There were many creatures along the side of the road, among the burst tires and bags of garbage, and as I walked along I watched the bees and the butterflies in the flowers, fat spiders sitting in the middle of their webs and I swatted my way through hovering swarms of gnats.I was walking along the highway in the grass as night came on; the time of evening when the blue sky darkens and all the shadows blend together. There were no guardrails here and there were fields through the woods on the right. The highway sloped up a slight hill and carved a gap in the woods at the top, and this is where the sun sat, orange and slipping. Traffic was slow here and I wasn’t bothering to hitchhike – there’d been a sign for an exit and I knew I couldn’t have more than two miles to go. I’d get to the exit with some sunlight still remaining, find a place to lay out my sleeping bag for the night, and I would hitch the rest of the way to Louisville in the morning. That was the plan. But, being on the road means living by coincidence and surviving on happenstance… and plans are just peachy ideals that never happen.
Up ahead a long, shiny-red four-door pulled over in the shoulder. I stopped walking and stood still, for a moment eyeing the car. Then I tucked my thumbs under the shoulder straps of my knapsack and ran over.
‘Hey! Where ya headed?’ called a voice as I neared the passenger side. I waited till I stopped running before I answered.
‘Louisville. How far south are you going?’
‘We’ll get you most of the way. Hop in.’ There were two of them in the car. I tossed my knapsack in the backseat and climbed in next to it. As we pulled onto the highway I gave my standard lines of appreciation and we began the standard ‘get to know you’ chit-chat.
Chris was the driver, his friend Bosco in the seat next to him and both were university students, third-year accounting majors driving from Columbus to Louisville to visit Chris’s girlfriend who, per Bosco’s words, was having a party ‘full of bitches and hoes’. The conversation had been plain and sedated, if not awkward, and both of them sat uncomfortably in their seats, not once glancing back. They even came off contemptuous; to add to that their outfits: both wore starched Polo shirts, unbuttoned, Chris in yellow and Bosco in pink, and they both had brown hair spiked up with gel and the spikes bleached blond. Chris wore a visor made of jean material – it was upside-down and backwards, sitting askew on his head. Bosco, he wore a very fine pair of sunglasses, with the sun half under the horizon. The car smelled the way male locker rooms do in highschool, a stuffy concoction of cheap body-sprays. Chris leaned back as he drove, one hand on top of the wheel while Bosco continually adjusted his sunglasses and fixed his hair in the shadowy mirror. They glanced at each other. There had been an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. I was seated in the middle in the back.
‘So you’re a hitchhiker?’ said Bosco, still facing forward.
‘Where is it you’re going?’
‘Los Angeles. I’m heading to Nashville first, though.’
‘Why don’t you just drive instead?’
‘Oh, I don’t have a car.’
‘Do you work? or are you in school?’ said Chris, the radio low as he began scanning stations.
‘I studied journalism at WVU, for a while.’
‘That’s a fun school.’
‘You’re into news?’ asked Bosco. ‘What do you watch? I’ll put on Fox or ESPN every so often.’
‘Well, I don’t have a TV, so I go online for news. A lot of independent news sites.’
‘You don’t have a TV?’ said Chris.
‘What do you do for fun then?’
‘I’ll read, or walk around. Get drunk at the bar and talk to strangers. I get a lot more done too without a TV. It’s cool.’
‘Are you one of those people who hate the ‘main source media’, or whatever it is you guys call it?’ said Bosco.
‘No, it’s just that they only care about their ratings.’
‘What else are they supposed to care about? If they want to make money they kind of need ratings.’
‘Journalists are all poor. And if you tell the news for money you wind up telling the news people want to hear. Which ends up not being news at all.’
‘That’s dumb. I’d rather watch the news people that’ve been around for decades. At least they’re doing something right.’
‘Hey, am I good to change lanes?’ said Chris. Bosco several times tried tilting his head back and to the side, in a motion that might suggest a person to move their right.
‘I can’t see over there,’ said Bosco.
‘You’re fine,’ I said. There weren’t any cars near us, just red taillights lined up ahead of us.
‘Just keep following this main stream of cars,’ said Bosco. The conversation found a lull then and Chris turned up the radio. The music went… ‘Bump, Bump.. fuck the bitches make mo-nay, Bump, Bump.. make the mo-nay rain awn them, Bump, Bump.. spread the mo-nay like se-men, Bump, Bump.. bring the bitches to the dawg pen, Bump, Bump….’
‘Do you work,’ asked Chris.
‘Yeah, I don’t get how this whole hitchhiking thing works,’ added Bosco. ‘I mean, I’ve seen you hitchhikers before but they’re all dirty homeless bums.’ I took this to mean I wasn’t a dirty homeless bum.
‘Yeah, true that. Do you actually get rides? I mean, I probably wouldn’t’ve, I wouldn’t’ve, stopped if I was alone. Just safety, ya know?’
‘Yeah I get rides. Sometimes I have to wait a couple hours, other times not even ten minutes.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ went Bosco, emphatically leaning forward and throwing himself back in his seat. ‘I can’t believe people actually stop!’
‘What do you for money?’ said Chris. ‘Do you work?’
‘Yeah. I just finished saving up for this trip. I’m going to get a job once I’m in LA so I can pay my way back.’
‘Where do you work at?’
‘Oh, like restaurants, or stores sometimes. Part-time jobs.’
‘I thought you wrote for a newspaper or something? Don’t you work for a newspaper? I thought you said you were in journalism?’
‘I only went for a couple of years.’
‘He dropped out,’ said Bosco to Chris.
‘Why don’t you go back and finish?’ said Chris. ‘Even in journalism you’d make more money than fast-food.’
