I rose at first light as the blush of sunrise drenched a big clear sky. When I went into the gas station to wash up, the attendant recognized me from last night. “Where are you headed, anyway?” she asked me. “In the direction of Denver.” “Denver? Hmm…I’m actually heading that way later today.” She wasn’t sure if there would be an extra seat in the car, but she told me she’d call around 11:30 to let me know.
It was barely 5:30 in the morning, so I decided to make use of the cool temperatures and try to catch a ride anyway; hitching might be faster than waiting, and if the rides didn’t come, I could always just wait for the call. I made my way to the I-25 southbound on ramp and thumbed it in the warm morning sunlight. Traffic was light, but after an hour or so, a Hostess delivery truck veered into the shoulder. I ran up to the passenger door and slid it open. Pallets and trays of cupcakes and pastries were stacked to the roof. There was no passenger seat. “Get in and lie down,” the driver said quickly. “I ain’t supposed to have no one else in here.” But he was only going a few miles down the road, so I elected to wait for a longer ride. “Well, you know what,” he said, and he stood up and grabbed at the products. I laughed. “Are you serious!” He began to stuff Twinkies into my hands. “Fuckit, I’on’t give a fuck.” He drove off, and I was left standing there laughing, my arms laden with a lifetime supply of Twinkies.
The sun came up fast, and soon I could feel my arms beginning to burn. I’d already been out there two hours and it was only 7:30 AM, but I decided to head back to the gas station and get a cup of coffee at the adjoining restaurant and wait a while for the call from the attendant. In the cafe, I used the time to write, relax, and savor the sensation of being adrift in an unfamiliar town. “BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE,” I wrote on my wrist: a call to center myself in the present moment. Unless there is an immediate lesson to be learned, don’t dwell on what has happened to get me here, pleasant or unpleasant–release guilt or regret for “mistakes,” and just take stock of the situation as it currently stands. Don’t dwell either on what may come–let go of anxiety and anticipation, and just be where you are. I intended for this to be a mantra to get me through the next couple hundred miles of hitchhiking, but of course the application of the concept is much broader.
Four long hours passed, and the call never came. Was this time wasted? BEGIN WHERE YOU ARE. I’m in a gas station near I-25 with a backpack and it’s 11:30 AM. How this came about is irrelevant. It’s incredibly simple: my task now is to go thumb a ride south.
The heat was brutal, so I took refuge under a bridge by the on ramp. I just needed to get out of the sun. I didn’t realize at the time there were others there already. I nearly stepped on the first one, a tiny little ball of beak and feathers. She quivered in the hot wind, motionless. Another baby bird lay on the ground a few steps beyond, and then another, all of them dead or near death. I glanced upwards at the honeycombed nests tucked into the underside of the bridge, the tiny dark holes from which these too-young bodies must have fallen, slammed into the concrete below: from the warmth and safety of that woven thatched home, a harsh entry into the world. A helpless baby bird with a broken wing halfheartedly flapped away across the pavement when I walked by. Dozens of birds flitted in and out of the underpass, small black shapes twisting and chirping through shadows and light, seemingly unaware of their fallen comrades, children, brothers and sisters, or perhaps all too aware. I set my pack down in the shade, took a seat on the guardrail, and held out my thumb.