Thursday, February 9, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Monday, February 6, 2012
I am a dozen-odd miles from Key West. I've been eight months on the road. Find me now in the grip of an existential crisis. At least my stomach's upset. Come tomorrow my journey is done. And then where will I be. Right back where I started, but three thousand miles from home.
Or four thousand. I've not added them up. I'm not sure I ever will. It's not for me to measure the marigolds. It's enough that I still have ten toes. And I've gained a few things. Philosophy. I stand taller than I did before. I've tamed the North American continent. I'm a master of the hobo art.
I needed all my skills this evening. I've passed one final test. I left no mark on the rice paper. I snatched the pebble from Master Kan's hand. A good hobo can walk through walls. Looked for, he cannot be seen. Listened for, he cannot be heard. Sniffed at, you take your own chances.
I've put up my tent where no space exists. I'm invisible in plain sight. And I accomplished it all by the light of the moon, surrounded on all sides by lizards. Last night I camped in mud. Sometimes my training fails.
It rained all night. New records were set. I woke in a sea of goo. It coated my shoes and messed up my tent. My pack weighs six extra pounds. From all the clay I'm lugging around. I did as well as I could. But I was trapped in the worst of it. I suffered some this morning.
But onward I marched. Big Pine Key was a good eight miles off. Over some bridges; I lost count. Beyond a fetid swamp. Which is home to the National Key Deer Refuge. Key deer are an endangered species. But easily found. They look like ordinary white-tailed deer, only they're fearless and puny.
Two foot high at the shoulder. They seem content. They're enjoying their endangered status. You'd go to jail just for hurting their feelings. So they go where they want and do as they please. No one can say boo to them. Traffic on the road is slowed to a crawl. There are all sorts of posted warnings. With that same sillouette you see on other deer signs. Only the scale is different.
I had a fine breakfast in Big Pine and wound up staying for hours. Because it started raining all over again. You weren't getting me out there. Enough's enough. It was another monsoon. I decided to wait til it passed.
Then it was over several more bridges, only one of any length. The shorter ones tend to have bike paths. That takes away all my stress. But I was soggy as hell. It was plenty warm and about as humid as it can get. Which makes me not only chafe but smell. Such are the hazards of the road.
Ten more miles and I stopped at a bar. I chatted with Captain Paul. And his vast family, only one of whom looked like Papa Hemingway. Which is rather a fashion down here. They hold contests. I prefer Mariel.
I stayed longer than I ought to have. I got a bellyful of CocaCola. And walked off into the setting sun. I was pointed due west. Blinded. I made it three more miles. They say it might rain tonight. But I'm on dry ground. Rocks, even. I will be just fine.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Thunder is rolling overhead. It has been raining all day. But I did not let it hurt my feelings. I may do some sulking tomorrow. Because it's still raining and I'm camped in mud. It is bound to get muddier still. That is if I am not swept out to sea or eaten by rogue iguanas.
I did see an iguana yesterday. No one's going to Baker Act me. It was real; they exist. They're an invasive species. Like rock pythons and zebra mussels. One managed to slip his leash. And then another. Now they're breeding like bunnies. They're taking over the place.
Because they've got "no natural predators." Who preys on them elsewhere, I wonder. They don't look very good to eat. Chupacabras, I guess.
I woke up unmolested by lizards. I was convinced I had overslept. But it wasn't too very much after seven; not early but early enough. I packed fairly quickly and hit the trail. I was missing one bottle of water. I'll be damned if I know what I did with it. I hope I didn't litter.
I had seven or eight mile hike to town. On a bike path again. It fades in and out. It crosses the highway. It will one day reach Key West. But there are still sections missing. They are working on it. This bit was very well travelled. By cyclists and dog walkers. I met a friend from last night. And her chubby dog. She was, however, looking very fit.
We parted at Marathon, Florida. I was not impressed. It is much like the rest of the Keys. But dirtier; it smelled like latex. Which put me in the mind of contraception, not an unnecessary art. But it rather ruined my appetite. I went to Burger King.
Which killed my appetite altogether. I ate anyway. A boy's got to keep fed. The counter staff was surly. The place was fairly unclean. But I plugged in and lingered there for as long as I could stand the place.
