin and San Marcos. He'd hitchhiked down to San Antonio with another guy he'd had to leave halfway because he couldn't keep up. Before that he'd been in Mississippi and Louisiana drifting around.

Tank was Israel's dog. A massive Pitbull with a neck the size of a tree trunk, Tank was as intimidating a dog as I'd seen in a long time. But despite his hulking size and mean face, it was hard to take Tank too seriously as he was entirely cloaked in what can only be referred to as a dog skirt. The thing was purple with little neon-- colored bones on it. The best thing about it was that Tank actually looked like he was aware of the situation. The first time I saw him I said "Nice skirt princess" and his head actually bowed with shame, that was probably the catalyst for Tanks everlasting hatred of me.

Upon meeting Israel, I gave up my quest to get a ride with the truckers. I'd had no luck in two days and was tired of sitting around waiting. We headed for the Walter Street bridge the next morning to make some money for supplies before we left. It was December and Christmas was a little over two weeks away, so people were in a generous mood and we cleared over a hundred and fifty dollar easily. That night we slept under the overpass, and in the morning we started hiking toward the Kirby Yard. The trip wasn't too far, and the weather in San Antonio up until that point had been mild. We got into Kirby a little after five and started walking up the road paralleling the tracks. I expected some others folks to be in Kirby since I'd met a lot of people in Austin heading West. Sure enough, there was a group of four hanging out in front of the Church's Chicken. We sat down and it turned out that I knew a couple of them already from various places. They were heading west too and had spent the last few days in Kirby unable to get out because one of them had a bad staph infection that had required treatment at the hospital.

Unlike previous visits to the Kirby yard, this time the police were out in force. They quickly corralled us up and sent us packing to another spot, where we were quickly removed by another squad car. By this time night had fallen and it was dark enough for us to take refuge in a creek running parallel to the tracks. It was wet, but by that point we were getting fairly drunk and didn't really mind the two feet of standing water we were in. We drunkenly shared stories, and talked at length about the different people in Austin we hated. One of the guys in the camp, James, had traveled with me back on the west coast, so we spent the majority of the evening catching up on old friends and putting Olde English down the hatch like the 21st amendment was about to be repealed.

Neither Israel or I had a phone, and had been planning to just hop on anything going in our direction. Happily we didn't have to take that option, as one of the guys we were with had one. We hadn't been sitting long when the telltale lights appeared five hundred yards down the way. Israel and the guy with the phone went into special forces mode and crawled up the embankment next to us on their bellies to get a trace on the train pulling in. They weren't gone long, and when they came back breathlessly they told us the train was due in LA later on in the week. That was all the confirmation we needed to claim our ride, and Israel, James, and I bolted out to the train. For some reason the rest of the camp was dragging, they still had not appeared over the embankment and we were becoming worried that they'd miss the ride. As these thoughts were flashing through our heads, the train aired up and began to slowly rumble out of the yard and onward to El Paso. James waited until the last minute before bailing and heading back to the others. We rolled by the camp at about 15mph, too fast for a couple of the guys to get on. James and company waved us goodbye with smiles and a loud "Good Luck!". I sat down with Israel and the dog, bummed out that the rest of the group had missed the train, but glad to be out of San Antonio after so many weeks of failure.

We rode out past the Alamo Dome, the San Antonio Spur's famous arena, and soon were picking up speed and leaving the metro area. I knew from prior experience that a new IM facility had just been built outside San Antonio. This made me nervous because we were riding a double stack, but the fact that we'd traced the train and it had confirmed an LA arrival date in the very near future comforted me.

I slammed my head against the container when I saw the bright lights up ahead, meaning only one thing. We crossed over the barbed wire threshold that was the facility and came to a rest somewhere close to the middle of the yard. At least ten tracks on both sides of us, most were full too which made our problem twice as bad if we needed to bail out. We brainstormed for a while, debating on what the best course of action was. In the end, we decided to sleep there in the well while we sat in the yard. Desperation had gotten the better of us, as we knew that falling asleep in an IM facility and blindly hoping that we'd wake up moving was not the smartest thing we could have done.

We awoke at about 6am the next morning, dejected to see that we were still in the exact same spot. Both of us still wanted to remain on the train, clinging to the trace call we'd made the previous night. We would have to be leaving soon, this train was due in LA, and it was due soon. We sat silently in the well for another six hours before any signs of life presented themselves. Our train aired up and moved forward, we were finally on our fucking way! We were going crazy from boredom and were ecstatic to be heading out.

That excitement turned to anger as we realized we'd only just begun to work in the yard. The train went back and forth all afternoon, dropping cars, attaching cars, everything in the book. The worst part about the whole situation was the way in which the train would creep almost all the way out of the yard, as if meaning to leave, and then double back and begin the whole ordeal again. On several occasions we cleared the yard by a full half mile, only to reverse back into the facility, it was a frustrating experience.

