Saturday, December 31, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Eighteen, Chattahoochee!

It was another beautiful Florida day.  I am growing ever more fond of this place.  The people are friendly, the weather is fine and the fauna has kept to itself.

I woke in the midst of a billowing fog.  You couldn't see twenty-five feet.  It swirled round the trees and underbrush and left my poor tent sopping wet.  But I packed it up in a cheerful mood.  It was fairly warm outside.  And eerily quiet.  I could hear the birds' feet scraping against the trees.

I had buried myself way back in the shrubs.  It took a while to find my way out.  There were all kinds of stckers and thorns.  I do this to myself all the time.  I go ploughing in and the next morning I can't remember how to get out.  My hobo skills are famous by now but I'm not really much of a woodsman.  If I'm still around, it is only because Nature feels sorry for me.

The fog stuck around for another hour.  It got thicker, if anything.  But I didn't mind.  Traffic was light and 90 is a good road for walking.  I made it to Cypress in under two hours and settled in for a big breakfast.

At a gas station.  It was not very good.  She put too much salt on my grits.  And there was a foreign object in my breakfast biscuit.  I ate it all up anyway.  It was expensive and I needed the calories.  I sat there for almost two hours.  Drinking gallons of icy Coke and recharging my little computer.

The sun was out by the time I left.  I knew it was up there somewhere.  I have faith in Florida.  It was up in the seventies today.  It was if anything a little too warm.  I was chafing just a bit.  It is rather humid, my pants are too big and my poor old pack's missing a strap.  But it all did little to ruin my mood.  Who does not like a summer day?  In Seattle no three days in June are as pretty it was today. 

I hiked on to Grand Ridge.  I didn't stop.  There did not seem to be too much there.  One gas station.  There might be more if you go down to the freeway.  They do seem to be looking forward to greatness though.  They've got the highway all widened.  Beautiful signs welcome visitors to town.  They've even got a traffic light.  If we build it, they will come.  The rest is all vacant lots.

I did stop when I got to Sneads, Florida.  I was not hungry again.  I just liked the name.  It sounds like "thneeds" and reminded me of The Lorax.  It is one of the good doctor's darker books.  It frightened me some as a child.  But it's a good read.  Check it out if you can't find a copy of Horton.

I bought there another big jug of Coke.  It was a very warm day.  And sipped it in front of a gas station, with my computer plugged in next to the ice machine.  I passed a pleasant half hour staring at traffic and chatting with the young woman who works there.  I think her name was Kayla.  She was about as big as a Who.

From there it was down past the ACI, the Apalachee Correctional Institute.  A vast prison complex surrounded by farms.  It was right out of Brubaker.  Every county in Florida has its own prison.  Every town has its own jail.  I've seen dozens of parole offices and orange-suited prison work crews.  It is big business here, a significant part of the state's economy.  They ought to rethink.  It's bad karma to lock so many folks up.

I've had all sorts of warnings about Florida.  They said they would be after me.  But none of the cops have shown much interest.  I guess I'm not hobo enough.  I was for that stupid woman in Mississippi who threatened to shoot me locked me in the back of her car.  I hope karma poops on her head.

All the great walkers have been persecuted.  Except Art Garfunkel.  Find your own meaning in that.

The prison sits next to a vast swampy stretch.  The highway is elevated here.  For a mile or two.  It is still plenty wide but twenty feet off the ground.  I kept an eye out for crocodiles.  I think I might have spotted a nostril.

It got a little hairy where the road crossed the Apalachiola, which is what Floridians call the Chattahoochee River.  It sure was pretty though.  Some few hundred yards upstream is a dam, and beyond that a lake.  Downstream were the remnants of the old highway bridge, all covered with moss and weeds.  I didn't get any pictures.  I was just trying to stay alive.

Bridges are not my favorite part of Walking Across America.

After that it was straight uphill to beautiful Chattahoochee, home of the Florida State Hospital, a loony bin.  It is one of the best looking town I've passed through.  The hospital is in the center of town.  The rest is all trees and old buildings.  I walked right through but would have been glad to stay longer.  I liked the feel of the place.

Florida State Hospital was instrumental in O'Connor v. Donaldson, one of my favorite Supreme Court decisions.  It's the one that says they can't lock you up for being a little weird.

The place goes on for miles and miles.  I'm camped in the woods nearby.  I hear fireworks going off.  Happy New Year, by the way.  I had more to say but I haven't the juice.  Don't mix your liquors.  Peace.

I'M IN A new time zone.  Eastern, I think it's called.  My last on this trip.

GEORGIA sits half a mile north of here.  I may visit it tomorrow.  Then again, I won't have enough power to take a picture, so forget it.  Sorry Georgia.

I DATED a crazy girl once.  There is nothing funny about mental illness.  And it snores.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Seventeen, Princesses and Peas

Gosh, but I miss my REI-brand self-inflating foam core air mattress.  If I misspell the odd word, if there are gaps in my logic, if my poetry sometimes falls flat, understand that I am typing all of this in my tent.  With my thumbs, no less, after having spent most of my day on the road.  That thin inch of cushion made all the difference.  It made me feel loved.

Not well loved, certainly, but every little bit helps.  I am still carting around its shrivelled corpse.  It is hard to say goodbye.  I am still sleeping on it, as a matter of fact.  I am not wholly sure why.  It does nothing to ease my weary bones.  It does not make typing any easier.

I was uncomfortable last night, at least I think I was.  I was asleep through most of it.  It was hard to get up in the morning.  I rely on that spring of foam rubber to sit me upright in bed.  Now I am forced to do a sit-up.  That is no way to start the day.

I did have some trouble falling asleep, and not because the ground was hard.  I was besieged by chirruping critters, some sort of chipmunk, I guess.  But I have my suspicions.  It could have been gators trying to lure me outside.

The truth is I don't know much about gators.  I may know more than you.  They like marshmallows and tuba music.  Look it up if you don't believe me.  And I know they are soulless killing machines, bent on my violent destruction.

I suppose that's all I need to know.  That and that they are good hiders.  Crafty masters of disguise.  They could be anywhere.  Even now.  Watching.  Waiting their chance.  Hook was misunderstood.

I was reflecting today.  The bears didn't get me when I walked through Montana.  I haven't been eaten by rattlesnakes.  Maybe my fears are all wrong.  But Florida has bears and snakes as well.  And man-eating poisonous toads.  And gators, of course.  The people are nice, but they're living right on the edge.

I woke up early.  I could have done with a Fruit Pie but it was a beautiful morning.  Warm with friendly clouds in the sky.  My pack felt a little heavy.  I did my best to ignore it but I was really hungry.  Starved when I got to Cottondale.  There was there nothing to eat.  But I had two biscuits at a gas station, with something called "chicken fried steak."

It is neither steak nor chicken.  It is thoroughly fried.  It made a fairly good breakfast.  Heavy, at any rate.  That's what I'm looking for.  I don't want the weight of the world on my back.  I want some of it in my belly.  It takes my mind off other things, like how blasted hungry I am. 

There was nowhere to sit down.  I sat outside, on my pack beside the front door.  And watched the people come and go, looking like some kind of hobo.  Everyone was kind.  They all said hello.  In lieu of giving me change.

I had to linger there for a while.  I collected Bible tracts.  It is heartening to see how interested folks are in my Personal Salvation.  I was just trying to charge my computer.  The battery is awful low.  I cannot in this instance blame Samsung.  I've been spending too much time walking.

And not enough plugged in.  I'm running on fumes.  I could do with an overnight charge.  But it was too nice a day not to be walking.  I headed for Marianna.

My new friend Shelley said there was a Waffle House there.  That'll put a spring in your step.  I covered eight miles in two hours.  That is a blistering pace.  The exercise, though, killed my appetite.  When I got there I wasn't hungry.  So I had only one biscuit to go with my hash browns and eggs and sausage and toast.  And pie. 

I tried to stay there as long as I could.  I needed some more time plugged in.  And I had already put in sixteen miles.  Four more make an honest day.  I wound up walking six more miles.  It took four just to get out of town.

Big place, Marianna, Florida.  Population six-thousand or so.  You can tell it has been there a while, almost two-hundred years.  There are some beautiful houses on main street.  It's a five-lane highway now.  But they're still pretty and well maintained, despite the traffic noise.

There was a Civil War battle fought there.  It was late in the war.  The Union went down to free some slaves and make them join their army.  They were met by a gaggle of boys and old men and one or two wounded veterans.  Who got their shots in but they still lost.  It is probably for the best.  Well into the Twentieth Century they maintained the ugly habit of lynching people, but they don't do that any more.  That is also for the best.

