Journal 4 101
Day 103 Osage Beach to Eugene
miles today:24 cumulative:2,097

I meant to get up at 7 am to stay out of the heat. But the couch. What else can I say? It is like fly paper to the weary traveler. And Sam is cooking such a good breakfast, why rush out into the solar death rays? My hosts have been generous, but do not stay until it is a burden. But eventually…. Hills and the shoulder of the road, the shoulder of the road, the shoulder of the road. Today will be another hiding day. At a junction there is one of those restaurants that serves breakfast all day to truckers and tourists. These places always let me loiter. Looking at maps again, maps I have already seen. Watch the shift change, 2 interesting waitresses again. Maggie is a self proclaimed drifter in her late 30’s. She’s lived in Flagstaff, Los Angeles, Garland, Italy (Texas), Dallas, and a place called Earth, New Mexico. Never more than a year. She travels with her 8 year old son. They are addicted to the road. "Life is too short, the world is too big. We go where the wind blows." Stephanie is my second waitress, she is 23. She is pretty, and that is almost as good as having a story. Beautiful things make me happy. The restaurant is totally empty with the exception of myself, I feel like I live here, I get my own coffee, I call everyone by name, I sit at my base camp in booth #10. Camp Huey has been here for 6 hours now. I am getting tired of answering the question "Why?" I don’t want to explain my walk to these tourists. I want coffee and coffee and coffee and coffee and the branch of the immortal. And more ice water please. Thank you Stephanie.

Stephanie comes back and tells me about how she used to be an athelete in high school, but now she has 2 kids. She’s trying to get her GED this year because she dropped out of high school when she was 16, got into pills and powders. "Sometimes you make mistakes you know? But now I got 2 kids and I’m straight." She does have a story. Both of her children are from different fathers, she is not married, she does have a boyfriend, and I hope she does not mind me writing this. As I watch her washing tables. I have changed her name. I can stay at her place if I want, that could be an interesting chapter, but more than likely I will walk back down that exit ramp in 30 minutes and walk north and sleep in a field tonight.

Go,go. Down and up, and down and up, and damn these Missouri hills, and look at the trailer houses with piles of trash outside. Closed highway ahead but not for me. A break from the cars. Easy walking, I hope the storm will hold off for awhile, this road is a good one, we could go far tonight. We could get to Jefferson City. The hills are not so bad now. Ahead, a sign for Rebecca’s bar. People. Infinite variables.

Howdy all. Bikers. A woman comes out with a beer for me. She demands an answer to why I am doing this. The same reason you ride a bike. Freedom. Turkey Tom shouts over the other voices, "They ever try to tell me I can’t ride I’ll drive right up the steps of the white house on fire." And I believe him. So does everyone else, "You tell ‘em Turkey!" I ask Janie, who bought my beer, what the word is, says she doesn’t know much, but she knows "Harley Davidsons and drinkin’ and havin’ a good time." She is slurring. She is drunk. She is the wife of a shorthaired biker covered in tattoos. They call him Hippie. His arms have on them flaming skulls, a skull with a sombrero, a topless Norwegian diva with a horned helmet, compliments of his 5 year stay in prison for beating his brother with a weight bar, a large dragon, a castle like a prom backdrop, a parrot, a skull with a horned helmet, a rose with a dagger through it (his first tattoo), a bat head with a woman’s face in its forehead, and a huge eagle on his back. Under the topless Norwegian he has the Acronym W.A.S.P. White American Supreme Power. Turkey Tom wants in on this, he shows me Nurse Tammy, which is his wife and his prize tattoo, I hope he doesn’t get divorced.

June bugs are crashing into the door beneath a hanging light.

