It was seven-thirty when I did get up. The sky was a swirling grey. But my little computer was glad to assure me that there would be no rain. My own dim sense predicted a downpour, but I deferred to their expertise.
There was a time in America when weather reports were delivered by bikini girls and comedians. All the real professionals were detached to the military. To ensure the success of rocket launches and landings on hostile shores. But like GPS and laser pointers, meteorology has filtered down. Now every TV weatherman has his own Doppler radar to play with. Add to that the Power of the Internet and I could not be in better hands.
The grey day gave me a hash browns jones. I set out in search of breakfast. I walked four miles this way and that, misled by freeway signs. At one point I thought I'd ask a local. I saw a lady by her car. "Excuse me," I said, most becomingly. She jumped in and locked her door. To think I trimmed my glorious beard to put people like her at their ease. What a waste of chin whiskers. I'm lucky she didn't mace me.
I settled on a Pepsi at a gas station. Their coffee had a sour smell. And climbed down to Highway 63 and resumed my long walk south. Four or five miles to Deer Park, Missouri. To another gas station. A sign promised "home cooking" or "like Mom used to make" or something along those lines.
Mom, it seems, used to over-fry things in very old oil, heap it into stainless steel tubs and let them sit for two or three days under heat lamps in a dirty glass case. Mom is lucky the health department didn't shut her down.
The coffee was good, that's a rarity. Strong and thicker than her gravy. I had a very large cup and another and sat down to do some typing. And to recharge my computer, which didn't deserve it, the black-hearted little traitor. It had been behaving most abominably and had caused me all manner of grief.
I have read the diaries of the pioneers who made their way west in wagons. About their privations and awful disease, the losses they met on the trail. They would kindle their fires with arrows plucked from those they once held most dear. But one hardship they never faced was the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
I am being unfair, I suppose. It has held up fairly well. And too often in less than ideal conditions. It does seem to get the job done. But it is a monster pain in the ass and they really ought to mention that in their ads.
As I typed the grey skies disappeared and were replaced by something black. There were dramatic streaks of lightning at all points on the horizon. But I'd been there two hours. No one ever got rich just by sitting around. I covered my pack and strapped on my raincoat and headed out the door.
I made it all of two steps before the rain hit. I could have turned around. But I was in a mood for walking and more so for martyrdom. My next town was but seven miles off. I could get there in less than two hours. And show the people in passing cars that I was tougher than them.
It is hard to be tough in soggy socks. That's why we lost Viet Nam. My shoes once claimed to be waterproof but that was a shameful lie. GORE-TEX®, from the Latin, meaning pruny and brittle toes.
But I kept my head up, out of pride, misplaced and so far unearned. Four miles up I passed a roadside park which featured a picnic shelter. Where I sat for three hours and watched the storm and wondered if it would have killed them to ground the tin roof against lightning.
And I ate some beef and what I think were carrots and handsful of M&M's. And put on dry socks and stuffed my feet into thoroughly soggy shoes. But it ain't like I was just lounging around. I was hopping up and down the whole time. And trying to dry myself from within by thinking the warmest of thoughts.
I remembered sitting under a bridge east of Billings, amongst snakeskins and animal bones. It was a hundred and something that afternoon. There are all kinds of ways life can suck.
The rain stopped and I ambled on. I feigned enthusiasm. It wasn't there but if you'll excuse the expression, it pays to bullshit yourself. Positive Thinking and all that rot. The lightning was spectacular. And I knew I'd regret my blasphemies if it were to strike me dead. If there were time, at any rate. I wondered how much it would hurt.
I ate Mexican food for lunch. I did not learn the town's name. Ashville or Ashcan or something like that. I was too cold to care. It never got out of the forties today. There was no sun in the sky. But you will perspire; my T-shirt was wet and clammy against my skin. Some lady at a sporting goods store in Sioux City tried to sell me some fancy shirt that isn't clammy in cold weather, but it cost fifty bucks. And I didn't believe her.
It was by then four-thirty and I had not yet got much walking done. It had stopped raining so I hit the road and hammered out eight more miles. Traffic was fast and heavy and visibility was low. I had to keep focused on every oncoming car, watching where they were in their lane. And trying to predict which idiot was going to squish me flat.
The speed limit is 70 here. That means everyone goes 85. What they don't understand is just because their engine will get them that speed doesn't mean their piece-of-crap cars have the suspension to control it. Add in slick roads, the odd crosswind and an oh-so-interesting cell phone conversation and what you've got is attempted murder.
You know, I've gathered unto myself some very kind-hearted supporters on this trip. God-fearing people, willing to overlook my more obvious failings and to see the better James within. So I'm hesitant to admit that one day I am going to meet one of these idiot drivers and bloody his fool nose.
Unless he's real big. I ain't a madman.
It meant a lot of staring into headlights, and squinting to spot the idiots who left their headlights off. It rather left me hyp-mo-tized, like those fellows who sort our mail. They often go on shooting sprees. All I'll ever do is gripe.
So it's eighteen miles for the day; kind of weak, I know. I have until the day after tomorrow to get five-hundred miles south. Then the temperature drops to a point where I no longer fear the rain. Only the Yeti and cold-blackened toes. Thank Heaven for that small blessing.
It is raining now. Vigorously. There is a spectacular storm. With but the merest heartbeat or two separating flash and explosion. I am camped in a beautiful spot, on a high rock cliff overlooking the freeway. It is pretty here, a dozen miles from Jefferson City. There are trees and deep valleys. "Hollers" I think they may be called. I only wish it were warmer.
MANY YOUNG people go into meteorology for the sole purpose of getting on TV. The same is true of journalists and, believe it or not, chefs. And politicians and Hollywood wives and the odd serial killer. I used to want to be on television, but now I'm less sure. I don't know that I'd like the company.
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