Normal? Run from it.

From three miles away I could hear a small, janked up, 1990-something Pontiac Sunbird. He pulled halfway onto the shoulder with the ass-end jutting onto the highway. A shirtless, tattooed, late-20’s white man shouted out the window, “Hurry up. Get in the car.” It definitely wasn’t the way I preferred to be greeted. After extensively reading hitchhiking strategies I learned that I should always hustle to gather my bag(s) and bust ass, hop in the car, and accept most/all rides before they had time to change their minds.

My “norm” or regular levels of comfort aren’t often challenged; this ride certainly pushed me.

The driver’s name was Tu-Pu. From the back seat I saw three bars pierced through his eyebrow just above his cheap, dark-tinted sunglasses that stared at me through his rearview mirror. He had unidentifiable tattoos stained up and down bare spine. He was aggressively drumming his fists on the steering wheel, not in rhythm with the heavy metal pulsing through the beat up car.

Tu-Pu’s underweight girlfriend(?), Ashley, was in the passenger seat. Her legs were folded under her as she turned herself around in the seat to make eye contact with me. I consciously made an effort to make consistently direct eye contact with her. I figured that if she was in danger with this man that she would be able to communicate said danger to me via eye contact. Despite being in a weird, rushed, somewhat-dangerous-feeling situation I felt a really good energy from her. (Funny things happen when you make genuine eye contact with someone, something that I’d like to study more.)

A second man shared the cramped backseat with me. He was hollering into the cell phone because the speakers were blasting erratic drumming, screeching guitars, heavy strums of bass, and shouting heavy rock at 8:30 in the morning. I asked his name, but he was too busy screaming at the phone to respond.

Finally the nameless man got off the phone. He told Tu-Pu, “I’m going to kill that G.D. son of a fucking bitch.”
Tu-Pu kindly informed me that the man on the phone signed his death wish a very long time ago due to a bad drug deal.
The nameless man stopped and looked at me mid-conversation and said, “Wait. What the fuck are you doing in the car?”
Trying to conversationally fit in as naturally as I could, I unnaturally said, “Bro, I’m hitchhiking.”
He sharply retorted, “Don’t call me ‘bro’. Isn’t hitchhiking dangerous?”
Before I could respond, Tu-Pu answered for me, giving me the kind of insight into their lives that a police-issued background check might, “Yeah, it is. But so is shooting meth like we did last night.”
The nameless man accepted my/his answer and said nothing more.

We can discuss whether hitchhiking is safe or not later. That’s not the point of this anecdote.

If I lived my life according to what people thought was smart or if I heeded the advice, “I don’t think that’s a good idea; you shouldn’t do that” then I wouldn’t be interesting and you wouldn’t have anything to read right now. Observing all the “it’s not safe” remarks would limit me to a normal, standard, mediocre, status quo lifestyle, which – if it isn’t already frank – I abhor. I wouldn’t have traveled to Asia. I wouldn’t have kayaked through the Midwest into the South. I wouldn’t have tinkered with my sleep, trying to make it on 2-4 hours per day. I wouldn’t have attempted hitchhiking. I wouldn’t have lived out of a hammock during college. I wouldn’t have spent time downtown as a homeless man. I wouldn’t strip my wardrobe down by half every winter. I wouldn’t have skydived, bungee jumped, cliff dived, or paraglided. I wouldn’t have been the only “farang” (white man) in a musty Muay Thai fighting arena in Bangkok. I wouldn’t have trusted a random man in rural Nepal on the back of a motorcycle to take me to his country-fried village after my trans-Asia bus broke down. I wouldn’t have visited a leper colony in Calcutta.

Do I encourage doing these types of things? No, not exactly. However, I do strongly endorse personal adventure and exploration. Be curious. Be interesting. Self-experiment. Don’t be normal. Instead of Kroger, go to the farmer’s market. Instead of local news, try NPR. Instead of Florida, visit Colorado. Instead of texting, call. Instead of shaking hands at a business meeting, high five your boss. Get a membership to a rockclimbing gym or yoga club. Randomly ask for a 10% discount at Starbucks. Meditate or pray, then…. Talk to the girl sitting next to you. Read a book. Start a blog. Journal. Draw. Learn to crochet. Connoisseur something. Start a dog-walking business. Explore the world around you, just one or two steps outside your comfort zone. My comfort zone is a lot bigger than most people’s, so I do a little weirder things, but for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T BE NORMAL.