I want to know more about the W.A.S.P. tattoo. I want to understand the roots of ignorance. I ask Hippie why he got it. "I believe that whites are the supreme race," he says. "Had some bad experiences with blacks in prison," but I don’t buy it, it is deeper than that. He is confused, he is a product of backwoods Missouri, he is afraid, he doesn’t know what he is saying or why he is saying it. Then he tries to justify it by saying that he really doesn’t dislike blacks, he just wouldn’t let them date his daughter. He said he even talked to a black guy once. I don’t even know where to begin with this guy, it is like talking to the Taliban. I also heard Hippie and Janie talk about hating Afghans and blanketing all foreigners with the term "those people." 3 years ago, when I was documenting Taliban students and mujahadeen in their religious schools, it was obvious that their belief system came not from what they knew, but from what they did not know. So I see the same thing in Hippie, I see him slandering a world he knows nothing about. We have our own Taliban in America, our own Al-Queda. White supremacists terrorizing African-Americans and foreigners, and the Christian Right (AKA: The 3rd Reich) harassing abortion clinics, single mothers, and gays. We need a homeland protection agency to protect us from ourselves, from the ignorance from within. We need to lock up right wing Christian terrorist hypocrite harassers and white supremacists. But even more than that we need a better education system. One that provides a bigger world picture than the white-American-Christian-center of the universe that is currently offered as the ideal.

Janie says she thinks the W.A.S.P. thing is bullshit. But the things she says revels that she is just as racist. Instead of wearing it on her arm she has tattooed herself with her words. I continue to poke the tattooed man about his beliefs. Janie is talking loudly over both of us. In the confusion I hear the most important sentence of the night. Quietly Hippy says, "I don’t know… maybe that’s why I got it so little, because I don’t really know what its about." He doesn’t really know what its about. He doesn’t know what he believes. He is like most of America. He doesn’t think about it, he just says it, he says what he has heard, and he says it like people say prayers in church. They say the words that the people around them say, and they don’t know what they mean. They are based on the things that they don’t know. For these poor souls the world is still flat.

I will not try to talk Hippie out of his belief system, I won’t even try, he wouldn’t hear me. So I try to understand where his beliefs come from, I try to understand the things that make us alike. To keep things simple I ask about his tattoos and motorcycles, things he likes to talk about. It is about to storm, we drink our beers on the porch outside the bar. A minute of silence goes by. "I’ve never met anyone like you," he says. Someone who will challenge his beliefs. He isn’t used to that. Two minutes of silence go by.

You need to write down: "I met this white supremacy guy, and he was really nice and he said I could spend the night at his house." "Thanks Hippie, but I’ve hardly walked today, and I’ve got to get ahead of this storm." Shake his hand, because even though he is a white supremacist he is still a brother in this strange family. Waving he says, "Glad we met, keep on, brother man."

It is cool out. The wind has come up. Better for Cosmo. Smooth hills, nothing too hard, and the miles start to fall, 18, 19, 20, and right about 20 I stop to give Cosmo some water. Behind us I can see lightning. Hide now, or race the storm? On your mark. Gun fires. We can beat this thing. And if we don’t, well, I guess I’ll be the guest of honor for tonight’s light show. Mile 21. Running for a mile. Looking over my shoulder as it nears. Thunder now. Long grumbling thunder. Mile 22. The lightning is not hitting th eground yet, it travels sideways for miles across the base of the storm cell. New flashes to my left. We are approaching a high point with two radio towers. Mile 23. And now it is hitting the ground, and now I am running, and now I am wanting to be stronger and stop and let it hit me and see if I come out with superpowers, but most stories I’ve heard about people getting hit by lightning don’t end with them becoming superheroes, they end with them getting killed. Slow down, do this last mile with some dignity. Enjoy the show. Mile 24. A gas station ahead. It is closed, but I will be able to enjoy the show from under the canopy. Thunder and lightning together. Behind the gas station. Cloud to cloud lightning right on top of us as we cross the bridge to the station. I love the sound of the sky tearing.

Do you know about the veil of Maya? The illusion of the physical world. The layer meant to be peeled away, they layer our economy is based on, and our ego, and our wars, and our borders, and our nuclear proliferation, and our presidency, and white supremacy. Our world is like layers of an onion and they only told you about the outermost layer in school. Behind it there is something so brilliant that it would blind us all, and yes, it is even bigger than Wal-Mart. You can see a glimpse of it in a lightning storm, the lightning reveals a gap in the veil. The thunder is the sound of the veil tearing. I want to walk through that gap.