By 3pm we had given up on any hope of ever leaving the facility, I had visions of myself in 60 years, still playing cards on the floor of this car and drinking crappy whiskey, it was a frightening vision. By the time we did finally leave the yard for good an hour later, I had given up caring and could hardly muster up the energy to smile. Tank is a train whore of a dog; some dogs cower and whimper aboard a train, but Tank couldn't get enough of it, we finally had to lift him up onto the porch and put his skirt on so he could partake in the dull southern Texas view.

It was about this time that we first started to notice the weather. We had been so concerned with the IM facility that we'd been completely oblivious to the fact that what appeared to be a mean storm was brewing directly in front of us. The first indication of a problem was the wind, it really started to kick up, blowing trees and shrubbery nearly sideways. I was not as familiar with Texas and the winter weather as Israel was, so he began breaking it down for me. I had naiively assumed that December in Texas would be mild, after all, it had been the last few times i'd ridden the sunset. As a consequence, I was horribly unprepared for any sort of adverse weather. I'd left my only jacket on the train from Eagle Pass back in November, and thus was armed only with a couple flannel shirts. I had no socks, and the pants I was wearing at the time were completely blown out. Israel was clothed better than I was, but had a sleeping bag that was barely rated for 40 degree temperature and wouldn't zip up at all. We began to get nervous as we pondered the possibility of a downpour, playing cards to ease the apprehension we both had.

I remember watching the sunset from our well with a sinking feeling; the temperature began to plummet and the sky clouded over completely. By 7pm we'd had to roll out our sleeping bags and prepare for the worst, at that point we weren't sure what would fall from the sky, snow or rain.

It's a 600 mile trip from San Antonio to El Paso, we'd been making good speed, but we were still nowhere near the midpoint of our journey. Our train was cruising at about 65-70mph and the wind chill was starting to bite, even through the sleeping bags we could feel the cold like claws digging into our skin. We lay there and crossed our fingers, staring at the sky and willing it not to open up on us.

On the stroke of 10pm it began to snow. At first the snowflakes drifted down slowly, dry snow, and it was whipping by us so quickly that it wasn't getting a chance to accumulate. This pattern went on for another hour and we hoped that perhaps this would be the worst of it, a light dusting followed by a clear sky. It was not to be. We both briefly nodded off, awakening a mere half an hour later to find ourselves in a full blown whiteout blizzard. Wind and heavy snow swirled around us like a tornado, the well had about a half inch of snow inside of it, covering everything like wallpaper. Israel was beginning to shake because of his defective sleeping bag and Tank was constantly shifting inside, trying to stay warm. I curled up with Israel in a corner of the well, with Tank between the two of us.

The storm started to abate at about 11:30pm, the sky opened up and the snow all but ceased, a few straggling snowflakes blowing down around us. The sense of relief was palpable, we knew we had dodged a major bullet. The weather stayed clear for the next two hours until we rode into Alpine, almost half way to El Paso. As we crept through the small college town we noticed amenities; there was a 7-11, a Rite Aid, places we could take refuge, even at this late hour. The train finally stopped in the middle of town; at this point, Israel and I made a decision that nearly cost us our lives, we chose to remain on the train.

As soon as we left the lights of the town both of us began to regret our decision, that may have been our only out and we just blew it. As if on cue, the clouds came back...this time darker and more ominous than before. Almost immediately the snow came back and the wind picked up. The whiteout was unrelenting. It made me think back to when I was a kid and used to stand at my window and pray that the snow would just keep falling and falling until it buried the house. The irony was hard to miss, all those years I had prayed for epic snowdrifts and it never materialized, and now as an adult, the one time I needed a blizzard to stop it just got worse and worse.

The first warning sign was my feet, I completely lost feeling in them. I tried to stand up in the well, but fell over in a heap, it felt as if I'd lost the use of my legs entirely. I furiously massaged them but without socks it was a losing battle, I put Tank into the bottom of my sleeping bag and his heat helped warm my toes a little bit. Israel's face drained of color, and his lips were the color of blueberries. We tried to keep calm, knowing that panicking in a situation like this would only make matters worse, but it was hard not to. We held each other, trying to conserve body heat, but the wind felt like it was coming up directly from underneath us, chilling us savagely. Israel attempted to start an emergency fire but the wind was too strong, and our matches ran out shortly thereafter.