Two or three hours. I overcome. I needed the electricity. Besides, it was raining outside. A wet James will do you no good. It makes him cranky. He starts to chafe. His pack straps don't cinch up right. His socks go squishy. His calluses swell. His hat begins to droop.
But it went on raining so I shipped out. I'm from the Pacific Northwest. I was born in a drizzle. No rain can stop me. I'm defined by my pruny toes. And I had a bridge to cross. I did not want to get stuck out there in the dark.
And I had to buy a radio. My discount shop model has died. A fellow I met said they were going to talk about me. I'd like to hear what they say. I've never been talked about on the radio before, or only in general terms. On AM radio. They get it wrong. Liberals do not hate America.
It's my favorite country. It has changed some. Want to feel like an idiot? Try buying a radio. They look at you like you're from Mars. Ask for a transistor radio. "Over there by the butter churns."
I finally found one for twenty-four bucks. You can get a video camera for that. But it is awfully nice, ten times better than the last one I had. It was nice to have music. This was a day that really needed a soundtrack.
I stopped before the bridge and ate again. I wasn't hungry just yet. But it would be twenty hours until my next meal. A boy's got to keep up his strength. So I ate a hamburger and I'm glad I did. That's when it started raining hard.
Monsoon style. I've seen it before, but not in this hemisphere. If I had been three miles across the Seven Mile Bridge, life would have really sucked. So I waited it out. And made friends. With Don and Victoria.
Canadians. He's a chemical genius. She was blonde and fun. He's eighty-six. He made his fortune in plastics. He used to be a fisherman. She used to drive a Corvette and have a cat named 007.
At four or so they threw us out. The rain had slowed some by then. But it was still awfully wet. I thought of stopping for the night. Instead I climbed up on my bridge.
The Seven Mile Bridge. I'm sure you've seen it in films. They blew it up in True Lies. It goes far out over the sea. The old bridge runs to one side. But it's missing sections. Blame James Cameron. I was walking with traffic.
I was hoping for a slightly better shoulder. It was about five feet wide. I stuck to the middle. Not too near the railing, not too near oncoming cars. And walked as fast as I possibly could. I really do not like bridges. There's nowhere to go if someone swerves at me, other than into the sea.
Where I'd sink like a stone. At the very least I would get my computer wet. Or break my neck in the fall. Greg Louganis I'm not. He never dove with a pack.
It weren't a huge drop for most of the way. There is a good hump in the middle. If you'll excuse that expression. That bit was scary. There was a view from up there. Of the open sea, still impossibly blue despite the overcast weather. With great roiling clouds and flying fish, or at least fish that jump very well.
I wasn't as scared as I might have been. No one swerved into my lane. I think most drivers try to keep towards the center. It is a long way down. And the music helped. And in all honesty, my mind was on other things. I really really had to pee. I knew that was going to happen.
I could have peed right there on the bridge. I could have waited til no one was coming. In my lane. They'd still be rolling up behind. And then when I got to Key West they'd all be, "Hey! You're the guy we saw peeing on the Seven Mile Bridge!"
I pinched it off. Muscle contol. Rather trying, though. It took me a good ninety minutes to cross. That's walking as fast as I can.
But I survived. I always do. Find me now on Bahia Honda Key. Camped I guess illegally. The whole island is a state park. But it's where I was when it got dark. I'll pick up after myself. They'll never know I was ever here, whether I'm swallowed by mud or not.
APPARENTLY they're having another one of them Super Bowls today. I hope the good guys win.
GREG LOUGANIS has a dog named Captain Woof. And five Olympic medals.
BAHIA HONDA is said to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It looks a lot like Seattle.
THOSE RHODODENDRONY-looking shrubs are I guess mangroves. I was pretty sure that they were.
I MET DOZENS of hoboes on the road today, evicted from Key West.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I'm back online. The fault was my own. I'm big enough to admit it. And to apologise to the good people at Samsung. You do not, in this one lonesome instance, suck.
Find me camped at or around milepost fifty-nine. That's how we tell time down here. There's only one road in and out. Which makes street addresses a little silly. I woke up at milepost eighty.
