My daughter Marly returned last week from a trip to Morocco, so over the weekend we spent hours looking at pictures and videos from her trip. Hot air balloon rides, four-wheeler tours, cooking classes and beautiful vistas of sand and sun and sun and sand. The town that hosted her and her significant other was also interesting, with narrow streets and cool shops. No danger of being accosted there she says, their main commerce is us; American and European tourists who walk the narrow passageways and buy souvenirs, take tours and spend money – and lots of it.
When I was younger, much younger, I did a little travelling myself, not by air but by way of my thumb. Catching rides North and south on Interstate 75 to Florida and the Keys and west across the country to L.A. No fear of doing so and rides were abundant. The only time I got myself in trouble was not due to molesters or kidnappers but by a friendly old guy who thought he was helping me when he gave me a ride in Kansas. I was stuck on the side of the road with my thumb out and holding a cardboard sign that said ”L.A. or bust,” and he offered me a ride but not on the Interstate.
“This’ll get you where you want to go buddy. West right?”
“Sure,” I said, and hoped in the back of his old-rusty-red pickup.”
It was one of the most picturesque rides I have ever had. We traveled along a narrow state highway that was as straight as an arrow and cut right through the bread basket of America. On either side of the blacktop road, swaying in the breeze was corn; six feet high, reaching out as far as you could see like a never-ending green ocean. Waves of corn that seemed like enough to feed the world.
The problem was that after about an hour, the old guy slowed down and piloted his old Ford off the side of the road onto a dusty slip of dirt and came to a stop.
“OK buddy, I’m headed back home, but you can get back to the 70 not too far up the road,” the old guy, about my current age told me. “When you come to the truck stop just go left and you’ll get there straight away, or catch a ride with one of the them truckers.”
“No problem, thanks for the ride,” I said, shaking his sandpaper-like hand.
Off I went, my new Redwing boots carrying me steadily west and west and west. I began to realize that the road in front of me and the road in back of me both seemed to disappear over the horizon. “How far did he say?” I tried to remember, but the old guy talked so positively I felt like it was only a schoolyard skip back to the Interstate.
It was about noon when he dropped me off at the powdered yellow-clay drive to his home. The heat was rising off the asphalt in waves that distorted and bent the air above it. It was at least 2 o’clock and there wasn’t a truck stop in sight; nothing but green.
Four hours after the stubble-bearded old guy shook my hand and said goodbye I walked up to the truck stop. Although he called it a truck stop, there wasn’t a truck in the parking lot. Grass grew between the cracks in the pavement and only two cars were parked outside. I figured one belonged to the cook and the other to the waitress. I was right. I pulled open the glass door with the name of the restaurant obscured by a plastic “open” sign and a handwritten piece of faded-cardboard that stated “no checks accepted” and went inside. I asked the woman behind the counter. “How far to Interstate 70?”
“How far to Interstate 70,” she yelled to the cook through the rectangular opening to the kitchen.
“Oh, I’d say about five miles south.” His head craned down to see who was asking the question. He obviously didn’t like my hippy looks and curled the right side of his lip like an Elvis Presley impersonator.
Back on the road the wider highway offered no better opportunity for this hitchhiker in 1972, only a few beer bottles thrown at me from a pickup full of hootin’ an hollerin’ high school kids and no ride. It took only another hour before I spotted the Interstate. I was headed west again arriving in L.A. after catching only two more rides.
As I think about those green waves of corn out on that lonely strip of blacktop, it makes me sad to think that drought in the Midwest this summer turned the green waves to brown whirl and has already raised the price of everything made of corn – and that’s just about everything.
By the way, has the water restriction in Chesterfield been lifted? We always hear when the drought brings it on, but we don’t know when it’s been turned off. Just makes you wonder on this rainy Monday in Chesterfield.