I got out of town over a river and past a good-sized lake.  Clean, too.  You could see down to the bottom.  I did not see any gators.  I did see an enormous fish.  I don't know what kind it was.  It was not silvery; it had big scales.  It had your standard fishy shape and had to be four feet long.

Gosta keep them gators fed, I guess.

Find me now in a housing development some miles east of town.  They surveyed the place and bulldozed some roads and gave it up as a bad job.  It's all overgrown and somewhat spooky.  It would be a good place to race dirt bikes.  Or shoot off guns or drink underage beer.  I tucked myself deep in a thicket.  And spent half an hour pulling up weeds and clearing a spot for my tent.  It is still awfully lumpy and very hard.  Gosh, I miss my air mattress.

MARIANNA'S famous Motel Sandusky did not have one single guest.  Go figure.  Had I been so inclined I could have got a great deal there.

A LOT of people around here keep goats.  It is disturbing, given the rumours.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Sixteen, R.I.P.

My REI-brand self-inflating air mattress has died.  I miss it already.  No less as I'm lying here on my side typing up this day's notes.  I am reminded of how cold and lonesome this world can be.  And how very very hard. 

I didn't even want the blasted thing.  The boy at the shop talked me into it.  Air mattresses, I thought, were for dilettantes.  Tough guys, he said, use them too.  And I've been glad to have it though it has never been the softest bed I have slept on.  At best it evened out the bumps.  It spread the pain around.  So I could wake up as one solid ache.  It democratised misery.

It never really did self-inflate, not like a Navy life raft.  It would suck in air to a certain extent.  I had to puff in the rest.  In recent months I had come to dread deflating it in the morning.  It would send forth a spew of godawful breath, no less offensive for being my own.

I have to wonder if that's what rotted it.  It has suffered internal damage.  It is in its way like a broken heart.  There are some things that duck tape can't fix.

Sad, sad.  Nothing is forever.  Least of all camping gear.  Which tends to be designed for the weekender, no matter what it says in the brochure.  You might climb Mount Everest; you're up and down in a month.  You might take the Scouts on an outing.  But use it day in and use it day out and it will eventually fail.

I thought my backpack would be the next one to go.  It's holding on by a thread.  And God knows I have been through a few pairs of shoes and at least as many socks.  I burned holes through my underwear.  That's my passionate nature.  And I'll probably walk with a modest limp for the rest of my life.

Or not.  Who knows.  I may recuperate.  Some weeks back Iost a toe nail.  But it has grown back.  My battle-scarred heart continues to beat in my chest.  I'm getting stronger not weaker.  If I had more daylight I'd be doing thirty miles a day.  Today I managed twenty-three, and that with a fairly late start.

I slept well in my swamp by the cemetery.  The crocodiles kept to themselves.  The snakes stayed hidden.  No right-thinking zombie would want to eat my brains.  They're good brains as brains go.  They're fairly quick.  They do well on standardised tests.  But they've never been able to apply themselves.  They get in their own way.

I breakfasted just up the road, in Westville at the Whistle Stop Cafe.  A tiny place with a railroad theme.  I'm awfully fond of trains.  They fed me well and were kind to me.  It was a very good start to my day.

Too good perhaps.  I did not want to leave.  I was for a moment discouraged.  I wake up, I walk.  What's it all mean?  It is the same thing every day.  But it is the same good thing.  I've grown very fond of Florida's Highway 90.  It is wide and smooth and beautiful and not too very well travelled.  There is a decent shoulder which in most cases I do not have to use.  I prefer the grass by the side of road.  I keep a keen eye out for gators.

"You'll be fine if you don't go near the water."  I get that one a lot.  But have a glance at a map of Florida.  Have Google show it from space.  It's all water, lakes and ponds, swamps and rivers and sloughs.  Every time I pass a mud puddle I feel their eyes on me.

I'm told they won't eat me right away.  They like their meat aged some.  They'll kill me and stuff me up under a bank until I get all sqooshy.  They are good biters but they don't chew well.  They want something they can suck through a straw.

I passed through Caryville without noticing.  I am following the train tracks again.  There's been a town every few miles.  That's how the railroad did things.  They needed a place to take on water.  Many have faded away.  Some have thrived and some persist out of nothing but stubborn pride.

At Bonifay I had my lunch, chicken and black-eyed peas.  And cornbread and hushpuppies and yeller rice.  We eat well in the South.  I finished with a bowl of banana pudding.

With Nilla wafers.  It is standard down here.  It should be so everywhere.

I was honored to meet Ms. Wilhelmina Belcer.  She came up and chatted with me.  Which means I don't look too much like a hobo, or that some people don't too much care.  Either way I'm encouraged.

She has lived in Bonifay all her life.  Her grandfather homesteaded there.  Back in eighteen-seventy-something.  A barn he built is still standing.  Now she has kids and grandkids to love.  A handsome bunch.  Many were there.  Together they conspired to buy me lunch.  I was much pleased by the gesture.

Tbe sky had gone a bit black by then.  I was a little concerned.  It rains when it rains in Florida.  It would make Noah blush.  But it cleared up. It was just a threat to keep me up on my toes.  I hiked on to Chipley, Florida.  I was surprised by the size of that town.

Chipley brags about developing kudzu, a dubious honor at best.  But it seemed a nice town otherwise.  Tbey've got a good looking church.  And a number of state offices, surrounded by a hurricane fence.  To keep the bureaucrats from escaping.  So their neighbors can sleep at night.

I walked through without stopping.  I meant to buy a Fruit Pie.  Breakfast tomorrow is some miles off.  I thought it would make a nice snack.  But it wouldn't have lasted til the morning.  Fruit Pies never do.  My tent is like a black hole for fruit pies.  They never last too long.

But what weight I gained at the Knightens' seems to have disappeared.  In three short days.  Good exercise, this.  We are an awfully fat nation.  I have the cure.  Hit the road.  Try to carry something heavy.

My computer tells me it is fifty degrees.  Maybe it is up the road.  But I'm in the woods and covered in fog.  I'm just a little bit chilly.  And the ground is hard and lumpy too.  I intend to sleep well.

I HAVEN'T enjoyed my goodnight pee since I wound up down here.  You never know what a gator might snap off.  It'll make a boy shrink with fear.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Fifteen, Dagobah

My air mattress is all but dead.  I know what you are thinking.  "You have an air mattress?  Aren't we a little princess."

It is an inch or so thick and weighs maybe a pound.  It is no great luxury.  It provides me with just enough padding to sleep on the hardest of ground.  Not comfortably, you understand.  I can still feel every sharp rock.  But less so, provided I wake every two hours and blow the thing back up.

It is riddled with holes.  It leaks like a sieve.  I've duck-taped it where I can.  But it has now suffered internal damage.  It is sputtering like hot grease.  The foam inside is separating.  It has developed an unsightly bulge.  Which is growing and throbbing like the worst kind of blister, a kind of B-movie horror.

I'll miss it when it blows.  I'll replace it when I can.  There is some irony here.  Tonight I am sleeping on very soft ground.  I could have made do without it.  But I thought I might need it as a floatation device.  I'm in a sort of a swamp.

Sort of swamp, hell.  I'm camped in a swamp.  It is fairly dry at the moment.  But it is still fairly spongy.  You will sink eight inches if you stand in one spot for too long.  I figured I'd be fine if I'm lying down.  I am shaped more or less like a snow shoe.  And if I sink, so be it.  It's been nice knowing you all.

I've just stepped out for my evening pee.  It is a trippy place.  With cypress trees, their roots exposed.  I hope the gators have gone.  And the snakes.  And the bears.  And the zombies.  There's a graveyard right next door.

Some twenty yards off.  It is higher up.  Between us is a retaining wall.  Maybe six feet high.  Which means there are coffins on the about same level as my head.

May we all rest in peace.  I am not afraid.  I have more worldly fears.  Of gators and snakes, my own future and old women with really long hair.  I get a little nervous around vending machines or whenever I hear a phone ring.  I used to be rather frightened of Christians but I'm getting used to them.

There are dozens of them in America, a lot more than I'd dared suspect.  There are also a lot more pot smokers and people who have been in jail.  I've even met pot-smoking Christian ex-cons.  Dozens of them, I swear.  I've only seen one gator and it was dead.  I have not seen a snake for weeks.  The bear I met was not very big.  The meanest dogs tend to be leashed.

I was just a bit slow leaving home this morning.  I was still on the road by eight.  It took me a while to find my way out of the woods.  That happens to me all the time.  But here I was camping in the middle town.  My woods were not very big.  A wrong turn and I'd wind up in someone's backyard.  They'd think hobos were falling from the sky.  And turn the dog or the hose on me.  Or call me hurtful names.