Tank was the first to completely succumb to the cold. At this point he was between Israel and I, sharing Israel's sleeping bag as I lay next to them. We weren't sure exactly when, but at some point Tank's heart rate became virtually non-existant. Israel yelled at me that he couldn't feel Tank inhaling and exhaling anymore, we pulled him out of the bag and he was entirely unresponsive. There was a faint pulse but it was weak and distant, no amount of rubbing him down could wake him up, we feared for the worst. At this point Israel began to lose his cool; Tank was his baby and now Tank was on the verge of death. We resorted to option three, which consisted of me hanging over the side of the train with a camera, firing the flash off in an attempt to get the attention of the engineer. This was a futile plan from the beginning, there was no way in hell he would be able to see a low-powered flash from that kind of distance, we were at least twenty cars back from the lead unit.

I soon fell into an almost ethereal sleep, dreams swirled in my head, lucid dreams. I didn't see my life flash before my eyes or anything, just random people and places that i'd known. I lay there in my sleeping bag, completely lost in my own quickly freezing world, it felt pleasant and the cold didn't sting anymore, I could barely feel the wind. I wasn't scared anymore, just willing to let whatever happened happen.

I awoke to Israel shaking me violently, yelling 2 inches from my face to get up and get ready to bail. He would later tell me that he shook me for five minutes without a response, a testament to how close we all came to the ultimate end that night. It took me a minute to realize that the snow was coming straight down, and not at a sideways angle...we were stopped! I couldn't think clearly, I was too cold to think my way logically out of the situation. Luckily Israel was in charge and hell bent on getting us the fuck out of there. We looked around us, there was nothing. No lights, no houses, no livestock even...just an insane amount of snow and ice. Both Israel and I knew that reaching the units was the only real chance we had. I began to think of a worst case scenario; what if the train aired up and we were forced to jump on an exposed porch, or even worse, were left in the middle of nowhere in the blizzard? My mind raced but before I knew it we were off the train and running through the snow toward the front. It felt as if I was on autopilot, I didn't feel the cold and we were running faster than either of us had ever ran in our lives. Israel had Tank slung over his shoulders like a sack of rice, I had his bedroll and my pack...the whole time praying that we wouldn't hear the air or the horns.

There were four units on our train; big, warm, beautiful units. I vaulted up the steps and cracked the door open literally diving headfirst into the warmth of the cabin, Israel fell over me in his rush to escape the cold and we landed in a pile at the base of the bathroom door. Slamming the door shut behind us, we rushed to get at the water. Our main concern was Tank, he was still unresponsive with the faintest trace of a heartbeat. Israel attempted to perform doggy cpr on him, it didn't seem to have any affect the first time round, but by the second time his pulse began to slowly come back. We wrapped him in a sleeping bag and set him in front of the heater, careful not to warm him up too quickly.

Israel cried when Tank finally opened his eyes half an hour later. There was nothing I could say, I just lay back on the floor and let the heat overtake me.

I drifted in and out of sleep, my mind still in shock from the previous twelve hours. I'd had a few close calls on trains (I was dragged 500 yards in Fresno until I was finally able to cut myself loose the previous year), but never anything close to as bad as this. A lot of thoughts went through my head; how could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so unprepared? How could I have been so entirely ambivalent towards mother nature? I realized I'd just had both strikes one and two, I made a promise to myself then and there that such a situation would never happen to me or anyone I was traveling with again.

We had finally gotten to sleep when we heard the door open and a kindly-looking crewman entered the cabin. If there is a Mexican Santa Claus, im convinced to this day that this guy was it. Large and imposing, with a kickass beard and a shock of gray hair, it was like something out of a Tijuana Christmas special. He didn't seem surprised at all to see us in the cabin, he explained that he'd seen our footsteps on the gangway and figured some riders had gotten themselves in a jam. We started to speak, playing up the sympathy vote, describing what had just happened, but he dismissed us with a wave and said, "I'm just glad you're alright, this is the worst winter storm to hit Southern Texas in years".

His name was Jose, and he turned out to be a really great guy. He parked himself in one of the chairs and offered us cigarettes, we thankfully accepted and told him about our ordeal. Jose explained to us that the only reason the train had stopped, the only reason we were able to get on this unit in the first place, was because a switch had frozen solid and needed to be cleared before they could continue. This made me doubly thankful for our escape.

"The winter in Texas is no joke, we've had a couple riders die from exposure down here over the years, it can turn on ya", he said with conviction.

After making small talk for another half hour, Jose rose to his feet, turned on the radio for us, and told us we'd be in El Paso in five hours if we were lucky. We listened intently to the radio, finally someone was dispatched with a couple fusies to melt the ice and we rumbled on down the tracks. The engineer turned out to be more entertaining than a TV set, virtually every dispatch he sent consisted of him talking shit to somebody and laughing maniacally. We eventually drifted off to sleep with the soothing sounds of him insulting the brakemen as background noise.

