Only a few cars passed us on the road which was otherwise deserted. A mailman in a truck passed us, stopping briefly at another house about a few hundred feet ahead of us, filling its mailbox before continuing on his way.
About 2:30 PM, I spotted a road sign which looked like a tiny green speck in the distance, on the Interstate. I took out a pair of binoculars and looked at the sign. It said “Newberry Springs 2 Miles”. I looked at the mountains which now dominated the view to the east, finally starting to get close.
“Just about there”, I said to John. About 45 minutes later we reached an overpass where the road went under the Interstate. We climbed up the concrete embankment and stashed our packs in the level area just under the overpass, between the girders that supported it. We sat down and I drank the last of the water from my bottle. John did the same. After resting for a few minutes we slid down the embankment and went the few remaining feet to the town. On the edge of the town we came to a store. We went inside. The air-conditioned store was a welcome change from the heat outside. We went to the back of the store and took a Pepsi and a Dr Pepper from a refrigerated case. We went to the front and set the sodas on the counter. “Will that be all?” said a blond woman wearing shorts and a tube top, behind the counter.
“Yeah,” John said. She rang up our purchase and we paid. Taking our sodas we went back out into the blazing heat and returned to the embankment where we left our stuff. Hot and thirsty from the long walk, I opened my soda and drank it fast.
“You shouldn’t drink it so fast”, John said.
After I finished it I was feeling a little queasy in the stomach, then I threw up.
“Told you” John said.
After a while a pickup truck pulled up and stopped under the overpass. The driver got out and opened the hood and began tinkering.
John slid down the embankment and walked over to the truck to talk to him. A few minutes later he came back up. “We got us a ride to Arizona” he said. “Wait here, while I help him get his truck going.” He slid back down the embankment.
While I waited I took out my Bible and read it.
After about half an hour John came back up the embankment and grabbed his pack. “let’s go,” he said. I put my Bible back into my pack and slid down the embankment, dragging the pack with me. We got into the cab of the pickup and started.
The ride was pretty much uneventful. The driver’s name was also John and he was heading for Cortez, Colorado where he lived. In exchange for helping him get his truck started, John had asked him to take us as to Flagstaff, Arizona and he agreed. We stopped for gas in a place called Ludlow. It was a tiny place, I’m not even sure if it qualified as a town; just a couple of gas stations and a few other buildings. Then we continued on to Needles where we stopped at a Denny’s near the freeway for coffee. We took a seat near the front window. The three of us ordered coffee. The driver ordered a hamburger and said he’d pay for our coffee.
“Look over there”, John said, pointing out the window. I looked and saw, walking toward the freeway, Tom, the guy we had met in Riverside and Barstow. I started humming the twilight zone music. John laughed.
“Ever heard of a story called ‘The Hitchhiker’?” I asked.
“No”, John said.
“It’s about this guy driving from New York to California and he keeps seeing this guy hitchhiking along the way. Finally, he finds out that apparently he was killed in a car crash on the Brooklyn Bridge, and the hitchhiker is Death following him.”
“I remember that episode”, the driver said. “But wasn’t it a woman that was driving?”
“In the Twilight Zone episode it was,” I said, “but in the original, an old radio show, it was a man. My dad has it on a record.”
When we were finished, the driver paid for the coffee and we continued on our way.
Right around sunset we crossed the Colorado River. On the bridge was a brown sign that said “Welcome To Arizona”. Once across the Colorado we came to a place called Topock, Arizona. I couldn’t see much of it from the Interstate, but it didn’t appear to be a very large town.
A couple hours later we stopped for gas at a gas station near the Interstate in Kingman. I couldn’t see much of it as it was dark. Then we continued on to a point just past Seligman where we pulled over to the side of the road to camp for the night. John and I unrolled our sleeping bags on the ground beside the truck, on the side facing away from the road while the driver slept in the back of the truck.
The next morning we continued on our way. We passed briefly thru a town called Williams. We left the Interstate briefly and stopped for gas at a 76 station. One noteworthy thing I noticed was a red police car that looked like a fire chief car.
The driver dropped us off in Flagstaff on a street called West McConnell St, near an overpass.
“Now to find a place to stash our stuff” I said. We walked under the overpass and up an onramp where we saw a marker that identified it as Interstate 17, and a blue sign right under the marker that said “End”. “Wow”, I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen the end of an Interstate”. Just beyond that was a pipe going under the road. We stuffed our packs into the pipe and turned and went back the way we came.
We walked up South Milton Rd, until we came to a small side street that branched off diagonally, then turned east on that. After a while we came to a small triangular park with a flagpole in the center. We went and sat on a bench in the park. After a few minutes a police car stopped and the cop got out and came over to us and asked to see our ID. “It’s in our packs which are stashed near the Interstate” John said. He asked our names. We told him and he wrote them down then went back to his car. A couple of minutes later he came back. “Come on,” he said, “let me take you to where you stashed your stuff”.