There was a hill between me and downtown.  I breakfasted at the hotel.  An ancient place, the Hotel Defuniak, a remnant from the Chautauqua days.  I was hoping for a Waffle House.  It was the only place open.

There were table cloths and fancy folk.  I caught my reflection on the way in the door.  And turned around to save them the trouble of sicking their bouncer on me.  But I was awfully hungry; I girded my loins, if you will excuse that expression.

It was a pretty place.  Their coffee was great.  Their food was beautiful.  And not too much more expensive than my usual fare, but it was not nearly as filling.  Fancy people don't eat biscuits and gravy.  Fancy people are cheating themselves.

I lingered a while in Defuniak Springs.  I ambled down to the lake.  Which sits more or less in the center of town.  You can see what it used to be.  Back when people were flocking there to study their Bibles and swim. 

It is still very nice, well-maintained.  There is a large ampitheatre.  And remnants of their Brotherhood Hall and one very impressive church.  The old station has been restored.  There's a path around the lake.  And a number of old Victorian homes which I was too lazy to see.

Instead I stopped at the book store to jaw at the people there.  They were John, an artist with long grey hair, and LIZ who runs the place.  Defuniak Springs is a place out of time.  It is home to artists and writers.  And rich businessmen who no longer care.  I quite liked the place.  It reminded me of Lake View, Iowa, but it is probably warmer in the winter.

I was well off my schedule by the time I left there.  I didn't give a damn.  It was a perfectly beautiful day, a good day to take your time.  My road took off up and over hills, through the scented pines.  Maintained, I guess, by a timber company.  They used to make turpentine here.  You could see bald spots between the trees.  Still it was awfully pleasant.  The road was smooth and traffic was light.  Most people prefer the freeway.

I stopped a few times to stare at the trees.  They went on forever.  And to enjoy the gladness in my heart.  That, I'm afraid, was finite.  I was getting hungry again.  I needed to get myself fed.

I hiked up the road to Ponce De Leon.  Google said nice things about Sally's.  A vast place in a pink quonset hut.  Sally's? though, was closed.  I wound up at a BBQ place just up the road.  I was too hungry to read a menu.  And ordered blind and wound up paying a little more than I meant to.

What did you have for lunch, James?  Meat.  Meat is expensive.

I had pie too and a tub of cole slaw.  A boy has got to keep fed.  But that will be my last BBQ for a while.  I look forward to being a vegetarian again.

Man, I was stuffed.  The weather had cooled.  I ambled on up the road.  In not the same glorious mood I had been in, but I still felt pretty good.  Florida is an awfully nice place.  I'm seeing some farms again.  I was in my tent after eighteen short miles.  I'll try to do better tomorrow.

AT A CONVENIENCE store I met a cop.  And his young deputy.  Who was, I swear, maybe ten years old and in full uniform.  With his radio handset pinned to his shoulder and a Bat utility belt.  Complete with sidearm.  It looked real.  "That's just sick," said the lady behind the counter.

DACHSHUNDS just hate me.  I don't know why, the evil little Nazis.  I have yet to meet a beagle who didn't greet me like a long lost friend.  I'm more afraid of the beagles; it breaks my heart to tell them they can't come along.

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS used to have separate sidewalks for white people and black people.  But now they all share.  There weren't really enough black people to justify the expense.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Fourteen, Chautauqua

Defuniak Springs, Florida was founded as a resort town.  People came from all over to attend lectures and swim in their little pond.  They don't come much now but it's holding up.  I am camped in the center of town.  Or not too far off.  Hobo style.  Nobody knows that I'm here.

That took some doing but I've got skills.  I'm awfully glad that I do.  I was afraid I might get stuck in a motel.  I hadn't meant to come quite this far.  There is not always room for my tent in a city.  Indoor living takes cash.  I'm only two days stinky.  I want to really get ripe before I spring for a shower.

I walked almost two dozen miles today.  I do not know what I was thinking.  I've been too long off the road.  I'm in no kind of shape.  I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

Hell, I'm sore now.  If that's okay.  I'm hesitant to mention these things.  You want Beauty and Magic, a new sense of God, from your walker across America.  It's a Spiritual Journey, you want me to say.  You don't want to hear about pooping.  Or blisters or Samsung or my odd aches and pains.  Tell us more about the sunsets.

There are sunsets, sure.  You have them where you are.  And I've gained an insight or two.  But I was not entirely thoughtless or vapid when I was living at home.

What makes this unique is the blisters, the bone-crushing pain in my feet.  The not knowing where I'll find my next food or water or where I will set up my tent.  The rest is a scenic holiday.  I've met some awful nice folks.  What wisdom I've gained is of no use to you.  Conjure your own philosophies.

That said, I did have a very nice day.  I was in pain most of the time.  My feet hurt like they did in the days before my arch supports.  I'm hesitant to mention them, as well.  They sound like an old man thing.  But they were for many thousands of miles the very saving of me.  Maybe they've worn out.  Or maybe I have.  Podiatry is a black art.

I was up early in a very nice spot.  I got a solid nine hours.  Or think I did.  I don't remember a thing from the time my head hit the pillow.  Or the balled up sweatshirt that takes its place.  I'm roughing it out here.

I had cookies for breakfast and again for lunch.  I'm afraid they are almost gone.  I'm chewing on a fruit cake now.  I wish every day were Christmas.

I walked in the ditch most of the day.  It was a nice ditch as ditches go.  The grass was short and the ground was smooth.  It kept me off of the highway.  Which has a nice shoulder but I was not in the mood to keep an eye out for traffic.  Sometimes it is nice just to walk without worrying about being murdered.

I must say they went quickly, these many long miles.  It is nice to be walking again.  There were low purple clouds.  The trees around here are covered with hanging moss.  The breeze blows warm and cold.  The sun came and went.  I did not put on my warm shirt.  I didn't want to get it all sweaty.  I knew I would need it tonight.

It is down in the thirties again.  Life ain't all sunshine and daisies.  But I am snug in my teddy bear pants.  I'm glad I did not send them home.  I've got a few more miles before I'm in the Florida that you like to see on TV.  The one with the palm trees and the bikini girls.  The one where the weather is fine.

There is a beach here.  The whole state is beach.  Florida is made out of sand.  So is Nebraska if you're keeping track, at least when you get up north.  It has made my tent just a little bit gritty.  I'm feeling it in my teeth.  But such is life, such is life.  I cannot complain.  It's the price I pay for adventure.

"DIBBITY dibbity dibbity-dibbity Pensacola.  Dibbity dibbity dibbity-dibbity eighty-two years old!"  -- spoken by a very old man at a gas station in a strong Florida accent.

CHEERS TO Miss Deborah who made my lunch.  She is a grandmother.  And younger than me and much better looking.  She got a running start.

"You must have broken some hearts," she told me.  I don't think I have.  If I did, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to.  If it helps, I'm lonesome as hell.

SOMEWHERE in these woods live the "goatf***ers."  There's a whole tribe of them.  They keep getting themselves hauled into court for loving their goats too much.  As long as it's consensual, I offered.  I have libertarian views.  No, I was told.  There was psychic damage.  "They really messed those goats up."

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Thirteen, Homecoming

Find me in my tent some small distance east of Crestview, Florida.  In amongst the pines and palmettos.  The Panhandle's made of sand.  It smells like springtime.  It smells like Japan.  It's raining and my windows are open.

I did not leave the Knightens' until two o'clock.  It may well have been two-thirty.  Before I found the courage to strap on my pack and head back out on the road.  And to say my goodbyes.  That's never fun.  I kept it as brief as I could.  I am in their debt.  They must realise that.  I'll get them back one of these days.

I am not sure the long rest did me much good.  The bones in my feet are all crunchy.  I probably gained eight or ten pounds.  I never did get much sleep.  But that will all take care of itself.  I am happy to be walking again.  I haven't got far yet to go.  Florida is much bigger than it looks on a map, but it does not intimidate me.

I will lighten my pack when I turn right and start heading south again.  I am carrying an extra five or more pounds of wooly cold weather gear.  I've been winter camping since I hit Iowa.  It is nice to be warm once again.  There will be one or two more cold days, but nothing like I faced before.  It's a stroll from here.  Alligators be damned.  Let them be afraid of me.

It is, as I said, raining some now.  It is meant to rain hard all night long.  But I'll be dry enough, if not perfectly so.  It ought to clear up in the morning.  The weather here is Hobbity.  It is always fairly humid.  There are eerie fogs and violent rains.  It is warm overall.  Magical, if it pleases you.  An odd kind of paradise.

I'll be less generous when I get rained on.  My opinions can change.  It is storming abroad but I'm warm in my tent.  It nice to be home again.  It might smell like tom cat but I don't mind.  Home is a matter of heart.

