He’d been riding freight trains. From Florida, originally, but just in New Orleans. Coming west to look for work. That’s how he said it, “look for work,” as if an apparition from the Great Depression, from years gone by. “There’s no work in the eastern South.”
Today, he and friends were coming up from California, headed to Seattle. The train they were on had sided–stopped, so another could pass by on the opposing track. They’d gotten off to pee, he, friends, and the 4-month-old pup I’d found him standing with alongside the road. He thought one of the friends had grabbed the pup, so he jumped back aboard. Down the tracks he realized the pup wasn’t sleeping amongst the packs or in someone’s lap. He was gone, left off the train, and they’d sped ahead a good thirty miles by now. He began to cry when he thought of his pup sitting there lost and alone.
He jumped off the train as soon as it slowed enough, and hitched his way back, not really knowing where he was going. He says he got lucky, because they guy who picked him up told him the only places the tracks ran through. He got there, to the spot the train sided. The pup was sitting, waiting, barking. For him.
I picked them up just outside of Tenino, Washington. On my way home from work. I don’t ever pick up hitch-hikers here, but something told me to stay slow, to slow more, as I pulled out of the little town onto the 50 mph highway. I looked at the kid and saw the pup, and pulled over, not even thinking otherwise. Something in me felt it right, sensed the kid’s spirit. And he had a pup. Brindle brown little thing, pit and chow mix, sweet as could be.
I pulled over and told him I could take him into Olympia. He got in, and the pup jumped into the back seat. I did a quick once over, looking for any signs of alarm, signs I shouldn’t do this, signs I was in danger. I’m highly trained in self-defense, but still, one shouldn’t put oneself at risk. He was a twenty-something, on the new end of that decade, fresh in his enthusiasm and the raw experience he was having. Kind–I saw it in his eyes. Polite–I felt it in his manners and mannerisms.
A little unsettled by his morning, I could tell. In love with that pup.
He was a bit dirty from the rails and road, but not unkempt. I was in a white jacket, expensive jeans and shoes, and on my way home from my professional day of teaching.
He told me of his ordeal, and that he was really going to California (land of milk and honey?) to work as a trimmer, but had decided to check out Seattle before settling into the job. Our conversation meandered around places familiar, those places we’d both been. Meandered around legalization and the economic and cultural impacts it might bring. He told me that, to someone from the east, Oregon and Washington are still wild.
Then he popped the line, “Someone said to me the other day that it’s not Kerouac’s America anymore.” I replied with my theory that there are many Americas, like in the Whitman poem, “I Hear America Singing.” He said that’s why he’s so influenced by the Beat Poets. I asked him if he wrote. He does. Asked if he could read me the poem he’d written just that morning. It was lovely. That was the only word I could find to describe it. He smiled and said thank you. I meant it. He meant it.
I’ve begun On The Road twice. I’ve never finished it. I used to live that roadtrip lifestyle, minus the Beat infatuation with drugs. The first time I stopped reading the novel because it felt familiar. The second time, I just stopped, even though I love Kerouac’s prose, his insight, his wisdom.
I dropped the kid and his pup in the Taco Bell parking lot, just at the on-ramp to I-5 so he could get to Seattle and rejoin his friends.