Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On The Hellway

If you're going through hell...keep going.

Winston Churchill
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This is a true story. It happened to me in November of 1960. It is extracted from my autobiographical novel, "Brian On The Road"
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The driver pulled over to the side “Down there is the Highway. It'll take you west.”

“Thank you very much” I said and got out. I looked ahead and saw a ramp that led down to a highway. It took me almost half an hour to walk down to it. I hoped I wouldn't be stopped by any State Troopers as I stepped out on to the edge of the road. I held out my hand to a line of cars that was coming, but none stopped. I started walking. It was quite dark though only around mid afternoon. After about half an hour of walking, I was to face one of the worst episodes of my journey.

At first there were just minor flashes of light in the sky. Softly rumbling thunder followed. Then the rain came down in a sprinkle. I kept walking. I had no choice. I thought that with the rain someone might take pity on me and stop. False hope. Soon there was a full thunder and lightening storm. The rain grew to a major downpour. Great flashes of lightening streaked across the sky making a split second of day light showing me trees, fields and distant hills, but no buildings.. Rain water was flowing from the road into the side where I was walking. It was so heavy that even if someone had wanted to stop for me they probably couldn't see me soon enough. In the distance I could see the lightening touch down, followed almost instantly by a loud crack of thunder. I tried to stay calm but the lightening flashes were coming so frequently that I had a hard time keeping myself from crouching down on the road, covering my head and waiting. Every time a car passed I was splashed with water. And whenever a truck passed, which was often, it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. The lightening flashes were coming closer and more often. Still the trucks came and each one drenched me with a fierce bath. Then I saw ahead of me two lightening bolts smack down on the road, one after another, with sharp cannon shots of deafening thunder. Now I was frightened. I was so wet from the rain I could be an easy target for a lightening strike. I didn't know what to do, to stand still or keep moving. There was no shelter.

Back when we were crossing New York State Chuck stayed behind the trucks so that the air currents would help pull the motorcycle along and now these same currents were showering me with misery. I wondered if there was some sort of justice in it, some pay back. Even if so, or even if not so, I would have to bear it. One has to live with the circumstances of one’s choices. I was old enough and smart enough to know the truth of that, but it was no help. Every time I saw a truck coming I would just brace myself for the cold, wet crash against my body.

After several hours of this awful baptism I was soaking wet. Then there came a cold wind. It moved the lightening part of the storm to the other side of the highway but it was biting into my face. In one of the flashes of light I saw a bridge ahead. When I finally got there I stood under it hoping to dry off a little bit and get away from the wind. A few minutes later I was relieved to see a Cadillac pull over with a middle age couple in the front seat. But when I got in, the driver looked at me with a frown and said “Oh!”

The woman next to the man said “Oh dear. We thought you were our son. He’s on leave and promised to meet us under one of these bridges.”

“I’m sorry” I said and went to open the door.

“Well, wait” said the man, “we'll drive you to the next bridge. Maybe he’s there.”

It was several miles to the next bridge, but their son wasn't there either. The man stopped the car and I got out wishing them luck finding their son and thanking them for the ride. They drove on. I had dried off a bit in their car so I decided to keep walking and as I did I thought about that surreal experience of mistaken identity. Those people could have been my parents and I could have been their son in some other saga, in some other universe. The characters were interchangeable.

It was getting very late now. A few more trucks and I was just as wet as I had been before, but as night came the splashes were getting colder and the rain grew into a deluge. But I walked on. Everything was wet and cold from my head to my feet. Occasionally a car would honk as it passed me as if to say “Get out of the road, dummy.” But I got used to that insult. It was the trucks that were hard to bear, but I knew it wasn't the drivers’ fault.

I noticed the traffic letting up and getting sparse. It must be late, I thought. I came to another bridge and stood under it for a while. But I moved on when no one stopped for me. I hoped the couple with the Cadillac had found their son. I wanted to be their son, to be on leave, to be relieved, to be in a Cadillac with parents, to be taken home where it is warm and dry, to have something to eat, to sleep in a bed.

The heavy rain bashed at me as the trucks went by. I had walked many miles for many hours. I knew eventually I would find someplace, I was certain of that. It was just a matter of when, how much further and how long I would have to bear this misery.

Gradually, almost invisibly, lights began to emerge through the rain. As I walked on they grew brighter and I could see that they were not the lights of a street lamp or a house. As I got closer I could see it was a bar and restaurant. It was in a group of buildings on the other side of the highway. The bar was the only place open. I struggled across the highway as quickly as I could when there was no traffic coming. I opened the door of the bar and went inside. It was warm and dry.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
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Never give up.
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3 comments:

Jon said...

My life, it seems, has been one continual rainstorm and one empty bridge after another. I think I'm still waiting to arrive at the warm, dry shelter of the bar.
I'd like to read your novel....

mrs. miss alaineus said...

i love this.

xxalainaxx

Dannelle said...

The rain may be in my face now but I shall continue ahead! I forgot how much I enjoyed your Brian Stories. I used to wait impatiently for the next chapter!