November 15, 1960
Bright sunlight woke Brian. Sleeping propped up in the back of a car was not a good choice, but it was his only choice. He bent his knees and then straightened out his legs again. He was about to put one foot out onto the floor of the car when a bright yellow caught his eye, He looked over and saw a colorful rope coiled up on the floor. He hadn't noticed it when he got in last night. It reminded him of a braided toy whip he once owned from a trip to the circus when he was a boy back in Waynesburg. This was bigger though and the colors were very bright in the sunlight. He almost reached down to puck it up but he felt a cold wind go up his back and a fist hit his stomach when he realized it was a snake,
He carefully and slowly slid feet first through the doorless side of the car away from the snake. The snake didn't move. When he was out he went around to the other side, carefully reached into the car and slowly took his back pack out being careful not to drop it on the snake. While he was doing that the snake moved slightly and Brian could see the rattle.
He quickly ran away from the car to the front of the gas station deciding that ride or no ride he was not going to spend another night in Yucca. He picked up a map of California from the gas station and went into the diner for some breakfast.
He sat at the counter, ordered a coffee and felt a great relief as the sweat began to form on his face. When the coffee came he ordered a big breakfast and opened the map. It's good to be alive, he thought.
He saw in the map that just across the border there was a city called Needles. If I can make it to there I can probably get a bus across the desert if I can't get a ride.
After breakfast he crossed the road. Many cars and trucks passed him but no one stopped. A few times a car pulled into the diner or gas station but when they came back out they ignored him, So after a few hours of frustration he decided to start walking. I walked a long way in Ohio and again in Kansas, he thought, I can walk this. Never mind the Cherokee's warning, I'll just be careful, keep my eyes on the ground and not pick up any lizards. So he started out. He was soon going to get a ride, and one of the most unusual rides of his journey.
So Brian walked along the highway keeping his eyes to the ground, only looking up when he heard a car approaching. No one was stopping for him. But he was determined to make it to Needles by the evening even if he couldn't get a ride.
As the day wore on it was getting hot. The winter clothes he was wearing kept him comfortable at night, but now they were oppressive. Nevertheless he didn't want to remove anything for fear of losing it by accident.
He occasionally glanced out across the desert. The scenery didn't change: sand, shrubbery, cactus, twisted trees and mountains in the distance.
He suddenly stopped walking when he saw something he couldn't explain. It was an abject skimming along the tops of the trees and cactus somewhere between Brian and the distant mountains. He thought it might be an eagle or some large desert raptor, but its wings didn't move and it was silent. He couldn't tell how large it was or how far away it was. He stood watching it as it made its way to the side of the mountain range and started to curve around it.. Then he heard a motorized sound coming from the same direction. The object had been a jet plane, now out of sight, that had broken through the sound barrier, and now its noise was pursuing it at the same speed but with nothing to identify it. Brian was used to hearing the sonic boom when they broke through the barrier but he had never seen one in flight before. It was an eerie sight. Eventually the sound disappeared around the mountain, still chasing its owner.
Brian continued to walk thinking about that unusual experience and wondering what it was like to travel that fast. At one point a car passed that was completely full of people and things. Brian could see through the passenger window a woman with a child on her lap and a pile of clothes behind her. There was definitely no room for him in that car.
He kept walking and in about five minutes he was amazed to see the same car coming down the road in the opposite direction. The driver slowed down, made a U turn and stopped next to Brian. The woman was tossing kids and things into the back seat, then she opened the door and moved on over next to the man who was driving. The woman smiled at Brian and patted the seat, so he got in and pulled the door closed with his left hand. It was a tight squeeze but he was in. The man said he had been a hitchhiker in his younger days, knew what it was like and couldn't bear to pass him up.
They went on their way. The man was about 30 Brian guessed. The woman was a few years younger. Brian looked over his shoulder into the back seat and saw some suitcases and a pile of clothes. Sitting on the clothes were two twin boys about 4 years old and one small brown curly haired dog.