In an abandoned hobo camp. There had been people there before me. Which is funny because, viewed from the road, it was just one point in a long stretch of trees. But something about it looked like home. Great hoboes think alike.
It was more elaborate than I first noticed. There were wigwams woven from trees. And a fire pit and a burglar alarm, fashioned from fishing line. And a few tin cans. It's a Viet Nam thing. A lot of hoboes are veterans. Who have earned their right to sleep undisturbed. They don't like to be surprised.
They were long gone by the time I got there. This isn't the first time it's happened. I'll find an ingenious spot for my tent, only to see signs of others. As far as I know I leave nothing behind. The grass may be sqooshed down some. But I pick up my litter. I may have a poop, but I bury it as well as I can.
Good citizenship, that. And something to teach every schoolchild. If you open it, close it. If break it, fix it. If you drink all the beer, go and buy more. If you poop in the woods, you should bury it. Keep America great and free.
I avoided the ocean as long as I could. I got a glimpse of the Gulf. But you may have noticed I stayed inland all the way across Florida. Because I wanted to earn it. I had miles to go. Even once I hit the Keys. But today was all bridges and open water. It was just me and the sea.
I had breakfast at the tip of Islamorada, at Bud N' Mary's Marina. Amongst the deep sea fishermen, before they shipped out for the day. Oldsters, a lot of them. Come from far and wide. I ate alone and felt just a little sad. Everyone was going fishing but me.
But my world opened up just after that. It was me and nothing but blue. The radio played We Are the Champions. It had special meaning for me. Because for months now I've been haunted by a particular vision, of me when I reach the sea. There'd be cheering crowds and a high school marching band. That was the song they played.
I'm more likely to finish my journey unnoticed. That may be for the best. I've been told that when I hit Key West I'll be arrested for vagrancy.
I hope I have time for a few beers first. Maybe if I ask nice they'll wait. After all, I'm not wholly indigent. Not yet, anyway.
I again encourage you to check your maps. It's hard to explain the Keys. Today was just a series of bridges. Only one of them sucked. Over a body of water called Channel #5. Marilyn Monroe used to sleep in it.
It weren't the worst bridge I've faced on this trip. There was a six-foot shoulder. But it had a high enough arc to make it blind at the top, and I wish the railing were higher. And I'm convinced a lot of these divers are drunk. Those who aren't are jibbering on their phones. Or are just plain old idiots. Only one tried to murder me.
And waved a friendly apology. I gave him or her the finger. Without much malice but I'm still ashamed. That's not my Christ-nature. It's for me to forgive these idiots. They know not what they do.
What they do is scare the ever-lovin' crap out of me. I've always known I'd die on a bridge. But from an artistic standpoint it would be good. It would add pathos to my tale. Art vs. Life. It's a tough call. I'll let the gods decide.
My next several bidges weren't bad at all. They all had pedestrian lanes. Quite separate, a bridge unto themselves. One must have been three miles long. It had to have cost a fortune to build. It was very considerate of them. To spend all that money just for me and a few million fishermen.
Who line the rails. It's a whole lot cheaper than chartering your own boat. And a fine place to spend an afternoon. They keep it pretty clean. Or the the pelicans do. I do like those birds. They are amazing flyers. They don't very often flap their wings. They are masters of the wind.
But still manage to look stupid. They're awfully big, too. They must weigh 20 lbs. More when wet. None of that water-off-a-duck's-back bit for them. Their dive into the sea looks more like a crash. They come out of it sopping wet. And shake themselves like a golden retriever, looking silly the whole time.
I never did see one get a fish. They don't leave their beaks distended. That's only in cartoons, I guess. They look silly enough as it is. They are not always cuddly. They will eat other birds. But they're still my favorite. They're awful fun to watch.
There are other birds too. Fishermen. And their long-legged friends near the shore. Big and small, beaks curved and straight. I don't know what they are. My mother would. She's a bird maniac. She would have fun down here.
I also saw a sea turtle, a great big son of a gun. I've never seen one of those before. Maybe at an aquarium, but that just isn't same. He was out for a swim. He poked his head up, then dove back under the water. Rather a thoughtful looking fellow. He's probably a hundred years old.
