Scott and I took turns taking a hot shower. While one was in the shower enjoying to fullest what we used to take for granted, the other was laid out on the bed watching T.V. It was great, and awful at the same time to find ESPN. I got see that my Yankees and my dad’s Angels had both won that day, but seeing baseball highlights quickly got me depressed. It got me glance over at the phone. I did not give a shit about Chuck’s thin threat…if I decided to use the phone and call my dad, then I was going to. I paused in thought for a minute while deciding. My decision not to call was confirmed with a quick head shake, and Scott coming out of the bathroom telling me that it was now my turn to shower.
The hot water was paradise. I pushed my palms against the wall of the shower, and tilted my head, allowing the hot water to just run through my hair, and down my face. I was not only washing away the dirt, and sweat…I was washing away some of the mental fatigue that I had accumulated over the course of our journey. The hot water and lathered soap offered me a temporary peace, kind of like a pay day loan, only the high interest rate would come in the form of waking up to reality.
When I came out of the bathroom, I camped in front of the mirror above the sink. I was tempted to feel normal while I sculpted my hair in search of perfection. The OCD of doing my hair felt familiar again…like I was me again. I liked the feeling. I also knew that there was a good chance that it might only last for a few nights.
“Hey, after your done primping…”
“Whatever you are over there doing dude…”
“I’m doing my hair.”
“Yea, you’re primping. Anyhow, after you get done, I say we go down to the restaurant in the hotel and get some dinner.”
“That sounds great to me!”
The restaurant was nothing fancy…it was pretty much a coffee shop with a few people here and there. The friend chicken was bland, the potatoes were void of flavor, but the simplicity of just sitting down at and having the meal was sort of nice; there was a sense of a possibly normalcy to it.
“Tomorrow, we can and find some of my old friends. We can try to find a place to stay until we can find jobs.”
I nodded at and Scott and pretty much acknowledged him without agreeing or disagreeing. I wasn’t sure anymore; I wasn’t sure that this was the life that I wanted. I kept thinking about my dad, I kept thinking about home, and even though I hadn’t gotten a chance to see Wendover to verify the fondness that Scott had offered it, I was not overly enthusiastic about what I would see.
That night I slept well, really well. Before I knew it, is was morning, and I was afraid that the day would actually lead us to finding a place to stay like Scott had hoped for. Maybe if we were not able to find a place to stay, that would be a good enough excuse to go home.
After grabbing a free muffin and cup of coffee a piece, we walked out of the hotel and I finally got to see this quasi utopia of Scott’s. I was anything nut impressed, and pretty much nothing but depressed.
The tour began with us ending up in a fully dirt front yard. There were cars from the 70’s on blocks, or just broken down with flats. It did not look like a collection, as much as just a place for junk cars to die. We met up with a shaved head white trash guy, who although he looked like a skin head or something, was actually a pretty nice guy. His name was Jon, and Jon remembered Scott right away. He had invited us into his house since his parents were not home, and the optics of dirty dishes, mixed with trash, and laundry that might be dirty or clean, or a mixture of the two, set nicely with the brigade of flies that swarmed through his lovely home.
We had taken Jon with us, and went to collect another one of Scott’s old friend’s…this one was named John. This John lived in a trailer. He was tall with a snout like pig nose, turned up and small. He had a reputation for being a pathological liar, and for having his way with many of the small town’s fat girl population. Within the first five minutes of meeting John, he actually stuck his finger in his nose, and then placed the evacuated contents into his mouth. I had met a few of Scott’s old friends and I was not at all impressed.
Around 6pm, we all ended up at the hotel restaurant for dinner. Of course it was Scott’s treat. We were mainly killing time until a little later when Jon and John had some more friends that were supposed to show up at the room for some drinking fun.
“So Jon, did you ever think that I was going to come back?”
I thought about back home…Specifically, I thought about the long walking around in the heat, from my apartment, to Wildwood, to Scott’s house, back to my apartment; what made me think about that specifically was the familiar feeling of heat, that somehow snuck past the rubber in the bottom of my shoes, and cradled the arches of my feet, like arms holding a baby…only, what the heat was doing with my feet was not as pleasant of an experience.
The highway that we walked along seemed vaster and more endless than the ocean. I had never walked from one state to another before, but that is exactly what we did. We walked from the Nevada side, to Utah. I now had officially been to another state, and I was not sure what I was going to do there. I thought Barstow was barren…at least there, there were signs of civilization, no matter how minimal.
Even though it was only the morning, the heat was already wide awake, and making the long walk to nowhere even more unbearable. My skin felt heavy; having to carry myself down the side of the highway at a turtle’s pace.
The scary thing was, we had not been walking for that long. Lucky for us, there was a truck stop. At the very least, we could duck in and use the bathroom, maybe plant ourselves at one of the tables for a while…a great idea might find our thoughts while we were there…at least we would be off the road and out of the heat for a while.
