THE ISSUE OF THE AMERICAN FLAG
Day 21 Tonopah to Buckeye
today: 26 miles cumulative: 422
Waking up behind the ruins, a biker was sleeping inside, Cosmo always on watch. At breakfast I eat cheap, money is running low, the waitress wants me to eat more and shows up with a huge plate of food, she wants to contribute, and I need to be eating more she scolds me. Her name is Michelle and she wears a Harley Davidson t-shirt. She has a big smile. "I'll be with you honey," she says. I hope she will be, she is why I am walking across this country. There is no end to the kindness of strangers.
American flags are everywhere, there is a huge one on the wall across from me. In the months before this walk I tried to stay away from the flag. I could even say that I had an aversion to it because of the way that I saw it used. I saw it being used as a blindfold, as a cheap "look out team won the superbowl t-shirt and we've always loved our team!" but next year the t-shirt will be in a bag outside the local thrift shop. A red, white, and blue paint job that will chip away with a little weather. And so on. Since I have begun this journey I have a new view of the flag.
Yes, it can be used in ways that are cheap and ignorant. But the flag is a loaded image, one that evokes scenes from both ends of the spectrum. Like a cross is the Inquisition and torture racks, mother Teresa and compassion. The American flag is the Mei Lei massacre and little league baseball (without the pressure of overbearing fathers shouting from the stands). Innocence. There has never been a symbol that embodies the best and the worst of man and its governments than the American flag. And rarely has that symbol been seen as much as it is now. We see it this much only in times of great troubles or great triumph. I had become used to the flag as a bumper sticker on an SUV. But now, in these small towns and in these people's homes and their cafes and their work places I see that symbol being used in a way that is true, in a way that does not offend me. I see it on every fireman and police man, on a waitress' shirt, a trucker's hat, the wall of this cafe, painted on an old barn, hung beside a rural mail box. These flags I respect. I see now that I was only looking at one small aspect of this loaded image.
The flag is finding it's way into more and more of my imagery, it is hard for it not to, it is everywhere and it is everything. I will take it for it's promise,and its potential, and its freedoms, not it's bloody battles and hate mongers and ignorance. I'll take it because today it is Michelle my waitress and country music on a jukebox and two eggs overeasy with bacon and hashbrowns and sourdough toast, 5 refills on my coffee. My favorite bar, my favorite girl, my favorite song, my favorite mountain; all American.
These are my American flags. I am sorry I abandoned you for so long. Long may you wave. I take you for your promise.
More work, a busy road, commuters to Phoenix. Long dark and narrow through irrigated fields. Tonight these irrigate d fields make me think of more than my home. I am a bit patriotic today, seeing the many images of American, and tonight I have decided that America is the smell of an irrigated field in the night. I am absolutely sure of it. I will find others along this journey perhaps, but for now America is these wet fields on a cold night outside of Buckeye, Arizona. Just out of Buckeye I buy coffee, the air from the cold fields has gone through my clothes and into my bones.
An Indian girl works the cash register at this gas station. If I were in a car I would have said, "How much is a refill?" gotten my change and left. Tonight I stay around to talk to the girl behind the cash register. Isael. She wants to know all about me and my journey, why I am doing this, what kind of life I left to be here on the road. I tell her that I left the perfect life, the perfect girl, the perfect home. "If you have everything that a man could want then why did you leave it?" "Because I want to be more than a man." Aren't you afraid sometimes that you wont make it?" "Yes, but not today, today I know I'll make it." I fill up Cosmo's water and when I come back in she say she has something for me. A small plastic card that says "Believe in yourself." Someone gave it to me when I needed it, now it is for you." The kindest gift I have received, from a person I would have never talked to in the hurry of my life. I love this girl.
I don't normally like these kind of gas station inspirational quotes for $1.49, but this one I will always keep with me, this generous gift of Isael's. It says: "Believe in yourself- in the power you have to control your own life, day by day. Believe in the strength that you have deep inside, and your faith will help show you the way. Believe in tomorrow and what it will bring- let a hopeful heart carry you through. For things will work out if you trust and believe there's no limit to what you can do." -Emily Matthews I want to hug her but the store is busy now. So I walk more fields into town.
At the only place open in town, a Mexican restaurant, I buy a cheap burrito and coffee. A man who has seen us many times on the road, Guillermo, buys a steak dinner with beans and tortillas, and a large rice milk for Cosmo. Mexican music play on the jukebox but I cannot take it seriously when there is so much accordion in it. Sleeping in a park between Our Savior's Lutheran Church and a huge statue of Hobo Joe in the yard of a meat processing plant. Cosmo rolls in the grass then sleeps on her back. A day with many treasures. America is generosity. Michelle, Isael, Guillermo.