I kept an eye out for dolphins and sharks, but I didn't see any of them. I did meet, of all things, an iguana. He was out on the bridge. He was greyish, not green, and blocking my path. He had dark rings on his tail. I don't know if he was born here or if he emigrated from somewhere else.
I figured he probably wouldn't attack me. People do keep them as pets. And if he did I could probably beat him up and throw him into the sea. Darwin used to claim they could swim. I could prove him wrong. And put an end to his unbiblical nonsense. The Baptists would all buy me beer.
I was still a bit nervous walking by. It was a narrow path. And he did have long claws and wrinkles and scales and weird liittle things on his head. Like Phil Spector, may God forgive him. We all should have seen that one coming.
There a number of tiny little lizards, shooting about at light speed. So fast you can barely see what they are. Like baby dinosaurs. They don't bother me much. Their chief purpose in life seems to be avoiding me.
What else, what else. I met a few kind cyclists. And an idiot outside a store. He was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. He is about my age. I was six when Saigon fell. "I was real young." He also taught Kareem the sky hook. I had little patience with him. He wasn't mad. That might be charming. He was just full of shit.
I finished my day on a most happy note at The Wreck Galley and Grill. I stopped in to swill some quick Cokes and refill my water bottles. Everyone was very kind. And the nice lady there covered my Cokes and gave me some french fries to go.
A buttload of french fries, enough for two Jameses. I've finished them all by now. And they were fabulous. It is my new favorite bar. Make it the high point of your trip to the Keys. Drink much. Tip well.
It's only a half mile up the road. I've got a fine place for my tent. I could go back and drink beer. But I don't double back. That's the policy that carried me all the way here.
PHIL SPECTOR was always a little weird, but it is thought his sharp downward slide began when Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High failed to find commercial success. He considered it his masterpiece. A masterpiece it is. I absolutely love that recording.
TOMORROW I cross the Seven Mile Bridge. I've been dreading it for 1500 miles. But it might be so bad. If it is, remember me fondly.
You are not reading this, not in a timely fashion. I'm still without Internet service. Oh, it's there. My signal is strong, but no connection is being made. It may be Verizon; it may be Samsung; it may be my own fool fault. But I am inclined to blame Samsung, because as history has shown us, they suck.
There was a case some years ago; I cannot give you the details. Because I don't have Internet service. The gist of the matter was this. A reporter for an English language daily in Seoul found himself hauled into court. And sued for millions. He had written a column about Samsung and how much they suck.
The libel laws are different in Korea. They favor conglomerates. But I am an American. I have certain inalienable rights. Samsung sucks. It is said. I stand by it. Let them prove that they don't.
Good freakin' luck.
After bragging about how well I sleep in tents I had the damnedest time falling asleep. I rely on the night air to dry myself. I perspire some as I hike. But it was seventy-five degrees last night. It was humid; I was sleeping on rocks. Volcanic, by the looks of them, but I don't know much about that.
Are volcanic rocks pointy? They were holey, as well. Like great jagged chunks of Swiss cheese. But it was the steam more than anything. I was up until two o'clock. And slept until eight. I did sleep well. I'd wanted an earlier start. But I made it to McDonald's by nine. It was just across the street.
McDonald's, ah. Their food is crap. (Let them prove that it's not.) But I do tend to feel fairly comfortable there. I've been going for forty years. Off and on, you understand. It was my favorite when I was a kid. Now it's just a place to use the wi-fi. They have wall outlets as well.
I had my rubbery pancakes with mapley syrup, a biscuit that wasn't so bad; some eggs of a colour not seen in nature, and a sausagey air hockey puck. Their hash browns are an insult to that noble art. Their coffee was pretty good. I had several cups. I may have trouble falling asleep tonight.
I sat there for two hours, recharging and reading yesterday's news. And attending to my scant correspondence. I usually do that in my tent. But I was done by eleven, plenty of time. I did not want to walk very far.
It's tricky down here. Study your maps. I was at the south end of Key Largo. I walk twenty or twenty-five miles a day. I have to plan ahead. There are some awfully long bridges; if I'm not careful, I can find myself stuck on one. After dark. It must be lovely, but it's a good way to get myself squished.
There are fine people down here, I'm sure. I haven't got to know many of them. But beyond a certain time of day you have to assume that they're drunk.