The growth that takes place when you stretch your limitations just beyond your level of comfort is exponentially more than years of conscious, structured practice. Being open to accidentally placing yourself in odd situations yields forced lessons of patience, determination and perseverance, negotiation, comfort in/with the unknown, trust of fellow humans, ability to tolerate risk, thirst for curiosity, and a refined palate for the beauty of human nature. I implore you to do something out of your ordinary today. You will find freedom. You will achieve something great.

“What did you learn today?” is something that I ask my highschool-aged sister when I talk to her. “[Any given subject] is boring and pointless/School is lame/Girls and/or boys suck” are her typical responses. I challenge her to give me a legitimate response and she usually does. Challenging yourself and reflecting on your day is a valuable habit to instill.

Be out of the ordinary today and let me know how it goes. Call (or text), email, comment below, Facebook message, tweet, or Instagram me with an unnormal thing that you do today. I want to start conversations about the growth that comes from doing something borderline or blatantly crazy.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, a man who was not normal and sees the beauty, Walt Whitman:

Miracles

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

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The Acquisition of a Dog: Part 5 of 4

I thought the four-part story was over. Alas, this is a tale that keeps on giving…

While driving home from work I noticed two dark, human-shaped objects walking southbound on the shoulder of I-65…. Woah, rewind. I’m getting ahead of the story.

You’ll recall that I was trying my hand as a car salesman for the past month. After having no substantial luck finding rides while attempting to hitchhike out of Montgomery, Alabama, I bought a well-worn car. It had eventfully/eventually delivered me and Whit home from the Southern hell trap. I had exhausted my use for the car and it was now time to get rid of the 1997 hunkofshit Honda Civic.

I intentionally bought this less-than-good car with hopes of turning a profit (or breaking even, at worst) when I returned home – as opposed to losing the same amount of money on a rental car altogether. After a month of no Craigslist serendipity I gave up on the idea of selling the car for profit or even breaking even.

Before driving the car to the BMV to transfer the title into my name I gave her a test drive through my neighborhood. I hadn’t driven or fired up the car in a month; she struggled to turn over. I backed her out of the driveway and found the brakes to be alarmingly soft. At 10 MPH I found that her brakes were completely nonexistent. I aborted my mission to take the Civic to the BMV and pulled her back into the driveway. Pic-a-part offered me $185, $633 less than the total expense of the car, and a free tow. I was hoping that the junkyard would come take her without a title. Since it was late on Thursday I procrastinated and scheduled myself to ditch the car the following week.

Three days later, while driving home from work I noticed two dark, human-shaped silhouettes walking southbound on the shoulder of I-65. At 9 PM my flashing hazard lights shone through to the hitchhikers amidst the southbound blur of red taillights, mercury-orange highway lights, and meditatively blinking construction cones. I quickly scurried out of my car in the less-than-a-second break in highway traffic and ran back to the shadows. Joker and Harley Quinn were their names. I asked them where they were headed. Their destination rang inversely familiar in my ears despite the raging snarl of passing big rigs, “Montgomery, Alabama.” I offered them a ride.

Joker told me that they were headed south from their starting point, Hamilton, Ohio…two hours southeast of Indianapolis. They had been travelling in the wrong direction, no thanks to dead cell phones or the misinformative man they asked directions from. On top of that misery, they hadn’t scored a single ride. Walking…in the wrong direction. If this doesn’t make sense to you, well, it didn’t to me either. Bottom line: they were stranded on the highway and were walking for 115 miles…they needed help.

Despite their all-black baggie clothes, sinister names, standoffish attitude, perfunctory conversations, minimal interaction, and strange yet somehow believable story, I recognized a desperate situation. I have driven hitchhikers to Louisville before, had no obligations on Monday, and was willing to do that. But, frankly, I was tired after working 30 hours the past two days and didn’t want to drive. “I can’t take you too far…” I carefully considered my next words and wondered if they would be a reflection of a well thought out idea, “But I know a car that can.” I took them to my house.