As they were driving along the man asked Brian a lot of questions about him, including where he came from and where he was going. When Brian said he was on his way to California the man said "Well, we'll take you there." Brian was relieved to know he had his ride across the desert.
The man asked him what he was going to do in California. "A friend and I want to open a movie studio."
"Oh, I love movies" said the woman. "I almost never get to see them. I hope you and your friend succeed. Make some good ones."
They passed over the border, went through Needles quickly and headed out on to the desert.
Brian looked behind him again at the two boys and the dog. He was amazed at how quiet they were, even the dog. The woman asked them a few times how they were doing and one boy would answer "Okay."
"Where are you folks headed?" Brian asked.
"Oregon" was the only reply.
"Where'd you come from?"
"We came from Saint Louis" said the woman. "And we're moving to Oregon." Brian was impressed with her. She was a very sweet and polite person, and was not complaining at all that she was being jammed in between two men without much room to move.
Brian watched out the window as the desert flashed by. It was a lone and forlorn looking place but also beautiful in its severity. There were strange plants growing out of the sand, twisted trees and cracked earth. There were tiny flowers growing from what looked like dead wood. There were dunes for miles with occasional trees in them. A colony of cactus in strange shapes seemed to burst up out of the ground in clumps. In the distance towered demanding natural rock formations like castles and temples. If there was animal life it was furtive and hidden. Everything else was exposed by the blazing sun. This is a mystical place, thought Brian. I wonder who lives here.
After a while the woman spoke up suddenly and quietly as if she had been keeping a secret or a valuable piece of gossip. "I'm leaving my husband."
Brian was stunned. He couldn't speak.
"He's a mean man" said the woman.
"He beats her" said the man.
"He beats me. My husband is a cruel man. He's unfaithful. He gets drunk and beats me up and he smacks the kids around and the dog. We're all afraid of him. I can't take it any more. So we're leaving him. It's awful."
"You seem like a good man. So I guess we can tell you" said the man.
"Bob here is not the other man. He's my friend."
"We've been friends since we were kids in school together" said Bob.
"I'm Mary Lou."
"I'm Brian. Why Oregon?"
"My brother has a farm there. He said to come on up and stay. He can use the help" said Bob.
"Are you also from Saint Louis, Bob?" asked Brian.
"Yes, but I don't have a family there or anything so this seems like the right thing to do, for me also."
"How long have you been on the road?"
"Three days ago. We only stop for gas and a short nap. I want to get there" said Bob.
"How did it happen?"
"He went to work in the morning. I packed as much as I could in the suitcases and the rest I just piled in the back. Bob helped me. And then we left."
"Did you leave a note?"
"Yeah. I told him not to try to follow us or find us. I don't think he will. He doesn't want the responsibility any more. I think he's probably glad to see us go."
"Probably" said Bob.
"It's best for us. A new life. For me, the boys and Fluffy."
"Who's Fluffy, the dog?"
Brian looked behind him at Fluffy who was sitting up and wagging a tail at the mention of his name. "He's a cute dog."
"He used to kick Fluffy" said Mary Lou.
"Well, I'm sorry you suffered so much but you're probably doing the best thing" said Brian. "I have to thank you two times for picking me up in your full car and considering your circumstances."
"Happy to do it" said Bob.
The blazing afternoon sun was setting behind the hills ahead. Slowly things were becoming greener and cooler. They went on for another hour until Bob pulled into a gas station and filled up the car. Then he drove over to a convenience store, everybody got out, snacks were bought and he said "Nap time."
"Nap time" meant a lot of activity. Bob took the boys into the rest room. Fluffy was led out and taken on a walk to sniff out the right tree for his business and then was fed and watered. Brian went into the store and bought a pack of Pall Malls. The cigarette he got from the Cherokee was so good he thought he'd have another while he waited.
Soon snacks were distributed and quickly consumed. Everyone was back in the car with the doors closed. Bob put his head back and was quickly asleep. Brian was exhausted, so he had no trouble nodding off. He woke up briefly once to find the car on the road again. He saw it going over a series of corrugated hills, up and down like a gentle amusement park ride. It soon lulled him back to sleep.
To be continued