It's a cultural thing.
As it was I did not walk twenty-five miles. I did walk twelve or thirteen. In three short hours. I did not leave McDonald's until well after three o'clock.
That's six hours under those Golden Arches. I made my very first friend. In the Keys, that is. Mr. Joe DeMicco, a retired cop from New York.
Fort Apache, the Bronx. Man, he had some stories. He talks like Dennis Franz. He was there in the Sixties and Seventies. They were, how shall I say it, corrupt. He spoke of kickbacks and schemes and internal affairs, and beating people up.
He's been stabbed in the neck. They put a bomb in his car. They didn't do that again. I'd tell you how he solved that problem, but it's his story not mine. Let's just say it was funny in a frightening way. Joe was one mean S.O.B.
Not anymore. He left the force. The force may have hastened his going. And made a fortune in real estate. And lost it. And got himself Saved. And made a new fortune and lost that too. Now he lives in his van. He could do better but he's on a mission. He drives around helping people.
When there's a flood or a hurricane, he makes a point to be there. In order to help out however he can. He has some talent for building. Between natural disasters he finds homeless people and gives them blankets and soup. And sleeping bags and portable stoves. Anything they might need. He bought me lunch; I was in fact a bit hungry at the time.
I think he does some preaching as well. He calls himself a roamin' Catholic. But has long since lost faith in the papacy. He's a Protestant now. He asked God how he could better serve Him. God put him right to work.
Using every talent he has. He's foul-mouthed, fearless and persuasive. He can B.S. his way up corporate chains in order to get big donations. With which he does good. The hungry are fed. The naked, such as they are, are clothed. And he tells some very funny stories about being a rotten cop.
Sad stories, too. He should write a book. It's the pathos that sells. That's why I spend as much time as I do writing about my feet.
I could have talked to Joe all day. I get enough Bible talk. And the disaster stuff just makes me sad. But those cop stories were great. Especially in that badda-bing accent. He should be in Hollywood.
When I did start walking I walked pretty fast. I was wired with coffee and Coke. And wanted to put some dent in the day. You can't spend your life at McDonald's. So it was three hours non-stop. I wish I would have stopped for snacks. And a bit more water but I'll survive. I've got a pint yet to go.
I blew through a couple of Keys. It was more of the same. A number of houses, most of them nice. Resorts and boat brokers. Motels, none particularly lovely, but all of them on the beach. The bars and restaurants boast of waterfront views, but that's really not saying much. When an island is a quarter-mile wide the whole thing is waterfront.
Which is not to say I'm seeing much beach. They would not waste that land on me. I'm on the road running down the middle. I don't get much of a view. Just glimpses of blue between the trees, at the ends of driveways and such. These are not public beaches. I am not welcome. I'll see the sea soon enough.
On bridges between islands it opens up some. The sea's an impossible blue. I see kite surfers and paragliders; the odd sailboat, of course. And I get to smell whatever they're grilling at their fancy restaurants. It's a pretty place; probably prettier still on five-hundred dollars a day.
I guess I do feel just a little left out. It was a trick to walk all the way here. I've earned my spot in these islands. But those restaurants do smell awfully good. And I'd like to drink at a tiki bar and watch the pelicans. And see the sun set without worrying about where I will put up my tent. It all seems aimed at a different crowd. I don't think they're all super rich. But they're the people, you tell them you're Walking Across America, and they look at you and ask, "Why?"
So what if I can't articulate it. It's better that I cannot. Consider. I'm an articulate fellow. Who better than me? But it's one of those things you either get or you don't. To many it makes perfect sense. The others would not be satisfied with any explanation.
Find me on the far end of Islamorada. Careful, you're saying it wrong. Tomorrow I shoot out over the blue. I again invite you to consult your maps. I'm going out on a limb here, as it were. God knows what's at the end of this road.
I'LL REACH A Verizon shop the day after tomorrow. It will be like going home.
THEY DO HAVE pelicans, plenty of them. The buzzards are following me again. If anything they're bigger down here. Great, ugly things.
I'M CAMPED IN a jungle. There've been hoboes here before. It's raining hard but I am dry. Dryish, at any rate. I should sleep well; I'm on flat ground.