“Dude, I fucked up by not keeping a better track of the money, I’m hungry.”
Reality was smacking us right in the face. The difference that a day could make. It seems that in life, everything is perception. The night before, my perception was that if we were hungry, there would be money to eat. Why should I have thought any differently? How much money that we had left in the vault was not something that I even thought to discuss with my overly confident friend.
“I’m just about out of smokes to dude!”
“Fuck… Me to! Wait a minute…I still have money from Circus Circus, and from those stuffed animals that we sold.”
Scotts eyes lit up with hope. It was the type of hope that a person might feel if they were not able to find their wallet, and someone might have remembered seeing it somewhere. He wasn’t sure how much money that I had in my pocket, but his desperation made it so, he was really optimistic before giving me a chance to find out.
“Oh hell yea…how much? Maybe we can get some…”
“It’s only $12.”
We were both able to get a something to eat at the truck stop, but only had enough money for one pack of cigarettes. I got lucky that I was not carded when I spend our last dollar something on a pack of Marlboroughs. Without a better idea, Scott brainstormed and decided that we should hitchhike until we reached somewhere that resembled civilization again.
There were two country boy types, in dirty mesh style baseball caps that were actually over hearing our conversation. They overheard to give Scott and I a ride as far as they were going up the highway if we would like.
It was kind of scary. I mean, who were these guys, and what were we going to do, so far from home, and the middle of nowhere if these guys ended up turning out to be sickos or something? Scott and I did the best that we could to get comfortable without any seats in the back of the van. There was junk, greased up clothing, and tools, as well as beer cans, and other trash scattered around the back of the van, and around our feet.
“So what are we going to do next Scott?’
“What is our plan?”
It was kind of loud in the back of the van. It was not that easy to each other from the other side of the van. I’m not sure that there was much to really say anyway. We were trapped in-between nowhere and somewhere, and we weren’t sure of which that we were closer to.
“Oh, I don’t know…let’s just see what happens.”
After a little while of driving, the van pulled over, and we were let out. The country boys were not far from their destination. So we were on our feet again, and enjoying the constant heat soaking into our skin. My head hurt, and my will felt crushed.
As the morning went on, we hitched more rides. Some people would take us further up the highway than others; and a few people actually bought us something to drink at gas stations along the highway. It was really seeming like we would just go on and on without any kind of a real destination; that was of course before a box truck that said HERTZ-PENSKE on the side had pulled over on the side of the highway in front of us.
“Well, there’s another ride to nowhere Dude.”
“Sounds better than walking.”
I let Scott approach the passenger side door first. He opened the door, and we both looked inside. There was a skinny, 21-year-old man, as clean cut as someone could look.
“Hey, you guys need a ride somewhere?”
“Yea Dude, that would be great!”
“Where are you guys headed?”
“Wherever the day takes us dude.”
Shortly after, we were invited into the truck. The driver seemed very suspicious right from the start. His glances and stares as he drove jabbed at my conscious. I hated feeling like we had to keep lying. This guy was cool…he was different; I wanted to trust him.
“So what are your guy’s names? What do I call ya?”
“Well Scott and Tony, my I’m Bill…Bill Walton.”
“Hey like the show the Waltons!”
“Yea Tony, or like the basketball player.”
As the drive continued, we found out more about Bill’s story, and where he was headed. Bill lived in Seattle Washington. He didn’t say specifically where he had picked up the Hertz-Penske truck from, but he was on his way to deliver it to Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the back of the truck were different varieties of house plants. He also had a dirt bike strapped in the back of the truck, that he had planned to ride back home to Washington State once his delivery was complete.
Cheyenne, Wyoming did not sound half bad. I had heard of it in a movie I thought. I had no idea where we would find food, or shelter, but something inside of me was hopeful…something inside of me also made up my mind that I was only willing to go hungry for one day, and that would be enough for me to call home and ask my dad to bring me home.
“Bill, if I tell you something, do you promise to keep it a secret?”
“Yea Tony, I can do that.”
“You promise right?”
“Don’t tell me…you and Scott are runaways…am I right?”
My stomach kind of sank at that moment. I glanced at Scott’s expression and his face looked blank…like he did not know what to say. I kind of didn’t blame him for not knowing how to feel that we were figured out because he had stolen all of that money…all of that money that seemed like it would start a new life for us, but that disappeared in a small number of days.
“Yea, how did you know?”
“I’m only twenty-one years old. It was not long ago that I myself ran away from home.”
“Damn dude…so you’re not going to turn us in…right?”
“No, I’m not going to turn you in. So where are you guys from…Nevada?”
“Na dude, I’m from Arizona, but we both ran away from California.”
“California? Dan, you guys sure made it further than I did…I live in Seattle, and when I ran away, I never made it out of the city.”
We had made a new friend along the way. Bill Walton, the 21-year-old from Seattle was now our latest ally. At the end of the day, we would be saying goodbye forever, but for the time being, there was a bond being built, no matter how temporary that it might be.
