Yes, still in Needles. After my experience with Dot and the Freight Hopper, my head is spinning. I call Charlie. Rather than placate my mind, the chat lasts for over an hour and Charlie launches another wave of thought provoking ideas and questions. A few minutes after we get off the phone, I send him a text: “I seriously just want to flop down on a couch and watch cartoons right now.” His response: “Haha dude you’re definitely in an interesting place right now. Could this mean you need to temporarily settle down and find something constant in your life, to help you recharge? Or are you determined to see how deep the rabbit hole goes? Or perhaps everything will seem better tomorrow after a good night’s rest.”
He has a really good point.
But the thing is, this is another fundamental part of this journey for me: learning how to recharge as I go. I am trying to learn how to take care of myself on the road no matter what mental state I am in.
So, I park outside of a motel with free wi-fi, fold down my back seats, stretch out on my sleeping bags, and watch an episode of Family Guy on my computer.
Afterwards, I make friends with the manager of a Chevron station, Cody, and his wife. “You’ve been stuck here all day, huh?” He asks me. “Car troubles?” “Well, actually…I’m here for old time’s sake. I was here four months ago….” And I proceed to tell him my story about getting stranded in Barstow, ending up in Needles, sleeping over by the on ramp of the highway, and finally catching a ride out of here.
Cody is excited. Wait—you had nothing with you? Yeah. Money? A little. How could you just go? People take care of you. He is getting worked up. “We should do something like this,” he says to his wife. Then to me, or more to himself, “We’ve got the Yukon…we could fit the kids, take ‘em all…save up a few grand…we should do it…” He turns back to his wife. “What do you think?” She just raises an eyebrow. “I think you’re crazy.”
One of my tires has been leaking, and he sells me a new one at his cost and then changes it for me. His wife brings me out a free hot chocolate. I park in the dust behind the station alongside a few tractor trailers, and I fall asleep looking at the stars through my moon roof.
* * *
In the morning, I return to the spot from which I caught a ride out of here four months ago. This spot…if Barstow was a hated place to be, I have only fond memories of my time in Needles. Those terrible six hours of being stranded by the on ramp in Barstow finally ended when I was picked up by a man named Mike who drove a silver Scion. He was the manager for a local power company, and he pointed out the substations he ran as we soared through the desert. I thanked him over and over again for the ride, telling him how close I had been to giving up, even mentioning that I had lost my jacket. When we finally arrived in Needles, he brought me back to his home, introduced me to his wife and daughter, and rooted around in a closet until he found a jacket that fit me literally perfectly. I spent the night out here beside the on ramp of the highway, loving the southern warmth after that awful night up north huddling by the fire.
I awoke the next morning to a desert sunrise. I brushed my clothes off from the dust I had slept in, and I began the day slowly with a cup of coffee outside a gas station. After an hour of sitting on my bag by the on ramp, holding up my thumb, a woman with thick waist-length dreadlocks walked slowly over to me.
“Where are you going?” She had asked me in a thick Quebec accent. Her name was Geneviève; she was with a group of people from all across the continent who were on their way to a raw vegan food exhibition in Prescott. (Their website: www.lydiasorganics.com.) I followed Geneviève back to the gas station, where their two cars were parked, to meet the others. Sarah was a little bit shorter than me, her curly hair pulled back into a bun with a small dread poking out. She had a circular septum piercing and another stud in the side of her nose. In the other car I met a girl with intricate tattoo sleeves and a guy with long dark hair, highlighted in blond streaks, a huge tongue stud, and a ring in the side of his nose.
We began to share stories, and Sarah smiled and gave me an orange and a hug. Juice ran down my chin, and Geneviève asked me for my orange peel. She tossed it up on the dashboard along with a pile of dried sage from the desert: air fresheners. While we waited for the others to get ready to head out, Sarah and Geneviève continued to feed me. Over the next three hours, they would share avocados, watermelon, lemon cucumbers, organic potato chips, and a variety of other raw and organic snacks that I was unfamiliar with.
When everyone was ready, Sarah and Geneviève sat up front while I climbed into the back seat beside huge jugs of water and some kind of cold loose leaf tea that was steeping. Pulling onto the highway and leaving Needles behind felt like a miracle. Buddha Lounge blasted from the speakers, and we danced in our seats with the windows down and the cool breeze billowing through the car as we zoomed away into the hot desert. I remember my exact thought at that moment: I wonder if I belong with people like this.
* * *
Now, standing at the exact same spot by the Needles on ramp, I reminisce fondly. I can see the gas station where we climbed into the cars, and I’m actually wearing the jacket that Mike gave me.
I pull onto the highway, still retracing my hitchhiking route, remembering the euphoria I felt the last time I covered this ground. Soon I cross the border into Arizona, and I change the clock in my car to Mountain Time. An hour east, I reach Kingman. I only passed through this town when I was with Sarah and Geneviève, but now I pull off the highway in desperate need of a café. At this point, I still have yet to write my last two posts, and I badly need to process my conversations with Dot and the Freight Hopper. I practically collapse into the coffee shop in the center of town. I feel ready to burst, but I am ok. I’m calm. I have all day. I can stay here as long as I want to.
And indeed, I do spend all day in Kingman, writing feverishly for hours and hours. Before I started keeping this blog, I would take still take notes on the people I would meet and the thoughts I would have, but then I would fling myself into a new experience before I really had a chance to fully process the things that happened. Now, I have a responsibility to myself and a responsibility to you to actually sit down and write something coherent. It’s been forcing me to slow down and really, deeply process and digest my experiences. This is good.
I eat lunch and drive through city looking for another place to camp out, but I quickly return to the café. It’s a Starbucks, but the barista is friendly and I’m cozy on this couch and smooth jazz is tumbling from the speakers and I have the place to myself except for one guy in the corner who is writing what I shall imagine to be poetry. I write until I get kicked out when they close, and then I sit in my car writing until my computer battery dies. I will return in the morning to finish up and post.
Dinner comes from a Chevron. I walk in, chat with the attendant until I get her to laugh, and then ask if there is any food that she will be throwing away at the end of the night. In fact, she is about to throw away an entire day’s assortment of food right now. She hands me a plastic bag and tells me to fill it up. A hot dog, a barbecue pork sandwich, a chicken melt, donuts, pastries, cookies, Danishes, fritters. I toss them all into the bag. I ask her if this is really ok. “They are all going into trash if you don’t take them,” she says.
When I finish looting the bakery section, I walk up to the counter. She’s standing there chatting with a guy who is either a good friend or an off-shift coworker. I thank her profusely, mentioning that I have been traveling for several months and that I am surviving because of generosity of people like her. She and the guy both smile. “Hey man, take a coffee or a soda with you on your way out,” the guy says to me. I laugh. “No, no, it’s ok…this is way more than enough. Thank you….” He stares me down with a grin on his face. “I am not letting you leave until you take a drink.” So, Vanilla Coke in hand, I thank them both over and over and retire with my feast, which I eat down the street in the parking lot of Walgreens. Later I brush my teeth in a gas station bathroom and find a spot on a dark grassy hill overlooking the lights of the city and I sleep.