I PASSED TOO a sort of Sea Worldy place. The entrance in marked by a sculpture. Of what I think's meant to be a giant conch shell. The artist took liberties. All pink and gaping, I haven't blushed so much since I was 15 years old.
CHECK OUT YOUR maps, seriously. The Keys are kind of neat. It's like walking on water. I wish all the continents were connected by little islands.
I think my photos came out askew. Put your computer on its side.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Last night I was camped in mud. This evening I'm camped on rocks. It's like that tale of the Three Little Pigs. Tomorrow I'll camp on spikes.
But I'll be fine; I'm a superman. Huff and puff on that. Never in my life have I slept so well as I have huddled in this tent. I could not tell you why. It may be the fresh air. It might be the exercise. It's often all I can do to type up these notes. Exhaustion do make a boy tired.
I'm a bit sleepy now but otherwise fine. Google says I walked 22 miles. Or more or less, I cannot say. It has been a while since I checked. I am quite without Internet service. I'm having technical problems. Technically I forgot to pay my bill. In any case, Samsung sucks.
There's a McDonald's across the street. I'm in Tavernier, Florida. They're bound to have Wi-fi. If they don't, I'll kneel outside someone's condo. Which is what I did this afternoon. It made me feel like a spy.
I slept until almost eight o'clock. I woke up in the mud. It had not been so bad the night before but it rained a bit in the night. My tent has a hole in its bottom. So do most of my friends. I have never travelled with a ground cloth. It usually does not matter. But this time the water came up from below. It got a little wet. With the humidity and this Internet thing, I started my day in a grump.
The yacht club next door was members only. They did have a Pepsi machine. Taunting me through a wire-topped fence. They like to stick it to the poor. But I walked proudly on in the morning steam, through a regular jungle. Of those rhododenrony-looking trees. I was going to look them up. But I can't; you do it. Do let me know what you find.
Eventually I came to a bridge, my first of many down here. A great tall thing. It did have a good shoulder. I still was not happy up there. As far as I know it goes over a lake, Lake Surprise; it is part of the sea. Saltwater or fresh, I cannot really tell. I'm a half-mile from Plantation Key. Which is split from Key Largo by what looks like a river. I guess I could go and taste it. Or you could, come to think of it. Do let me know what you find.
There was quite a view from up on the bridge, Everglades to the north. And what looked like the sea on either side. I did not really look around. On bridges my focus is on not getting squarshed, and on not falling over the side. If I take a bus home I'll get you a picture. Or Google it; you pay your bills.
Off the bridge I was in the Keys, a bit shaky but happy to be there. I had a big Coke at a Shell station and made friend with garbage men. Aaron and David. They wore yellow vests, very much like my hat. Only cleaner and not as stinky. They were duly impressed with my trip.
Another three miles and I stopped and ate. A burger. I did not love the place. Three blocks up I found the Hobo Cafe. I wish I had eaten there. I bet they would have fed me for free. They all would have kissed my ass. Robert De Niro does not have to pay when he eats at his restaurant.
I still haven't had any Key lime pie. I am watching my pennies. My friend Dennis says it is not very good. He has all sorts of strange beliefs. But I'm a guest here; it's my duty to try. A good guest may have two pieces. And at the end of this long strange trip, I'll have a pitcher of margaritas.
And number of beers.
It was clear where I was once across the bridge. There were resorts here and there. And invitations to tourists for glass-bottomed boats and snorkel and skin diving tours. You can swim with dolphins or parasail. You can rent motor scooters. Or buy decorative items fashioned from shells. Or rent jet skis by the hour.
It all looked pretty fun to me. I might give parasailing a pass. Or forego the chance to scuba dive with a sunken statue of Jesus. But I would very much like to swim with dolphins. Dolphins are my favorite fish.
You can too rent a bicycle. There's a bike path next to the road. Which makes walking very easy indeed. I expect it stretches all the way to Key West. Through the trees here and there I could see the ocean. It is a travel-poster blue. But I did not try to get any closer. I'll see the sea soon enough.
There are hunnerts of cops up and down this road. That's new in history. It used to be a lawless place. Then came the War on Drugs. And 9/11 and other evils. People used to smoke pot in the streets. I missed the Bluegrass Festival in Yeehaw Junction. I'm too late for everything.