We awoke to the cracking of the radio. The folks working the dispatch in El Paso informed us that our train was due into the yard at any minute. Israel and I debated for some time over whether or not we wanted to stay on the train and keep rolling on to LA, or bail off in El Paso and restock our supplies. At this point we had no food or tobacco, the first one being not so important, but the second one something we weren't sure if we could live without for another day and a half. Our train pulled into the yard for twenty minutes; we still were arguing back and forth over what course of action to take when it aired up and started pulling away again. The deciding factor came down to Tank not having any food, so we packed up our stuff and shuffled out of the door and onto the gangplank. We weren't going terribly fast, so we threw our packs over the side, and then one at a time jumped off. I was the last one off, and as I left I looked forward and saw the conductor looking at me through the rear view mirror. The look on his face was one of, "I've seen this before a thousand times"; I waved and let go.

We were not inside the yard, so there was no hurry to take off running. I stretched my legs and looked around, squinting my eyes against the sun, snow was everywhere. It was a really strange thing to see, palm trees caked in four inches of snow, icicles clinging to the gutters, I had to second-guess myself that we were really in El Paso. Israel was busy throwing snowballs at Tank, who was reacting to them like they were grenades, swatting them away and then running to the nearest hiding spot. This was Israel's first time seeing snow, and he was enthralled with the stuff, it took all my strength to pry him away and get moving.

After a crappy meal at the Burger King we began wandering along the side of the I-10. It didn't take much discussion to rule out hopping on another train; El Paso was frigid, even in the middle of the day and in total sunshine. I'd never imagined it could get so cold in a place like this, most of the winters I'd spent growing up in Northern Nevada hadn't been this harsh. We trudged along in the snow, determined to hitchhike to New Mexico by nightfall if we could.

After walking through downtown El Paso, we walked up onto the interstate and began flying thumbs. We were still in a pretty metro area so it was amazing that no police stopped us, they must have been too busy dealing with the havoc the weather was causing. I'd seen it before in Portland and various other places; people who aren't accustomed to driving in the snow react to it like it's hydrochloric acid. All of a sudden fully grown men are stopped in the middle of the freeway, sobbing like children because their antilock brakes won't work, it's an embarrassing sight to see, especially when you're trying to beg a ride from these people.

The hike went on and on, there was an incredible amount of traffic, but people were not in the mood to pay us any attention, and if they did it was usually in the form of a half full can of pepsi being thrown at my head. We'd gone about five miles and the city began to break up a little, darkness was quickly falling so we decided to pack it in and try again in the morning. The cold was unbelievable, we were less than five miles away from the Mexican border and yet it felt like we were slogging through the Yukon. We decided to attempt to get a motel room for the night; neither of us had showered in two months, I was recovering from scabies and a staph infection, and after the previous 24 hours of living hell, we felt like we deserved to sleep somewhere warm for once. This sounded like a great idea, it was unfortunate that motel rooms cost money however, something we were in short supply of.

"Hotel Please!", read the sign we were holding outside a gas station five minutes later. To the point, not too fancy, this is the kind of sign that says you mean business. The success we had was amazing! We sat there for exactly thirty minutes, and in that thirty minutes made no less than ninety dollars, even the guy working the cash register inside gave us a couple of Arizona Ice Teas. Every person that contributed toward our hotel fund asked the same question, "You're sure this is going toward a hotel room, right?". For once they were correct.

The area we were at was a pretty busy spot right in front of the University, there were a large amount of motels, restaraunts, etc. We stumbled down the street in search of shelter, both of us looked like old bums, wrapped in our sleeping bags, shuffling from one foot to the other like penguins. I couldn't get a motel room because I had no ID, and Tank would definitely not be allowed entrance just because he was Tank, so I waited with him outside while Israel went inside to get us lodging. The first motel was apparently "all booked up for an event"; this smelled like bullshit because the parking lot out front was suspiciously lacking any cars whatsoever, everybody must have come by camel or something. The next motel was the same story, no cars and no vacancy. The third one we went to proved to be the breaking point for Israel. I watched him go in, get very animated with the lady behind the counter, and then in an instant get chased across the parking lot by an Indian wielding a baseball bat.

"You leave now! I call police!", she screeched, "and take fatso dog with you!".

We ran down the street, sleeping bags trailing in the wind, tripping over Tank as we went, it was a chaotic scene. Out of breath, we came to a stop a half mile later, bent over and gasping for air. "Son....of....a....bitch....", Israel wheezed out between pained breathes. I didn't bother to ask what had happened inside the hotel, I already felt like I had a pretty good idea.

The last motel appeared before us, it was run down, dirty, and covered in graffiti, a good sign that we might be allowed inside. Israel went up to the front to do his thing while I hung back with Tank. He emerged fifteen minutes later clutching some paperwork in one hand and a much welcome key in the other. Since Israel was supposed to have rented the room on his own, we had to be covert about entry, but it turned out the owner of the motel couldn't have cared less about policy, so we had no problems at all.

