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eulogy for my father

September 27, 2011 1 comment

Its coming up on six months ago since Dad passed away. I’ve been missing him as baseball season winds down. He  would have been so happy seeing his Tigers winning the division and playing so strong going into the playoffs. He admitted to me that it was a bigger deal the Tigers winning the World Series then me being born back in 1968. They hadn’t won since 1947 and he had other kids. He denied it when I teased him about it later but I didn’t take offense. There was no competition in his love for baseball, it was welcoming and  I knew it didn’t mean he didn’t love me a lot, he just really loved baseball. Watching it with him taught me some of its nuance. I’m still not really patient enough for baseball but its coming.

I wrote the first half the night that Dad died. It opens very strident and I guess I was mustering gumption to do something different, defy convention. The second I wrote the weekend after and put most of a week into feeling my grief full time. And walking the dog. It was time well spent and Dad had an easy story to tell and I was blessed to be privy to the details.

These words brought me a lot of comfort and I am indeed blessed to have been raised in such away to cultivate them. Dad was really a poet. One of the last things really hit his lyricism, “I’m so tired of holding my eyes closed”. He could be sparse like that, spare I guess is a better word. Well its already a long piece so I shouldn’t put in too much of a prologue, except to say I hope it makes you think and if it brings you comfort I’m glad.

“Eulogy For My Father”

3780 words or so

 

“This above all, to thine own self be true. “ I am not really a minister and I don’t really want to be doing this. I am a grieving son and I want to be sitting next to my brothers and sisters, crying some, laughing some, squeezing an arm in reassurance, an arm across my back in love and support. I want to hear words of beauty and consolation in celebration of a life well lived by someone who knows and loves my Dad and will tell his story with truth, compassion, and respect, in accord with what my dad believed in a way that resonates with what I believe, with what we all believe. That was simply not going to happen. There is a narrow band of belief that dominates most discourse on matters of the spiritual. If you adhere to one of its dominant strains you might not have even noticed, or only noticed the slight difference when you hear someone talk from another dominant strain. But many of us are outside of that, un-believers or simply un-churched. We patiently sit through funerals, weddings and the like and listen to stuff that is irrelevant at best and often frankly offensive. So if I talk about some stuff that church people feel uncomfortable with just hang in there and bear with me, hold on to what is good. Believe it or not, I’m trying to be a uniter not a divider. Take what you need and leave the rest. But for a half hour at least these words are mostly, for the rest of us.

Mr. John Paul Trapp Senior has a story that is long and complicated. It spans generations, a continent, and is in small part outside the bounds of what the masses of men believe perhaps, at least what men say they believe. Funerals are fundamentally an act of the sacred and need touch upon the ineffable, the spiritual wonder of the transition to the next great adventure, or how else are loved ones to be comforted?

John was never comfortable about talking about spiritual things. When asked what he believed I always described his spiritual orientation as backslidden Christian. He believed in that whole thing, sort of, but wanted to do what he wanted to do. Mostly drink beer and smoke cigarettes work hard and raise his kids right. So how does a backslidden Christian raise his children? He exposes them to church, lots of them, if they want. Doesn’t encourage it or discourage it, but makes it clear he is not really into talking about it. He’d heard enough about it already, he would say.  Enough to feel judged, unworthy perhaps; but also defiant, resilient, and able to stand on his own two feet.

About a year ago Dad solemnly informed me that he had become an atheist. What???? An atheist at 73? Who does that? There are no atheists in foxholes the liars say who preach a spirituality of cowardice, of toadyism for rank gain, a theology of threats and bribes.

Dad had been watching the Discovery Channel and had heard about the Big Bang and it seemed a lot more reasonable, he informed me.  And the Big Bang is a beautiful and wondrous way to understand where we all come from. Condensed to a single point, a place with no dimension, only location. Containing all the matter in the universe. And then bam, everything there is flying apart in all directions, hundreds of millions of years pass and the uniform layer of hydrogen has ripples and perturbations and clumps coalesce and begin burning through nuclear fusion and stars are born and grow the heavy elements and die and explode and the star stuff keeps flying apart. Bigger and bigger.

12 billion years pass and dirt and such collects and spins around a midsized yellow sun on the spiral arm of a typical galaxy that we like to call the Milky Way, and so is born the planet Earth.

It is a beautiful story in its stark simplicity, and the lesson it teaches is the truly grand scope of creation. It has all the more power for being factually undeniably true. You can generate testable hypotheses and learn more about its nature, that is how science advances. In all the creation stories of all the peoples the Actual Truth turned out to be far more vast and far more wonderful. For when John declared his independence from the belief in god he was not rejecting the God Who Made the Universe. He was rejecting some weird little cartoon god he had heard about when he was a kid. A god who rejected all that was fun and demanded the humorless life of a drudge. A god who judged and made one feel small and unworthy.

I took John’s atheism as a step in the right direction. A rejection of something that should be rejected. And the universe is a vast and wondrous place. Currently in my day job I am a substance abuse counselor and I wrestle with helping addicts find a source of spiritual support when drugs and alcohol have taken control of their life. It is no accident that a chapter in the AA Big Book is called “We Agnostics”. Recovery is developing a way of life that is so positive, healthy and fulfilling there is no longer any room for nonsense, and so it becomes an exercise in serenity. And so they say: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But what of atheists and agnostics, is sobriety denied to them?  Not by any means. I have heard a number of workarounds, Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.), the program, door knobs and file cabinets, anything to reject the toxic selfishness inherent in addiction.  I, a little from the outside, as a treatment person not a recovery person, humbly propose the Universe. The universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer and has the advantage of being self-evident to all. ‘For I believe the universe exists for I have seen and heard parts of it. I have tasted of the summer fruit and smelled the coming rain; felt the gentle breeze as it rolls across the plain.”

The serenity prayer neatly divides the universe into two categories and gives us advice on how to deal with both. First, there is everything under our control. And what is under our control? Only our own actions and those we meet with bravery. Everything else, literally everything that is not our own actions are outside of our control, and so we meet everything with acceptance. The intersection of bravery and acceptance is where we find wisdom. And the universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer. It will hold the things we must accept, it is sufficient for serenity. It offers peace in a time of loss. You can say it with me if you want to try it on for size. “Universe grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

So does a belief in the Universe as science understands it preclude a belief in God? Absolutely not. 96% of Americans believe in God and that included Einstein and most scientists. The universe doesn’t compete with God as creator but is the fundamental proof of the scope of creation and that its source must be vast and mighty. For this message is not one of atheism or agnosticism for I am fact am a believer, a passionate dedicated believer in the God Who Made the Universe.  This universe, the real one. Personally I believe that like my body has a spirit which animates me the physical universe has a spirit which animates it. But I know what I believe is not what everyone believes and for today I want us all to reach for common ground in which to lift up the spirit of John Trapp in communion and love for remembrance, celebration, and comfort.