No one has bothered to strip search me yet. No one's locked me in their car. But I'm sure they are watching me. This is where they catch everyone. No escaped prisoner, gone uncaptured, fails to make his way here. Seriously. Blame John Grisham. They got another one just today.
They think they'll be welcomed, their past forgotten. They think they'll start a new life. With no worries, just palm trees and pretty girls. I've entertained such thoughts myself.
The road stretched on with more of the same. I was never out in the sticks. But there are patches of jungle where a clever hobo could easily put up his tent. I heard camping down here would be hard, that the cops write all kinds of tickets. But I think beginners always camp on the beach. I'm sticking to my methods.
Which means tonight I'm camping on rocks. I wish my sleeping pad held air. But I'm a hundred yards from a McDonald's, and yet I'll sleep undisturbed. And file this report in the morning. Remind me to check my spelling. And to enjoy a fabulous McDonald's breakfast. I like them; they're like airplane food. Foul but evocative of travel and exotic places.
Of which this is but one.
"DOLPHINS ARE NOT FISH!" Melville says they are. He was a very good writer.
EVERY NOW AND THEN a flotilla of Cuban refugees will turn up on one of these beaches. I hope I'm there when it happens. I want to be the one to say, Welcome to America.
THERE WAS A MOVIE called Key Largo, starring Humphry Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. Whose voice I always tried to approximate whenever I talked to cows. "Moo, I tell you! Moo, moo! Moo! Moo, I say!"
IF YOU HAVE Japanese acquaintances, do tell them the story of the Three Little Pigs. "By the hair of my chinny-chin-chin" means different things in different languages.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I started this trip at Puget Sound. I dipped my toe in the water. Or I slapped at it with the bottom of my shoe. I did not want to get my socks wet. They've been plenty wet since. Such are the hazards of Walking Across America.
I should have begun at Neah Bay. I was not on an ocean beach. But I was determined to start moving east. It was close enough for me. And should be for you. Coastline is coastline. It is the very same sea.
Find me now camped on a sliver of land between Long Sound and Manatee Bay. I've got saltwater on all four sides. I could declare victory. I've reached the Atlantic. Loosely defined, that has always been my destination.
But the journey continues. I will keep walking until I run out of road. Which means Key West, a proper island. Here I am still attached. Just barely, like a hangnail, a half-dozen miles from Key Largo.
I woke up early after three hours sleep. I did not wait til check-out time. Which has been my custom but the place was disgusting. I needed to breathe some fresh air. As it was I was still slow getting out of town. I was there until one or so. After a breakfast in Florida City. Subway. Beggars do not choose.
Florida City, Florida and Homestead are one and the same. Homestead is the old town with a Main Street. Florida City has Burger King. And Walmart and clutter. Less character, though. There was a carnival in town. I was tempted to stop and ask for a job. I was worried they might give me one.
I can of course see myself as a carney. I like the travelling life. But I've got this project to finish first. That's always been a weakness of mine. Starting grand schemes and taking them to within a hairsbreadth of completion. But stopping just short, half afraid, the other half satisfied.
I almost got married once.
Florida City dragged on a bit. There was more to it than I'd guessed. But it ended abruptly at The Last Chance Saloon. I stop at every one of those I see.
There are dozens of Last Chance Saloons. This one was no disappointment. Everyone was kind to me. I was treated to three icy Cokes. By the tattooed lady behind the bar. She spoke fondly of banjos. And so won my heart. The soda pop just made me like her more.
Indeed it was my very last chance for the next fifteen miles. I'm on Highway 1. There's a high fence on both sides and a concrete wall down the middle. Painted a soothing seafoam color. It was still like being in prison. Once you're on 1, you're committed.
But the shoulder was good and the weather was fine. There is not a great deal out there. A few bridges over nothing in particular and miles of Everglades. Fenced in, I guess, for their own protection. The birds in their looked happy. Long-legged shorebirds like I've been seeing for weeks, and a goodly number of hawks.
