The motel was cheap and attracted a permanent crowd. Truckers Art and Robert that drive hazardous waste down to Arkansas, Danny the maintenance man, Lester the owner, and Ralph, trying to get away from it all, they all became our new neighbours. An interesting crowd.
The hotel bar, advertised by a red neon sign reading “Beer” at the end of a dark wood paneled hallway, was smoky and dim. Lester, the bartender and owner, appeared to also be the best customer.
I called Captain Alvin and he tried to organize a boat for us, but the man with the boat got to talking and was convinced also that it wasn’t worth it.
We got frustrated. We were sad about the loss of our stuff, about this abrupt end to our trip that was seeming more and more real – and stranded in a tiny, tiny town with what seemed to be a bunch of drunks. With mumbling southern accents they were hard to understand and noone would help us, when we needed it the most.
We started to feel more stranded than we had felt on the island.
At least this is how it felt sometimes. But then there were glimmers - Robert the trucker offered us a ride to Little Rock, Arkansas. Everyone let us use their phone. The TV cameraman sent from the local news station was helpful and friendly. And Ralph, a man with a long grey pony tail and one heck of a life story, knocked on our door to offer us “anything he could to do help.”
We took him up on it, getting a ride to the post office to mail some of our things home, as we realized that the trip, at least in its current form was really over. He invited us into his room for a beer.
With the smell of burning incense in the air, he showed us the arrowheads he had collected that day on his long walk and in a slow, deep voice, told us the stories of his life over cans of Budweiser.
“Tennesse is Angels, Kentucky’s Outlaws” he tells us, and we gradually, naively, figure out that we’re talking to a Hells Angel. He tells us about his days in prison, about losing everthing he owned in a house fire, and about how he just buried his dad on Saturday.
As he talks, he looks out the window, a sad wisdom in his eyes. He’s seen a lot, done a lot. He’s kind, and offers us anything. It’s the chance to talk to people like him, to relate to people we would normally walk past in the street, avoiding eye contact, that makes all this worthwhile.
Eventually, after three nights, we have to get out of Marston. We’re torn, feeling like we’re abandoning the canoe, that could be out there somewhere, but as the locals put it – “it’d be searching for a needle in a haystack.” And we can’t force them to take us in a boat (despite my best efforts!). We do call the coastguard – they’re putting out a call daily to all the barges on the river to look for it. And the Sheriff’s department has all our information. We’re on the evening news. We don’t know what else to do.
We make a sign that says “South, please” and stand on the on-ramp to the interstate. People wave, smile, or avoid eye contact. A young black woman in a beat-up old car offers us money, which we decline. We finally walk out on to the interstate, and watch the traffic fly by. One after another. It seems hopeless. There’s a wide shoulder, but they’re going so fast, there’s no chance they’ll stop. They can’t see our faces or read our sign.
We’re ecstatic when a transport truck hauling oil rig equipment pulls over, a half mile down the road. We run like maniacs. Don, a small man with big muscles and the sleeves ripped off his shirt, is going all the way to Louisiana and offers to drop us off in Memphis. We throw all our stuff in and climb up into the cab. We’re on our way!