“Something wrong?” John asked.
“Not really, I just need to see his ID,” the cop said, pointing at me. We got into the back of the car and told him where our bags were stashed. When we got there I took my wallet out of the pocket on my backpack and took out my California state ID and showed it to him. He looked at it. “OK”, he said. “We had something on some other guy with the same first and last name, but a different middle name. I just wanted to be sure.” He got into his car and drove off.
We made our way back to the triangular park. When we arrived, the bench was occupied by a man with a backpack and a dog that appeared to me a mixed Australian shepherd.
Hi, “John said, “mind if we join you?”
“Go ahead” he said. We sat down. “I’m Duke, and this is King,” he said, placing his hand on the dog’s head. “Just get into town?” he asked.
“Yeah, this morning, about 2 hours ago”, I answered.
“L.A.”, John said. “We caught a ride from Newberry Springs last night.”
“Newberry springs?” he asked. “Little town in the middle of the desert, ain’t it?”
“About 20 or so miles from Barstow, We walked there from Barstow yesterday morning.”
“Barstow.” he said. “Hell of a place. Folks get stranded there all the time. One of the worst hitchhiking spots there is. That’s why I always ride trains instead when I go through there.”
I reached out my hand and cautiously petted King on the head. “What breed is he?”
“Australian shepherd and wolf” Duke said.
“He seems pretty friendly” I said.
“Yeah, he is. Darned good watchdog though. He does a good job of guarding me when I sleep, or watching my pack when I have to leave it somewhere.
I noticed that he was holding a Bible in a zippered cover. “You a Christian?” I asked.
“Yep”, he said. “I found this last year. I think of it as a gift from God.”
After we talked for a while we got up from the bench. “I got a spot where I camped last time I was here,” he said. “Come on, I’ll show you where it is.
We made our way up to a wide street called Santa Fe Avenue. After walking about 10 minutes we came to a place where the road forked and we went off the road toward some pine trees. In the middle of the trees was an area where there was what was left of a ring of rocks where there had once been a campfire. We set our packs down next to a tree and Duke tied king’s leash to a smaller tree close by.
“I’ve stayed here a couple times before”, Duke said as he stooped to pick up a rock that had once been part of the ring. “I sometimes camp in culverts under the road, but I haven’t seen any in the couple times I been in this town.” He put the rock into place with the others, then picked up a couple more and completed the ring, then he picked up a wooden crate sitting nearby and sat it on its end and sat down on it. John sat on a tree stump a few feet from the fire ring. “So how long you been riding trains?” he asked.
“About 12 years” Duke said. “I’ve been all over the west but these days my territory is Arizona and New Mexico.”
“Your territory?” I asked
“A hobo’s ‘territory’ is the area he travels in,” Duke said.
Be back in a second” I said.
“Where you going?” John asked”
“To get me a seat” I said, then headed out of the clump of trees to where I had seen a green plastic 5 gallon bucket earlier. I picked up the bucket and brought it back to the camp then set it on the ground upside down.
That night Duke and John decided to go raid the dumpsters at the nearby Flagstaff Mall while I stayed behind to guard the camp. Duke reached into his pack and pulled out a rather large .44 revolver. “Mickey-D’s is just closing now”, Duke said, so we’ll wait a couple of minutes then head up there and get the stuff while it’s still warm”
“Here”, he said, handing me the gun, “if anyone sneaks into the camp just make sure they see that you have this. When we come back we’ll holler so you’ll know it’s us.” Then they left the camp and disappeared into the shadows.
I sat on my bucket with the revolver in my lap. King sat next to me and I put my arm around his neck, absently petting him on the shoulder looking at the gun in my lap in the firelight. About half an hour later I heard John’s voice yell “Hey! We’re back”. Then they reappeared through the trees, Duke carrying a brown paper shopping bag which he set on the ground. It was filled with McDonald’s food: Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, big Macs, etc, most of it still warm. John took two cheeseburgers out of the bag and handed them to me, then took out two hamburgers for himself. Duke rummaged through the bag and pulled out a box of chicken nuggets and set them in front of King.
The next morning I saw a guy hitchhiking on 66 and I noticed a Union Jack on his backpack. I went over to talk to him. As I got closer I could see he was holding a sign that said “Gallup”.
“Hi”, I said. I pointed at the flag. “You from England?” I asked.
“Wales” he said. “making my way around the world.”\
How long you been at it?” I asked.
“Four and a half years”, he said.
“You hitchhike the whole way?”
“When I can”, he said. “Sometimes I take busses, and I had to take a plane from Burma to Australia. And of course I fly across the oceans.”