For even though he called himself atheist once, Dad told me that Mom was waiting for him. Dad was on a ventilator toward the end and when they took him off and brought him out of sedation, he told me, he had died, and he told me, with assurance, that Mom was waiting for him. I believe him. It is in her character. It is about all I ever saw my mom do. And so it begs the question if Mom was waiting for him where exactly was that? I can honestly say that dad didn’t care and didn’t put much thought into it. I already said he was uncomfortable on matters of the spirit. He was not uncomfortable in contradiction. And neither am I. The truth is too vast the universe too big to not contain many contradictions.  I like to believe in a personal god who cares about me. I like to believe in a universe governed by immutable natural laws that can be known and predicted and depended upon. I like to believe in miracles. I like to believe that Mom and Dad still live still love me and care about me, still speak to me with their wisdom. I know they still live in my heart if nowhere else.

John Trapp was a simple man and when I asked him how he wanted to be remembered it was as a Working Man. He worked hard growing up on an organic farm, though in those days they just called them farms. He was born in the heart of the Great Depression and the war years were lean ones on the home front. But the Trapp family was self-sufficient in a way that now we can scarcely understand. He had to churn the butter, pluck the hens, weed the row crops, feed the animals, there are others here who know these stories better than I so I will leave it at that he worked hard even as a small boy. But he played hard too. Fondly remembered tales of hijinks and adventure, messing around with the dogs, sledding, skating, hunting, how he earned his switchings, his sister Alice and her friends holding him down and kissing him.

But mostly he talked about working. Mowing grass, being the first to get a chain saw and cutting down trees. Hiring out as a farm hand, eventually for his sister Norma and her husband Joe. When the season ended he moved to the kill floor, slaughtering beef, hogs, and veal. It was a short trip from there to being a meat cutter. A dollar an hour until the union came and then he moved up to $2.65 cents an hour. Good money in the 50s and he still played hard. Drinking, dancing, roller skating, shuffle board and pool leagues, convertibles and drag racing; mishaps and near escape. Some reckless driving in Monroe that inexplicably ends with him joining the army. Trained as a mechanic he was stationed in Germany when the Berlin Wall was doing its Berlin Wall thing. There he developed a lifelong love affair with trucks. Most of his army stories though are about baseball or drinking beer. Good local beers with each town its own.

After his time in the service he returned home and to meat cutting, bought himself a brand new 1963 Ford Falcon Convertible, courted and married Frances Eileen Allen. He didn’t care that she had three kids he loved kids and promised to raise them as his own. John still had a little growing up to do but rose to the occasion with his readymade family and tried to be a good father to Bob, Betty and Brenda and three more boys when they came. Dad worked hard and we camped in Lake City in the summers.

Tragedy struck early and hard on this little family when John’s youngest son Dennis drowned in the swimming pool in the backyard. Dad blamed himself as the army had only taught him adult CPR and he later learned it was different for little kids. He drank beer and pitched horseshoes, all four by himself. Eddie Trapp came over and walked with him, no one had anything to say. Dad couldn’t handle family life anymore. He was broken in a way that luckily few of us will ever get to really understand. It was only 7 or 8 years ago that he told me he had finally gotten over Dennis dying. He went on a six month drunk from what I understand I am too young to remember.

He couldn’t stay home and didn’t believe in leaving, John was no coward, so all there was to do was to become a truck driver. He bought a straight truck and started hauling furniture for Beakins Van Lines. He would always point out the parking lot where he learned to drive when we drove through Circle City, as he liked to call it. North America became his home.

He took his first trip and was frightfully lonely. I had the great pleasure of finding and reading some of his letters home to Mom, before moth and rust destroyed, and they were heartfelt and touching. A demonstrative loving side of John I had never seen.  On his second trip he threw me up in the cab with him and we were off to see the country. I was three years old. I would stay up all night to help keep him awake and we would talk about everything. I was his confidant, sounding board, and in many ways the repository of his hopes and fears. What an incredible gift to give to a child, your total attention, sharing from your heart. Showing him the country. I am so incredibly blessed I cannot describe. Having such an enriching early childhood in large part shaped who I am today. I was able to learn that people live all kinds of different ways and you can go to places and see stuff.

Dad was a character on the road. He knew this country comprehensively. Everywhere. He gave his own names to the flowers he saw. He knew the phases of the moon and how the stars change overhead with time and distance. He grew to be wise. He learned to instantly make friends. To make the most of a chance encounter. To be real with people. He stayed true to Fran though she had her doubts as she had seen him flirt, a lot. But he stayed true to her in death as he did in life and as easy and convenient it would have been to find another woman to take care of him. Instead he struggled on alone learning how to take care of himself for the first time in his life.

Hauling furniture was hard work. He would work hard all day and drive all night, running hard after the elusive dollar. But he also learned the culture of the truck driver and prided himself on acting as a Professional Driver. Driving safely and courteously, safeguarding fellow travellers, and caring for shared spaces. Looking for opportunities to do someone a good turn. Flashing in trucks when they passed with his running lights a quick flash of thank you when another truck did the same. He was also a friend to hitchhikers and transients, scooping them up giving them honest work and a chance to see the country, starting many in a career.

He helped many a stranded motorist or someone just down on their luck. Early in his career he was the first on the scene when a truck had smashed into a pick up full of migrant workers. There were bodies all over the road the truck driver who caused the accident was weeping and doing nothing. Dad began pulling bodies off the road, living or dead he could not always tell but he had no assurance traffic would stop and it needed to be done. He was a brave man who acted with honor whatever the cost.

Once after he was done with furniture and hauling freight for BJ McAdams he picked up a hitchhiker in spite of the company rule against it because the kid wasn’t wearing shoes. He drove him somewhere, bought him a meal and gave him some money, and didn’t think much of it. Some months later he was tracked down by a private investigator from a fuel slip. The kid had remembered his handle, Trapper John in those days and John was flown in as a surprise witness in a Perry Mason kind of way and exonerated the kid from a bogus charge of armed robbery. Dad did a lot of heroic shit. Stopped rapes, beat men down for disrespecting women and was pulling out his deer rifle out of his truck when the police gunned down a mass killer in a bar he was drinking in. If the cops had been three minutes later John would have taken care of it himself.

He ended his long career, 37 years and well over five million miles driven without a major accident with Anderson Trucking, ATS. Dad loved Harold Anderson, a war hero, truck driver who parlayed his truck and a granite contract into a billion dollar company. He treated John square. They recognized Dad’s excellence and made him a trainer. As racist and sexist as John could be they tried to give him all the women and black folks because he treated people decent and gave everyone a fair shot.

John hauled freight and ATS specialized in specialty loads. A lot of granite and all kinds of big stuff, mining equipment, giant machines, and cranes. It allowed him to be a piece of history. He hauled in granite for the FDR memorial. He hauled scaffolding for crowd control for presidential inaugurations. He hauled a fair chunk of our industrial capacity to the Mexico border and brought back the things we used to make here. He hauled pieces of the space shuttle. He hauled the Disney Parade and towed the Goofy Car in the parade when it wouldn’t start. At the end of his career he specialized in Wind Mills. Technically difficult blades being 150’ long the rear wheels of the trailer were steered by an escort driver. He also loved being part of something good, something for the future. He drove truck until he was 70 about as old a driver as I have ever seen.

Retirement brought some new challenges but also some new joys. He got a little dog he named Myrtle. He had always called his trucks Bessie and his trailers Myrtle and Myrtle followed him around like a little trailer and was a faithful friend when he suddenly for the first time in his life had time on his hands. She was a little dog a chow mix with a leaky heart valve that left her short winded and easily tired. John could relate he was as well by this time. He struggled to pay the bills on a fixed income and could not work his way out of his spending problem like he always could in the past. I made him a deal, I would buy a house if he would come and live with me and help me with the upkeep.

