But, when you’re standing on the side of it watching it take so many other people to where they want to be, it’s stubborn. It’s mean. It’s a clique you’re not a part of. Stone cold faces rush by, one after another, occasionally whipping their necks around to have a look at the strange phantoms on the side of the road.
The vehicles take on personas of their own. Some pass by smugly, acrimoniously. “Look at what you can’t have” they seem to sneer as they pass. Some are oblivious. Some are nosey.
More than ever, we yearned for the canoe. Sure, it was slow and exhausting. We could look back at remember the days the wind was so strong, we barely moved (or, if we let up for even a split second, we moved backwards). But it was a method of transportation and it was ours.
Lucky for us, some vehicles are kind.
It was sheer luck that Don picked us up and drove us away from Marston. He was the catalyst for the next phase of our adventures, and a huge boost to our enthusiasm. If we couldn’t continue the canoe trip as planned, at lease we could meet some characters.
And so we did.
Don was a laid back truckdriver. In an old truck he’d owned for years, he scorned seat belts. He rested one socked foot up on the dashboard, the other on the gas. As he sat low in his seat, comfortable, as though he were watching television, he manipulated the stick shift of the hurtling beast with ease. A flick of his wrist, his arm still on the armrest, he shifted through first, second, third.
And like this, we hurdled across the Tennessee landscape. The occasional tree was now of the green leafy variety – we were further convinced that we had indeed neared the elusive tropical south.
The funny thing about hitchhiking is the fear. Anyone who picks us up is scared of us, and we’re scared of them. We breach the topic embarrassingly with each other, half as a way to start a conversation about how important it is to trust people and not live in perpetual fear, and half because we are fearful of each other and want to establish trust.
With Don, it was easy. We pulled up to a big truck stop, amid dozens of men dumping their urine-filled soda bottles in trash cans. Don went in to pay and left the keys in the engine. He bought us some snacks, despite Kevin’s protesting. And when he climbed back into the truck he looked at me, waiting in the cab alone and said “well, I guess I can trust you then!”
“I just couldn’t get the thing into gear” I replied. He laughed, and we carried on along the Tennessee highway.
Don still talked on the truck’s radio, a bit of a throwback to the days before everyone had iphones and laptops and wifi. “Everyone’s in their own world these days” he explained, talking about how not many guys get out to talk at night at truckstops anymore.
His friends call him while he drives, and he chats easily with them. His daughter’s car got hit in the parking lot, his friend want to borrow $400 (he says he’ll have to see if he’s got enough), and his buddy calls to say rather crude things about girls in bikinis.
Don doesn’t care if we hear any of this, we seem to have a easy camaraderie.
His life in Michigan is almost certainly miles away from ours, both literally and metaphorically. But we share a few hours together, and by the time we make it to Memphis, he goes out of his way to drop us off close to downtown. He helps us unload our bags, shakes our hands, and with a wave – he’s gone. We watch as the oil rig laden truck rumbles around the corner and out of sight.
We’re left with a pile of bags – backpacks, lifejackets, food, boots – in a parking lot for a gumbo restaurant. The air is warm and the smell of seafood wafts through the air. We high-five. Memphis, baby!
More to come – 40 000 pounds of chicken, truck stop camping, meth dealers, and thunderbirds! Tornadoes on Christmas and alligator hunters in Mississippi. And New Orleans! (I’m just a few weeks behind)