Sometimes there is order in the chaos…and patterns in apparently random acts. I often see them…but am never just quite sure where they are leading me…
Tearing up the interstate, southbound and fast. Headed for home, the big machine howling beneath me. Home was still a long way away. Averaging 800 miles a day, and I was still days away. There is a lot of country out here.
I had been in mountains, through desert basins, across valleys, and in the high plains…all today. Hundreds of miles of roads had been left behind. The weather had ranged from sleet and near freezing temperatures to the hot conditions and intense sun I was experiencing now. The forty mile-per-hour gusting crosswinds and huge but fast moving thunderstorms were adding additional spice to the situation. Lightning struck nearby, the flash blinding me for a moment despite the bright sunlight. I grinned wickedly. Everybody ought to ride.
A glance across the instruments brought the trip odometer to my attention. I had gone just over ninety miles since my last stop. It was time to start looking for fuel. At the blistering pace I had been running I could go another twenty miles or so before I hit reserve, and maybe thirty more after that…but services can be far between out here. It pays to be conservative and check for stops early. I grunted as a particularly heavy wind-gust rocked the big cruiser. The winds could affect mileage too. I've hit reserve as soon as eighty miles in the right conditions and the winds had been heavy today. Due to them I may not have the range I expected…it can sometimes be difficult to tell. I've got to get it right…I don't intend to walk down the highway and this is one heavy machine to push.
I glanced at the map stuck in the top of my tank bag, quickly calculated some distances, and found a likely stop. There were only a couple options. Fuel management can be critical out here. The exit arrived as predicted and I rapidly fueled the bike. There. Priority accomplished. The machine was ready for another round.
But what about the man?
I looked at my hands and mumbled to myself, "Well, would you look at that?" They were shaking. My arms were like rubber, and my legs were cramping. The past days of miles and today's hours of crosswinds and heat had taken their toll. I needed some rest. Belatedly I realized I had not eaten since breakfast…what? Nine hours ago? Got caught up in the riding I guess.
It was time for a break.
I turned the big cruiser toward town instead of back onto the highway. For meals I tend to get away from the highway…into the town center so I can avoid the chain restaurants. The little independent places are cheaper and have better food. I was looking for fried-chicken (yeah I know…I seem to have a thing for fried-chicken when I am traveling) but this was a small town and there seemed to be none available. There was a small taco joint just off the main drag though. Tacos…yeah, okay. Sounded different…
It was afternoon but I was not really sure what time it was. Must have been an off-hour as there was only one other customer. I felt the need to be burning miles, but was still patient in the line, as the other customer was very pleasant to look at. Tall, tanned, toned, and blond, she was dressed in red shorts, worn sneakers, and a black muscle-type t-shirt. She was carrying a small backpack and nothing else. Me? I was admiring her legs. Yeah, so now you know…I'm a guy. What else is new?
She asked the clerk, "How much for two bean burritos? Taxes and everything?" Bean burritos…the cheapest item on the menu.
"A dollar, thirty-eight." The young kid was just a bit snooty with her.
She counted change. "How about one?"
The clerk sighed. "Sixty-nine cents."
"I'll have one bean burrito please. And can I have a glass of water?"
"I have to charge thirty-five cents for the water."
She seemed frustrated. "Oh. Do you have a bathroom?"
"At the end of the dining room."
"Okay, just the burrito then."
She paid, took her tray, and went around the corner to the small dining room. The clerk seemed relieved to be rid of her. That teenager has a lot to learn about life, ups and downs, and how far a little respect will go. Oh well, I guess we were all there once.
It was my turn. I had been eyeing the nachos (when I wasn't eyeing the legs), and ordered a plate of those and a soft drink. Then, on a whim, "Also, add four tacos to that."
The clerk was surprised. "The nachos are pretty big…" It seemed to be a question.
I just smiled. "I'm hungry."
Another whim. "And a large glass of water…" they were running a special and I motioned at the stack, "one of those sport bottles." I grinned this time…a grin that indicated that it was time he did what I asked without hassle. "I'm thirsty too."
"I'll have to charge for the water."
Yeah. I get it. "Charge away."
