November 8. 1960
When Brian awoke in the morning he was lying on the grass in the back yard of the diner.
It took him a few moments to collect his thoughts. He knew he went to sleep on some cardboard crates, what was he doing on the grass. He noticed that the snow from last night had melted and the grass was dry. It felt very strange not to wake up in the same place he went to sleep. Then he heard voices. He looked up and saw some men working in the basement. The crates had been opened and items were sitting around. The men must have carried him out when they went to work. How nice of them not to wake him up, he thought. He got up and went back into the diner for breakfast. The owner wasn’t there or he would have thanked him for the night’s sleep. He saw only strange faces but he ordered breakfast. As the days went by the journey was going to be strange and Brian was getting used to it.
After breakfast he went out to the road and started walking and hitching. A few hours went by when a man pulled over who was driving two Fords, one behind the other. Brian got in and had the usual conversation about where he was going and where he came from. Then he asked the man why he had two cars. “Delivery” the man said. “Kentucky.” This was clearly a man who didn’t talk much. So they traveled in silence for a long time. It was early afternoon and the sky was already getting dark. Brian thought there would be more snow. Bad weather was not something he had counted on when he began the journey back in Boston. He was dressed warmly enough for November but he didn’t really have anything to protect him from the elements; no hat, no hood on his coat.
The driver pulled over to the side “Down there is 70. It’ll take you west.”
“Thank you very much” said Brian and got out. He looked ahead and saw a ramp that led down to a highway. It took him almost a half an hour to walk down to it. He hoped he wouldn’t be stopped by any State Troopers as he stepped out on the edge of the road. He held out his hand to a line of cars that was coming, but none stopped. He started walking. It was quite dark though only around mid afternoon. After about half an hour of walking, he was to face one of the worst episodes of his 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. Brian kept walking. He had no choice. He thought that with the rain someone might take pity on him 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 him trees, fields and distant hills, but no buildings.. Rain water was flowing from the road into the side where Brian was walking. It was so heavy that even if someone had wanted to stop for him they probably couldn’t see him soon enough. In the distance Brian could see the lightening touch down, followed almost instantly by a loud crack of thunder. Brian tried to stay calm but the lightening flashes were coming so frequently that he had a hard time keeping himself from crouching down on the road, covering his head and waiting. Every time a car passed he was splashed with water. And whenever a truck passed, which was often, it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. The lightening flashes were coming closer and more often. Still the trucks came and each one drenched him with a fierce bath. Then he saw ahead of him two lightening bolts smack down on the road, one after another, with sharp cannon shots of deafening thunder. Now Brian was frightened. He was so wet from the rain he could be an easy target for a lightening strike. He didn’t know what to do, to stand still or keep moving. There was no shelter.
While they 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 Brian with misery. Brian wondered if there was some sort of justice in it, some pay back. Even if so, or even if not so, Brian would have to bear it. One has to live with the circumstances of one’s choices. Brian was old enough and smart enough to know the truth of that, but it was no help. Every time he saw a truck coming he would just brace himself for the cold, wet crash against his body.
After several hours of this awful baptism he 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 Brian’s face. In one of the flashes of light he saw a bridge ahead. When he finally got there he stood under it hoping to dry off a little bit and get away from the wind. A few minutes later he was relieved to see a Cadillac pull over with a middle age couple in the front seat. But when Brian got in the driver looked at him 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” said Brian 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 Brian got out wishing them luck finding their son and thanking them for the ride. They drove on. Brian had dried off a bit in their car so he decided to keep walking and as he did he thought about that surreal experience of mistaken identity. Those people could have been his parents and he could have been their son in some other saga, in some other universe. The characters were interchangeable. A good idea for a film, Brian thought.
It was getting very late now. A few more trucks and Brian was just as wet as he had been before, but as night came the splashes were getting colder and the rain grew into a deluge. But Brian walked on. Everything was wet and cold from his head to his feet. Occasionally a car would honk as it passed him as if to say “Get out of the road, dummy.” But Brian got used to that insult. It was the trucks that were hard to bear, but he knew it wasn’t the drivers’ fault.
He noticed the traffic letting up and getting sparse. It must be late, he thought. He came to another bridge and stood under it for a while. But he moved on when no one stopped for him. He hoped the couple with the Cadillac had found their son. He 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 him as the trucks went by. Brian knew that eventually he would find someplace, he was certain of that. It was just a matter of when, how much further and how long he would have to bear this misery.