I hadn't slept in a hotel since Littlejohn's birthday in San Antonio a few months prior, to have a bed and a shower was an extravagant luxury that took some getting used to. We'd planned to rage it up that night and make the most of our hotel, but in the end we were both so exhausted that we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

We rose just before noon the next morning and took showers, black water pooled at the base of my feet like sludge, it felt like I was a snake shedding my skin. Before we left we stole all the blankets off the beds, we weren't about to take any chances with the weather.

Ice and snow still clung to the ground when we finally left the hotel and started walking back toward the freeway. The temperatures had risen slightly compared to the previous day, but were still painfully low. We jumped on the freeway and started walking for the New Mexico border, supposedly a mere ten miles away. Three hours elapsed before we were picked up by an overly friendly middle eastern man, if he'd had a chainsaw in the backseat we still would have jumped in by this point, we were not about to be picky. Unfortunately he was only going a short distance, but he did manage to drop us off at the East-West truck stop, which was infinitely better than where we'd been. We slept under a bridge that night and woke the next morning before dawn, desperate to leave the cesspool that is Texas behind.

A Harri Krishna with one of those wierd names (tree or stick or something), showed up the same morning at the bridge. He ended up being a friend of Israel's, so we all cooked breakfast together and exchanged a few stories. He'd just gotten off a two year stint riding around in a schoolbus with some other hippies and was heading back home to West Virginia. The thought of twenty four months in a dilapidated school bus with a bunch of burnouts was enough to make me almost vomit up my breakfast, but I controlled myself and was able to act civilized for the rest of the meal.

After bidding the hippie goodbye, we set off for the interstate yet again. Our spirits were dampened when we saw an older guy hogging the onramp already; he was clean cut, quite short, and had a really strange air about him. We asked him how long he was going to be, and then, right as we were leaving, he reached into his back pocket and produced a small pamphlet.

"Have you heard the good news brothers?"

We shook our heads and admitted that no, we had not, and weren't particularly interested in any good news unless it was in the form of a ride to Tucson. I trashed my pamphlet immediately, but Israel gave it a good look over. He read aloud to me the part about "Long hair equaling homosexuality and pedaphelia" with a mocking tone, stopping momentarily to brush his shoulder length blond dreadlocks out of his eyes.

Blowing right past the jesus freak, we continued down the onramp...and then I saw something that took my breath away.

"Welcome to New Mexico: Land of Enchantment!", proclaimed the large yellow sign directly in front of us. We walked across the threshold and fell to our knees, kissing the dirt beneath us in joy. The air felt cleaner, the sun shone brighter, everything lifted once we crossed that border. And then, as if on cue, a lumbering old van pulled off the side of the road a little ways in front of us. Scrambling to get our gear, overjoyed to be making some progress, we let out a couple of resounding "Fuck You's!" in the direction we'd just come from and hopped in the van. The driver was a missionary from Las Cruces; a big bear of a man with a snowy white beard. He had a huge lab in the backseat and was listening to classical music on full blast. Despite our bleeding eardrums, we tried to make small talk with the man. After the first five minutes, my voice hoarse from trying to scream over Mozart's symphonies, I resigned and settled back in my chair for a quick ride over to Las Cruces, a fairly large city just inside the New Mexico border.

The van dropped us off in front of a Walmart just off the I-10, it was one of those Super Walmarts, the kind that you can easily see from space. We began the tedious process of panhandling, something both of us had been spending great chunks of our days doing.

Had we been sober people, we could have gotten by on a relatively small amount of cash, but seeing as how we were both rampant alcoholics, we were burning through an incredible amount. Alcoholism is a vicious beast, a cyclical circle. The more we drank, the sicker we became, but we were unable to stop because if we did we'd become even sicker. I woke every morning shaking from head to toe, my hands unable to perform even the simplest of tasks. Many a morning I pissed all over myself because I was unable to keep still enough to go to the bathroom, for this reason we usually kept alcohol around for the morning so we could avoid these problems before they started. I had had my bouts with alcohol and drug dependence when I was housed up, but on the road the alcohol really started to take over, I was at it's mercy for awhile. Luckily I was able to avoid the heroin addictions that had ensnared so many of my friends, but I still suffered with my own demons nonetheless.

It was with this sunny frame of mind that we sat down and held our sign. I had known that New Mexico was a poor state, so I was completely unprepared for the deluge of charity we were given that evening. Food for Tank, food for us, over a hundred and fifty dollars, a meal at the BBQ joint across the street...it was like Christmas had come early. Around sunset a deputy pulled up and told us to leave, he was almost apologetic about it, embarrassed that he had had to be the one to shoo us off. It didn't matter to us, we were fat and happy, ready to live it up in Las Cruces for a night before we continued on our journey to California.

