While driving down HWY 85 from Charlotte NC on our way to our brother Mark Olsen’s trailer in Jacksonville NC, a military town off the coast of the same state- me and Brian had the revered ambition of un-weathered, well-fed travel junkies who just got their first taste of a city unknown, and the much needed rest that can only uniquely be had from sleeping in the back of a van. Little did we know, was that we would come across a couple of characters on the road that might very have been considered ‘travel junkies,’ but in a VERY different way.
I’m being mindful that I may very well be being, ok really here- AM being, judgemental in what and how I share my descriptions here. I guess that’s always the fuss readers have about writers though, and c’mon now, write your own shit or, deal with me sharing my perspective. I don’t claim to be un-biased.
So as we’re driving out of Charlotte, high on high hopes, and still feeling a bit drunk- we passed in a whir, what had appeared to be two hitchhikers standing on the side of the highway. Thumbs pointed in the direction of our road, and backs bundled to the brim with packs, blankets, towels, and what appeared to be everything one would need to live on the road.
We passed them up, noticing their presence only as we flew by, and then after our initial reactions of glee after having seen some people doing what we had been dreaming of doing- we decided that even as much of a pain in the ass as it would be, we would get off at the next exit, turn around and get off at that exit, and then finally, come past and see if we could help them out with a ride. We figured selfishly and excitedly the ways that they might somehow be a benefit to us, through either gas money, good company, grass, or most importantly- some nice karma points. Shit, we would be out there doing the same thing soon, as might as well help some fellow travelers out. We figured that the good grace of the lord would surely see to it that we would be re-paid for our hassles, that makes sense right?
Well, I surely did learn something, and that was that it simply does not work that way in the world- for better of for worse, for fair or simply unfair- it just doesn’t go that way. It was certainly a learning lesson in humbling ones self though, and I can certainly see that as ‘fair’ and ‘just’ payment as I look back on the situation.
Just as we were pulling up to the unknown travelers, I had been boasting to Brian that indeed, if they didn’t offer us some gas money for the ride, I certainly wouldn’t be shy about asking them for it. As soon as I set eyes upon their toothless grins that showed they were ecstatic to rest their feet for a moment, and take some miles off of their journey- I immediately felt sorry about my earlier attitude, and my only regrets concerning money, was that I didn’t have any to give them.
Unlike me and Brian, they were not so much backpackers or travelers, as they were homeless and mobile. Brian moved around some empty cases of beer, and shoved them back where my ‘bed’ was in the van, and found room for their enormous bags that were packed to the brim with attachments, towels, a tent- the whole nine yards. It certainly was nothing luxurious, but I sure had a sense of respect for the smarts and the grit it takes to make it as they were.
We took them all the way from Charlotte to Raleigh , about 2 hours I would say. The whole time, I was just prompting them to tell me about their travels, adventures, and advice they might have.
Gail and Rusty had been together for a whopping 28 years, and had taken jobs here and there, but for the most part had always relied on the philosophy of having these bags packed and ready to be picked up at any moment in order to hit the road again. Now when I say this, I don’t mean it in a romantic sense, as we are making our trip out to be- I mean that throughout all the hardships and terrible situations that they had both endured and told me about shamelessly, they had that pack ready to go at all times, as a means to escape these situations that sometimes sounded catastrophic.
They carried a certain weight about them that was both beautiful, and unmentionably tragic, and as I drove, and listened to their incredible stories, I contemplated my false sense of humbleness in hopes to try and re-assess this characteristic within myself. They told me to be careful for the gangs in florida, because they had once been duped into getting wasted and then nearly stabbed with a pitchfork (Gail had to pull a knife on them to make them leave her husband alone)- they told me of different train cars that were dangerous to try and hop, they told me how to avoid trouble from police when hitch-hiking, they told me where to be dropped off so you aren’t stranded, they told me how to get free food if we were ever starving; cheap, light, and efficient food to take with you, different ways to clean yourself up when you needed a job- a simply overwhelming amount of information for us clean-cut white boys to be taking in before truly getting lost in the process of finding ourselves, and america as well.
Although they really had some stories to make you understand the possible dangers out there on the road, they also had a lot of insightful and inspiring things to share with us as well.
Much to my liking, was the endless amount of knowledge that Rusty had with train hopping. Exactly how to get on and off safely (if you cant count the bolts on the wheels spinning or you cant practically walk next to the train, it’s going too fast, and can seriously harm you), make sure to get on and off right before or after the stations (to avoid getting the snot kicked outta’ you by a ‘bull’ or train yard worker, and make sure you aren’t in an idle car), how to tell how far the train is going (identify the number of engines by how many engine cars are in the line- if its 3 or more, count on a 2-4 day trip!), how to tell if they are going N S E or W (there is an identifiable sequence of red lights on the backs of certain trains telling you).
Suffice it to say, it was an incredibly informative, provoking, humbling, and influential experience meeting these two wayward travelers, and I only wish I could offer them as much as I got out of it. I’m going to cut it short here, as this is WAY too long for a simple character profile, but I haven’t put anything up in a few days.
Be sure to stay up to date with the Novel itself- my experience with these and all the crazy folks I meet on the road, will be depicted much more compellingly. btw, Im on almost 50 pages!! yay me! Thanks for all the support everyone! Until we meet again…

Joseph R. Reeves

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