The risk to them was huge. I informed them of my thought process, that they would be driving a “stolen” car as far as the authorities would be concerned – I had no title or legal statement of ownership to give them. Neither Joker nor Harley Quinn had a driver’s license. And there were no brakes except the emergency brake.

In other words, they’d have to stay on the highway to avoid the need to brake, which increased their chances of getting pulled over with no license plates, which would also screw them over with no license or title (legal statement of ownership) on the car. They had no money for gas and would have to busk or beg – probably not a new concern for them. But they wouldn’t get smashed walking on the highway. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. But I think so, according to our parting conversation.

“When you get to Montgomery, scrap the car. Don’t drive it more than you have to. A scrapper will probably take it off your hands. You can make $200 off the car, which, I’m sure, will help you out.”
Looking at Harley Quinn, Joker said, “Yea, we could take our baby girl to dinner.”
Harley Quinn softly refuted, “She doesn’t care about dinner. She will like to go to the toy store.”
Joker agreed and they got into the car, southbound for home.

 

A little ditty from the River:

 

Have you pleaded
For the embrace of Shade
As Sun does his linger?
Inhaled pure ether?

Felt the touch of warm
Hands down warm hips
On a steel, cold train?
Joined the dalliance of eagles?

Flexed, stretched,
Pushed, grinded
Your muscles?
Danced the song of black coffee?

“I gave up on that feeling a long time ago.”

As life-giving and brilliant as paddling the Mississippi for 970 miles of my 1400 mile kayak trip was, it was equally frustrating, slow, and stressful. I want to focus on the difficulties.

Imagine sitting in a kayak for 11 hours a day. You’re paddling in what seems like a stagnant current; the 97-degree Southern heat stimulates over-active sweat pores; your neck, deltoids, traps, triceps, biceps, lower back, and ass are sore after 18 days of the repetitive push and pull of a paddle in a seemingly non-cooperative river; your legs are restless; your mind has carefully considered and analyzed every relationship you’ve had, have, and will have and has nothing else to think about.

Your grip feels broken and your hands seem to be permanently suctioned your paddle. It takes you five to seven strokes to get up to speed. A bead of sweat runs down your eyebrow. You try to ignore it and focus on getting farther down stream. The sweat drop annoyingly tickles the corner of your eye socket. You bargain with yourself: “I’ll release the paddle to wipe it away in ten strokes.” You think out loud, “1… 2… 3… 4… this fucking drop of sweat sucks… 7… 8… 9… one more… 10.” You peel your hands off your paddle and bring relief to that drop of sweat and proactively wipe away any other forming beads.

Seven strokes later and you are back up to the pace you just broke. Sophomore year biology facts that you knew you’d never remember bud from your subconscious, “Damn hydrogen bonding.” Like raindrops that rush down your windshield taking the same path as their ancestor-drops, another bead of sweat starts down the same path the last one just carved out. You make the same deal with yourself. Ten strokes, wipe away bead, seven strokes back up to pace.

A new annoyance subtly buzzes around your face, a gnat – the only gnat in all of Mississippi that cares to buzz over half a mile from the shoreline to bother you, the only living thing on the river. You make the same deal with yourself. Ten strokes, swat or smack the gnat, seven strokes back up to pace.

Your shirt smells like it is burning. You close your eyes, drop your chin to your chest, and give up. You hope that when you wake up in five minutes you’ll be a little further downstream. You’re not. So you grip your paddle again because that’s the only thing you can do.

In despair and defeat you resolve to stop into the next town.

This was the scenario I found myself in only a few times, but those days were painful.

Natchez, Mississippi, was the next stop on my Army Corps of Engineers map of the Mississippi River. I docked and walked up their boat ramp and into the first bar I saw, Under the Hill Saloon. I sat disgusted and disgusting, lonely, broken, defeated by the heat. I asked the bartender to fill up 256 ounces of water. I drank 64 ounces in 30 seconds. I spread out my map across the table and stared.

The quiet saloon – built in the late-1700’s – served as a museum while my gaze blankly wandered across the historic walls full of browned pictures, smelled the cigars and hand-rolled cigarettes of plantation owners playing cards in the corner, while I listened to the piano man. I felt the reverberations of the work boots slowly pound the wooden, creaky floors after throwing the wobbly-hinged, swinging doors wide. The imaginary horses tethered outside neighed, depressed by the gritty heat. The harlots in the back room danced with too little clothes.