Tomorrow I'll put in an honest day.  I've got Christmas cookies to chew on.  And a penguin mascot and half a ton of the very finest fruit cake.  I don't know what to expect from the road before me.  I did glance at the map some time back.  But it doesn't matter.  I'm headed east.  Sooner or later I'll stop.

Goodnight, everyone.  Dream well.

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Day Two-Hundred-Twelve, Figgy Pudding

It is Christmas.  I'm eating Christmas cookies.  I'm packing my bags to go.  It's the least I can do for my dear friends the Knightens.  I've been here for more than a week.

Leave them wanting more, I say.  I think my timing is good.  They haven't started hating me yet.  No one has asked me to go.  But they've got to be thinking it.  They are nice people but a little James goes a long way.

I had every intention of spending Christmas alone.  I rather hoped it would rain.  And that I'd go hungry, perhaps suffer a fall.  I wanted the poetry.  I wanted to feel sorry for myself.  I wanted the martyrdom.  Sadness can be beautiful.  Cookies are good too.

There are Christmas trees with green frosting and sprinkles and baby pecan pies.  And two kinds of fudge and the little round cookies my own mother always makes.  And there's a tree and there's Christmas music.  I played football with the kids.  It was nice.  I was happy to be here.  Thank you, Dennis and Ronne.

They even gave me presents.  Ronne gave me new socks.  I love them.  How very thoughtful.  Dennis gave me a fruitcake that weighs almost nineteen pounds.  But I'll have the last laugh.  I'm going to eat it.  I'm going to like it, too.

I should have made better use of the downtime.  I should have updated my route map.   Or written a play, The Littlest Hobo, or kept my blog up-to-date.  Instead I got fat and played Internet scrabble.  "Neener" is not a word.  Not yet.  It will be.  I did spend time in church.  I know a lot of you were wishing I would.

I don't expect it to take.  That's just me.  I wish you well with your own Salvation.  It's been good of the Knightens to put up with me, heretic though I may be.  They are strong in their faith.  My demonic influence will not likely leave lasting harm.  But they'd have been justified in casting me out.  I am the turd in the pool.

They pray a lot, the Knightens do.  I'm an affront to God.  I never caught them praying for me, but I'm pretty sure they did.  Can't hurt.  I need all the help I can get.  This is not a hard walk.  But I'm getting lazy in my old age.  I've never been too energetic.

But I do have to walk.  I do not have any idea what's ahead.  Gators and snakes and poisonous toads.  Overzealous law enforcement.  I've lost my rhythm.  I'll be awkward out there.  It will take me two days to discover my stride.  But I'll figure it out.  I always do.

Until then, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas.  I'd be lost without you.  I should have sent cards.  I guess you know who you are.  You let me sleep on your sofa.  You bought me breakfast.  You let me play with your dog.  You were kind when I most needed it.  You read what I wrote.  You laughed at my jokes.  You made Walking Across America fun.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Eight and Two-Hundred-Nine and Two-Hundred-Ten and Two-Hundred-Eleven, Christmas Eve

Are you still at the Knightens?
Yes, I am.

Why don't you leave them alone?
I will.  Eventually.  I want to give them the full dose.

The "full dose"?
A full dose of James. 

When do you think you'll get back on the road?
I was thinking about Christmas Day.

Or the day after that?
Or the day after that.

You'd better not stay too much longer.
I won't.  I'll start walking again.  It is what I do.  It defines me.

You must be out of shape by now.
I was never in great shape.

Can you still walk?

Can you still carry a pack?
I guess.  I guess I have to.

What about sleeping outdoors?
You get used to it.  Outlaw camping is hard.  My tent never goes up quite where it belongs.  I'll have to relearn my hobo skills.

What are these hobo skills you're always bragging about?
Oh, my friend, there are many.  I do not know how to find food in a dumpster.  I've tended to specialise.  My gift is for finding places to camp, invisible but in plain sight.  Where never you would expect to find a tent.  Right underneath the Man's nose.

"The Man"?
Johnny Law.  Broderick Crawford.  The Sheriff.  The State Patrol.

Why do they care where you set up your tent?
I don't know that they do.  But I would just as soon not antagonise them.  They aren't always kind to hobos.

But you're not a hobo.
Not exactly.  I am homeless.  Ask the Knightens if you don't believe me.  The cops might be right to run me off, to slash my pack and drive me to the state line.

In order to protect property values?
In order to protect property values.

That ought to keep you up on your toes.
There are also great crocodiles.  And rock pythons and man-eating spiders and big old poisonous toads.  Walking across Florida won't be easy. 

Is that why you're dragging your feet?
Not consciously, at any rate.  I am trying to fix my computer.

What do you need a computer for?  Look at Juan Ponce de León.
Who's that?

He was a Spanish explorer.  He marched all over Florida back when it was just swamps.
And he survived?

Well, no.  He was felled by a poison dart.
Do you think that might happen to me?

You are more likely to get shot. 
Who would want to shoot me?

I don't know.  All kinds of people.  Your neuroses are not always cute.
Some of them are.

Some of them, sure.  But you're 42.  It's time you had life figured out.
I'm doing my best.

That's what makes it so sad.  Most people know without trying.
Do they?

Well, not really.  I'm sorry I brought it up.
That's fine.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Days Two-Hundred-Seven, Frequently Asked Questions

Won't you introduce yourself.
Certainly!  I am James Harry Pierce.  I am delighted to meet all of you.  Gosh, what a good looking crowd.

Thank you.
The pleasure is mine.

What are you doing out here?
I am Walking Across America.

I thought it might be fun. 

Is it?
Pretty fun, I guess.  It has been an adventure.  For a while I had stomach muscles.  You can't see them any more.

Oh, what happened to them?
I have not been walking.  I am putting on weight.  I am stranded in Crestview, Florida. 

Gosh!  That must be awful!
Not, really.  It's not so bad.  The Knightens have been awfully kind.  They have pie and a Christmas tree.   Ronne has been baking cookies.

Why do they put up with you?
I don't know.  They are my friends.  I guess they're just really nice people. 

You've been there a week.  It's not a big house.  They must be getting sick of you. 
I try not to take up too much space.  I'm hoping they'll forget I'm here.  But I do weigh close to 200-pounds.  I worry that I'm in the way.

Of course you're in the way, idiot.  Why don't you get back on the road?
I'm still waiting for my new computer.

How far have you come?
I don't know.  Maybe three-thousand miles.  

Where and when did you start?
In Seattle.  Tacoma, in fact.  At the very end of May. 

And where are you headed?
I don't know.

And what will you do when you get there?
I'll meet a nice girl.  We'll settle down.  We'll have a couple of kids. 

Who'd marry you?
I don't know.  Someone special.  I have not met her yet.

And if you don't find her? 
I'll keep on looking.

Don't you have a job to get back to?  I thought you were on sabbatical.
I don't even know what that means.

Get a job.
Doing what?

How the hell am I supposed to know?
You're right.  Thanks, though, for trying.

What are you, some kind of moron?
Call me a foolish optimist. You're not going to hurt my feelings.  I'm all about Positive Energy.  I'm just here for the hugs.

You'd better not try to hug me, weirdo. I'll punch you on your nose.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Six, Manifesto

I am not Kwai Chang Caine.  Far too few of us are.  He was a walker, just like me.  I don't know how he passed the time.  He'd blow on his flute.  He'd meditate.  He'd be at one with the Whole.  I can't do that.  Different backgrounds.  I walk a different way.
I don't meditate.  I don't know how.  I'll zone once in a while.  Just kind of fade out, get lost in my thoughts.  Sometimes I hear good rock and roll.  Sometimes I sing.  I do little dances when there are no cars around.  I see beauty in nature.  That's nothing new.  It has been there all along.
I might walk to discover America, but I've always known it was there.  I've met some new states, but few surprises.  America is not exotic.  Not to me.  I was born and raised here.  I've seen most of it on TV.
I might walk to encounter Interesting People.  There have been one or two.  But I don't have much time to bond with them.  I'm the one Just Passing Through. 
Kwai Chang Caine helped people in need.  Kwai Chang Caine stuck around.  Just long enough to see justice done.  He kicked people in the head.  And then he moved on.  Humbly.  The world a better place.
I like that idea.  Helping people.  Moving from town to town.  Leaving a trail of broken hearts.  Justice my one true love.  But it hasn't come up.  No one's asked me for help.  Mostly people help me.  And I don't know kung-fu.  I'm not a fighter.  I don't know what use I would be.