Hours on the highway, with stops along the way to get something to drink, gas up, and use the bathroom gave us plenty of time to talk. Bill gave me hope that I might myself be something more one day. When he was my age, he had troubles at home, and school to, but when he got around 18, I guess he turned himself around. There was only one thing that really frustrated me…when we stopped and would get something to drink, he refused to buy us cigarettes. No matter how much I liked the guy, he was a little too uptight about telling me and Scott that we shouldn’t smoke. Wasn’t he a little young to be such a prude I thought.
When we got to Cheyenne, Wyoming, I had more of a comfortable feeling than I did before when we got to places like Barstow, or Wendover. Cheyenne was small, but not too small…it was small, but not trashy or barren. I kind of appreciated the way that some of the architecture seemed old, and full of character. I was scared to death inside about what we would do for food or a place to stay, but, I believed that we would figure out…I had to believe.
Bill pulled into the parking lot of a drug store. There was a section to the side where there was a place that they had all of the plants for sale, in an enclosure. It was the end of the line, and at that point, I started to lose a little of my confidence.
“Alright guys, this is where I have to say goodbye. I am going to start my ride back home…back to Seattle.”
“Thanks for the ride dude.”
“Yea, thanks Bill, I appreciate it.”
“Hey guys, here…here is $5 a piece. Now listen to what I have to say. I want you guys to buy F-O-O-D!!! NO CIGERETTES!!! Got it?”
“Of course Bill…I’m hungry…fuck cigarettes.”
We shook hands with our new friend, and just like that, we were on our way. Like baby turtles on the beach, waiting to get swept out with the tide…there was no telling where we would end up, or what we do for survival.
We walked around the town for a little bit. We didn’t venture too far from where we were dropped off. Part of me was a little nervous about getting lost, but then again, it is not like we knew where we were in the first place.
“Dude, I need a fucken cigarette!”
Our first destination was conspired. We found a liquor store to wander into, with mission of buying a pack of cigarettes to split. We had decided that since I looked older, I would be the one to go to the counter and ask for a pack of Marlborough Reds.
“Can I get a pack of…”
“Scott, Tony, what are you guys in here doing?”
Just as fate would have it, Bill was in there getting a can of soda for the road. He had caught us red handed. There was no lying our way out of this one.
“Dude, we were only going to get one pack and spend the rest on food.”
“I don’t care guys…I did not give you guys that money so that you could buy cigarettes with it. Now if you’re not hungry, I’ll gladly take my money back since you obviously will not be needing it.”
We ended up handing Bill both of our $5 dollar bills, and following him over to a Wendy’s. That is after of course, he made sure to tell the person working at the store that we were under age, just in case we wanted to come back and try to buy cigarettes. So Bill bought us something to eat, and then we watched out of the window as he rode us dirt bike down the road, on his way back to Seattle, and out of our lives forever. Even though he pissed us off, we still really liked the guy.
Cheyenne looked like a neat little town. I liked the way some of the places besides fast food restaurants or gas stations looked older, and borrowed from another time. We walked past a nice little park, with some comfortable looking wooden benches for us to stop and sit, while we attempted to come up with a plan of where to go next, or what to do.
“Scott, I don’t know how much longer I want to do this. I miss having a bed, a T.V., food, and yes…I miss my dad.”
“Well, I’m sorry Tony, but I have no body to miss. My mom is a bitch for sending me to live with that asshole Dave…probably just because her boyfriend wanted me gone.”
“Yea, but what are we going to do? “
“Do you have any family anywhere besides California?”
“My mom is in Chicago.”
“Can we stay with her? I have never been to Chicago, but I bet I would love it.”
“Yea, but what if I call my mom, and then she calls my dad?”
I sat on the bench and shook my head while looking down at that ground. I scanned my brain for any kind of idea, while I suspected that Scott was doing the same. No idea seemed to make sense. It was a fifty-fifty chance that I would continue the adventure, or that I would think of a way to continue.
“I have an idea!”
“What’ s your idea?”
“We can call my grandparents; they live in Oklahoma. Maybe they can wire me some money.”
“I thought you grew up with your grandparents in San Bernardino.”
“Those are my dad’s parents that I grew up with; my grandparents in Oklahoma are my mom’s parents. Well actually my grandma there is my mom’s stepmom, but you understand.”
“Yea Dude, we just have to find a pay phone.”
During the walking and glancing, Scott noticed a bus station. A light bulb went off in his head. He figured that not only would they have a pay phone in there, but maybe, just maybe we could find a place to sleep in there. I thought about the bus station in Las Vegas, and I remembered seeing people sleeping on the ground without being harassed. This might end up being a great idea, I thought to myself. Maybe we would get lucky and find some lost change to, and get something out of the vending machine.
The bus station did not physically look that much different than the one in Las Vegas. There were some lockers, there were connected rows of hard plastic chairs. In addition, there was even a small area to eat, with a few bench like tables. The people were a lot less scary than the ones in Las Vegas though.