‘I thought about it, but what I really want to do is to write my own stories.’
‘People don’t read no more,’ muttered Bosco.
‘You should go back to college and finish your major. It’d still help you make more money.’
‘Talk about making money,’ said Bosco, ‘me and Chris here are gonna be owning our own accounting firm in a couple years. Semester and a half till we graduate! Woo!’ they slapped hands. ‘It’s gonna take a few more years, but, we already got a dozen clients hand-picked and a prime location to set up at. All we need is a few more years saving up. We got prime internships –paid internships, which nobody gets– and we’re makin’ bank, brah! Yeah!’ they slapped hands again and butted shoulders. ‘Gon graduate, top class, makin’ shit-tons at Weinstein and Shulberg, know how we do, yeah, yeah. Then full-time makin shit-tons like boss, set up shop and sit back. We gon be loaded, brah! We’re only twenty-one and we got the rest of our lives planned! Get a hello to that! Yeah!’ They slapped hands again, a much more excessive handshake than the last. I was still in the middle seat, my hands folded between my legs. ‘If you ever need a loan let us know, we do that too!’
‘Yeah, I sure will.’
‘People don’t really still hitchhike, do they?’ asked Chris.
‘Oh yeah, they’re still out there.’
‘Why don’t you just get a car and drive to LA? Or better yet, buy a plane ticket?’
‘It’s not even $600 for a ticket!’
‘Yeah but still, it’s more fun hitchhiking.’
‘Seems like too much work,’ said Bosco. ‘You ever get jumped or raped or anything? I’m pretty sure you would jumped or raped, doing what you’re doing.’
‘Nah, that doesn’t happen.’
‘I’ve heard about it, ya know.’
‘Are you just going to wander around like this for the rest of your life?’ said Chris.
‘I don’t know. There’s still a big world to see – ’
‘What do you do for food?’ Bosco was adjusting his sunglasses.
‘It’s all in here,’ I said, patting the knapsack.
‘Don’t you want nice things?’ said Chris.
‘What if the food runs out?’
‘I’ll get some more.’
‘You obviously must not have savings then, the way you’re living around like this,’ said Chris.
‘I have some. I mean, I saved up to get me there and then I’ll – ’
‘And people really give you rides?’ said Bosco, incredulous, almost annoyed. ‘Aren’t cops supposed to arrest you? Hitchhiking’s against the law, you know. Nobody does it anymore, did you know that?’
‘So I don’t get why you just don’t work instead and buy yourself a car,’ said Chris.
‘Well, I like hitchhiking.’
‘You like sleeping outside and getting rides from strangers?’ said Chris, sarcastically incredulous.
‘Wait,’ paused Bosco. ‘What do you do if you’re left somewhere that doesn’t have a hotel?’
‘That’s what the sleeping-bag’s for – I’ll find a field or some woods.’
‘You can’t do that – you can’t just sleep outside, dude.’
‘Dude, you can’t just get rides with strangers. You can’t. You can’t just blindly trust people and jump in the car with whoever. You better watch out man. I’ve seen shit on the news, movies and stuff. That’s how people get killed, dude. You better wise up.’
‘I don’t get it – why don’t you just stay at nice hotels? They have beds and TV. That’s a ton better than a sleeping bag in the woods, dude. What’s up with that?’
‘ – that’s why I’m saying you need money, dude! You can’t just go around all the time being poor like this! Don’t you ever want to have a job and be happy!? Don’t you want to be allowed to retire? If you’re smart you should’ve started your 401k years ago!’
‘Wait wait wait – you can’t just sleep anywhere in fields. There’s laws against that, do you know that? Trespassing laws, soliciting, loitering – there’s laws you’re breaking doing this.’
‘Yeah dude, don’t you get what it means to be a citizen in a free country? It means you have responsibilities, certain things you have to do. You can’t just live outside the system your whole life and expect to survive, or even be happy! You can’t just live on the side of the street, dude. You just can’t do whatever you want! What kind of country would this be!’
‘Don’t you want nice things? Don’t you want a hot wife and a G7? You should really go back to school, dude. At least then you’ll be allowed have a decent career and maybe even a retirement package. You can’t just do whatever you want – like he said, that’s not what kind of country this is. You need to do like we are, cus we’re doing things the right way, just like everyone else. While you’re out here running around doing whatever it is you do, I’m making something of myself, I’m gonna be different, brah. I’m gonna have nice clothes and a big house and – ’ Chris cut him off.
‘Hey, are there any cars over there?’ Chris had his face real close to his window, peering out of his side-view mirror. Bosco was nodding his head to the right again, the way people with muscular dystrophy do.
‘I don’t know, I can’t tell. Hold on.’ Bosco took off his seatbelt and turned all the way around so that he was on his knees in the seat, facing backwards. ‘I don’t see anything. I can’t tell.’ There weren’t any cars near us, just a line of red taillights straight ahead. Chris was craning his neck, trying to see every which way.
‘Forget about changing lanes dude,’ snapped Bosco. ‘There’s nothing over there. Just follow those cars. Follow the main stream of cars!’ he pointed.
An idea came to me then, an idea whose hypothesis I knew had to be tested.
‘Oh look! There’s an eight-point deer grazing!’
‘He’s just off the road up ahead!’
‘Don’t be dumb. Nothing’s over there.’
‘Yeah there is, I see him. He’s there grazing.’ The deer truly was there.
‘Nothing lives over there! There’s nothing outside the road, dude.’
‘What are you talking about? There are entire ecosystems over there. The side of the road is teeming with life!’
‘If there was something off of the road, trust me, I’d see it,’ chimed in Chris.
‘Obviously. Just follow the main stream of cars, dude,’ said Bosco.