“Sounds like an interesting adventure.”
“yeah, it is that,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things along the way.”
After we talked for a few minutes I turned to go. “Good luck, then” I said. “Nice meeting you.”
“You too, mate” he said.
On the way back to camp I walked along 66 for a few feet till I cam to a spot where a hollowed area went under the road through a concrete culvert that sort of resembled a large room, about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide, and maybe about 35 or 40 feet long. “This must be what Duke was talking about yesterday”, I thought, “I better tell the others about this.” Inside the culvert was the remains of a makeshift fireplace constructed out of cinderblocks and an oven grate, the ashes in it had a sort of washed-out look that looked like it hadn’t been used since before the winter’s rain had washed thru here and flooded it out, so whoever had used it wasn’t likely to return soon. The walls were covered with graffiti. Someone named Tommy had left his name there and the date 1982. Also there were a couple of Bible verses, and a bit of x-rated graffiti. Someone had scrawled next to the x-rated stuff “Don’t write this kind of stuff. This is a Christian home.” I assumed it was the same person who wrote the Bible verses. He had also written “John 3:16” on the opposite wall. On the ceiling right above the fireplace was a black spot, probably caused by smote/soot from the fireplace.
When I got back to camp I told Duke and John about it.
“Let’s go check it out,” Duke said. When we got there, Duke went into it and looked around. He looked at the fireplace then walked to the other end.
“Nice and close to the train tracks too”. He said. John and I walked out the other end and I climbed the slight grade onto the roadbed and looked at the train tracks. Two tracks running east and west.
“Yep, this is just the thing,” Duke said, “Let’s go get our stuff and move in.”
We went back to the campsite in the woods and got our packs and came back to the culvert. I also brought my bucket and Duke brought his crate for seats. I reassembled the fireplace. The grate was a little bent and uneven, but the cinderblocks held it in place pretty well. In the ashes was a small saucepan. I picked it up and shook the dust out of it then wiped it with my shirt, then set it on the grate
“Look, we got a pot too,” I said.
John picked up a red milk crate out of the grass outside the other end of the culvert. “Got me a seat”, he said.
That night Duke and I went to raid the dumpsters while John stayed behind to guard the camp. We were looking through a dumpster behind a store at Flagstaff Mall and I pushed a bunch of walkman boxes out of the way. One of them felt a little heavier than the others. I picked it up and opened it. There was still a walkman in it. I pulled it out of the box. It was an AM-FM radio with no tape player, and an earphone was included.
“Hey, look what I found” I said, holding up the radio.
“Pretty good for your first time, “ Duke said.
I stuck the radio into my pocket. We found nothing else in that dumpster but made the usual haul at the McDonalds dumpster, then returned to the camp. I transferred the radio to my backpack until I could find some batteries.
That nigh Duke and I raided the dumpster at Burger King. We filled a bag up with whoppers, cheeseburgers and cold fries. On the way back, I spotted something that looked like it might be money, in the gutter next to a parked car. I bent down and picked it up and unfolded it. It was a $20 bill. I showed it to Duke. “Looks like we’ll get some beer for dinner too,” I said.
You’ll have to get that tomorrow,” Duke answered, “Nothing’s open right now.”
I stuffed the bill into my front pocket and we walked back to the camp.
Next morning I went to Safeway to get the beer.
I returned to the camp, and I set the bag containing a sixpack of Schlitz on the floor. I sat on the floor and pulled the six-pack out of the bag. I handed two of the cans to John, two to Duke and set the other two down in front of myself. I then took two Whoppers out of the bag from Burger King.
Duke and John were in the middle of a conversation, apparently about the Rescue Mission in Las Vegas. “… and they refuse to help anyone without a valid ID. What right does a mission have to turn anyone away?!” He set down his beer and picked up his Bible, flipping through the pages, then he jabbed his finger at the page “Inasmuch as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to Me”. He set the Bible down, still open on the ground. “See? Guys like that are going to have a helluva lot of explaining to do at the final judgment.” He pointed at the page again. “Inasmuch as you didn’t do it for the least of these…”
That afternoon, Duke and John went to raid the dumpsters at the Flagstaff Mall. They left me behind, with the gun and King, to guard the camp. I was a little tipsy from the beer. King suddenly pricked up his ears and jumped to his feet, and growled. I put my hand on his head. “What’s wrong, King?” I said. I looked up as a rottweiler ran down the side of the gully and looked into the culvert. I jumped up, gun drawn.. A kid ran down the side of the gully and called to the dog. He looked at me, wide-eyed with apprehension. “Don’t shoot my dog” he said. I looked at him, then followed his gaze to the gun in my hand. Quickly I put the gun on Duke’s backpack. The kid ran off, dog in tow. I went and sat back down.