It was a beautiful arrangement that renewed his sense of meaning to his life. Work, that could be done but didn’t need to be done. Perfect for a working man winding down. As my friend Lisa said in a consolation message: “Mike, I’m so sorry about your dad. I know that he has been a huge part of your life these past few years and you will feel his absence every day. You made such a difference to him during these past few years. I could tell that being part of your bustling, friendly household made him feel connected and loved. You took such good care of him.”

As Dad began to decline he began to lose interest in things. It’s a process I’ve seen over and over as people prepare for death. The Tao Te Ching 16th chapter speaks to this and has been a source of strength and guidance for me since my mom was dying:

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Path,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

If you wonder why we had John cremated it’s because he’d be spinning in his coffin as I have decided to end with a song. John had to abandon music when he married a woman who not only was tone deaf but could only make tone deaf children.  I sing this not only because it is the only song I have written about John but I wrote it when Mom was dying and it speaks to what I believe about these things.

When your wife is dying in the summer time

The ministers go on vacation

The road workers do their excavation

But the truck driver stays at home

Alone with his regrets

He drinks cheap beer and he frets

About his dying wife and his debts

And if he should have stayed on the road so long.

And when your mom is dying in the summer time

The birds still sing in the morning

The red skies give the sailors warning

But the sad boy does not sail on

Alone with his worst fears

He stifles back his tears

He tries to bring his family cheer

As he writes another sad sad song.

And when someone’s dying in the summer time

People still go to the beach

But happiness is so far out of reach

We just all stay home

And we sit alone together

And talk about the weather

And what’s going to happen to Heather

When her grandma dies before too long.

But the birds still sing when we mourn

And with every death new life is born

We’re all just part of the Goddess anyway

So I’ll wipe away my tears

And learn to face my fears

And know there’s a new part of God to hear me pray

I know there’s a new part of God to hear me pray.

there and back again

returned today from an extended outing to go to the family reunion. its a long drive to have lunch with family but it needs to be done. i felt like i strengthened some connections losing dad and was glad i followed through with coming up although i didn’t push myself to chat with people as much as i’d hoped. i finally went through a few edits on dad’s eulogy, emailed it out to those i’d promised, and submitted it to the new yorker. if they pass on it i may try a few others like it and if no bites then i’ll throw it up here on the blog.

the trip was good. we took dad’s truck and john drove. i keep going back and forth on if i’m going to keep it or not. am now leaning towards not, its a bit out of my league to deal with and i hate to take a loan out to get it. at least his bill’s will be paid up. i may change my mind again. got to move on the probate thing, probably this fall.

the drive up was pretty smooth and staying at betty and bill’s was a good idea. it wasn’t so hot up there and they have built in swimming pool and have done a lot of work on it and its pretty sweet. i could get used to swimming every day. smokey and fido kept wandering off so they were mostly leashed which cut into their getting to run around and be a dog. fido was off enough to get into the burrs though.

betty and bill also have an amazing yard, big with a big vegetable garden. very lovely, got a shopping bag full of cucumbers, and betty even picked them for me. they’re tomatoes were coming along nicely as well as potatoes (russets which are tough to find seed apparently), cabbage, green beans, and other stuff. it was late because they had a lot of rain early on but its come along nicely.

betty and bill really crank out the back yard food production far more then most of my friends who state it as a value. they’re big production makes me question my organic approach. maybe i should try optimizing for pulling out food. its making me think and seeing the sad state of my little patch upon my return is making me want to step up my game.

my big plan is to put in a short wall around my first bed and add significantly more compost. hopefully improve the drainage by raising the bed and adding a lot more organic matter. we’ll see, it would be good to get the wall built while its hot and dry.

the reunion itself was pretty fun. a little more sober then usual with a lot of deaths recently and one less then a week prior. one birth though. my niece julie is due on 8/18 and we’re all excited about that. grandpa trapp’s was 8/17 and of course mine and my brother dob’s is on 8/13 but happy to be having another leo in the family. and the food was amazing. so much stuff mostly homemade it was good stuff.

sunday we went to rumors a Mediterranean place which most liked some not so much. i was sad to hear the beirut closed. that was the first middle eastern food i’d had and it really expanded my world being a vegetarian at the time. a big group of us went and spending a lot of time with family was really nice. am going back for christmas.

john and i left monday morning and drove out to iowa city. we reminisced about camping near there on our mammoth first hitchhike across the country. we camped for a week while john’s ankle healed up. this time we stayed at a motel 6. made it a point to spend a lot of time relaxing each day even though it meant i didn’t get to see friends. i am learning to respect my limits. although i did go out and see bobby’s band saturday night even though they didn’t come on until after 12:30. bob and i went and they played at howard’s in bowling green which brought back some memories seeing some shows their back in the day. hadn’t changed much. bobby’s band “minus elliot” was a lot of fun.

today had breakfast in montezuma, really good diner food, had a denver omelet with roast beef, cheap and yummy. there was a nice break from the heat and humidity especially yesterday though we drove through some heavy heavy rain storms after leaving the Iowa 80 truck stop. that also brought back some memories as john and i spent a lot of time there as kids. its quite a deal now, major tourist trap but we just ran the dogs.

and then back to the show me state. like hitting a humidity wall driving back down. got home and cleaned house. its nice to do that ahead of time but couldn’t and glad its done. settling down with some baseball and about ready to call it a night.

Categories: camping, family, hitchhiking, travel

Spring Break 2010 part 3 (the journey home)

We pulled out of Ft Meyers and headed North. This was Tuesday so we still had some time for some exploration. We detoured over to the Ocala National Forest and took a random hike up a forest service road. The trees were pretty shrubby and from the looks of the logging trucks they have a pretty short rotation on the cuts. Nonetheless it was nice to be out of the van and hiking in the woods. Again i was struck with how much less life was present here than in some of the areas. It just seemed like it wasn’t a fully functioning bio-system, like there were pieces missing. It was pretty though pine and hardwoods with lots of tropical plants. Looks like a nice place for free winter camping should i ever get the chance.

Spring was definitely in the air though. There was some very pretty wildflowers and the red buds were doing there thing. We thought we were gonna break our streak of incredible wildlife viewings that had been going on as long as we could remember but we saw a couple of elk as we were heading out of the woods. I didn’t think there were elk in FLA but seeing was sort of believing. A little research showed Elk are not native to FLA but 6 were released after a TV show, but not in our area. The elk we saw were by a fence so they were probably not wild at all. Sometimes seeing is not believing.

Coming up I-75 GPS sent us off and on an exit but we came out of that with a hitchhiker. He was pleasant enough but not really going anywhere, seemed more like a mobile panhandler than someone trying to get somewhere or even just wandering. We passed on the hints for a handout and took him up to Lake City where there were three other dudes trying to hitch north on that exit. Tough world.

We got a room in Tallahassee and decided to do a little side treking and then driving through the night rather than just drive and sleep for two more days without time to do anything. We took 319 South which runs along the Apalchicola National Forest. We stopped for a hike at Leon Sinks, a geological site highlighting sink holes and swamp lands. It was very cool, especially the disappearing streams and dogs were allowed on the trails so it was fun. Not a lot of wildlife viewing though beyond some squirrels.