And I haven't broken any hearts.  I have left something of a trail.  With bits and pieces of my own heart.  Just like Hansel and Gretel.  To find my way home.  Or somewhere as good.  I suspect they've been eaten by crows.
Kwai Chang Caine too dispensed wisdom.  I think I've done some of that.  And I've got plenty more if you'd care to hear it.  One hates to overdo that sort of thing.  There a danger of appearing pompous.  My humility is strong but it's thin.
I've had no real epiphanies.  I have discovered very few truths.  But I did not start this walk wholly ignorant.  I have lived on this planet before.  I've seen mountains and prairies.  I have seen the sun set.  I know what the sea smells like.  I have been across the Rockies dozens of times.  I have lived in Iowa.
None of this is new to me.  All that has changed is the walking.  It's a different perspective but not vastly so.  Your old life in super slow motion.  I've had time to reflect.  I've learned a few things.  I've decided to be more cheerful.  I've had blisters and I've had to poop.  That's all part of the ride.
I've had problems with my Samsung computer.  Which, by the way, sucks.  They have me in a post-modernist hell, where I blog about my means of blogging.  What if Shakespeare had stopped every few lines to bemoan the state of his quill.
Now I ain't Shakespeare.  Not even close.  I've got to be at least a head taller.  With more rugged features and a much better build.  I have luxuriant hair.  And he was a bit more prolific; he just churned it out.  We have one or two things in common.  But nothing that would reflect well on either of us.  It's best to let sleeping dogs lie.
There've been others before me.  Garfunkel walked.  He is something of a poet.  Gandhi walked for Social Justice.  This walk might make you think of God.  Or greatness.  Or goodness.  Or something profound.  I think about sandwiches.
But I do not do it artlessly.  I'm entertaining if nothing else.  I might see the world from a low angle but I see it clearly enough. 
I am Walking Across America.  It's easier than you think.  You could do it if you wanted to.  Don't worry about the specifics.  They work themselves out, sooner or later.  Invest in some very nice socks.
Are you in good physical condition?  Do you always see the bright side?  Do you adapt well to new situations?  Are you good at making new friends?  Are you determined, organised?  Do you work and play well with others?  Can you find poetry in a pile of dung?  Are you at one with the universe?  Do you like sleeping in a tent?
Then you don't need to Walk Across America.  You'd be silly to waste the time.  And the money.  And your deep sense of self.  I have no doubt that it was hard won.  Save the walking for those of us that do not have the first clue.  And are prepared to admit it.  And will never pretend to have discovered anything new.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Days Two-Hundred-Four and Two-Hundred-Five, Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild

Saturday.  And Sunday.  In the middle of December.  I think Christmas is one week away.  I am in Florida.  With only the fainest recollection of how I got here.  I have never known why.  You make bad decisions when you're nineteen years old.  One thing leads to another.

I had occasion to review all my photos.  I uploaded them for safekeeping.  I remember a hilltop in Montana.  I do not remember where.  But I can look it up.  I've been taking notes.  It was very warm up there.  High above the Yellowstone.  I was on a dirt road.  Alone.  I ate raisins.  The sweet made me sick.  I could still see mountains.

I found some shade beside a corral.  There were ants everywhere.  I worried I might have taken a wrong turn and I was running low on water.  There were no towns.  The Interstate was somewhere beyond the next ridge.  Running parallel.  Damn it was hot.

And now I'm here in Florida.  I remember, I think, every step.  Every campsite.  Every truckstop.  Every bacon cheeseburger.  Early on I had a few beers.  Six months ago.  When I was young and yet innocent of the road.

There isn't a whole lot of science to this.  I wake up and I walk.  And eat a great deal.  Sometimes I sleep.  I'm much better at it now.  My bumbling efforts in the Cascades embarrass me terribly.  I panicked when I got east of Billings.  It was all those sun-bleached bones.  I crossed the Ohio on the wrong bridge.  I took some wrong turns in Missouri.

I didn't have the right attitude.  I was too often lacking pep.  I wish I could go back in time.  I've learned a lot since then. 

Hell, I wish I could do it all over.  I do not mean just the walk.  Give me another shot at my twenties.  Let me be nineteen again.  I'd do better this time, I would.  I would try harder.  I would settle down.  Fewer people would get hurt. 

Metaphor.  Any very long walk is a picture of Life Itself.  You are born in ignorance.  Your feet hurt a bit.  Finally you are eaten by gators.  What's it all mean?  Hell if I know.  What wisdom you get comes too late.

I do have miles yet to go.  I'll get back on the road again.  With a feeling of aimlessness I have not had for some time.  I was in Nebraska when I first heard from Dennis.  I have been pointed towards Crestview ever since.  I meant to stop by.  I thought I'd say hi.  I did not think I'd be living here.

Nor did he, I rather suspect.  Good deeds do not go unpunished.  He fed a stray dog and it followed him home.  It installed itself in his guest room.  Five minutes ago it raided his fridge.  I found pizza and pie.  The last piece of each.  I ate them both.  I am putting hospitality to the test.

Poor Knightens.  They have been kind to me.  What will become of them when I'm gone?  And where will I go?  I've lost focus.  I can feel myself getting fat.  And afraid.  It's not just gators, it's pigs.  They've also got poisonous spiders.  And outsized constrictors and God knows what else.  Florida.  Wish me luck.

Yesterday I helped put up the tree.  You see it pictured above.  It is small and lopsided.  It is covered in penguins.  It does rather warm my heart.  Today again I attended church.  That's three Sundays in a row.  I'm ready to have my sins forgiven.  I don't want to know the details.  Just let me know when it's done.  I'll take it from there.  I'll try not to let you down.

That is the thing about staying with Christians.  They're always so nice to me.  It seems the least I can do is be Born Again.  I know it would make them happy.  But I'm not feeling it.  I wish I were.  I could do with a little Salvation.  I did offer to rake their yard.  They said their yard was fine.

Church again.  In their living room.  The sermon ran a little long.  But this week we got to sing Christmas songs.  That was a lot more fun.  And I got to play football with four little kids, and four more medium-sized ones.  I am a born uncle.  Kids love me.  I am a hero to children.

"WHERE DO YOU POOP?"  An excellent question.  And this from a five-year-old boy.  There are too few of us of have what it takes to Walk Across America.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Three, Gentle Captivity

Only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty's sake, and invincible determination, may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

Or so said Mark Twain. He favored white suits. His hair was often untidy. None of his books were very good. He was once my favorite writer.

I'm locked in place. I cannot go anywhere. I am at the mercy, such as it is, of the Samsung Corporation. And their Verizon minions. And Federal Express. This is their holiday season.

So I can but hope they make time for me. It would make a good Christmas story. Alone and cold. In Florida. Bound by a soulless corporation. The Littlest Hobo. It might make you cry, but there'll be a laugh or two. It will change your life. You will be made whole. In the filmed version I'll play myself.

I remain installed at the Knightens. They have been awfully kind. And are doing their best to keep me well fed. I would just as soon be walking. And less of a nuisance to anyone. I'm not really fit for polite company. My clothes are dirty. My manner is coarse. I am given to ungodly oaths. I pee a lot. I keep odd hours. I have a peculiar smell.

I don't know how very long I'll be here. It will be a few days more yet. Then I'll be ready to finish my trip. I've been dragging my feet since Kentucky. That's when my computer went south. It upset my rhythm. It has slowed my steps. I have to get the thing fixed.

Or die trying.

When this tree falls, it will make a sound.   My light won't hide under a bushel.   I've got adventures to publicise.  I've got people along for the ride.  I've got gators to wrassle and snakes to braid.  I've still got miles to go. It's drama you want.  You're not paying me to sit around.

But sit I do.  Bear with me.  I'm doing what little I can.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Two, Insofar as I Remember It

It is now the morning of Day 203.  I should have typed this up last night.  But you get to talking.  I'm again at the Knightens'.  In beautiful Crestview, Florida.

I spend all my weekends here.  This is my third time here.  But I earned it this time.  They did not come and get me.  I got here under my own steam.  It's nice to be back.  I do pity them.   A little James goes a long way.

Which is not to say that I'm so awful, but even if I didn't stink.  I am big and clumsy and in the way.  I hold contrary opinions.  I talk a lot.  I eat all their food.  I keep unusual hours.  I snore.  I know it is but a matter of time before I spill something on their couch.  Or break something or clog their drains with clumps of hippie hair.

Bless their kind hospitality.  Reward their forgiving nature.  The Knightens have been the saving of me.  The Knightens have dragged me to church.  The Knightens have lent me their street address, which I need to fix my computer.

They've been a grand help.  What's in it for them?  Perhaps I will make them stronger.  I'm a Biblical plague, a minor one.  I'm one of life's many trials.  I have been sent to Test Their Faith.  I'm a boil in corporeal form.