My imagination snapped out of its dreary default-daydream mode and my senses stood sternly at attention when I heard a man ask the bartender for a Budweiser and a double shot of José Cuervo straight up. I invited myself to the barstool next to him and ordered the same, but only a single shot. The man’s steady hand raised his glass of Cuervo to touch mine, “To happiness,” he muttered. A flashback of my miserable day came back to mind, but, “To happiness,” I answered. We drank down our tequila.

After introductory small talk, he expressed an unimpressed attitude toward my trip. I said, “It is fuckin’ tough in this heat. I get so angry.”

“Anger. Anger? Anger. What’s that?
I said, “You know, the feeling that claws its way from your chest into you brain, turns your face red, and cripples you.”
“Anger is a stress.”
Confused, “What do you do when you start to feel that feeling?”
“I don’t feel angry. I gave up on that feeling a long time ago.”
I couldn’t respond. I knew what his guarded eyes were saying in that quiet, dusty, old saloon.
He quietly broke the silence; “A man could come in here and punch me in the nose. I wouldn’t feel angry. That’s his set of problems. Why make them mine? Deal with it. Move on.” He lit a cigarette. “Life is too hard already. Why make it harder with feelings that don’t matter?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I ordered another round of tequila. I toasted, “To happiness.”

My Eden was rediscovered.

Acquisition of a Dog, Part Four

Read 1, 2, and 3 first!

Once I thanked Headley and got to the Waffle House, the employees sensed an unfortunate scenario. I told them the story as I was jotting down all of my options: 1. Tow the car to a car shop. 2. Ditch the car and get a rental. 3. Continue hitchhiking and hope the puppy will be a benefit to getting a faster turnover in rides. 4. Call a scrapper and recoup some of the lost money and apply that to some method of getting home. After hearing my story, feeling moved, and seeing my expensive options written out in my notebook Suzy, my waitress and cook behind the counter, reminded me that I was out of city at 1 AM in a Waffle House. I asked what she meant. Suzy told me that the “country bumpkins” are finishing their beers after a long night of working on cars and their fields. EUREKA.

Her subtle hints and cues led me to my solution. In order to stay true to the “Spirit of Hitchhiking” I decided to continue relying on the good will of others. I would wait until the hillbillies strolled into Waffle House to ask for help from the greasiest among them. Within the hour I was outside with Whit when an old, long-bearded man clad in khaki shorts that drooped to his shins came outside after talking to Suzy and said through lips pursed around an unlit, unfiltered cigarette, “I he’r you have a prob’m.” “Yes sir, I do. My car is on the side of the high…” He interrupted, “I’ll fix ya up. See you in the mernin’.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t see him at 5 AM or 7 AM when Whit and I woke up, but probably because I was tucked behind the neighboring produce shop.

I found the morning shift Waffle House employees huddled out back smoking. With Whit cradled in my arms, I interrupted their chitchat and immediately began telling the story of Whit. All of the girls shot their eyes to Jeremy, a younger, tatted, roughneck, who quietly agreed to help us out.

We drove to his house to bass-heavy Toby Keith pumping through his after-market sound system, picked up his tools, then drove to mile marker 215 on I-65 where he determined that he didn’t have the necessary gear to fix the alternator belt, “I can’t get the job done, but I know the man who can.” We drove 20 minutes back to town. At a local car shop we found Jeff (probably my favorite character of this whole story), a 70-something year old man with a Confederate flag doo-ragged around his head, cut off tee shirt, and front six teeth missing. He drove separately and met us back at the car where he silently, greasily fixed the belt in 30 minutes. Jeremy left after a handshake exchange and Jeff said that I needed to meet him at the shop so he could get paid.

Back at the shop I met the owner, Kenny, a giant of a man whose hands were fat and could’ve crushed mine if he shook too hard. He told me that I owed $120; I only had $83 and a story. I asked if he cared to hear about the dog that was politely begging him to hear her story from my lap, he agreed. Slouched back in his La-Z-Boy chair amidst grease and oil, his giant hand struggled to admit the tear from his eye, “I’ll take whatever’s in your pocket.” I gave him $83 and took his card and insisted to pay him in full the next time I was in Montgomery.

