The big-rig trailer thundered in place, shaking, quaking and bleating like little kids blowing big trumpets. I leaned in next to Frank and squinted through the livestock slats at the restless brown cows as they pushed and shoved and crowded and stomped and played a really bad version of John Philip Sousa.
Brent popped his wiry head out the passenger window, way up there at the top of that big Mack truck.
"What's going on down there? The whole joint is shaking, man!"
"The cows are going crazy!"
I gaped over at Frank.
"What should we do? What should we do?"
"I don't know, I don't know, I've never hauled cattle before. Wait, I know… I'll call Uncle Bob."
I briefly watched him hurry towards the rest area, patting his jeans for pocket-change to drop in the pay phone, but then nature reminded me why I had whip-lashed my way in here to begin with. I wobbly-kneed after him, palming my mock captain’s cap against my head, while, up in the sky, Brent clutched the window frame with both hands, wobbling about in the cattle quakes.
He looked like a deformed version of Rapunzel without the hair.
The heifer marching band continued bleating their horns while I was doing my business and that was quite the distraction, let me tell you. Finally, I managed to complete the transaction and came out of the restroom, tucking in my Florida Southern t-shirt, and almost ran head-on into Frank.
At least he looked relieved, too.
“We need to keep moving… My uncle says that they’ll all quiet down then.”
I fell into stride alongside and we hoofed back to the Mack truck just as Brent was climbing down.
“Man, I gotta’ go.”
“Sorry, you’re gonna’ have to hold it a while longer.”
“Until we get to Virginia.”
“Or hang it out the window.”
We both vetoed that motion and waved bye-bye to Frank and the Beefmaster Maestros as they rumbled out of the rest area parking lot with their Grazing Brass Band.
Later, much later, I found out that all this was perfectly normal and everyone overreacted to the situation. Livestock will typically remain stationary in transit but as soon as you stop moving, they don’t.
Hey, we were all still kids back then, remember?
So, Brent and I donned our fifty pound backpacks and hunched up the highway, extending our thumbs whenever a passerby passed us by.
At three o’dark in the morning, on this certain stretch of deserted highway, in this specific backwater county of South Carolina, way back in 1977, there weren’t too many.
Passerby’s that is.
Man, I was exhausted.
At some point, I told the back of Brent’s bobbing backpack that I was done for tonight, or this morning, or this episode, depending on your point of view.
“You can go on if you want but I’m going to climb up there and go to sleep.”
His eyes followed my pointing finger to the underside of a highway overpass, cloaked in shadow.
“Say, that actually looks like a big long bunk up there.”
We waited until all the current taillights had driven out of sight, rendering the highway totally dark in both directions, and then we scrambled up the side of the concrete embankment to the dark nook beneath the bridge.
It was fairly steep and slippery to begin with and, add to that, a big heavy pack, and we both wound up panting pretty good by the time we mounted the crest. It wasn’t exactly pitch black but it was dark, real dark, so I dug out my Coleman kerosene lantern and fired it up.
Illuminated graffiti all over the place proclaimed that we were far from the first ones to experience an enlightened moment beneath this particular overpass, no sir.
Jesus loves you but he’s probably the only one.ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
Kilroy was here but who knows why?
For a good time, call my momma.
Don’t eat that, I already did, can’t you tell?
And dozens of other midnight quips.
We unrolled our sleeping bags and made our beds and I, for one, was more than ready to lie in it. It was, without a doubt, an adventurous first day out there on the road and it seemed to me that we had been travelling forever already. I doubted we could keep up this pace, however, and something would have to give eventually.
As we discovered, we COULD and we DID keep up this pace for a good long time and, believe it or not, nothing gave out, nothing.
Except for those Connecticut school teachers…
And that friendly girl from Rhode Island…
Oh, wait, don’t forget Watertown!
For some odd reason, being from Florida makes you a minor celebrity up there!
Never mind, I’m getting ahead of myself.
We lay flat in our bags on the concrete ridge along the top of the underside, our fingers interlocked behind our heads, cracking jokes about our adventures thus far, and then IT happened…
Brent planted a seed.
“If we’re doing really, REALLY good come wintertime, we should spend it in Southern California.”
Now, I had never given California a second thought before now but, because of his off-the-cuff remark, I began thinking about it a lot. All too soon, I would hop a bus and barrel head-first out there with only a hundred bucks and a couple of suitcases.
But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
“I thought you were dead three times, now… Stop doing that!”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
- TURTLE ISLAND