The moment when I ended up with the pay phone receiver in my hand, did not seem real for some reason. All of this living that we did in less than a week, led us here? Was the climax of our journey to end up in a bus station, in Nowhere, Wyoming; calling my grandparents and lying to them, just so we could ask for money?
I reluctantly removed a folded up, wrinkled piece of paper from my blue wallet, with Velcro, and read the numbers one at a time, while I used my index finger to push the buttons on the pay phone at a tortoise’s pace. I could tell that Scott was getting inpatient, the way that I could see out of the corner of my eye, he could not stand still. The muscles in my neck got really tight; I felt a cold sweat on my face, and my stomach got incredibly nauseous as the phone rang.
“Hello, this is a AT&T collect call from…(T-O-N-Y)…do you accept the charges?”
“Hi, Grandma Jewel!”
“Is this Tony?”
“Yep, sure is.”
“Oh sweet Jesus! It is so great to hear from you Tony.”
“It’s great to hear from you to Grandma.”
“Oh bless your heart child.”
“Grandma…the reason that I called is...”
I could hear the strong Southern Drawl of my grandfather in the background. He was asking if that was ‘Tony’ on the phone, and he wanted to talk to me.
“Tony, your grandpa wants to talk to ya.”
“What are you up to boy?”
“About 5’10 I think.”
The silent response that I got from grandfather made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell if he didn’t understand my joke, or just didn’t find it funny. I ended up just doing a nervous laugh.”
“Well, how are ya boy?”
“Well…that’s why I called ya.”
“Why did you call me? I don’t understand boy.”
“Me and my friend Scott are driving across the country. We are enjoying the summer.”
“Does your dad know what you’re doing?”
“Yea, he is totally fine with it. He just told me to be careful and have fun.”
“Where are ya right now boy? Are you in Oklahoma?”
“Are you one your way here?”
Scott was off to my side tense and hanging on every word. He like a coach on the side line, anxiously signaling the quarterback with the play, and then waiting nervously to see if the play worked. Scott aggressively tapped my shoulder, and whispered in my ear.
“Tell him that the car; threw a rod.”
“Grandpa, Scott’s car unscrewed a rod.”
“Do you mean it threw a rod boy?”
“Yea, that’s it.”
Scott’s facial expression was somewhere in-between wanting to laugh, and pulling his own hair out. He almost panicked, but could tell that my grandfather was still going along with the story. There was a reserve of relief still his eye.
“I’ll tell ya what boy; tell me where are you calling from right now?”
“We are at the bus station in Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
“Ok, where is the car?”
“Umm…the car? Well, the car is back in Nevada.”
“How the hell did you get to Wyoming then boy?”
“Well, here is what you are going to do…you are going to stay put. I will be there by tomorrow evening probably. I’m coming to get ya.”
“Ok Grandpa…we will be here.”
I hung up the phone and just looked at Scott for a minute. I didn’t know if he would be disappointed or relieved that instead having money wired to us, we were being picked up. I didn’t know if I was disappointed or relieved to be honest.
“He will be here probably by tomorrow night.”
“He’s coming here to get us?”
I nodded my head with an unsure smile. Scott gave me a high five, and a quick shoulder hug. He looked like he had just been let off of the hook, and when I took a second to think about it…I felt the same way. All that we had to do was survive the night, and the next day, and we would have a place to stay.
“Hey, I’m going to go take a piss.”
“Alright dude, I’m going find a place to chill. I’ll be out here somewhere.”
I went into the bathroom, and I did my business. I found myself clamping the sides of the sink, and looking distant into the mirror…looking past myself almost. It was one of those moments where I felt trapped between nowhere a somewhere; a somewhere that might end up being another nowhere, or something even scarier; what if the somewhere I was headed to, would make it so I would really be saying goodbye to the somewhere that I came from. I still missed my dad…a large part of me that I concealed even from myself, still knew that I belonged back in San Bernardino, watching baseball and eating too many hot dogs with my dad.
I came out of the bathroom to see Scott talking to a man probably in his late 30’s or early 40’s…in either case, it was weird seeing him standing there full on in a conversation with some old guy. I wasn’t in the mood to meet anybody new at the moment. I thought about something that my dad would say when we were driving through San Bernardino and we see a character…he would say “There’s too much personality in the world.” I laughed to myself thinking about that. I was not in the mood to accommodate anybody’s personality at the moment…so I just went and stood by a window with my fingers tucked in my jeans, and my tote bag at my feet.
“Hey dude, that guy that I was talking to was pretty cool. You should have come over and met him.”
“Na, I didn’t want to meet anybody right now. I’m tired.”
“Well, he said that in about an hour we can get into the homeless shelter. He said that we should get down there as fast as possible though; only the first so many people in line get in.”
“Damn, so we can sleep there?”