A few minutes later, a policemen appeared at the entrance. “Come out here for a minute” he said. I came out, with King on his leash, and on the road on top of the culvert was a police car and there was another cop there Also there was an orange Ford pickup truck and the kid and someone else, presumably the kid’s father.
“Where’s the gun?” the cop asked.
“In there,” I said, pointing. The cop went down into the culvert and retrieved the gun. He looked at it. He opened the chamber and took out the bullets. “It’s loaded” he said. Then he took it to his car.
“Why did you have the gun out?” the other cop asked.
“My partners left it with me to guard the camp, and when I saw that dog I got scared. I’m a bit nervous around dogs”, I said.
“Nervous around dogs?” the cop said, “But you have a dog yourself”.
“I’m used to this dog”, I said.
He asked for my ID, which I took out. He handed it to the cop in the car.
Meanwhile, Duke and John returned.
“What’s going on”, John said. I quickly explained to them what had happened. King kept trying to jump on everyone, so John took his leash and took him off to the side.
The cop returned with the gun. “it’s registered”, he said, “and you technically didn’t do anything illegal, and you have no warrants on you so you won’t be getting arrested” the other cop looked at Duke’s and John’s ID.
The cop handed the gun and the bullets to Duke. “But when you carry it,” he said, “don’t keep it in your backpack. Carry it in a holster where it’s visible. It’s illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit”.
The cops got back into their car and left, as did the kid and his dad.
About a couple of hours later a train stopped on the track behind the culvert. It consisted of a string of piggyback flatcars each of which carried two Transamerica trailers. Duke had wanted to show John and me how to hop a freight train, and we decided today we’d take the next train that stopped here. I was a bit disappointed that it was heading west, the direction John and I had just come from, but we decided to take it anyway.
We ran up to the train. Duke threw his pack up onto the flatcar, then lifted King up onto the car. He then climbed the short ladder onto the car and, taking King’s leash and his pack in one hand, he crawled under the trailer. John followed and then it was my turn. I tossed my backpack onto the car then climbed the ladder and, once on the car, I dragged my pack over to where John and Duke were. I followed their example in putting my pack under the trailer’s axle, then I sat down, using the tire for a backrest.
After a few minutes I heard the whistle blow two long blasts, which meant the train was about to leave. After a minute or so the car jerked backwards a little, then the train started moving, slowly at first, then gradually speeding up. I could hear the wheels rumbling underneath and the car rocked slightly. I could hear the trailers straining against the braces that held them onto the car, and the trailer above us rocked with the car.
We passed a railroad crossing and a woman in a grey pickup waved to us as we passed. “Don’t wave back”, Duke said, “we don’t want to call unnecessary attention to ourselves.”
After a while the train slowed down and then stopped. Duke leaned over the edge and looked. “They’re just changing crew”, he said.
“Where are we?”, John asked.
Duke pointed. “There’s the station just ahead. Sign says Seligman, Arizona”
Soon the train started moving again. As we passed the station, we saw two men sitting on the steps. One of them waved at us. “Have a nice ride,” he shouted.
A while later, the air was filled with smoke. “A hotbox”, Duke explained. “The oil in the wheels caught fire on one of the cars”. In a couple minutes the smoke cleared.
Not long after that, just as it was getting dark, the train slowed nearly to a crawl. There was a train on the other track. The red lights on the back of the caboose were flashing. As we passed the train, some of the cars were tilted. “It’s derailed”, Duke said. When we passed the other train our train sped up.
Shortly after that I could see the locomotive disappear into the mouth of a tunnel. As we entered the tunnel it went pitch dark.. We emerged from the other end and continued on our way.
I rested my head on my backpack and after a few minutes the rocking motion of the train lulled me to sleep.
When I awoke it was dark. “Come on”, John said, “we’re here”
“Where” I said, sitting up. I grabbed my pack.
“Kingman”, Duke said.
Following John and Duke, I threw my pack over the side and jumped over the side after it. I picked it up and we ran towards a chainlink fence. We threw our packs over the fence and climbed over after them. Then we picked up our packs. We walked for a while until we came to a field near the edge of town, where we decided to camp. We unrolled our sleeping bags and lay down to sleep. As I lay there, I looked at the stars which were very bright, more so than I would have expected this close to a town. I saw a shooting star that raced thru Aquila and into Capricorn where it disappeared.
Next morning we found a culvert similar to the one in Flagstaff, only this one had a higher ceiling, and its walls were covered with more graffiti.
May 22, 2012 8:58:52 pmby Chipka Homepage »
This is really well done and I like the almost journalistic nonchalance this has. Writing like that has a way of settling into the brain as if it's being spoken rather than written, and for me, words are at their most powerful when they exist somewhere between writing and speech. This has a nice flow to it. Nice. Very nice.