I finally was headed north…. Maybe?

Whit and I were predictably pulled over somewhere outside of Nashville by a female police who had a drug-sniffing dog with her. We prayed that the dog would not investigate my shit Honda for fear that somewhere in the abysmal trunk that was full of old, crusty clothes, shoes, CD cases, and a library-stolen biography of Jay-Z would be loads of needles, crack, or paraphernalia. The dog didn’t join her, but after I opened the passenger side door, which doesn’t open from the outside, she threatened ticketing me for an expired license plate.

“I assume you like dogs. Would you like to hear how I got this one?” I said. Her interest piqued and she agreed. She thanked me for surely saving Whit’s life, but took my license and the title to the car back to her truck regardless. When she returned she removed my license plate to be destroyed and handed my paperwork back, releasing me knowing that I was innocent and a good dude. Whit wins again.

As a driver for Uber and Lyft, a phone is necessary to the job. Without a phone but still needing a job, I took Whit to several bars, asked to speak with the managers, and convinced them to walk outside to my car with me where I could introduce them to my pup and offer the story of Whit. I was offered three jobs using this method. Get a dog and introduce yourself to hiring managers: there’s your job-hunting hint of the day.

As more stories in Whit’s life surely develop, you will be first to hear. Thank you for staying engaged in this four-part story. It was fun to be a part of, write, and hear your feedback. Several people have asked me what my next adventure will be. I can only respond that I am dead set on paying down tens of thousands of dollars in school debt, learning calligraphy, and training the world’s best dog. Stay tuned for interesting insights.

A bit of poetry/a thought:

I pray
Do I think, speak, feel in vain?
I sacrifice my doubt for faith, hope, and love.

Paddling for 11 hours at a time, not leaving your boat, cramped legs/ass/back/shoulders/arms, bored to death there’s sometimes one thing left to do: pray. You hate that it’s the last thing that your mind comes to, but you love that it came to that. I spent time in the Seminary, have been to the tops of mountains, have seen holy sunrises, but some of my best prayers were on the River when it was the last thing I could do. Why? My mind had already occupied itself with all its million other “concerns” and had finished sorting through them that finally there was nothing left to think about…except faith, hope, and love.

Acquisition of a Dog, Part Three

I didn’t want to hitchhike home in 100 degree Alabama heat with a six-week old puppy, so Whit and I found a man who called himself “Kill” and was selling a $1000 1997 Honda Civic with 236,000 miles. We contacted him around 4 PM, he agreed to meet us in 1 hour…we actually met four hours later. He informed me that he was flipping cars in the $500-1000 range. I hoped that maybe he’d get his Craigslist ads mixed up so I proposed an offer, “Well, Kill, I can’t pay the $800 [remember, his original ad posted the car for $1000] that you’re asking, but I can do $720.” Kill, confused, said, “Dude, I thought it was posted for $1000.” I said, “Nah, you had it listed at $800.” Twenty minutes of schizophrenic and internal debate later he agreed with himself that money talks and took the $720 that I offered. I was finally on my way north.

Fifty miles and 90 minutes later at 11:30 PM, just outside of Montgomery, the car lights flickered like the Krusty Krab did when the Hash Slinging Slasher came knocking; the speedometer spun in full 360 degree rotations; the engine puttered like a fasting man’s stomach on Good Friday; and my heart missed every other beat like the tires of a Big Wheel trike trying to gain traction on wet pavement. The car threatened to land my broke ass in the 15-foot ravine just beyond the skinny shoulder to my right. You understand the feeling, I’m sure….

Predictably, the car clocked out. As Whit and I assessed our situation and hoped for a long shot that I might be able to miraculously perform a successful round of surgery and blindly fix the pieceofshit car that I now own, John, a kind and well-dressed man, pulled over to the shoulder to help my chump situation out after excitedly hearing the story of my acquisition of Whit. He shined a light down in the engine and found the problem: the alternator belt looked like a frayed strand of yarn. He said, “That ther is yer probl’m. I wished I done had a couple quart’rs to help yer sorry ass out.” I said, “Thank you sir, but you’ve helped me quite enough already to diagnose my problem. The local authorities are on their way to help me out.” He left after he wished me safe travels in the name of St. Christopher, a welcomed prayer indeed.