From there we drove south to the Gulf and then west along the coast. We stopped and took the dogs to an isolated beach which they got a big kick out of. The water was cold for swimming.

Then we drove and drove. We stopped for some good barbecue in Alabama, dozed a bit, but mostly kept the wheels turning all the way home Thursday morning. Our only excitement was some heavy rain in st louis with a multi-car pile up right in front of us. Our luck held and we weaved our way through the wreckage to make ourselves home.

All in all it was a good trip. I would like to go back. The hitchhiker says you can still swim with manatees in the Crystal River, winter camping in the national forest would be cool and i would like to go back to the everglades with a bicycle (its so flat there) and a canoe (perhaps some back country camping or a long float trip). So didn’t get to check if off, my list of places to go never seems to shrink but just gets bigger and bigger the more i learn.

Categories: dogs, hitchhiking, travel

Up North part 11: the final chapter

February 18, 2009 Leave a comment

I grabbed some Taco Bell, got oriented and was on a bus to Lansing in short order. After a short walk I was home. I showered, put on some clean clothes and started to walk down town. I was struck by how I was a man on a walk and no longer a vagabond. When I started walking up Capitol the point was really sent home when a gent with silver hair past the collar of his denim jacket approached me. “Excuse me,” he said. “I just got into Lansing and I’m trying to get some heat for the family, do you have any change?”

An hour ago I would have said, “I was just going to ask you the same thing,” but instead I reach into my pocket. Coming up empty I said “I don’t, but I’ll be coming back this way.” His eyes turn away before I am finished. I continued my walk to the florist and order Amee flowers for her new job. It was one of my pre-trip errands I just didn’t get too. The florist was really nice and promised me a nice arrangement, Gerber Daisies and wildflowers in Fall colors, no carnations.

My errand done I strolled back Capitol. I didn’t spy my sparechanger where I left him, but I looked up the block and saw him copping a squat with a buddy eating a sandwich and drinking a soda. I walked up the block and handed him a dollar, from my right pocket, enjoying the look of frank surprise on his face. “I told you I’d be back.”

“You must be a Christian, aren’t you?” he said as he got up to talk to me, eye to eye.

“I’ve been accused of that,” I said letting my internal grin shine through.

“I knew it. I have a verse for you, Acts 16:31, maybe you know it. It’s when Paul is in prison and is freed by the angels and the jailer asks what must I do to be saved? And Paul says, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, thee and thy house.’ Now I take my house to mean my parents, my wife, and three children, even though I don’t see them. I know that this is at least something I can do for them.”

I am struck dumb by his sudden openness, his sincerity. I think of my own ‘house’ shaken as it is and I can only nod. Then I thought of another ‘house’ and the power of the prayers of beggars in the Rabbinical tradition I had been reading about up north and I asked. “Will you say a prayer for me? There’s a boy who fell in a river last night. They haven’t found the body and I know it would bring peace to that family if they find their boy. At least then they’d know. Will you pray for them?”

“Right now?” he asked. 

I looked around suddenly aware we are standing on a crowded downtown sidewalk. “Yeah, now would be good.”

We clasp hands as brothers. “Dear Heavenly Father…” I quickly lose track of the words, journeying on in my own thoughts and my own prayers and my own gods but joined to this man, beggar no longer, but a gifted and beautiful man of God who I am honored to know for this short time. He calls on the God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ that this boy shall be found and peace come to his house, his family.

We open our eyes after the amen and just look at each other feeling the magic. I was the first to break away and release his hands. I reached into my left pocket and took out the last of my money. “Here’s another ten to give it power”.

Again that astonished smile. “God bless you”, and I know She has, just as I knew before I read it in the paper the next day that the boy is found this afternoon. For there is power in prayer, inexplicable, miraculous and comforting. As I walked away I offered a prayer for my new friend. To see a paper tomorrow and to know his own worth. To believe in his power. To inherit the earth.

The End

Categories: hitchhiking, religeon

Up North Part 10: nearly home

February 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I started walking up the ditch to get up to the next exit, wary of the interstate. It was tough going with the slope and the weight of my pack. I walked up the slope and started walking down the shoulder but felt very uneasy, especially when a state trooper cruised by. I walked back down the slope and made my way in the bottom of the ditch. Eventually I came to a ravine and walked back up the slope but stayed on the safe side of the guardrail. As I walked along a passing truck caught a gust of wind and got pushed over to the berm right where I would have been had I been still walking on the shoulder. On the other side I hit the ditch again and followed a deer trail, pushing my way through the knee high grass.

After a couple of miles of this I was beat. Before I got to the exit I spied a hotel that looked cheap. It was only 4:00 but I hadn’t eaten since my bowl of Count Chocula in what seemed another universe ages ago. Besides I was tapped. I clambered over the barb wire fence and checked in exhausted. I found myself again at “The Gateway to the North” and would likely be home tomorrow.

It was not until I got in the shower that I fully realized just how truly grimy I had grown. Days of hiking sweat and unchanged clothes had not only left me not only smelling ripe but I had to literally sluice the funk off my poor body. After putting on some clean clothes I walked down to a Ponderosa to put a serious dent in their salad bar and spent the rest of the evening channel flipping through the anthrax coverage.

When I flipped off the tube and started to drift off to slumberland I heard the rain let loose. Rain coming down on a solid roof is one of the most beautiful sounds you can hear after being houseless for a while.

 I woke and was up and out for coffee early. I noted that the gas station closest to the on-ramp was also a Greyhound Station. I decided if the rain kept up I would finish up my journey on the big silver dog. I stayed in the hotel until check out trying to wait out the rain. It had let up to a light drizzle but I was pretty wet just walking to the gas station. I had used up my pen writing so I bought another one and a second cup of coffee and learned the greyhound leaves at 12:30. As I sat under the overhang at the gas station drinking coffee and writing Lansing Please on my cardboard I decided I would give it about an hour before catching the bus.

I stood by the on ramp trying to look happy and content in the drizzle and I hadn’t even finished my first smoke when I looked back down the on ramp and saw a large newish gray pick up pulled over. I started to fuss with my pack while I waited for reverse lights. When they came on I started to trot down the on ramp. I opened the passenger door and said, “thank’s for stopping”.

“You can throw your stuff in the back seat, throw back in anything that falls out,” the driver said. He was a blocky looking working man kind of guy who looked like he was doing alright for himself. I threw my pack on top of the suit cases, jackets, and boxes of shotgun shells piled haphazardly in the back seat. “Where are you headed?” he asked as we pulled out and merged with highway traffic.

“Lansing.”

“I can get you to East Lansing.”

“Sounds good. I can take a city bus from there. Thought I was going to have to take a greyhound, my least favorite way to travel”, I said as the rain started coming down hard. “I would’ve quit right about now. So, are you coming back from a hunting trip?”

“No, no. I live up in Petoskey. I’m coming down to see my cousin, his boy is missing. Might have fallen in a river. I’m coming down to help look for him,” he said heavy with emotion. He went on to tell me that his cousin’s boy had gone down to Michigan State to watch the football game or maybe just to party and had gone missing. Witnesses had reported that same night seeing a young white man in the river but couldn’t get to him before he was swept away. The family was expecting the worst.