Which is not what I aspire to be.  I want to be a Force for Good.  A radiant source of sweetness and light.  I'm happiest when I'm smiling.  Which I'm doing more often in my old age.  It may be this Florida weather. 

There have been warm days since Winter hit.  Tupelo was nice.  But it is always the sun doing most of the work.  The air itself remains cold.  But it's summer here.  It is this week.  There are summery smells in the air.  Scents remembered.  Places I've been.  Kyushu.  Dubuque, Iowa.

I put in close to two-dozen miles.  That's a respectable day.  I woke up early.  That's the key.  I woke up too close to the road.  It was dark; I did not want to explore the woods.  There might have been gators back there.  Or hogs or snakes or wild dogs.  I was in a thoughtful mood.  I had to pack up before I was noticed.  I think I was in someone's yard.

The Panhandle.  Lower Alabama.  I like The Florida Alps.  My own coinage.  There are hills here.  Which is odd because everything's flat.  Everything.  Lawns.  Forests.  Farms.  The land has no features.  Not a bump, not a furrow.  Just a whole lot of flat.  Except, of course, for the hills.

Which I could manage.  They ain't the Cascades.  I've been uphill for days.  In a ditch by a road.  They keep it well mowed.  I'm always on the lookout for gators.  You cannot see them; that's how you know they're there.  They are prehistoric killing machines.  Their favorite food is James.

It does put a little bounce in my stride, that spike of adrenaline.  The one our cave ancestors used to flee the dinosaurs.  And beard the mighty mastodon.  Not a lot has changed.  It's still Man vs. Nature.  I don't care who wins.  I don't know whose side I'm on.

May the best man win and I hope it don't hurt.  That is my happy motto.  I'd just as soon not be murdered by snakes, but if it happens it happens.  I don't question Fate.  I shun it.  I am free.  I am off  the Grid.

I found down the road the city of Holt.  There I had a lovely breakfast.  At Uncle Something-or-Other's Country Buffet.  They had biscuits and gravy.  And a Christmas tree hung with ketchup and mustard in little plastic packs.  And plastic forks and a hunting cap.  A Redneck Christmas Tree, it was called.  And it was lovely.  I would have used condoms.  They come in all colors these days.

My pack was rather bothering me.  I have two or three tender toes.  I was feeling fat and unattractive because I'd eaten too much candy.  But good weather is good for a lot.  I did not feel the walk.  I was sweating like a monkey but that was OK.  Like I said, it was warm.

In Milligan at a gas station I met a man called Vaughn.  Pulling a load on a bicycle.  The guys with the trailers aren't bad.  Turns out he's involved in a race.  From Key West to San Diego.  Which is a good haul.  They plan to do it in something like fourteen days.  That's more than two-hundred miles a day.  He's a superhero.

It's a race for special forces guys.  Vaughn is young but retired.  From the British army.  Now he lives here.  I guess that makes him SAS.  But that's a secret.  He seemed real nice.  I'm sure glad he's on our side.  Big fellow.  Big enough to look good in a bicycle jersey.

They are in most cases emasculating.

Let's wish him luck.  I hope he wins.  It is all in good fun.  If it were a war I would cheer for an American.  War is so polarising.

I ambled on into Crestview and to a Verizon shop.  Where we discussed some things.  Promises were made.  My optimism is gone.  But you give it a shot.  What more can you do.  Sometimes Verizon just sucks.

They're real nice, don't get me wrong.  I've only met one or two jerks.  The rest have been really nice to me.  And I've met hundreds of them.  But I'd like to move on.  I've got places to go.  I've got gators to feed.

It was on up the road to the Knighten's house.  They've taken me in once again.  And here I sit at Verizon's whim.  Bless them for their good intentions.

GATOR'S FAVORITE FOOD?  Marshmallows.  You heard it here first.

IF I WERE a big muscle man, I wouldn't wear a cycling jersey.  I wouldn't even wear a shirt.  I'd just go around flexing at people.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-One, House Guests and Fish

I didn't leave home until two maybe three.  I had finished my typing by noon.  It gets dark at five.  I didn't get far.  You do the best that you can.

It took me an hour to get on my socks.  I had to repack my bag.  And explain it all to Rebel the Dog.  He's come to look up to me.  To regard me as a friend and a brother.  It was hard to say goodbye.

But someone has got to do the walking.  I made it maybe eight miles.  And put up my tent some time after dark.  I will almost surely be eaten.  By cats or dogs or wild pigs.  By bears or crocodiles.  But I am not afraid.  I'm feeling fine.  I welcome my forest brothers.

I can give them lemon drops.  I stocked up at the store.  I had too a Moon Pie but I ate that.  It was not very good.  Good enough for a gator I guess.  Good enough for a pig.

Anyway, I'm sleepy.  Crestview is some distance off.  We'll make tomorrow a proper long day.  We'll let you know how it goes.

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Day Two-Hundred, The Beholder

Find me still at the Massey's house, the morning of Day 201.  It is early yet.  I'll get back on the road.  I know what's expected of me.  This ain't all about chilling out, drinking wine with the World's Most Beautiful People.

The Masseys, I mean.  They're spectacular.  They're Brad and Angelina.  They are not fooling anyone by keeping an ugly dog.  Or with the odd house guest who has seen better days, and very few of them at that.

It would be easier if they weren't so nice.  Everything's casual here.  They have kept me flattered and fed.  I have fallen in love with Miss Stacy.  And tried to convince her to walk off with me.  All she could do was laugh. 

Not at all derisively.  Not so very much so.  She is content to stay with her husband.  Lee.  Not a bad guy.  If you like that tall, muscular, square-jawed, Hollywood handsome, strong-but-sensitive type.  Some chicks do.  To each her own.  I can take him or leave him.

But I'll overcome my jealousy.  I am happy to call him a friend.  He has had by now had time to get used to men falling in Love with his wife.  And women.  It happens everywhere they go.  He's learned to take it in stride.  So long as everyone's polite about it.  It enhances his victory.

I would like to tell you more about Lee.  I think he should tell his own story.  He's been famous twice.  He's been up he's been down.  He has been persecuted.  He has been a folk hero.  He's been targeted by Federal agencies. 

Successfully.  They're good at their jobs.  They are not really money well spent.  Lee isn't bothering anyone.  He has always been pleasant to me.  And has taken me in and treated me like a brother. Better still, an honored guest.

I had not really planned to stop here.  I thought I'd swing by and say hi.  The Masseys had found me somewhere online when I was just down the road from their house.  There are no co-incidents in Life.  Some Greater Force drew me here.  And will draw me away.  Sooner or later.  I have been side-tracked before.  In Elk, Washington and Arlee, Montana.  In small town Iowa.  In roadside saloons and baseball games in Fredericktown, Missouri.  I've been spending most of my weekends at church.  I change states every three weeks.  It turns you around.  I never know where I am.  Looking back, I never have.

The Masseys of course are off at work.  No lazy hippies, them.  I am left alone with Rebel, the world's ugliest dog.  As it turns out I've fallen in love with him too.  He is an American bull dog.  With papers, no less.  There's no intelligence test.  He reminds me of my dead friend Dozer.  Who was a genius compared to this hound.  I like him anyway.

He is nine months old.  He cannot be trusted.  He spends his days in a big cage.  But since I'm here to watch him I let him out.  He is a companionable creature.  A bit jowly.  His forehead is creased as if it's been struck with an axe.  He weighs 80 lbs. before dinner.  He has got at least forty to grow.

He's a coward.  He has an underbite.  He looks like Winston Churchill.  You would not blink if you saw him with a big old cigar in his mouth.

Or God knows what else.  He is just a dog.  He's eaten all kinds of things.  He'd eat the squirrels if he could catch them.  They are too clever for him.

Crestview, Florida is just up the road, "a coon-scoot, as the crow flies."  Maybe twenty, twenty-five miles off if I go overland.  Through swamps and over crocodiles.  I have never seen so many cops.  And prisons and probation offices.  And inmates picking up litter.  Under guard at the side of the road.  There but for the Grace of God.

They have none of them much noticed me.  I have not yet been interviewed.  Or cuffed or beaten or locked in a car.  Or menaced with pistol and taser.  Or mirrored sunglasses or close trimmed moustache.  It is just a matter of time.  The number one industry in the Panhandle seems to be convict labor.

A little hard work ain't going to kill me.  It would be a blow to my pride.  Brought down low.  Dehumanised.  Made to wear prison stripes.  Cool Hand Luke.  Brubaker.  Hardcastle and McCormick.  Smokey and the Bandit.  The Rockford Files.  Oscar Wilde. Scared Straight.