“Yea, and we can get something to eat to.”
“There is one thing though.”
“He said to make sure and tell them that we are 18, or else they will call the cops.”
Endurance…endurance was not something that I particularly concentrated on developing before I ran away, but during my adventure, there were times when I learned hands on, what it meant to have to have endurance.
Just the night before seemed like a lifetime ago. Only the night before, Scott and I were enjoying dinner with low life friends of his in a 2nd rate restaurant in a 2nd rate hotel. When were able to eat, getting plenty drunk, smoke to our hearts content, and have a place to sleep. What I enjoyed the most from the night before, that I was not able to enjoy on this night was, the ignorance. The ignorance that was blissful to me, was the ignorance about the money being completely spent. When I thought that Scott’s pocket was like a water faucet; that all that it took was for him to turn the knob, and life sustaining money would just pour out on demand, I felt a little better about our circumstances. There is a difference between being hungry and tired when you assume that you will be able to have a hot meal and a bed when you decide to cash in, compared to knowing that you are fucked.
On this late afternoon, we stood in line, being lathered by the heat of the Sun. We took the advice rightfully so, and got to the homeless shelter a while before the doors were scheduled to open. The line was already long, and there was no shortage of people like us, who all that they wanted to do was find a place to eat, and sleep. There was a significant and noticeable difference with the homeless people here, and the ones that I had come to know from Wildwood Park. The ones from Wildwood were filthy, and had the drugs had given then a rusty dull edge. They were dangerous. They got social security checks and chose to be homeless so they could buy a gun, drugs, and just live in the bushes. These homeless people in Cheyenne looked more what I would have thought to be normal. They all had their own stories of course, but there had to have been a chapter in each of their stories, where their plot took an unfortunate turn.
Waiting in the heat, and towards the middle of a huge line was not only mentally and physically exhausting and awful, it was surreal. In my 14 years on the planet, I never had to think about how homeless people had to find a way to survive. In a way, Scott and I were in the same boat; for the night at least. I was able to hold my head high while standing in the line of our temporary homeless peers; at least until a white convertible Mustang passed by honking, with attractive teenage girls cruelly laughing and waving at all of us in line. My shoulders slouched, my stomach sank, and all that I wanted to do was yell “FUCK!”
Finally, climax was achieved when the doors opened and a skinny man in tan shorts and a brown button up shirt came outside and gave the line directions on what to do once inside. The line started moving in, and hope was on our side that we would meet the quota. Once inside, there were two overweight older ladies sitting at a folding table, and handing out little plastic bags. In the plastic bags there was a tooth brush, tooth paste, and a black plastic comb. I felt spoiled.
The accommodations that evening were five star all the way. I got the top bunk of a bunk bed, a Styrofoam bowl of Vegetable Beef soap, a two pack of crackers, a bologna and cheese sandwich, and an apple juice. I was all set. What made my stay completely excellent was a 5-minute shower. I savored ever sip and bite of my dinner, and relished what it felt like to be clean, and have the sweat from the day washed away, as well having the heat that sat on my skin throughout the day dimmed, and washed away. The way that Scott and I were in bunk beds, and the way that I knew that in the morning we were expected to get up, and get out made it so we did not really have a chance to lay there and talk when it was time for bed. When the lights went out, so did my consciousness.
My sleep came on fast, and the night seemed over to soon. I remembered laying my head on the pillow, then before I knew it, I was opening my eyes and looking around. There were already other people getting their stuff ready to go. Scott was one of them.
“Come on Dude…hurry up and get ready…we have to be out of here soon.”
“Where the fuck is my bag?”
“Oh, here, I had it with me so no one would steal it. I saw some dude eying it when you were sleeping.”
On the way out, we got a muffin and a milk. For me it was a breakfast for champions, compared the alternative of not having anything at all. We left that homeless shelter that morning, and I had an even mix of fear and optimism. I wasn’t sure how to feel to be honest. I knew that I did not want to go back to the shelter though…no matter how grateful that I was for it the night before. I missed the feeling of stability and predictability.
Scott wanted to go find stuff to, or places to hang out all day, but unlike the way that it was when our adventure just began, it was time for him to follow my lead. My grandfather specifically told me to stay at the bus station, and that was what I intended to do. I did not want him to show up, and us not be there. Who knows how long that he would wait, or if he would just assume that we left…there was no way to let him know if we missed him.
“Dude, so you just want to sit at the bus station all day?”
“Yep, that’s what I want to do.”
“Ahh…what about if your grandpa doesn’t show up?”
“I know my grandpa…he will come.”
It was obvious that we were not used to our circumstances. Every day leading up to the day before was easy. Money made it easy. Money made it seem like we had freedom, but without money, we did not feel so free. We were still slave to human needs like food, and sleep.
“So are we just going to sit around here all day Tony?”
“ok, well…maybe we can take naps or something. Let’s look for some change around the vending machines.”
