I knew I one day would be travelling down the road. Going cross country, walking the endless prairie highway under the sun and watching the corn move in the breeze. With the walking cane in one hand and a backpack on my back I set out to travel across America ,to see the real America, hiking and walking. Cooking on the side of the road at night catching the occasional truck rolling down the highway
One night I got a lift with a big trucker. He was grounded like a man with reason, grounded to the earth,to the dust and asphalt. He could feel the road, the wheels rolling, the engine rumbling just as it was a part of his own body. «So, where are you heading?»; he asked me with a jovial voice while smiling and talking on the radio. «I don’t really know»; I replied while lighting up a cigarette, a Viceroy I think it was while coughing a bit as the acrid smoke reached my lungs. The cigarette had a taste which I had never felt before, but I would probably get used to it
He laughed and winked while turning the wheel, passing in on a back road «You’re one of those? One of them who just travels anywhere and nowhere?». I laughed nervously suddenly; «Seems so, where are we going?»
«Don’t worry»; he said with the gentlest smile I had ever seen on any trucker or man at all.
«We’ll be on the highway again in no time, this’ll be quicker.». His answer put me at rest and yes, soon we were on the highway again leaving behind what seemed to be a big traffic jam.
How he did know I could only guess at. But he did know, and soon we had made quite a lot of miles with no hang up at all. Suddenly a small highway diner cropped up in the horizon, and he said «You can get a room for the night there, and some food.».
He stopped at the diner to drop me off. Before long the truck had disappeared into the night. The bell rang as I walked through the open door and a woman behind the desk caught my eyes. «So, what’ll be?» she said, with a weary smile. She’d probably been up all day and all night to serve the people who came in to eat, to drink and to rest. People just as diverse as my country, I could guess..
There were farmers from Montana, Yuppies from New York, Hippies from the west coast, and people you probably could spend the whole night guessing at their origins before they finally opened up to tell you. I sat down on a free chair and said «What’s tonight special?». «Fried Chicken with potatoes and Apple pie for desert»; she said.
Wendy was her name, at least if I could believe the name tag that hovered on her right breast. She was still a beauty, with short black hair and green eyes. «I’ll have that»; I smiled to her, and waited as she walked into the kitchen to relay the order. As I waited I glanced once more on the people sitting around. Small chatter filled the diner, about this’n’that.
On the radio a song with Johnny Cash was playing. The eternal man in black, with eyes that shot fire and voice straight from hell. I listened to the song, and began singing without noticing that I was doing it. At least not before I felt people eyeing me strangely. Turning towards them I said; «Haven’t you seen someone sing Johnny Cash-tunes before?».
Suddenly,behind me, a rough voice began singing the same tune, a big burly black guy in the back of the diner. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears. A Negro actually liking country, and liking Cash.. I smiled at him, and he smiled back while motioning me to continue singing. Before long the whole diner was singing along, to the total surprise and amusement of Wendy as she came out with my order. The applause nearly wouldn’t stop when the song ended.
For the very first time I could feel real bonding, and that with total strangers. I turned to my dish and began eating, wondering how strange this was. That people, who otherwise would’ve never met, could bond in such a fashion to almost being friends. The dinner tasted incredible, I’d never tasted better chicken anywhere else. «Do you have a room?»; I asked Wendy as she passed by. «Yeah, it’s 15 dollars a night.». I paid up, and got the keys to their last vacant room.
The morning after I was set to enter the great highway again. I started walking down the road with renewed faith in myself and the country before me.