Under the canopy. And the rain starts coming down right on cue. The whole sky is lit up, the whole sky is purple. Cloud to cloud to ground to cloud and for 2 minutes there is no pause, solid lightning, like staring into the burning bush, a staring contest with god. A red car pulls in. A drunk woman who wants to buy cigarettes. She is in her late 40’s, she has black hair that is spiked and combed down into spikes like sideburns, like Liza Minelli. I am out in the rain taking photos of the lightning. "What are you doing!!!!?" "Im a storm chaser." "With a dog?" "Yeah, she can smell storms better than the radar. (pause) (confusion) Im kidding. Im walking across the country." "You need place to stay?" "Yeah. "Ok, but you’ll have to sleep with me (winking)." She is serious. I laugh to avoid answering. She’ll be right back with a truck to pick us up. Sketchy. I question this decision, but it is supposed to storm all night. And I have no doubt that it will be interesting. It is always more rewarding to take a risk.

While I am waiting a gray truck drives up. There is a party inside. Three girls stumble out. They are in high school and they are high. Not a little high. Crazy high. I am sitting on a chair in front of the door of this closed store. They stagger forward and stare. I do not pay any attention. I am playing harmonica. They stand in a half circle watching my concert. "Who are you?" "I am the gate keeper." (silence) "What?" "I am the gate keeper." "Who ARE you?!" "Aaron Huey." And then the story…. And then all the typical responses like "holy shit!" and "no way!" And I play on, and they say "This is soooo cool." And then the woman driving rolls out of the truck and she is not high but she is twitching on something, she is more than high. Crazy curly blonde hair and happy obliterated smiley face, eyes slightly crossed. Tweak, twitch. The party music still plays in the truck. Block rocking beats. I tell them that a woman called Gayla is coming back to pick me up. They laugh hysterically. "She’s a nice woman, but you’re gonna get raped." The girls all nod and laugh. "Yeah, have fun!" What in the hell am I getting myself into? The rain has stopped, should I just start running before she gets here?

Gayla is back. Smiling. Drunken smile. The twitching blonde mom wants cigarettes, and Gayla wants beer. A trade is made. 4 Bud Lights sit on the dashboard. The Blue Comet is loaded in the back. "Are you sure you can drive?" She looks offended, this is her turf sucka, of course she is OK to drive. "I am a professional drunk driver." Sketchy. The tweaker hovers at the door. The three young girls and I talk about music and miles and they each want to write a note in my journal, things about peace and Greatful Dead quotes. When they are done they pull out a ziplock bag of grass. "Be careful, it’s real seedy." They pick through it and find enough to get sufficiently high….higher, baked. They shield the glass pipe from the wind. Laugh. One way to make Hickville go away. I on the other hand am diving into Hickville dead sober, I need to be sharp tonight, to deflect the sexual advances of my host. Well, Gayla, lets ride.

Gayla lives with her father in a trailer house about 4 miles away from the gas station near the town of Eugene. She opens a beer and drinks it. She says something about sending her husband to prison for beating her. Then opens another. Shake rattle skid, headlights in the dark on washboard road in the wet trees of Missouri. Puddles. I can hear the television before we pull up to the house. He father comes to the door. He goes by "Pops," his mouth is open, he has strange smile, he asks no questions. Introductions. I can barely hear. On the TV the Jeffersons… "moving on up… to a deluxe apartment in the town…" the volume goes to 50, the volume is on 50. Zachary is her nephew, he has a shaved head. He does not have to go to school tomorrow, he was kicked out for profanity. Pops and Gayla try to talk over the TV. I do not like George Jefferson. George thinks he can clean house better than the maid. George soon finds out just how hard it is to clean his house. Ha ha ha. We’ll be right back after this commercial break. The level of conversation is frightening. Backwoods accent with drunken slur. An uncomfortable place to be. Is this really happening? Am I hallucinating? The TV is still on 50. Like an air horn in my ear. Thunder and lightning have started again.

I take a shower. I ask if I can sleep. Zachary moves off the couch. Gayla protests,"You can sleep with me! What are you doing? I don’t bite." I do not believe her. I never liked the Jeffersons. Back to back episodes. Gayla still wants me to sleep with her. But I am already pretending to be asleep, face down on the couch beneath a painting of the sea. Make it stop. For the love of Zeus, make it stop! In the middle of the night, loud gangster rap. Still volume 50. Totally disoriented. Where the hell am I?