The day that lay ahead of us was intimidating at best. We had no contingency plan. If my grandfather did not show up for any reason, then that would mean that we would go without food, or a place to sleep for the entire day. We would have to actually sleep the night in the bus station, and on an empty stomach. During the day, we paced, we sat, we looked out of the windows. I tried to describe what my grandfather looked like the best that I could to Scott, that way when I would sit in a chair, or on the floor and up against a wall and nod off, Scott could wake me up if he thought that my grandfather might be there.
Late in the day, but not quite evening yet, Scott nudged me as I was looking off into the other direction and day dreaming about cheese burgers and fries. I took and breath and turned around to see a familiar face, that I had not seen in many years, but that I still recognized without any problem. My troubles felt over in an instant…there walking towards me…was my grandfather.
His heavy southern drawl was music to my young ears. Every line in his face, and his strong Appalachian jaw line were conformation that was him. My grandfather had come for us. We Were being rescued from this deserted island.
“Tony, are you ready to go?”
“Yea Grandpa…this is my friend Scott.”
My grandpa gave a head nod, and motioned for us to follow him out the door. Both Scott and I were instantly impressed with what my grandfather was driving, He has a grey, brand new Ford Taurus. That was the first time that I had ever gotten to experience that new car smell. He said that he had it for like a few weeks, and that coming to get me gave him a good excuse to take his new car out for a drive. That made me feel good. My grandfather was always good at saying the right thing.
“So are you boys hungry?”
“Oh Grandpa thank you for asking!!!!”
“Ok, well, let’s go through one of these burger places. Get you boys some food before we hit the road.”
As me and Scott ate, my grandfather excused himself and went outside. He told us to just come to the car when we were finished eating. He made sure to let us know, that he was in no hurry, and that we could take our time, and enjoy our food. My eyes actually watered as I took my first bite of that double cheeseburger. I felt like it was the best double cheeseburger ever. It did not take that long for Scot and I to totally devour our food.
“Dude, your grandpa is so awesome!”
“Damn…. he sure is.”
“Does he smoke?”
“I don’t know.”
I was stuck. I wanted to ask my grandfather if he could buy us a pack of cigarettes, but I did not know how he would react. I did not know if he would even get angry. At the same time, I really needed a cigarette. We walked outside to the car and my grandfather was in the car waiting, but he was in the backseat. He had a 12 pack of some cheap beer.
“Since you boys were driving across the country; I guess that you know how to drive.”
“I do Sir.”
“Good. Directions on how to get back to Miama (Miami), Oklahoma are on the paper. Tony, I need you to do me a favor boy. Don’t tell your grandma that I’m drinking. She thinks that I’m an alcoholic and won’t quit riding my ass.”
With my grandpa letting Scott drive, and already having me keep secrets from my grandma, I couldn’t help but to feel good about my decision, and I couldn’t help but to smile. I knew at that point, it was not going to be a big deal to ask my grandpa for a cigarette.
“Grandpa…do you have a cigarette?”
“No boy, I don’t smoke…I chew. I have some Skoal; you want some of that?”
Right as he was offering me to chew, I happened to look down by his side in the back seat and see a small, open metal Folgers coffee can, and it looked pretty disgusting inside. I did not want to try and chew, so my grandpa opened up his wallet and pulled out a $5 bill. He told me to get my friend a pack to if he wanted. My grandpa was so nice, that when I told him that they would probably not sell us cigarettes because we were not 18, he went in and bought the cigarettes for us. The tide had shifted, and times were great again.
Scott drove a lot of the way at first. It was surreal the way that the tide had shifted. Earlier we were homeless and hungry, and now we had full stomachs and Scott was driving my grandfather’s brand new car, while I sat in the passenger seat smoking to my heart’s content…watching the highway, and the other cars. I had no idea what the next day would bring, but I let my guard down, and just wanted to let my mind relax…and once again; enjoy the moment.
My grandfather sleep for whatever time that he needed, and he tool back over. Scott and I took turns sleeping a little at a time in the back seat, and Scott also rotated with my grandfather with the driving. I had never driven before, and even though I was tempted to try, I did not think that it would be a good idea.
The next day we wound up in Miami, Oklahoma (pronounced Miama). It was another small, depressing looking town, but it was different somehow. I think that it felt like home because my grandparents were there. My grandfather pulled into a crescent shaped drive away, up to a very nice looking, single story, red brick house, with potted plants in the kitchen window. It was beautiful. Everything looked so clean and well kept…maybe, just maybe…I was finally home.
The front door opened, and I recognized the woman who stepped out. It was my grandma Jewel…
Grandma Jewel was a very religious woman. The crow’s feet under her eyes made her look both wise and sinister…depending on a person’s point of view I suppose. She hair short very dark hair. Her hair and her skin tone made her partial Native American heritage apparent; that along with her appreciation for Turquoise jewelry. This wise old woman wore her Christianity on her sleeve, for all to see; and for all to obey.