I offered my condolences and we talked at length about grief and loss and the healing power of time. The driver was a contractor, mostly sewer and pipe work, and periodically took business calls on the drive. He had never hitched before but picked up hikers frequently for the company. “My friends say I’m crazy picking up hitchhikers.”

“I don’t think so. No desperado is going to go hitchhiking to find victims. They go to convenience stores.” I could tell the contractor wanted to talk. Wanted distraction from this drive he so much did not want to make. So we talked of many things but would inevitably come back to what he was facing.

“Most cousins you’re not really close to. You grow up, lose touch, and grow apart. But he always came up to go snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, whatever. We’re close. And he always brought the boy.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help, I’d be glad to.”

“No, no. They don’t even want me to come down. But I had to be there.”

“It has got to be really hard not knowing.”

“Yeah, you expect the worse, but still….”

We went on to talk about trips out West, problems with his previous pick up, the economy (business was still good), and development and sprawl. We both agreed Traverse City was growing into a nightmare. He reported Petoskey controls growth really well with strict building codes. And we talked about our wives. The contractor had married for the first time this summer in spite of being in his 40s. Took him awhile to find a partner who could put up with his schedule and his hunting and fishing. We both agreed partners need their own interests to be healthy and he never questioned my solo vacation.

We arrived in East Lansing with barely a break in the conversation. The contractors grim expression returned before he was finished wishing me good luck and goodbye. “I’ll pray for you, and your family,” I told him.

“Thanks,” he said and he looked like he meant it.

Categories: feelings, hitchhiking, travel

Up North Part 9 – Riding with Ray

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

There was a nice long ramp with a guard rail for sitting on the 75 South on-ramp. It was an easy curve so traffic was moving by quicker than I liked and yet not as quick as well. I was uneasy hanging out where pedestrians don’t really go with a big bag pack in sight of the bridge. Bomb threats and all, a newly uncertain world. Not wholly new but far more intense. I did not feel confident under the steely gaze of the guys in white pickups with Bridge Authority emblazoned on the door when they drove by.

Before I  have even filled in all the letters on the Grayling Please sign a big rig pulls to the side and hits his breaks and stops about 20 feet  behind me. There is a giant cross done in blue lights across the grill of the rig, there are 8 or 10 extra lights across the top, and it is flying too many flags to count. As I stash the sign (another hiker might find it useful) grab my pack and hoof it towards the door. I was taking in all of the WWJDs, including How Would Jesus Drive?, Praise The Lord and all manner of similar such things. I did not have time to take them all in. I knew what I was likely getting myself into and was grateful nonetheless.

I also took in the driver, an older red headed guy in a mesh cap. He was grinning and moving shit out of the passenger seat. The lanes were narrow and there was a lot of traffic and the threat of terrorism response coming down kept me hurrying. I opened the door, stepped up on the first step and poked my head in. “Here pass that in and I’ll stow it in back” and I handed him my pack and he tossed it in the sleeper.

I stood awkwardly on the step as the driver finished clearing off the last of his gear. It seems he was using it as more of an office but eventually I sat down and he pulled out on to the ramp. He said, “Ray” and I said “Michael” as we shook hands between him grabbing gears. Ray asked me where I was heading and to cover my bases in case he was going down 27 or 75, I said “Lansing or Monroe.”

“Well which is it?” Ray responded. As I thought about the best way to respond Ray said, “Well, I’m heading to Chicago out 10 so I can get you to Claire.

“Sounds great. I’d rather go to Lansing anyway. That’s where I live.” I started to warm up in the heat of the cab and started to unzip my jacket until i realized i had picked up a powerful odor and decided to leave it on. Ray then turned up the volume of the previously inaudible cassette player in his rig and I heard Carman of all people. The cheesiest, Las Vegas lounge lizard turned crooner for Christ that I’d ever heard. It was one I hadn’t heard, a patriotic number with God Bless America swelling in the background and Carman is doing some kind of stilted spoken word number about patriotism and such. “We need to stop handing out condoms in schools and start handing out Bibles.”

When Ray first turned up the tape he just looked at me and grinned. I didn’t noticeably wince, I don’t think, and tried to put on a face of bemused appreciation, although it was more for starting to ride down the Mackinac Bridge and at worst get preached at a little instead of sitting in fear waiting to get shook down as a potential terrorist. Carman could be OK if you can appreciate the utter ridiculousness of it. He could on occasion at least be clever in his word play.

Ray then turned down the music and opened up a conversation about how beautiful it all is. We talked about what it must have been like for the Indians crossing the straights by canoe. We talked about where we were from and Ray told me about his job a bit. He then said, “Let me show you this,” and pulled out a vinyl cassette holder with a capacity of twelve or so. Every cassette is Carman. “I’ve got them all” Ray grinned proudly. He went on with a disclaimer, a couple that were missing or only out on CD and he went on to tell me about his efforts to track down Carman cassettes.

I casually mentioned that I saw Carman in concert once and that I had a lot of respect for the fact that he does his shows for free. Ray was blown away and I could see an innocent jealousy slide across his face. “He has a powerful message for the young,” Ray told me.

I nodded and smiled and remembered my falling out with Carman. I had actually been a pretty big fan in my teen years. I had a keen appreciation for fundamentalist novelty music and Carman walked tall in that little niche. As I grew up though I came to challenge the ethnocentrism of my native fundamentalism and ultimately had embraced a larger view of  truth. I had seen Carman as a penniless high schooler and gotten on a mailing list and had sent him a few bucks on occasion. Until I read in one his flyers that “nine out of ten missing children end up sacrificed on a ‘satanic altar’. My brother is a cop so I know.”

This ridiculous hyperbole, this incredible bald faced lie, so offended my sense of truth I had severed my relationship and never played his stuff. I didn’t even think about sharing this with Ray under anything but a direct question because hitchhikers are agreeable by nature and practice.

Then of course it came. “So since you’re a Carman fan I assume you’re born again?”

I told him “yes” more because I didn’t want to fend off Ray’s clumsy attempts to win me to The Lord though the actual answer to that question really requires more than a one word answer. I had in fact made that long walk to the altar on the seventh verse of a five verse song and asked Jesus to forgive my sins at the Monroe First Church of the Nazarene back in 1981. I still believe that “except one become like a little child one shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”, I just think it may mean something more. So I took the easy way out and did not elaborate my conflictions on the term, besides in the moment I was kind of feeling it pretty heavy too. It had been a long week of thoughtful wonder in the wilderness and the unknown guarded over by wonder and naive enthusiasm.

Ray of course was delighted with yes.  “I knew it all along. You see the Lord told me to pick you up. You may not believe it but I have been driving over the road for seven years and you’re the third hitchhiker I’ve ever picked up. Every one of them a Christian. I’m not supposed to have passengers in the rig, but my boss is a Christian too and he’d have to understand. When God tells me to do something I listen.”

I nodded agreeably wondering if I was going to get the follow up questions. “So where do you go to church ?” or try to pin you down on doctrine “so you must believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven?” Instead Ray just started talking and told me his story, his testimony if you will.

It was the sixties and Ray was in high school and he had a sweetheart. This was all in Oxford Ohio and Ray was hoping to get a job at Miami University like his father and his grandfather before him. He wanted to marry his sweetheart but she wanted to wait until he was settled with the University. Before Ray got settled he got drafted.