The nice thing about taco joints is it only takes them about 20 seconds to make your food. He handed me my tray, and I went to the dining room.
The tanned blonde sat in the corner booth. I set my nachos and drink on a table, and plopped the tray with the four tacos and the water on her table.
"Here, I ordered way too much. Have some."
She eyed me warily. Her tan set off very intense, expressive blue eyes that told more than she intended. I have a pretty good feel for people and had guessed right. She needed the food.
She cut right to the point. "Thanks, but I don't do favors."
That was vague enough, but she was a pretty girl and I am not naïve. I knew exactly what she meant.
I just smiled and said, "I wasn't asking" as I sat down at my own table.
We talked while we ate. Each in our own booth yet facing each other…our respective tables between us. Seemed awkward to me, but she needed the distance.
There are stories everywhere. Those of us that live in the big cities eventually begin to ignore them, as most there are simply cons. They all sound alike and have the same purpose…to get money.
The stories out here are different. Oh, there are some cons, but mostly it's just people and their own stories. Many are trying to get somewhere…sometimes anywhere. Life is seldom clean and neat. Complicated.
She'd had a ride…a shared-expense, cross-country, friends on an odyssey thing she had arranged when her last job had finished up. Things were going well, but they didn't get very far. The truck broke down and the owner took the pooled gas money and vanished. She'd figured out later that he had gotten most of the rest of her money too. Nice guy.
She was trying to make her way back to family. I sensed a long story, but she only said that they'd not spoken in some time, but she had changed and wanted to get back. She also had a new job lined up.
She smiled for the first time. She had a pretty smile, her tan setting off straight, white teeth and her blue eyes shining. "I work road construction. Does that surprise you?"
It didn't. I got used to that in the Yukon. Seems lots of college girls take summer jobs there to pay tuition. I saw young women doing everything from being the flagman to driving bulldozers, dump trucks, and steamrollers.
She seemed to be expecting me to be surprised though so I made appropriate noises and then asked, "Where are you trying to get to?"
Quietly, "Home, I just want to get home." Then in a firmer voice, "Amarillo, Texas. I was born there."
I chuckled. She had no recognizable accent, but I had tentatively pegged her as a Texas girl anyway. Something about the attitude, not just the looks. I've said it before, we do grow 'em nice here.
Amarillo was on my route. I did a rough mental calculation and said mostly to myself, "A thousand miles."
Her eyes were haunted. "I know. More like twelve hundred. I've only made a couple hundred miles in a week. I have to wait in town for a ride, the law here says you can't hitch on the interstate." Again, her eyes were telling more than she intended. She was getting desperate.
She was done with her meal, and without another word she threw her trash away and then visited the restroom. She stopped by my table as she left, her refilled water bottle tucked in a pocket of her pack. She smiled at me, but there was still some wariness in her eyes. "Thanks for the meal."
I wished her luck as she left the restaurant and looked after her for a moment or two.
Mixed feelings. Amarillo was on my route. I toyed with the idea of offering her a ride. With some work I could rearrange my gear to take a passenger, but I quickly dismissed the notion. She was not equipped for riding and a thousand miles without proper gear is no trivial matter unless the conditions were perfect. So far, conditions hadn't been. It was hot now and I'd been in sleet this morning. She would freeze or roast, or at the least look like a half drowned rat before we got where we were going.
Then I laughed at myself…those were excuses…all of them. She looked like she could take it, and I could address any of those issues easily. Truth of the matter was, riding can be an intimate experience, and I had been away from home for far too long. My thoughts turned darkly male as I remembered what I had seen in her eyes. I did not need to spend a couple of days traveling with her. It would not be right for either of us.
I sipped my drink and contemplated an eerie dream from the night before.
The forest fires and smoke must have been getting to me. For the first time in days I was totally clear of them, yet I dreamed that all my maps were burning…and I really didn't care. None of them showed me the way home…
I closed my eyes and put the cold drink cup against my forehead. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Yeah. In the end, sooner or later, we are all just trying to make our way home. Some of us just need a little help.
My maps were burning and I didn't care. None of them showed me the way home.