After pretty much buying the local market out of malt liquor, we went to go find a place to retire for the night. The weather was not letting up, and rain looked like a good possibility at some point, so we set off for a dry area to camp. We found what we thought was a good spot, an overhang outside a surgeons office, concealed by bushes and relatively out of the way. It didn't take long for us to accidently set off the silent alarm; we realized our mistake when the exact same deputy pulled up minutes later looking for the wood be burglars. We explained what we were doing and that we were just trying to stay warm. To our surprise he accepted our explanation without so much as a single question and sent us on our way. The next spot we chose was a motel parking lot, we bedded down in between two giant construction containers, confident that we'd be hidden enough to last through the night. Amazingly, the night bellman at the motel was somehow made aware of our presence and showed up shortly after we'd gone to sleep.

"The police are on their way", was all he said when he showed up to roust us from our sleeping bags.

More angry than worried, we dragged our stuff through the parking lot and continued on our quest for a little fucking shut eye.

"Fuck you! I know the police! Call him over here he'll bring us coffee and donuts!", Israel yelled in the bellman's face as we left. Things could have gotten heated if I hadn't pulled him away and waved the other guy off.

The storm that we'd passed through on our train from San Antonio to El Paso was just making landfall, and the winds began to blow at an insane speed. We tried to take shelter in the smoking area of the Walmart that we'd been at the day before. I assumed we'd be kicked out pretty quick, knowing Walmart and their oh-so-generous attitude toward tramps, but to my astonishment, what seemed like every other hobo and homeless person in Las Cruces was taking shelter there too. It was like a twilight zone cocktail party, Walmart employees mingled with tramps in a giant throng under the overhang, everybody talking and pointing and laughing as carts flew across the parking lot like missiles, destroying everything and everybody in their path. Israel and I pulled out the beer from the previous night, a couple of homebums produced some whiskey, and pretty soon everybody, employees and bums alike, were getting drunk and reveling in the excitement of what was quickly brewing into a category V hurricaine. I was in my boxers, trying to sew up my badly damaged pants and carry on a conversation with a Walmart greeter named Earl, when one of the carts smashed into the side of a parked Escalade. A boisterous roar went up from the group, apparently the one thing this group could agree on was a mutual hatred for Cadillacs.

We reluctantly left the party and hiked up one exit to the truck stop. The wind was so brutal it was literally blowing us sideways onto the freeway, I was leaning heavily to my right and still it felt like I was going to take off at any moment. Eventually we made it to the truck stop, we were relieved to find that it was only one freeway exit down from where we were.

Sometimes in life you need to make irrational choices to keep your spirits up. Ours consisted of spending our last twenty dollars on steak dinners at the truck stop. After living on hand outs and what we could forage from the dumpsters, the meal was fantastic. We savored every bite, taking advantage of the free soda refills and feeding Tank the scraps under the table, it was a memorable feast.

We camped that night behind a convenience store, fat and happy from the massive dinner we'd feasted on. It didn't take us long to get a ride the next morning, we were only waiting for a half hour or so before a pickup truck stopped and offered us a ride to the next town down the freeway. The back of the truck was filled with plastic chairs, the type you used to have to sit on in high school, so it took us a good ten minutes to situate ourselves and our gear, it was like a tetris game. The guy opened the window in the back of the pickup and spent the next hour and a half verbally abusing us for being transients. He was another jesus freak/missionary type. We'd been attracting these people like maggots to roadkill ever since we left Texas so we knew to just keep our mouths shut and politely nod whenever we were asked a direct question.

One of the first things you learn on the road is how to deal with religious folk. Like anybody else, these crusaders come in all shapes and sizes, some are militant, some are easy going, and some are downright batshit insane. It doesn't really matter what type you're dealing with, because if they're offering help you need to learn how to pacify all three. Make it a point to converse as little as possible, the occasional nod or affirmative grunt is usually all the ammo you need to survive a spiritual interagation. I've found that the best way to do this is by affecting an interested, but not too interested look. I gather my eyebrows and glaze my eyes over, staring off into space. Doing this works to your benefit in two way; first off, you come off as interested and respectful, which will always score you points with the religious right (most of them anyway), second, your "1000 yard stare" is usually enough to keep them from getting too zealously involved in what they're talking about. As long as you do this, you can get through a four hour lecture on morality relatively unscathed. Never argue, a little old Catholic lady will not hesitate to throw you out in the middle of the desert if she even suspects that you support gay marriage or abortion.