He reported to his physical but failed the exam. It seemed that Ray’s mom had been doing his homework for a good long time. Safe with his classification of “too dumb to fight” he got his dream job driving truck for Miami U. and plans for the wedding move forward. Than this bucolic scene was rudely interrupted when Ray was drafted anyway.

Ray was classified as infantry material and shipped off to Germany where he was assigned to a tank battalion. Ray struggled through his tank training and was two instructional hours away from testing for tanker status he was reassigned to Vietnam.

Ray halted his narrative and pulled off at an exit to stop at his favorite truck stop. He bought us coffee and chatted up the woman at the counter. He looked at lights and bought two based more on his budget than what he wanted, which was all of them. I just followed, orbiting his energy and intensity and waiting to get back in the truck and hear the rest of the story, which he did, picking it up without a pause.

While home on leave he tried to marry his sweetheart but there was not enough time. They decided to marry after Ray returned from Vietnam. He was shipped to Vietnam and faithfully wrote, daily. After six months the letters from his sweetheart stopped. His mother then wrote that she had married another guy.

Ray took this badly and so became a machine gunner volunteering for every dangerous mission. “Whoo I kept my guardian angel busy Michael. When I arrive at the pearly gates my guardian angel is going to say, ‘boy you kept me busy’, yes sir.” Miraculously Ray made it back to civilian life, was pursued by a friend’s wife and married unhappily, but maintained it for the sake of the children, in spite of her infidelity.

Eight years later Ray ran into his sweetheart, divorced for four years now. Ray quickly followed suit and at last was with the only true love of his life. Four years later he lost her to cancer. “She’s with the Lord now dancing on streets of gold.”

It was really a sweet story and I didn’t add much beyond taking it all in as the miles flew by on our journey south. As we drove Ray pointed to a squirrel, dead on the side of the road. “Can I tell you a secret Mike? If I could ask the Lord for one gift it would be to raise those poor critters from the dead. They don’t know any better. They can’t read or nothing. Isn’t that foolish?”

“I don’t think that’s foolish at all Ray. Jesus himself tells us that ‘the Lord knows when even a sparrow falls’. I can’t help but think that he feels the loss. It’s refreshing really. Not enough Christians care about the critters and the rest of the natural world. Have you ever read Psalms 104 Ray?”

“Well I can’t say that I have off the top of my head.”

“Some call it the environmental psalm Ray. Its really cool and you should check it out. It says there” that the mountains belong to the wild goats”. We like to think it was all given to us to use as we please but that is not so. God made all of the species we are driving to extinction and the wild places that hold them for a reason and we are thoughtlessly and methodically killing off God’s creation for a profit.”

Ray perked up when I started rolling, giving my mini-sermon. I realized I hadn’t said more than a handful of words on our hours long journey and we had bonded in the telling of Ray’s story but I was a tabula rosa that Ray for the first time realized could talk. Ray asked again for the name of the psalm and he wrote it in his little steno pad he kept in his shirt pocket.

Ray then gave me a really searching look, paused, and said, “It says in the Good Book you never know when you ‘may be hosting angels unaware’”. He looked at me conspiratorially and I just nodded.

“Angel is just the Greek word for messenger Ray”.  All too soon we were at the fork in the road where Ray went to Chicago and I continued south towards Lansing. Ray let me out on the side of the road ahead of where he was splitting off on 10. As Ray pulled away I walked away from the highway into the grass and sat down. It was another abrupt shift in environment and I wasn’t quite ready to deal. I sat in the grass and smoked a cigarette.

My thoughts turned to when I was in junior high and Cindy Ball who was the mother of a couple of my church buddies and would frequently give me a ride picked up a vagrant. She left us in the car while they had pie and coffee in a diner late one night, perhaps after church. She had quoted the same verse and was convinced of a miraculous encounter. I believed what I had said to Ray, anyone can carry a message. I tried to write a bit of verse as I stowed my stuff for walking to bolster my trepidation about being stranded on the junction of two highways and having to walk some up the interstate:

If you wanna be an angel

You don’t tell them your last name

That we’re all the same

Lost and confused

You give a few tricks for the game

Tell them they’re not to blame

When they’ve been abused

You listen more than you talk

Then show you’ve walked the walk

And have something to say

This bit came easy as I shouldered my pack and began making the difficult trek along the slope of the ditch, not yet wanting to dare the interstate.

Up North part 8 – East on 2

January 10, 2009 Leave a comment



Day 5

After getting about eight hours sleep in about twelve hours I woke up cold but pretty refreshed. I polished off the Count Chocula which seemed to validate the weather report which had prompted me to set out towards home today. I packed up camp and packed my stuff the two miles up Rt. 2 to the dried fish/liquor store and got a cup of coffee and a paper.

“Two More Anthrax Deaths” was the headline as I copped a squat by my pack and I read the news and smoked a cigarette. I was more thoughtful on the fact that I very well might have to walk all the way to St. Ignace. The cars fly down Rte. 2 with no time to consider the fact that we all need to pull together and they should help a brother out. I figured it would take three or four days at a comfortable pace and was comforted by the fact there was nice camping along the way.

As I thought and smoked and drank and read a couple of guys had stopped at the store for coffee also one of them asked if I was hitching or hiking? I said “a little of both”, and they offered me a ride.  They were both dressed in camo and flannel and were in their early 40s. The driver, Sammy I later find out, laid a plastic bag over the pool of blood in the back of the truck and I threw my pack in and we were off.

Sammy and the rider Davey were hilarious. They were just starting a week long deer hunt and they had both scored does yesterday and they were pretty happy with themselves, in spite of having to break in on the hunt to drive to St. Ignace to bail Sammy’s son out of jail. It seems that the son was on his way to the big hunt and got stopped for speeding only they found his little sack of marijuana-reefer-grass. Apparently the courts were asking for $1,500 in bail, which Sammy thought was ridiculous, but he at least wanted to pick up the car and save it from impound. Sammy was hoping to talk to the judge and explain the fecklessness of youth and plead for a reduction.

During the drive Sammy’s wife called. He explained his plan which she interrupted with the news that his ex-wife has the cash and wants to wire it up. Sammy looked displeased at the news and said, “Your breaking up honey, I’ll call you back after I try to talk to the judge.” After a conspiratorial wink and a nod we talked about the errors of youth and going to jail. Davey said, “at least it wasn’t in Detroit.”

I nod knowingly, pleased he had named one of the three jails I had been in, and I added, “I’ve been there and it wasn’t pretty. I just tried to sleep.”

“Well you better pay your child support cuz that’s where they send you if you don’t”, Davey responded.

“Good”, I replied earning a couple of comically menacing stares. I’d already told them I was a social worker during introductions and I talked about how hard it is on the kids when Mom is struggling and Dad’s not paying support.

Davey was unconvinced, “If the bitch doesn’t want to worry about money she shouldn’t try to be in charge.” Sammy nodded his emphatic approval and I looked to change the subject, hitchhikers are agreeable remember and I was not going to get any movement on the misogyny front. They were reveling in it, the great white hunters.