There is a hiking path for some miles.  How many, I cannot be sure.  It runs by the road but it makes sense to people who see you hiking there.  And friend Friar Dennis has washed my hat.  He did it out of disgust.  It was stinking up his house and car.  I can see how it might.

So I look less like a hobo than I once did.  I should probably chop off my beard.  This isn't the weather for facial hair.  It is all but Summer outside.  In the afternoons at any rate.  The mornings can be a bit cold.  It does rain some.  There are winds and fog.  Crestview is "the ice-box of Florida."

It's all relative you understand.  The Truth almost always is.  Anyone who's ever used an adjective is pushing his own point-of-view.  She's rich.  She's pretty.  I'm hungry.  We're Free.  What is in it for me.

So cold in Florida is not awfully bad.  I have other concerns.  Twice Verizon has promised to send me a replacement for my computer.  And twice they have failed.  I am less upset than I have.  I've had places to plug in.  But it was Samsung that started this stutter step when I was still in Kentucky. 

Battery problems.  They have upset my pace.  They have taken my mind of my journey.  They're the Gargamel in this magical forest.  They Will Get Me If It's the Last Thing They Do.

But I stay cheerful.  It's all an act.  There are worse things I could pretend.  I could act all tough.  I could deny my fear.  I could act like I know all the answers.  Instead I'd just as soon bumble along.  You do my lying for me.

Lee promised to make me famous.  We'd had a few drinks at the time.  But that won't cost him his agent's commission.  I could do with a little fame.  I know I'm ill-suited to anonymousness.  Let's see how the other half lives.

Don't think I'll forget you.  I'll stay my humble self.  I do have some debts to repay.  But for the most part I will be the same old James.  Only taller.  And better looking.

I don't know if I have a photo of the Masseys.  I know I tried several times.  But my camera shakes.  They are too beautiful.  I tremble at their majesty.

They have too a second dog.  Their first dog, if you prefer.  A very old man, an Irish wolf hound with some Airedal for luck.  He has a wise and thoughtful face.  He looks just a little bit sad.  And as if he has better things to do than pose for silly pictures.

It is coming up on twelve-thirty.  I guess I had better ship out.  To put a dent in this Crestview run.  To start living life in my tent.

If I found a way to hang back a while the Masseys would take me fishing.  I want to go fishing.  I like eating fish.  I'm sure there'd be plenty to drink.  But a boy's got to walk, in spite of himself.  America won't walk itself.

THANK-YOU Stac and thank you Lee.  Love to both of your hounds.  Thank you much for keeping me fed.  And watered.  And fertilised.

I'VE DONE my typing.  There is nothing now to stop me from heading out.  And yet I'm still here.  It's magical.  Inertia is a double-edged blade.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Ninety-Nine, Garfunkel

Find me on the morning of the very next day, sitting in someone's kitchen.  The good Masseys, if their name must be known.  They are Stac and Lee.  And they are off; they had business to do.  I am alone with the dogs.  One ugly, one thoughtful.  Both with good hearts.  Both of an impressive size.

Yesterday seems miles away.  It has faded some in my mind.  Diluted by vodka and a good many beers.  I have some memory of wine.  The Masseys ain't Baptists.  They are on a Path.  You might call it the Road to Perdition.  But you would be wrong.  Lighten up some.  We were having a party.

In celebration of what I don't know.  Let's call it Life in general.  And all that is good.  And friendship.  And fun.  Throw in some philosophy.  And a gentle understanding of those dark forces who don't dig what we're all about.

We forgive you.  Forgive us.

I do believe my innards have suffered some.  I'm old for this revelry.  But I have all but recovered.  I'll be better still if I get around to walking.

The Masseys were fine.  I'd be inclined to resent them if they weren't so awfully kind.  Newlyweds, more or less.  They are young and disgustingly deep in Love.  And have got to be the most attractive couple that I have ever seen.  Movie star good looks.  The both of them.  And yet they turned out OK.  God knows what I'd do with that kind of burden.  I'd wind up hurting myself.

They found me through Ross, a friend of mine.  I met him in India.  He's a prophet, a scholar, a philosopher priest.  He is mad as a hatter.  The good ones all are, in my opinion.  I must cultivate that side of my nature.

And he has our own best interest at heart.  That's one way to piss them off.  The Powers that Be.  They keep locking him up.  Ross keeps getting free.  He's a Seeker of Truth.  He's made a science of it.  No doubt he's being watched.

As am I, I hope.  I thrive on attention.  It makes me feel less alone.  We are, after all, in this together.  Christ made some pretty good points.  About Love and Forgiveness and That Sort of Thing.  I won't paraphrase that good man.  It's all written down somewhere or other.  You can read it yourself if you'd like.

Jesus was a walker, you know.  So was Martin Luther King.  And good Gandhi.  And Art Garfunkel.  Only Art had proper shoes.  And he was the only one they didn't lock up, the only one they didn't murder.  Not yet, at any rate.  He really ought to keep his head down.

They were all after the Beautiful.  Call it Truth if you must.  And I'm not sure you have to walk to find it.  I only hope walking helps.  But I'm on my slow crawl through Florida.  I'm reaching the end of the line.  If All Will Be Revealed to Me, I wish it would hurry up.

I guess I have learned a couple of things. There is Power in Positive Thought.  And people aren't bad, most of them.  I'd suspected them for the longest time. 

I've learned Fear is something you've got to get used to.  It's not going away.  Most people deny it or call it mere worry.  But we're all terrified.  Except Friar Dennis.  He's an odd case.  He is a walker too.

We dropped him at work yesterday morning.  Kind Ronné drove me down the road.  To the far side of Pace, Florida where they'd picked me up some days before.  So I could pick up where I had left off.  It felt good to be walking again.  In the suburbs this time.  Down that same old road which defines modern America. 

It is the walking I was long accustomed to, on sidewalks and through parking lots.  Suburban walking.  Vastly different than what ai found in the Big Sky State.  I'm not sure I prefer one to the other.  Time goes by faster in town.  I walked a good dozen miles or so without noticing the effort.  There was plenty to look at.  Traffic to dodge.  It takes you out of yourself.  Sometimes in Montana there was nothing to see but the emptiness of my own heart.

It worried me though.  I was starting to wonder if Florida was not just one big suburb.  But past the surprisingly charming town of Milton I found myself in the country again.  With a hiking trail running alongside the road.  It is nice to get out of the gutter.  It is the original Spanish Trail, maybe the first highway in America.  Ponce de León no doubt walked on it, at least until he got old.

It took me right to the Massey's house.  Call it a coincidence if you want.  They only stumbled across my blog a very few days ago.  And extended to me their warm invitation.  They fed me and liquored me up.  Bless their gentle hearts.  It is well past noon and damned if I'm not still here.

I'll get back on the road eventually.  Probably.  I'm almost certain. 

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Ninety-Eight, Atheism

I spent all day Sunday in church.  God knows what you were up to.  No good, no doubt.   You are not without hope, but the time has come to repent.


Church happens in the Knighten's livingroom.  It wasn't a very long walk.  From my soft bed.  I had to go there.  It was between me and the kitchen.  Which was full of all kinds of good.  Temptation, you may want to call it.  And a little churching ain't going to kill me.  It was more interesting than you'd guess.

For that we have to credit Dennis.  Deacon Dennis, if you prefer.  I have spoken for "Friar Dennis" but it has yet to catch on.  I have mentioned that the man is a lunatic.  I mean that in the nicest way.  He has got to be the most irreverent preacher I have ever seen at work.

It works.  He knows who he's talking to.  A lot of them he met in jail.  None of them are too awfully rich.  There are some problems there.  The odd zombie reference in the middle of a sermon keeps us all paying attention.

More or less.

I didn't much care for the singing part.  To know me is to know that I'm shy.  Unless you pour some liquor in me.  That did not seem the right way to go.  Dennis says we should forget ourselves.  He says it should be about God.  Nice theory.  Still I ain't going to sing.  I only hope God understands.

After church we ate some more.  Than I went out and played with the kids.  Who kicked and clawed and chewed on me.  What little treasures they are.  I got their ball stuck up in a tree.  As far as I know it's still there.

Eventually everyone went home.  That left me to talk with the Knightens.  Which I rather enjoy.  They are talkers too.  I've learned all about the Air Force and God. And criminal justice and ghetto life.  We do find plenty to say.  Fellowship, they may want to call it.  For me it was a pretty good day.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Ninety-Seven, Stuck in the Middle

My campsite wasn't as good as I thought it was.  I did find it in the dark.  And it was awfully good, don't get me wrong.  Cozy and clever and safe.  My own tent-sized oasis, apart from the world.  Invisible to all mankind.  But it was not, as I thought, in the midst of a city.  It was in the middle of nowhere.