[You may need to fetch your Southern English to Normal English dictionary.] On the scene came Sherriff Headley. Without the promise of Southern Hospitality (which, unfortunately, seems to be a sparse myth in my experiences with the South, save the seldom instances when the hospitality is truly overwhelming), Headley settled immediately into reaming me for my lack of foresight, naïve stupidity, and danger-prone purchase, “Now, son, you know this vehicle ain’t hi’way safe. Ya’ll gotttta get off this here road anyhow.” A little more southern bullying and unbearably extended vowels went on and on until he took a breath and I finally had the opportunity to coolly say, “You wanna hear the story of this dog?” Sherriff Headley didn’t appear the least bit intrigued but indulged the idea of being cheaply entertained by just another stranded-on-the-side-of-the-road story before a long shift ahead of him on a holiday weekend.

I told him the story. “Welll, goddderm. I been workin’ these highwayyys for fif’teen yers and ain’t never heard no story quite like that. Yer a godderm serviver. Now, under normal circumstancers I gotta get this car off my highway, but yer a godderm serviver and I trust that yer gonna make this her’ sitiation werk out.” [Enter the long western gait of Officer Chad] Chad: “Whatdawe got her, Headley’?” Headley: “One godderm interestin’ story and a serviver. Go ahead, tell my good buddy, Chad, her’ whatchu got goin’ fer ya.” I wished I had a translator but took this invitation as permission to recite my alibi. Chad was of supreme unhelp but he was moved in the same way that Headley was.

They resisted the temptation to tow, saving me hundreds of dollars that I wouldn’t have been able to pay. Long story short, Whit and I got a 103 MPH ride from the Sherriff to the local Waffle House. I asked and learned about the nifty speed radar systems, drug busts that roll through Montgomery on their way to the Southeastern capitol of drug trades in Atlanta, ticketing policies and procedures, etc. After Headley’s hard ass shell was broken down with the power of a pup, he was an all right kind of guy.

Once I thanked Headley and got to the Waffle House, the night shift employees sensed an unfortunate scenario…

I promise this story isn’t like The Land Before Time where there are seventeen million different movies for two reasons:

  1. This is a better story than The Land Before Time IIX.
  2. There’s only one more part to this story. Stay tuned for the conclusion.

Now for some original poetry:

Elemental

The gods drank the purest of waters
And breathed out me.
When dry Earth tattoos my pores,
I speak with saints.

I figured that if I was one of the classical elements (Earth, Air, Fire, or Water), I’d be water and earth. Maybe it was just the River gripping my soul in that particular moment, which is not to say that sometimes I sure as hell feel like fire, or chill and graceful as Air, or strong and forward as water, or practical and basic as Earth. But on the River I felt smooth, laissez faire, go-with-the-flow, Zen, and extraordinarily balanced. As I stepped on land and felt the security of firm ground as the sand and the dirt wrap around me, I prayed thanksgiving and peace to my entire surroundings. It was a beautiful thing.

Acquisition of a Dog, Part Two

Read Part One first.

My next ride was the most exhilarating. Two 19-year-old and fairly attractive girls pulled over asking if I needed a ride. They invited me to Starbucks. As we were walking in Hollis, in a roundabout way, informed me that she and MJ were in a relationship by walking with MJ’s butt in her hand. They had a small, tiny pawed, and wet-nosed puppy with them. We got coffee, walked to the car, buckled up and rolled out. As MJ drove us out of Starbucks for the highway, Hollis, in the passenger seat, began rolling a joint – nothing of concern to me. They stopped at a hotel for a restock on weed, still not enough to be concerned. They needed to run into their apartment for a few minutes where they invited me up to “Apartment C”, but I opted to hang outside with their dog until they were ready.