Instead we talked of other things, the road mostly. I asked the hitchhiking question and learned Sammy had hitched some and Davey spent several years on the road hitching all over. We talked of problems in Ohio with Davey topping my story of the 50 mile day, with one about being stuck in Wapokoneta for three days waiting for a ride with the Ohio State Police watching him in shifts so if he went to sleep they could arrest him for vagrancy.

We also talked about the beautiful people you meet who offer you a chance to start a new life. Sammy talked wistfully about a summer painting steeples across the South with one ride. I don’t get to tell a story because we arrived in St. Ignace and it was time to wish these characters good luck in court and say goodbye.

I found a bathroom, a candy store/gas station, and tried to go to the Father Marquette Museum. I had read a bit about the man and was eager to check it out but it was closed for the season. I did scrounge up a piece of cardboard out of their dumpster, because I was back on the Interstate, with Route 2 behind me, and I hadn’t even put out my thumb.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel

Up North Part 7 –

 Day 3

After sleeping fitfully I was fully awake at 3:00. I had to piss so bad I could taste it but I could not force myself out of the sleeping bag because it was so fucking cold. I lay there miserable for a long time before I promised myself a cigarette if I got up. I pulled on my jacket and boots, pissed, smoked half a cigarette and crawled back in the bag. I was freezing the whole night in spite of sleeping in everything short of jacket and boots and I vowed to put on my second pair of long-johns before tomorrow night.

When I started to get out of the tent in the morning I realized I had not zippered the inside, and the fly over the vestibule was the only thing keeping my heat in and the cold out. I replaced my vow from long-johns to diligence and double checking and started my day. It had rained during the night and it was cold and wet so I skipped pulling together a fire and had a bowl of Count Chocula. Since it was both cold and wet I had another.

I walked West along the lake shore and the waves on Lake Michigan were crashing hard, like the ocean. I was moved by the pristine beauty and saw only  my tracks behind me and the tracks of gulls and a coyote or a dog, too small to be a wolf. There had been a display at the DNR office in Naubinway confirming that last drivers account about them being in the area. I had never seen wolves. I watched terns and the gulls making an honest living plucking critters out of the smooth sands behind the receding waves.

I walked out to Mr. “C”’s Pub and Eatery but it wasn’t open yet. I walked back to camp and made a big fire. I found a whole stack of firewood and a grate in another campsite. The grill fit nicely across the fire pit. I made broccoli and rice with extra veggies and had an instant cappuccino. I attended to the fact that my knee had been hurting bad all day. I was scared thinking of packing out of here in not too long. I couldn’t really figure out the cause of the pain but I feared I had torn some cartilage.

I walked the other way down the beach and watched the waves crash. I finished Circle of Stones and later left it in the john for a future camper. I watched the sunset into the lake. Beautiful but fast, like the ocean. I decided not to stay up to see the stars as I was exhausted from being active in the cold all day and knew I would sleep well, but I knew it was a long time until sunrise.

Day 4

I was up at 2:00 having to piss. I didn’t fight it I just got up and went, had a smoke and back to bed. I zipped up both layers of the tent and I was half-way toasty that night. I could’ve gotten up and started my day if there was anything to do in the cold night. I lay there and toyed with my regrets, hopes, fears, all of that stuff and drifted back to sleep. I woke up in the real morning awake and warm and refreshed so I only had one bowl of Count Chocula.

I walked East on Route 2 about a mile and half to a liquor/smoked fish store. I scored a cup of real coffee and a pack of smokes, no newspaper though. The store guy said the paper guy doesn’t come until 10:30-11:00 on Sundays. The guy did give me an update on the news: “They haven’t blown up the bridge yet. Did shut it down for half an hour with a bomb threat” and the weather, chance of rain tomorrow and the next snow was coming by the weekend, just in time for hunting season.

I lingered waiting for the paper and finished my coffee and smoked a cigarette. I decided to skip it and walked home via the beach. I collected shells on the way and sang a new little piece of song I was trying to work on:

Shells upon shells upon shells upon shells

We’re building up a world of shells

Out of the pretty ones we make a home

A place of safety we can call our own

We’re building up a world of shells

With several false starts a second verse did not come and so I continued towards camp after deciding not to write the words in the sand where the waves would wash it away. I saw an oily looking stain running toward the lake and traced it back to see it was likely oil and such from parking lot run off. Sad. I wrote about it and the rusty pump I’d been getting my water from on the comment section when I registered for the site for that night. I only registered for one night in case it rains and I get wet. My knee was still hurting but I had figured out I had bruised it busting up firewood on the first night’s fire. I vowed not to do that again.

I sat down and read the three scraps of narrative I had written on the road. It looked pretty shitty. I decided to scrap all those openings and I turned to the next full page even though there were only two lines and a word  on page 5 and wrote: “10/21/01 Day one On Thursday morning I had Amee drop me off on what I thought was 27 North, just north of the I-69 loop.” I wrote for a bit ending with “…and praying the world would be gentle to him.” I was pleased with what I’d written because it told more of a story.

I walked to Mr. “C”’s for eggplant Parmesan and a Pepsi. I watched the second quarter of a Lions game. The Lions were actually winning and I was heartened, but not heartened enough to spend my daylight watching commercials to see how the gamed ended, so I walked back to camp and putzed around writing on the narrative and reading Meditation and Kabbalah while I sat on the rocks and watched the lake. The sun again set beautifully into the lake, perhaps more than yesterday. It was much cloudier and the clouds were streaked with soft oranges, pinks, and a robust purple and blue. I felt “ Sunset is the best time of the day”.

Categories: hitchhiking, poetry, travel

Up North part 6: terminal ride

My next ride came quickly, before I was really settled in at the newest on-ramp, and I immediately knew it was the terminal ride when the driver said he was going to Manistee. He seemed reluctant to tell me when I asked where he was headed, but he had asked me first. He was older, a retiree, and a little gruff, and maybe having some buyers remorse about such a long ride with a stranger. His mood totally lifted though, when he asked me what I did when I wasn’t hitching Up North to get some space in a troubled marriage, and I told him I was a social worker by trade but between jobs right now. I told him about my last job in case management with adults and children with developmental disabilities and a job I had applied for working with adolescent refugees from Africa who were settling in Lansing.

“Oh, my son sees one”, he said, quickly adding: “Of course he’s adopted you know.” He was frustrated that it is so hard to get an appointment and then they just end up cancelling at the last minute. I told him one of the reasons I had quit was my caseload was too big and I didn’t have any time to help anyone like they really needed.

After opening up about his son he revealed he was going to Manistee to fix up his third home which he was hoping to sell. He knew the route well and mentioned several likely places to camp and suggested getting supplies in Naubinway. I broke out the steno pad and wrote on the last page:

Lake Michigan Campground

Brevort Lake

Hog Island State Forest

                                Campground

Black River State Forest

                                Campground

Naubinway

We were already across the bridge and driving west on Route 2 when I started taking notes. I started dreading my hitch out as we sped along Route 2, me thinking how similar it seemed to Old 72 I had walked 9 miles down, without getting so much of a hint of a ride. The now friendly driver suggested I go on with him all the way to Manistee and detailed its virtues. He said he had seen wolves, heard them howl, he knew the difference between them and coyotes he told me. I nodded agreeably but turned down the ride to Manistee. I could tell he just wanted the company and Naubinway is where I wanted to be. Miles and miles closer to the interstate in case I had to walk the whole way out because of the new fear.