There are times when I just can't do…nothing. Times when I must act, even when I am not sure what the right thing to do is. Those eyes.
I sat there just a moment longer. I have powerful instincts...potent guardians...and I have come to expect inspiration from them in times of need. It was not long in coming. Ah! Okay. Simple. I had an errand to run. That should work. I had even passed the place on my swing through town. I glanced out the window. We were at least six blocks from the interstate. I should have time.
She was sitting under a tree beside the entrance ramp where the business loop rejoined the highway. I ran the big bike up on the sidewalk beside her and hit the kill switch. She stood up as I took off my helmet. Her eyes were wary. "Hello again."
In answer I pulled an envelope out of my back pocket and held it out. "Here."
Her arms stayed limply at her sides. "What is it?"
"Bus ticket to Amarillo. You have to transfer twice, but it will get you there. The connecter bus will pick you up in an hour from…" I turned and pointed up the street. We could see the building, "there."
She made no move to take the envelope. Once again her expressive eyes told more than she wished.
We all have our price…we will all do things we really don't want to under the right circumstances. People work at jobs they don't like, some lay down their lives for things they believe in, some just never quite find their way. Some are impossibly high, some are tragically low…but we all have our price.
She was desperate and she had a price, although she may not have realized it until just that moment. I had just met it. I had her. I knew it, and worse yet, she knew I knew it. She was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the conditions…for the demands. She knew what to expect. I'm a male after-all. Besides, she could probably see it in my eyes, as I'm sure they were just a bit wild. I had been alone and exposed for weeks in a world that is bigger than it is possible to get a handle on. I needed company. I needed human contact. I needed perspective. I needed the magic of a woman's touch--and the passion it can incite. I was a long way from home and needed all those things, desperately. She was a long way from home and she needed that ticket.
Damn. Life can be messy.
She eyed the envelope. "I told you, I don't do favors." There was no conviction in her voice.
I reached down, took her hand, raised it up, and placed the envelope in it. I held her hand just a moment longer and closed her fingers on the paper. We locked gazes, my blue eyes meeting hers. Yeah, I needed all those things and she knew it. She would give them to me if I required and I knew it.
Hoarsely I mumbled, "And I told you…I wasn't asking."
I released her and watched her bewildered gaze as I put my helmet on. I thumbed the start button on The Dragon, grinning as the massive cruiser instantly came to life.
I backed into the road and turned the wheel, popping the bike into gear as I looked her way. She was still watching me and there was disbelief, the beginnings of relief, and a questioning look on her face. By way of an answer I looked away from her and down the road and said just loudly enough to be heard, "We're all guys," there was no point in denying the dark side she had seen in my eyes, "just remember, some of us are men too."
As I started up the entrance ramp I glanced back. She had already picked up her pack and was walking toward the bus station. Just as I passed out of sight she turned and waved.
Rocketing down the highway, I pondered my actions of the day. I really don't care about money, but I do have to work for it, and seldom part with it haphazardly. I was out about $150, just for a gas/food stop. The bus ticket had been $89, and I had stuffed $50 more in the envelope with the ticket and schedule. A girl's gotta eat after all.
For a while I wondered just what it was that I had bought. I had nothing in my hand…nothing to hold up and show, but I was certain I had bought something.
I just want to get home.
Eventually it clicked and I knew. I had seen it in those eyes.
What is the price of desperation?
I bought some today…off of a gal that had extra. I didn't need it either, but that really wasn't a problem. See, you can't carry it while riding a motorcycle. It's just not possible.
I laughed as the big cruiser screamed down the highway. Yeah, I had bought some desperation, then I had just let it slip through my fingers, scattered to the winds of my passage.
A smile plastered on my face, I looked ahead, wondering if I was going to beat the big and fast moving thunderstorm headed my way. I watched the lightning and could see rain and hail falling across the plain.
Desperation blown away in the winds, tossed into nothing by the storms. Yeah, I'll pay for that. It's cheap at whatever price. I throttled up the big cruiser, humming as she accelerated far beyond the posted speed limit.
I watched the lightning and motion ahead of me. It was time to get down the road...I had a date with a thunderstorm.
Everybody ought to ride.
I'll see you on the road.