After 90 minutes of patience and tromping around the apartment complex with their puppy, my endocrine system and hypothalamus were on high alert while pumping adrenocorticotropins at maximum velocity. My flight responses began considering reasonable and extraordinary exit strategies. I couldn’t access my bag, which was in the trunk. So my risk-preferred metabolism digested the adrenocorticotropins and sharpened my awareness for any surrounding clues and resources. I took a little slip of paper to record my name, their license plate number from their 2015 Dodge Avenger (which wasn’t presently available; I’m sure they had just bought the vehicle and hadn’t had the time to register it yet…), VIN, and a series of text messages recording information for geolocation/to leave a sort of electronic trail.

I failed to come up with much more of a plan other than alerting people of my whereabouts and leaving a paper trail. I had just seen Joe Dirt, where he innocently meets a genuine-seeming guy named Buffalo Bob/Tim who invites him inside, only to pervertedly demand that Dirt rubs lotion on himself in a ten-foot hole while Buffalo Bob enjoys himself as his poodle licks his tongue.

Anyway, I was nervous that they’d fillet me and wear my skin like a trench coat. The pup and I knocked on the door to Apartment C. We were greeted by a head-to-toe naked Hollis. I quickly covered the puppy’s innocent eyes. She apologized for taking so long, and the tattoo on her butt informed me that she was just jumping in the shower. MJ came around the corner in her skimpies and a t-shirt. The pup and I sat next to the door for an easy escape (if need be) while MJ sat cross-legged with her back to me, held her Bic up to the the underneath of a spoon that couched a tiny rock and a few drops of water, lit the belly of the spoon dissolving the contents, and used her syringe to absorb and plunge deep into her veins. Almost immediately MJ had roughly twelve conversations with various unpresent characters then drifted into her purple haze of an oblivious yesteryear.

We were ready to leave.

After the puppy and I had a coherent conversation with now-clothed Hollis, she indicated that she was merely high and comfortable to drive. We loaded into the car – I with the dog – and set forth for the roads. As we were driving I spotted an RV, “Bingo,” I thought. I said, “Whip this ride around. I want to check out that RV.”

I got out of the car and said to Hollis, “Thank you both. You were kind and helpful. I owe you $20.”
“No, no. The ride was on us.”
“The $20 is for that dog.”
“Ah, well, make it $50 and you can have the dog.”
I responded, “$20 or nothing.”

Through the window Hollis handed me the puppy.

Hollis agreed but only if MJ, who was “attached” to the dog, could hold her one last time. MJ – with her legs sprawled across the dash of the car and eyes drifting behind her skull – was incapable of physically holding the pup just as much as the five-week old pooch was capable of scrapping to stay in her lap. MJ blankly stared at the dog that she was so much attached to. I was comfortable with forfeiting $20 for the dog. If anything between the two of them were going to survive, it would be the dog.

The RV would be used to drive Whit, the new, Whitman-inspired name of my wittily acquired pooch, home in the unfriendly-to-puppy’s Montgomery heat. Alas, the RV was $8000 and I could only offer $1000 and a laptop for – not enough. Whit and I walked to the Burger King to use their wifi for Craigslist-ing purposes. After catching a few rides and checking out two cars, we somehow traveled all of Montgomery by hitchhike and ended up at the exact same McDonald’s and truck stop that I started at that morning.

Physically I had a net gain of zero inches. Mentally and spiritually, I crossed the world.

That night I found a man who called himself “Kill” and was selling a $1000 1997 Honda Civic with 236,000 miles…

The story goes on; to be continued. Here is more original poetry,

i need money to–solve this—riddle me out of this scene
shoot me—up—to the moon
and watch my jet pack—up my mind—burst.
wear my needle inches into my arm, itches into my vein, clinches my dope-a-mean
dummy
there go up my green words round in jamble jingle jumble junkle jangle
three-point/out the order in this/one-fouronefiveninetwosixfivethreefive
speed—racing—my brain
i run circles around me–circle me–as i circle
no to the jesus—loves—, no to the Confucius—knows—, no to the preacher man—hood—

Acquisition of a Dog, Part One

The cat is out of the bag. I have a dog.

After a mentally and physically exhausting paddle down the Mississippi River, I was ready to be home. However, spiritually recharged, I was excited to invest time, energy, and hope in taking my time to get home. I was prepared to hitchhike home and rely solely on the good will and help of other people.