Gradually, almost invisibly, lights began to emerge through the rain. As Brian walked on they grew brighter and he could see that they were not the lights of a street lamp or a house. As he got closer he could see it was a bar. It was in a group of buildings on the other side of the highway. The bar was the only place open. Brian crossed the highway as quickly as he could when there was no traffic. He opened the door of the bar and went in. There was a television on over the bar and Walter Cronlite was just announcing that John F. Kennedy had won the election.
Brian went over to the bar and took a set on a stool. The bartender came over, placed a napkin in front of him and said “What’ll you have?”
“You got any coffee going?”
“I’ll have a cup of that.”
There was a young man sitting a few stools away and when the bartender went to get the coffee he moved over and sat next to Brian. “You been hitching?” he asked.
“They don’t like stopping in the rain.”
The bartender brought a mug of coffee and set it down in front of Brian turning a spoon so the handle was toward him and putting a small bowl of sugar down near it and a container of milk. Brian pulled a dollar out of his wallet and put it on the bar, then he put two spoonfuls of sugar in the coffee, stirred it and wrapped his freezing fingers around the mug.
“Where’d you come from?” the young man wanted to know.
“Boston.” Brian took the spoon out of the mug, filled it with coffee and blew on it for a few moments, then sipped it off the spoon. The young man watched him.
“Yes.” After a few more spoonfuls Brian was able to lift the mug to his mouth and take a good sip of coffee. It went down into his gullet like a caress.
“Where you headed?”
“Think you’ll make it?”
“I’ll make it.”
Then Brian spoke to the bartender, “Sir, may I eat my bagel here?”
“Sure” he said.
Brian took the bagel out of the backpack, placed it on the napkin and broke it open. He dipped part of it in the coffee and put it in his mouth. He just let it sit in his mouth remembering Margie, Mary Lou and the Chinese dinner. Walter Cronkite was saying something about a concession speech from Richard Nixon. A couple of other customers got up and left the bar. Brian finished the bagel and washed it down with the rest of the coffee.
When the bartender came over to collect the mug and napkin the young man said “Can I buy you a beer?”
Brian sighed and thought for a moment. “Oh, I don’t think I want a beer. I’m very tired. Thank you.”
“How about a Pepsi?”
Okay, I’ll take a Pepsi.”
The bartender brought over a Pepsi and another beer for the young man.
“I’m Larry” the young man said and put out his hand.
“I’m Brian” he said and shook his hand. Brian didn’t really want the Pepsi but he drank it slowly.
“How’d you get here from Boston?”
“I was on the back seat of a motorcycle. We went across New York State to Buffalo then over to Cleveland. I came south from there.”
“That’s quite a trip.”
“Where am I now?”
“Oh. Is this still Ohio?”
“Yes. Need a place to sleep, doncha?”
“My apartment is upstairs, over the bar. I can put you up. I have a big bed. My wife is seeing her mother.”
“Tomorrow I’ll take you to the border. You can probably get a ride to Indianapolis anyway.”
“What are going to do when you get there?”
“I got a friend in Boston. We want to start a film company.”
“Are you an actor?”
“Sometimes.” Brian thought about that. Am I an actor, he asked himself. And if so what does that mean? I’ve tried so many things, but the theatre was the one thing I felt the most comfortable doing. Maybe I should have stayed east and gone to New York City. No, I don’t want to turn back. I’ve come this far. No point in giving up. But I don’t want to spend another day like yesterday. Trial by rain. Baptism. Survival. A new life, a new President, a new Brian. Perhaps.
Brian was so tired his thoughts were plodding through his head as his feet had done down the highway. There was no lightening in his mind. It was just soggy.
“Let’s go” said Larry.
They left the bar and climbed a flight of stairs on the side of the building. The rain had stopped but it was still quite cold. Larry’s apartment was big but there wasn’t much in the way of furniture or decorations. Larry took Brian into the bedroom and pointed out where the bathroom was. There was a king size bed against one wall and a desk in the corner. Ample but sparse, Brian thought.
Against one wall was a radiator sending out a constant flow of heat. Brian said he would like to sleep next to it. “Okay” said Larry. Brian stretched out next to the warm radiator with his back pack under his head and was instantly asleep.
To be continued