Grandma Jewel showed us to our room. The house was very nice inside. The living room was on a lower level. Everything was so clean and nice…and very homey. Family pictures from generations littered the walls. It was kind neat seeing pictures of the mom that I did not grow up with, and barely knew…the same with my little brother. It was like discovering part of who I was or something.
“Dude, so that’s your mom?”
“Yea, that’s her in that picture right there.”
“Dude, don’t hate me but your mom is hot.”
I gave a tight lipped smile and nodded. I didn’t know what to say actually. I never really knew what it was like to have a mom around, so…I wasn’t sure how to feel when I had a friend objectifying her. There were other pictures also of a dark haired girl around my age, that I found was my cousin Elura. I found out that I had met her when I was very young, but I did not remember her. She lived with my grandparents, that was until not too long before Scott and I had arrived. I was disappointed to find out that we had missed her, since that would have been really neat to meet a cousin.
“Now you boys wash up now; supper will be done in just a little while.”
Grandma Jewel turned and started to exit the room. Both Scott and I turned our heads to notice her stop in her tracks; she was sniffing, obviously trying to figure out a smell.
“I smell cigarettes.”
“You do grandma?”
“Mam, we do not have cigarettes.”
“You better not! I do not want heathens in my home! Now I know that Tony is otherwise a good boy. The Lord has graced him with manners; so help me by my Lord Scott, you do not want to lead my grandson to sin; I won’t put up with it!”
“Grandma, why are you being like this?”
“In my house you boys will have rules. I will not have the devil lead you boys down the wrong path.”
My grandma left the room. Both of us were afraid to speak. We both stared at the door and neither of us were sure that she wasn’t standing on the other side; maybe trying to listen in to our conversation. We weren’t there long, and we were already whispering about possibly running away again.
“Dude, I’m not trying to be rude, but I don’t think that I can stay here.”
“I don’t want to either. Let’s give it a few days, maybe a week…maybe we can figure out somewhere to go.”
“Do you think that your grandma might have some money hidden somewhere like Dave did?”
“I am not stealing from my grandparents.”
“Ok Dude…but, we need to figure out something.”
I hated having to whisper. It made me resentful. But we could not chance Jewel hearing us. That would get really ugly, really quick. We needed to just survive maybe a few days while we came up with a new plan. It would not be very hard to escape in the middle of the night once we knew what we wanted to do. This time, instead of money, we probably be just taking things like food and toilet paper though.
The next morning, I surprisingly woke up very early. Something in me made me nervous to look over and see if Scott was still in the other bed. I was scared inside. I didn’t know if he was just going to leave me there. The thought actually terrified me. I did not want to be abandoned there. I was relieved to see my friend still laying there sleeping. I looked at the clock and saw that it was shortly after 5am.
I tip toed out on the soft carpet on the way to the bathroom. As soon as I came out, I heard a voice come from the dining room area, which was up the carpeted steps from the living room area. It was a voice, that I did not want to piss off.
“Tony; come here child.”
“Good morning grandma.”
“Bless your heart my Tony. Come sit at the table with your grandma.”
Jewel was sitting there playing cards. She had a coffee cup that had a big yellow flower on the side, and wouldn’t you know it…a cigarette burning in the ash tray. It was torture not being able to lite up my own cigarette. Now as far as a cup of coffee goes?”
“Grandma, do you think that it is bad for a guy my age to have a cup of coffee.”
“If you want a cup of coffee child, you don’t have to hint around…the Lord helps he, who helps himself…if you would like a cup of coffee, the cups are in that cupboard child.”
With a cup of coffee in my hand, I actually found myself enjoying the morning a little. Jewel taught me to play Solitaire, and when I asked to confirm that it was one player, her response was to tell me, just like everything in life, I am playing against the Devil.
Later that morning, Scott woke up and at first the feeling was a little tense. He went straight to the bathroom, and got in the shower. I was in the living room talking to Jewel; the fact that Scott did not say hi, good morning, hey; nothing at all, made me a little nervous. After Scott came out of the bathroom, he was already fully dressed and made his way to the living room.
“Good Morning mam…morning Tony.”
Gosh, it hurt just watching my friend on his best manners. I wondered if he felt the same watching me. I know that this was my family, but for one, I did not know Jewel well enough to have anticipated this, and for two…I wanted to run for the hills just as bad as he did.
“Good Morning Scott…how did you sleep last night?”
“I slept very well mam, thank you.”
“That’s good Scott. The Lord has blessed us with a comfortable home, and we are very happy that you can get a good sleep here.”
I leaned back and raised my eyebrows. My initial instinct was to get Scott’s attention and make a facial expression, but I thought better than to do that. Jewel might catch me. It might cause problems.
“Hey Scott, let’s go out front. I want to take a walk or something.”
“Sounds good Tony.”
“You boys don’t go too far…Tony your grandpa is going to want you to go with him to help him.”