On a ridge overlooking Interstate 10 where it crosses my Highway 90.  And there was a gas station just up the road.  I do like to have my coffee.  But did not need it as much as I might.  I had slept until almost eight o'clock.  It is my custom to wake up with the rising sun.  The sun did not rise today.

Or not until mid-afternoon.  I would have preferred that it had.  Forget the palm-tree propaganda.  Florida can get awfully cold.

I breakfasted at that gas station.  It has its own Subway shop.  And their breakfast sandwiches are not in fact the very worst thing they produce.  Still I feel hypocritical.  I am against Subway in theory.  I resent what they've done to the American Sandwich,  They've driven more deserving shops out of business.  And orphaned a whole generation, who will never know just what a sandwich can be.


I was back on the road at God knows what time.  No sun in the sky gave a clue.  And soon found myself on that same old road.  The one you see in every town.  This one took me north of Pensacola.  I hear that's a pretty big town.  But all I saw were muffler shops, fast food and carpet warehouses.  The odd Walmart, some auto parts stores.  One or two low-rent attorneys.  Used and new cars, video rentals.  Hardware and mini-malls.

It made for a physically easy walk.  I was on pavement most of the time.  Or on close-cropped grass or in parking lots.  It did get a bit hard on my nerves.  You have to keep your eyes open with that many cars about.  Three almost killed me.  Two were uniformed cops.

Now I like donuts as much as the next guy.  More, if the truth must be known.  And I know they're best fresh.  You want to get there before all the good ones are gone.
But at what cost.  The signal was mine.  They were taking illegal right turns.  If it gets to where you're murdering pedestrians, I tell you, you have a problem.  Scrape that monkey off your back.  Gnaw on some carrot sticks.  Do a sit-up or two and obey the laws you have sworn to uphold.

Seriously.  Shame on you, you miserable fried-dough junkies.  Do we really want to live in a world where the cops run people down?  Least of all blameless pedestrians.  I never hurt anyone.  I have a good heart.  I do mean well.  I am growing more humble by the day.

I gave them the finger.  It's my Constitutional right.  I did it subtly.  There was no need to burden these donut fiends with my deep need for self-expression.  We can review the First Amendment when they've mastered the traffic laws.

I was a man on a mission of sorts.  I had to hit the Verizon shop.  Good intentions and my own sad carelessness had cost me my charger cable.  Thirty bucks.  Plus tax.  For eighty-nine cents worth of plastic and three feet of wire.  I'm no opponent of capitalism.  But let us leave room for decency.  How much profit is enough.  Pirates.  Shame on them, too.  They're the Subway of equitable computer parts pricing.

While I was there I had them check on the replacement device I'm expecting.  "We have no record of that," said they.  I began that process anew.  And if all goes well I'll be back online by some time Tuesday.  Or so.

I was out of there by noon or so.  I had another bay to cross.  A swamp, really, where a number of rivers empty themselves into the gulf.  I worried there would be more bridges.  It was in fact mostly causeway.  And it had by then developed into a fairly beautiful day.

Windy, though.  Blowing right in my face.  It did not upset my mood.  It was pretty out there.  I kept fairly safe.  I maintained a very quick pace.  I was determined to get to Pace, Florida before meeting the Knightens again.

You may remember them as the religious fanatics who abducted me last weekend.  They gave me their gracious permission to have my new computer sent to them.  I had been hoping to pick it up.  Of course it has not arrived.  But they did not rescind their invitation to spend the weekend with them.  In fact they came and picked me up.  I am closer but it's still a drive.  And they stuffed me full of steak and beans and prayed for my damaged soul.

So here I am in a soft bed.  I'll likely stay Sunday night too.  Too enjoy their very good company and to avoid the Florida cold.  Then it's back on the road for a day or two.  Then I'll be back here again.  By which time they will likely be sick of me.  They've brought this bad luck on themselves.  You don't want to feed stray dogs and hobos.  You don't want to laugh at their jokes.  You'll have the damnedest time getting rid of them, despite their very best intentions.

SPEAKING OF CLOWNS, I passed a car full of Shriners dressed up in their Sunday best.  I smiled and waved; what else can you do.  They looked at me with contempt.  Dissed by clowns.  That's a new low.  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

CHANCIES, I think it was called.  "Chancy's

I PASSED A NUMBER of cyclists.  It's thin but it suggests warmer weather.  Stuck up jerks.  They still aren't saying hi.  It hurts less than it once did.  Let us pity those people with no Love for James.  I'm a good egg.  The loss is theirs.

CHEERS to the lovely Mrs. Marne Smith.  She made my teddy bear pants.  And pieced together the above photo.  Genius.  I almost cried.

"Wild hogs is more dangerous than gators, and they's a lot more of them.  They'll eat ya."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Ninety-Six, Florida!

Genius.  There's no better way to describe it.  I'm at a new level of hobo skills.  A flat patch of ground, thick in the city.  Invisible even from space.  Under a warming streetlight, no less.  I ought to get a prize.  Or a gold-plated medal.  Or a certified check.  I ought to teach a class.  For new hobos just starting out.  I could build a cabin up here.

Sure I drew blood climbing in.  I don't know how I'll get out.  And traffic is loud.  I'm overlooking a freeway but that only makes it better.  Thousands of people driving by without the first clue that I'm here.


Yet, as too often happens these days, I did not get much walking in.  It would be tempting, and not unjust, to blame the Samsung corp.  They conspire against me.  They blister my feet.  They give me indigestion.  They make me spend too much money on pie.  They cover my tent with ice.

I know our men had it rough at Valley Forge.  Winters in Korea were no fun.  But those were brave soldiers; I'm a poet at heart.  I'm not cut out for discomfort.  I was meant to winter in front of a fire, sipping cocoa and warming my toes.

I got plenty wet walking back to the road.  I had to walk through some very tall grass.  Which was wet with melted frost and alive with crocodiles.  And far ain'ts and pythons and possums and such.  I did not pick my way through.  I ran across as fast as I could and wound up soaked to the shorts.

But remained cheerful.  I generate heat.  I am a passionate man.  My shorts were dry by the time I got to the State Line gas station.  Three or four miles up the road.  I was glad it was there.  But not very.  I'd have preferred a cafe.  I was in no mood for heat-lamp biscuits.

Happy Day.  I'll tell you a secret about the State Line. They cook up real food there.

"This is Alabama," they explained.  They try to keep their men fed. 

I had the best breakfast I've had in months.  It was better than Waffle House.  Or as good, at any rate, and a very nice surprise.  The eggs were great.  I think they squeeze them from chickens of their very own.  The nice lady there called everyone Honey.  She called me Sweet Pea.

Which was all I want from my breakfast place.  There were lots of nice people to talk to.  A few too many perhaps.  My chief ambition in loitering there was to type yesterday's report.  I didn't get it done until noon or so, only a half a day late.

The State Line is not on the state line.  I had a couple miles to go.  Down and across a river or two, on this same narrow road.  I stopped when I got to the Florida sign.  It's my custom to take a photograph.  Idaho.  Montana.  Wyoming.  South Dakota.  Nebraska.  Iowa.  Missouri.  Illinois.  Kentucky.  Tennessee.  Mississippi and Alabama.  I got 'em all.  But not Florida. 

Because Samsung sucks.

Worse yet, and it is hard not to blame them for this, I had forgotten my charger.  Plugged into a wall is about the only way I can make my computer work these days.  So it was back up the hill to the State Line.  I took my old seat and ordered lunch.

Chicken pot pie.  It was OK.  It wasn't as good as breakfast.  And the good ladies there had sent my charger ahead.  A man was meant to find me on the road.  He didn't, though.  Now I need a new one.  They'll probably want fifty bucks.

It was a nice gesture.  Everyone meant well.  He must have missed me when I stopped to pee.  It is my usual practice to get well off the road.  I don't want to frighten the ladies.  Or hurt the fellows' self-esteem.  So much for my good intentions.  Now I've got to find a Verizon shop.  Won't they be happy to see me.

The whole misadventue cost me time.  I left the State Line again at two-thirty.  More or less resigned to getting stuck in another motel.  Which made this spot a special blessing.  I found it in the dark.  And saved myself forty bucks and a sleepless night.  So what if it's just a bit cold. 

I'm in Florida now.  Break out your map.  I walked here from Washington State.  That's an impressive hike.  The rest is pudding.  I have conquered the United States.

WOULDN'T IT BE ironic if I were eaten by an alligator.  Half the people I talk to think I will be.  I understand.  They are projecting their own fears.  It is mere coincidence that they always seem to line up so well with mine.

I WISH Phil Spector had put out two Christmas albums.  Seriously.  I can't get enough.

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