Let me preface this one by saying: I frequently feel the need to defend my lifestyle in these writings. Yes, I spark controversy when I talk about living outside the normal economic system, playing music in exchange for money, accepting human kindness without repaying it, etc. (Though for some odd reason, people don’t seem troubled by the vast inherent hypocrisy of living within that normal system). Anyway, this is not a philosophical piece. Just take it for what it is.
I hit the road north from Missoula after the amazing barista at Break offers me another collection of day-old pastries and after grabbing a sack lunch from the homeless shelter. My tank is empty and, though I’m hesitant to outright ask people for anything, there is a way to get gas for free and I want to see if I can pull it off. I haven’t spent any money this past week that I didn’t make playing guitar, and I want to see how far I can get without dipping into this $160 I have in my glove box. I am nervous and more than slightly uncomfortable doing this, but I need to see what will happen.
I pull into a gas station and park around the corner from the window but in plain view of the pumps, and I sit on the curb next to my car. I just sit there holding the red two gallon gas jug. I wait for a while, until I see a kid about my age pull up to a pump, look at me, and then swipe his card. I stand up with the jug and walk over to the guy. Before I can even open my mouth, he looks up, smiling. “Hey man, do you need a gallon of gas?” He pulls the nozzle out of his gas tank and puts it into my jug. “Thank you so much man…” “No problem!” He finishes fueling up and then waves as he drives away. I carry the full jug back to my car, screw on the spout, and pour the contents into my tank through a funnel. A few minutes later, I walk up to another guy. “Hey man…is there any way you could spare a little bit of gas?” “Yeah, I could do that. At least you’re not asking for money. You don’t have any herb do you?” He asks as he fills the jug. “No I don’t, but do you want a beer?” “Hell yeah!” So when the jug is full and topped off he follows me back to my car where I still have a PBR from Jeff and Jay in the trunk. “It might be a little warm—” “That’s ok man, I am just going to be moving stuff back and forth, so I’ll stick it in the fridge on the next trip and save it for later.” He thanks me before leaving. Does he forget that he is the one who just helped me?
I noticed the attendant watching me as I walked back to my car with the guy, so I switch gas stations. The next one I find is incredibly busy, so I just lean against the hood of the car, gas jug on the ground in front of me, too intimidated to approach any one person. I’m standing there for about ten minutes before an older guy walks over and leans against the hood next to me. “You look like a man in distress.” I smile. “Do I?” “Where you headed?” “I’m trying to get up to Glacier.” “What’s up there?” “I’m just gonna be passing through. I’ve been on the road for about a year…” I tell him my story. I have been advised to concoct something—I have work somewhere, I’m trying to visit my family—something to generate pity. But this I will not do. I have to believe honesty will work.
“Well…” he says when I finish talking. “You wanna pull your car up to the pump?” “What?” “Yeah.” He swipes his card, puts the nozzle in my tank, and holds out his hand. I shake it. “Fill ‘er up,” he says before walking away.
I am speechless.