My grandfather owned 3 other houses, which he had rented out. He did all of the maintenance on the houses himself. He wanted me to go with him to fix a house I figured. Scott and I were outside when my grandfather pulled up. Jewel immediately came outside.
“Tony, now you go with your grandpa… Scott you have to stay here and do chores around the house.”
Scott had officially snapped. It scared me. I did not know what to say, what to do…what was going to happen next.
“You don’t dare talk to my wife like that!”
My grandfather looked like he was ready to swat my friend like a fly. Scott humbly ducked his head and nodded apologetically. I did not like where this was all going. Instead of the brand new Ford Taurus, I ended up riding away with my grandfather in an old pick-up truck with crushed beer cans littering the back of the truck.
Our first stop was at one of his rental homes. There was a really nice, and young single mom who lived there. She was actually quite attractive. My grandfather kept up the lawn for her, and would fix things as she needed them fixed. I had a blast helping him. I got to drive the ride on lawn mower, and then it was up to the attic.
“Now you be careful boy. Watch where you step.”
Out of nowhere, my foot surprised me by going through the floor, which was the roof for anybody down below. I was lucky to not lose my nuts, with the way that my inner thigh had landed on the wooden beam to break my fall.
“Are you of boy?”
“Yea, I’m so sorry grandpa.”
“I’m just worried about if you are alright. It was an accident.”
“Yea, I’m alright grandpa.”
It was very surprising that my grandpa didn’t get mad at me. It made me feel good. I thought for sure that I was going to get yelled at. I was never so happy to be wrong.
When we left the rental house, my grandpa told me that he wanted to take me fishing. We ended up pulling off to the side of a hill, where there was a stream down below. My grandpa’s plans got a little side tracked when my grandpa’s truck got stuck in the mud. The more that he spun the tires, the more that it felt like the truck was moving to angle where the driver side tires would not be on the dirt anymore, and maybe the truck would roll. I got a little worried and got out of the truck while he tried a little more. Then eventually, my grandpa got out of the truck as well.
I watched him walk around the perimeter of the truck and analyze what he should possibly do next. A guy on a motor cycle stopped and asked if he could help, but when my grandfather accepted his offer, they couldn’t really figure out what help he could be. Then my stomach sank when behind my grandfather’s truck, a police car pulled up. I was no longer worried about being discovered as a runaway, but I was afraid for my grandfather, because the back of his truck was littered with beer cans. But then again, this was Oklahoma.
“How yawl doing? You be needin some help?”
The cop was an older man. Short and fat, and missing all of his middle teeth. A sense of relief came over me, in watching how comfortable that my grandfather was interacting with a fellow tribesman of this part of the country. This was definitely different than California.
The cop was nice enough have a tow truck pull us off the hill, and out of the mud. Before we went home, my grandfather had one more bonding experience for the two of us to experience.
“Tony, do you want to try a dip?”
“You mean a chew?”
I took a small square of Skoal and put it in my mouth. It was minty, and it was disgusting. I tried to endure for a minute, but it burned and was too gross. I knew that I would have that damn taste in my mouth for a while after I spit it out, but I loved that my grandpa wanted to share that with me, since that was a part of who he was.
“Grandpa, I think I will stick to cigarettes.”
“Haha boy...at least you gave it a try.”
What an amazing day that I had to tell Scott about. I so looked forward to not only telling him about my day, but also to seeing him learn how to just give Jewel her way, and maybe he and my grandpa could bond to. I thought to myself that this might not be so bad.
When my grandpa pulled that old beat up white pick-up into the drive way, I had a huge smile on my face. I was ready to make the best out of dealing with Jewel. My grandpa was a great co-balance to religious zealot that was my grandma.
I was almost surprised that Jewel did not open the door and come out to greet us. I wondered how Scott and her and been getting along. What did she have him doing for chores? I walked into the house, and Jewel was actually quiet and did not approach me when I came into the house. That made me kind of nervous. I walked straight to the bedroom to find out if her and Scott had argued…I had hoped so bad that they did not get into an argument…the tension was already bad enough earlier.
I felt my stomach drop, and I felt an instant panic inside my body once I opened the bedroom door. Scott’s bed was made, and his back pack was gone. There was no sign that he was there. My tote bag still lay by my bed. I opened the dresser drawers to see if he had just put his stuff away…there was still no evidence that he was there.
I did not know what happened. If my friend had left me, that just did not make sense. I looked for a note. I looked for a message that would tell me what time and where to meet him if he had in fact run. The fear grew inside, and I was not sure what to do. If he did run, I was not sure that I wanted to Jewel to know. She might call the police. But then again, I would eventually have to explain that he wasn’t there. Maybe, just maybe he was still there, and there was an explanation. So I wound up in the kitchen.
“Hi Tony, did you have a fun time with your grandpa?
“I did. But grandma, where is Scott.”
“Oh, your heathen friend…yea, he’s gone. Thank the Lord.”