I spent more time than anticipated in New Orleans, cleaning and organizing the sell of my kayak, restocking necessary amenities for my hike, getting inked, investigating the soul-filled city, and journaling. A lavish song of praise and thanks is due to the ACE (a squad of teachers studying for their Masters at Notre Dame who are stationed in NOLA to teach for the year) community in New Orleans. They welcomed my stay, fed me, allowed me a much-needed shower, took me out on Saturday night, and gave me advice and specs of the city. I attempted hitching from New Orleans for about 3.5 hours. I didn’t have a lick of luck. I speculate that the traffic near the highway was exclusively local; there were zero truckers; it was a poor area of town; and I looked too clean.

Coming back to the ACE house for the night, the community decided to offer me a Megabus ticket that went through Mobile, to Montgomery, to Atlanta. I accepted their help as a means of getting out of the city, starting my trip, and counting this as “modern hitching”. I got off the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, hoping that the straight shot of I-65 will move me closer to Cleveland, Ohio, the ultimate destination. In the meantime, I met Michael, a bassist and fellow traveling soul. He was strumming his five strings with a sign “NEED GAS” on the bumper of his RV. I sat on the ground with him and picked his brain on the ins and outs of hitchhiking (he hitched for four years across the country). He assured me that you always get where you’re going whether by a friendly disposition/conversation, busking for a few dollars, searching for slightly damaged/expired fruits and veggies from grocery store dumpsters, and patiently waiting for rides.

Our bus stopped in Montgomery at 3:15 pm where I figured I could make my backpack a garage sale of sorts as my means of busking for dollars. I sold my headphones that worked only out of the left ear bud for $4! Then I hiked to the interstate where I waited for 4.5 hours on my first ride. In that time a very kind woman, Kay, insisted on my taking her $20 bill. Just before I was heading to bed, a taxi man, Thomas, and his wife, Jennifer, gave me a ride south to a truck stop where they assured me better luck. They gave me $10.

As I arrived to the truck stop I talked to many truckers in the diesel filling stations. With it being Labor Day weekend most truckers weren’t moving north if at all. Eventually I was greeted by Detective Montgomery – that’s just what I call him since he took his town seriously and I don’t remember his real name…though, he is an actual detective – who told me that I wasn’t permitted to be loitering for rides at night. Then he invited me to the trucker lounge that is usually exclusive access to truckers. I took advantage of mosquito-free sleeping quarters.

At 5AM Detective Montgomery gave me a wake up call. I moved to the McDonald’s for a breakfast of oatmeal until the sun came up. My first ride of the day came at 6:25AM from a black man in his early 40’s with Love, his <1 year old daughter. They took me to a warehouse area of town with lots of truck traffic. He was pumped to follow my adventures and took a few pictures of me with his precious daughter.

After I walked 2 miles toward the on-ramp of the interstate, Lu-Pu, Ashley, and a nameless man picked me up. They were all white and in their 30’s. They always pick up anybody who needs help. I was picked up while singing and dancing, my tactic for demonstrating that I was playful and kind – this typically got the best and fastest results, if not I got more smiles and honks. The nameless man sitting next to me said, “Dude, isn’t hitchhiking dangerous?” Lu-Pu, the shirtless man driving with tattoos up and down his neck/spine, said, “Yeah, but so is shooting up on meth like we do.” I knew that it was time for me to get out of the car. But he’s right, yes, hitchhiking is dangerous; though, it’s the experience and the high of getting a ride, like shooting meth, I guess.

My next ride was the most exhilarating. Two 19-year-old, fairly attractive girls pulled over asking if I needed a ride…

This story is to be continued. I’ve already maxed out on my 700-word limit for this post. Stay tuned. But, if you’re interested, I will conclude my posts with a bit of original poetry/prose that I wrote while cruising down the Mississippi River:

Monday

 Mediocre through and through
Status quo and nothing new

I wrote this as I was paddling under a busy highway bridge on a Monday morning. I was thankful that I was on this side of the bridge fully living life as an anti-automaton. I would, perhaps, encourage you to find bits of newness whether in interactions and unusual conversations with trees, Starbucks employees, or yourself. I am basically begging you to become more you by entering into an existential crisis where you’re able to re(?)-discover yourself.