We were dropped off a couple hours later in Deming, New Mexico. Deming was a horribly depressing place, the few people I saw walking around looked they were all contemplating immediate suicide. To me, this seemed a completely logical thought for people that lived here to have. The town was small, maybe 12,000 people, and was dominated by a gigantic Wal-Mart that sat in the middle of Deming like a castle. It boggled the mind to think that a full 10% of the population probably worked here in some capacity, an evil feudal system ruled by the ghost of Sam Walton.

We were broke again, and in a place so desperately poor it looked like it would collapse on itself if the Wal-Mart decided to move. On our way back out of town we asked an old cowboy if there was any temporary work in the town that we could get. He laughed in our faces like we were certifiably insane and walked off chuckling to himself, I guessed that that was probably the first time he'd laughed since moving to this forlorn dump.

We waited outside a small gas station outside of town, the sun quickly setting behind us. Minutes turned to hours, we feared wed be stuck in this modern day "Dante's Inferno" forever, a concept so horrible it nearly brought us to tears. Eventually a gigantic winnebago pulled up to the gas station, my heart skipped when I saw an Oregon license plate...for once in my life I prayed I would see hippies. I was crushed to see a family of six come bounding out of the camper, laughing and enjoying their trip across the great Southwest. Israel and I held out little hope of getting a ride from these clean cut all Americans, but on a whim we tried anyway. Israel talked to the Dad while I hung back with Tank and tried to look as friendly and non-creepy as possible, quite a task considering the dirt caking my face and train grease still tangled in my hair. I was surprised by the length of their conversation, it seemed like there might be some promise in this after all. Israel returned and told me that they were indeed heading back to Oregon, but he wasn't sure sure he could do anything for us because of his family. We watched him and his wife arguing back and forth in the front of the camper, desperately analyzing their body language in hopes of a ride out of Deming. After ten minutes the Dad got out of the camper and came over to us. Before saying anything he held out his hand and gave us two twenty dollar bills, he followed this by apologizing profusely and telling us that he just couldn't in good conscience let two strangers and a dog into the car with his family.

I felt guilty because of the position we'd put him in, I could tell he had really been contemplating taking us, but in the end I completely understood his position, I would have done the same thing if the shoe had been on the other foot. We waved goodbye to the family and thanked them, as they left the youngest child ran over to us and gave us ten dollars out of his own allowance money. The experience brightened our mood, "there are still good people in this world", I thought to myself.

Deming is right on the main line for trains running East/West, so we reverted to plan B and went over to see if anything was slowing down or stopping here. There was a small "yard", with a few trucks and what looked like about a dozen workers. The day shift was ending right as we walked up to the yard, we asked a worker on his way out if trains were stopping here for clearance or anything.

"They'll side here every now and then, but you might have a long wait guys", he said.
This was not the most promising bit of news, so we decided to solve our problems the way we usually did, by getting drunk and going from there. We found an empty and abandoned boxcar on a side track and climbed up inside it to drink and debate on the next course of action. It was dark by this time, so we decided to wait for a Westbound train that night and then start walking in the morning.

It was still relatively early and we were bored and hungry, so we left the safety of our boxcar squat and hiked back into town. Deming looked better at night than it did in the day, darkness has a wonderful way of masking squalor, and we were thankful for it.

We strolled down main street looking for a fast food joint we could score some cheap food at, it didn't take us long to find a decrepit looking Burger King.

Deming is a small small place, a town of under 15,000 people, so we positively blown away by the amount of homeless people inside the Burger King. Virtually every single table was occupied by grizzled bums, dogs lay sprawled out on the tiled floor, backpacks and garbage bags were stacked halfway to the ceiling, I would have been less shocked to see Michael Jackson performing outside in the parking lot.

The bums glared at us menacingly, I was too bewildered to care. What in gods name would a town like Deming have to offer to these people? They couldn't have been here for the social services that's for damn sure, we'd asked around all day and had yet to find any sort of mission.

We payed for a couple of burgers and proceeded to wade through the sea of bums. In the end it was so crowded that all we could do was sit down on the floor and eat. The only conclusion we could come to was that this was some sort of impromptu homeless shelter. The staff and management appeared oblivious to the situation, occasionally appearing from behind the service counter to berate somebody for drinking whiskey in the resaraunt.

We spun a couple forties with three defeated looking Vietnam vets who were sitting on the floor with us. They claimed to be transients, but when I asked how long they'd been stuck here they each said over a year.

"What would possess you to be out here that long? There's nothing here save cactus and crappy mexican restaraunts", I asked.

Nobody spoke for a while, but eventually the oldest of the trio offered an explanation in a slow drawl..
"We aim to be lost, thats all there is to it".

It took me a long time to figure out exactly what that meant, but as my life goes on it seems more and more relevant every day.