He let me out in Naubinway which is really just a wide spot in the road with a post office and a half a dozen shops mostly selling smoked fish. I left my Up North Please sign in his van. I didn’t need it anymore. I was here.

I walked over to the post office and leaned my pack against the wall on the side, out of the way, as it was the middle of the “town” and I wanted to do all the shopping I could before heading into the wilderness. I walked down to the pay phone to let folks know I was safe and where I was. It was dead. I walked into the dried fish and hunting supplies shop, but they didn’t have any fire starters. The fish lined up behind the glass stared at me with their dead eyes, and I left without buying anything. I walked into the next shop with more than a little unease. It was a gift shop and I was hoping to get some postcards, especially as the phone was out, so someone would eventually know where I was at. A stiff older woman quickly greeted me with an icy “can I help you?” It felt more like she’d said ‘what do you think your doing here dirtball”.

Her postcards stank so I quickly left and went for post card stamps at the post office. “That your pack out there?”, the postal worker asked when I entered.

“Yeah.”

“Better move it before someone calls the State Police and your in a heap of trouble. I’ve already gotten a call about it,” he added, though I’d been in Naubinway for probably less than six minutes.

“Sorry”, I said. “I forgot times have changed. I just wanted to pick up a couple of things and didn’t want to lug it all over town. Well I’d better get my post card stamps and get my gear moved.”

After the stamps I lugged my pack up to the grocery/smoked fish/gas station to stock up on some groceries. Count Chocula was on salel and I picked up a box. Comfort food for a world of fear and distrust, and they even had soy milk.

I  lugged my pack and the groceries to the gas station and picked up some smokes. I lugged my pack and the two bags of groceries to the DNR office at the end of town and confirmed that Hog Island State Forest Campground is still open.

I started walking the five miles or so back east to Hog Island down the side of Route 2, with my pack and a bag of groceries in each hand. No one stops. For some reason a blue beater caught my eye speeding along west and I noticed the passenger looked like Moses or some kind of Mountain Man. I prayed that a car would not cut over a lane and strike me dead as I watched cars pass at 70+ miles per hour. Everyone was driving so fast, passing where no sane person would pass.

I got off the road a couple of miles east of Naubinway at a quaint old rest area. I drank crystal clear water that was pouring out of an old stone fountain. I felt refreshed both body and soul of the bad energy of the speeding traffic and small town paranoia that had left me a little shaken.

I started back walking until one of the grocery bags ripped. I consolidated to one bag stuffing the excess into my already full back pack. I started walking again with my left thumb out, in case walking in the middle of nowhere with heavy packages is not enough indication that I would appreciate a ride. The blue beater I had seen earlier heading the other way pulled up in front of me. As the old man in the passenger seat made room for my bag and it and I started to get in, the driver made me promise I was not wanted and that he wouldn’t be reading about me in tomorrow’s paper.

I started to tell him his reverse lights were out as we accelerate, but at around 45 mph the car started shuddering and it was obvious it wasn’t going faster, and I decided to bite my tongue. The driver asked me what I was doing and I explained I hitched here to camp at Hog Island and escape the talk of war. The driver asked how old I was and after he guessed 26, I told him I was “33 but doing stupid shit keeps me young.”

The driver said, “it hasn’t helped me any”.

The old man agreed saying he was 58, and he looked about 70. As we pull into the campground the old man became emotional and apologized for trying to talk the driver out of picking me up. “I was scared”, he said. “The terrorists did a good job”. He told me he was frightened for me and hoped I at least had a bottle.

I told him “nope” and he gave me the last Busch out of the 12 pack, and I was alone. I had no time to sit back and drink the beer and enjoy it though. I had to get cracking to make camp before dark. Hog Island is in fact a peninsula and most of the sites are right on Lake Michigan. Terribly beautiful, truly sublime, but windy, so I took site 3, located squarely in the woods. I of course had the entire campground to choose from.  I laid down my Mylar coated tarp, I had trash picked a couple of years previously, and pitched my tent on top it.

I walked down to the lake shore and looked at the lake. I thought about watching the sun set into the lake but decided to make a fire and cook instead. I picked some wood out of some of the other sites and made a fire. I cooked some food, ate, and took my weary ass to bed in spite of it being quite early. I was tired and dishes could wait until morning. I looked up to see so many stars.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel

up north part 5: talking ’bout 9/11


After being dropped in Grayling I again found myself on a pretty desolate exit. I again kept to the top of the onramp and took the opportunity to try to do some writing during the wait. I pulled out the red steno pad and started writing on the last blank line of page two:

“Narrative interrupted on on (sic) account of a ride. I’m gonna have to start writing more its brought me good luck. 3 rides in an hour and a half. The good news is I’ve made it to I-75. People are going where I want to go. The bad news is I’m at an exit in the middle of nowhere. Not even a gas station. I kind of wish I would have had breakfast when I had the chance. I’ve got a couple of apples though so I won’t starve. Better for me than fast food too.

Good folks picked me up. A nice couple on their way to Camp Grayling to take out the government garbage. I about jumped out of my skin when their dog came out of nowhere barking ferociously as only an enraged Daschund can. I was right to be cautious though. Daisy is a biter. They have to keep moving to save Daisy from execution for finger biting. When she calmed down I gave her my hand to sniff my fingers tucked away safely of course. The driver said he wished he”…

Once again my narrative was quickly interrupted on account of a ride. A nice silver haired gentleman in a big newish pickup truck picked me up and asked me what I was up too. I told him I was hitchhiking to get a feel for what people are thinking about the whole 9/11 thing. He told me he was glad the country had pulled together but it was a shame it took such a terrible tragedy to do so. We both agreed we were glad Bush was in charge. I told him I thought Gore (note the name) would have hit Afghanistan hard, without a plan, to prove he wasn’t weak and Bush had less to prove. He replied: “Gore’s a pussy who would’ve used sanctions, what’s sanctions going to do to a country that’s already ruined?”

I wanted to tell him that that proved my point. Gore would have been forced to act precipitously because of people like him and their impression of Gore as weak.  I did not tell him this because hitchhikers are always agreeable, out of both self interest and gratitude. I instead said I read in the paper yesterday that we gave Saddam Hussein his Anthrax strains in the 1970s. The driver was not surprised to hear this and his tone shifted to where he was almost misty as he talked about how we had made an alliance with death when we export weapons. I told him we gave Afghanistan their Stinger Missiles and that the U.S. is the largest arms exporter in the world.

There was then an intimacy as we drove along talking of these things, somewhat similar to therapy. He was really beginning to be moved as he talked about how the Taliban treat “their women”. “Like property”, I said. I liked this guy though, he was not afraid to feel deeply. All too quickly we arrived in Gaylord and he was gone.

I broke for lunch (sub & chips) and did some shopping at a large strip mall complex anchored by a Normans, a discount sporting goods store. I picked up some thinner gloves, as my thinsulate ones were in my pocket because they made my hands too hot. I also bought a pair of orange wicking socks because they like the gloves were only a dollar. I also looked for fire starter sticks to use in my zip stove (a forced air chamber that burns sticks and runs on 2 double a batteries) but they didn’t have any.

Categories: hitchhiking, politics, travel