We continued eating and drinking with what appeared to be the entire homeless population of Deming until we were interupted by three Greyhound buses full of tired and confused looking Mexicans. They streamed out of the buses in an orderly line and one by one entered the Burger King to have dinner. Through talking to some of the other bums in the restaraunt we were informed that Deming was a Greyhound stop on the Laredo to Los Angeles route. We had forty dollars, not nearly enough to purchase a bus ticket, and this was hardly the place to start panhandling for one. We figured that we might have some luck bribing one of the bus drivers with the money we did have to take us part of the way to at least Phoenix or Tucson.

Not even the driver of the bus spoke English, and through our repeated attempts to convey our message to him we succeeded in pissing him off in a big way. He shooed us away and went inside to eat with the rest of his passengers.

The drunk mind is an illogical one, it doesn't weigh actions against consequences. In our impaired state we boarded the last of the three buses with Tank, nobody was back onboard yet so we proceeded to the seats in the back where we hoped nobody had been sitting.

Gradually people started to filter back onto the bus in small groups, hardly paying us any attention. They probably figured that we had paid for tickets at the Burger King and were now legitimate passengers. If we were sitting in somebody's seats, they didn't tell us, because within five minutes the bus was full of people and we were heading out of the parking lot. In our minds we were already in Los Angeles, laughing and slapping high fives, sharing a forty and marveling at our incredible luck.

As soon as we got onto the interstate Tank began to whine. He was sitting between me and Israel, wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag to keep him away from the prying eyes of our fellow travelers. At first Tank's whining started out as barely audible, I wrapped my hands around his snout to muffle him, but this only succeeded in agitating him even more. He started to throw his head back and like a shark with a hunk of meat, desperately trying to escape my grasp. I clasped him even tighter, but as I readjusted my grip my hands slipped and came off his mouth.

A long, piercing howl filled the bus.

It had been quiet long before this, so when Tank let loose it was like a nuclear bomb going off in an abandoned concert hall, if anything, the acoustics were amazing.

All eyes shot to the back of the bus as the driver slammed on the brakes. The woman in front of us jumped out of her seat, shrieking like a banshee and cowering in fear of the newly discovered Pitbull sitting directly behind her. Her husband began yelling at us in Spanish, gesturing wildly. We were packing before the bus driver even said a word to us.

The walk back to the train yard was a long one. We trudged along quietly, not wanting to acknowledge our failed mission to get out of Deming; Tank bounced around happily in front of us, oblivious to the disaster he had caused. It was our fault for trying to "hop" a greyhound bus, but Tank had not been a team player and was consequently the target of my anger for the rest of the hike back.

It took us a good three hours to walk back to the outskirts of Deming and the train yard. When we got there it was a little after 3am and we held out little chance of getting on a train that night. We decided to set up shop behind the convenience store that we'd waited in front of earlier in the day. I was exhausted after the walk we'd just done, and the second my body hit the dirt I was out like a light.

We were awoken at dawn by a gangly looking bro type in his mid-twenties. He had a camera in his hand and asked us if he could take our picture, without waiting for a response he began snapping away. We were still a little groggy after having just been roused from a restful slumber, so we weren't sure exactly what was going on. As he took pictures he explained that he and his friend were from Virginia and were heading to Baja for Christmas. Apparently they were big surfers and had been planning a "surfing" holiday for quite some time.

The word "California" was like a fire cracker going off in my head, we didn't waste any time and were on him about a ride like a pack of hungry dogs (Tank was actually starving at the time). It took a bit of convincing, mainly because the bro's were concerned about their surfboards. They had a beat up piece of shit Datsun pickup truck, almost identical to the one we'd ridden in with the missionary from Las Cruces a couple days before. We weren't about to be picky about riding in such a tight space and did our best contortionist impressions attempting to get situated.

The bro's were in a hurry and blasted out of Deming at close to a hundred miles an hour. I was amazed that a mid 80's Datsun could produce triple digit speeds without being towed by a Lamborghini, but lo and behold, there we were making terrific time blazing across the New Mexico desert.

It didn't take long before we crossed the border into Arizona and were on the outskirts of Tucson. The change of scenery was great, and we were making serious tracks, but we were packed into the back of the Datsun so tightly that both are backs were spasming. Every time I moved, Israel winced and Tank yapped at me, we were both quickly starting to feel that a full ride to Los Angeles might result in permanent damage or paralysis. It didn't take much discussion to decide that we'd bail out in Tucson and hope for the best.
 
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When I get to hell I'll ride there too. (part I)

Solid story. Despite being super long, it was a really good read. Hell, I'd read more. Thanks for sharing.
 

Skaggy

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When I get to hell I'll ride there too. (part I)

I really enjoyed reading that, keep it up!
 

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