I wish I could tell you just what kind. Birds are not my specialty. The buzzards have stopped following me. Pelicans are my favorite. But I haven't seen any of them lately. I hope there are some further south. They're so endearingly goofy. I wish I were a pelican.
Some miles in I crossed a river. Or may have, I was not paying attention. And the landscape changed. It had been just damp. Here there was one or two feet of water. With shrubbery, not grass, perhaps stout enough to stop your smaller airboats. They look to me like rhododendrons, but I'm pretty sure I'm wrong.
I didn't really notice when I hit the sea. There is that wet dog smell. But no surf. I watched the sun as it disappeared into Long Bay.
Which I was ready to call a lake. I've done some studying since. I'm camped among the rhododendrons by some kind of marina. Where I hope to get coffee come the dawn. I don't know how much is there. I can hear people drinking more than they should. They're going to need coffee tomorrow.
I HAD THE option of taking a scenic route, known as Card Bay Road. But it looked kind of lonesome and is famous for saltwater crocodiles.
SUBWAY'S breakfast sandwiches aren't too too bad. Their coffee is drinkable.
A HOBO I met yesterday had his teeth kicked in. They stole his money and beer. This would be a more interesting narrative if things like that happened to me.
GIVEN WHAT I've got to work with, there really is no excuse for you not to Walk Across America.
Last night's effort was a little thin. I do try to keep you amused. But I never do my best typing in motels, least of all ones like that. The Cornholio East, or something like that, in Homestead, Florida.
Worst place I've been on this continent. I've seen worse in India. Not very much worse, you understand. It wasn't cheap, either. Nice folks in Homestead, be assured, but you might want to sleep somewhere else.
The first place I went had been condemned. "Unhygienic Conditions," it said. God knows where they draw that line. I did not sleep in the bed. But on it. On top of my tent. To protect me from the elements.
I got everything done I needed to. I got my whiskers trimmed. I should I guess have scraped them off, but you grow attached to the things. I patched up my pack to last one more week. I rinsed off as well as I could.
I did not patch my sleeping pad. I would have had to use the tub. And did not what whatever grew there to spread as far as my bed linens. I did stand in it. I was not pleased, but I think I will survive. My feet have suffered many indignities in the course of this adventure.
Find me now headed south. Next time I check in, it will be from across the sea. Call the papers. Tell your friends. You've got a right to be proud. Your friend James has Walked Across America.
A down day in Homestead, Florida. I got some laundry done. And got myself rinsed and patched my gear. I put stitches in my pants. And enjoyed two square meals and made some friends at Bobbie Jo's Cafe.
This is my last stop on the continent. Peace.
Monday, January 30, 2012
One of my tent poles has cracked. It hasn't noticed yet. But I did; I keep an eye on these things. It is my home after all. The only one I've got. It's an ugly little thing. Yellow. Its shape does not please. But I always feel fairly safe in here, even when I am not.
And it has endured some awful mistreatment. I set fire to it early on. And have dragged it through all manner of brambles. I've stumbled and squashed it flat. But it keeps the rain off, more or less. It does not let in every mosquito. You'll see it yourself. It will be on display, one day in the James museum.
In a glass case, of course. For your own good. It does have an awful smell. Of onions and tomcat and things not discussed. To me it just smells like home. My sleeping bag smells even worse. Or so I'm inclined to imagine. I can't smell it, whatever it is. A fellow gets used to these things.
I didn't see any gators today. I was not really looking. I've seen enough; they no longer amuse. There are saltwater crocs down the road. And after that, what, dinosaurs? Where do you go from there? No doubt there'll be something to frighten me. I was thinking I might get a job.
I woke up early and packed up fast. I felt just fine where I was. But there were cars driving by. I worried someone would see me camped in a swamp. Few would object, but I do have my pride. I usually find better spots. I was covered in mud and bugbites and stink. I did not feel pretty.
I was plenty hungry. I've been underfed. It's what the Greeks call austerity measures. There are more things in heaven and earth than food to spend money on. I need a shower and a discount haircut. I've got to get my beard pruned. I need moist towlettes and deodorant. I'm a day's walk from Key Largo. This, my friends, is my victory lap. I don't want to look like a bum.
A hobo, sure; that's a point of pride. But one with some self-respect. I want to be welcomed in Key West. I'm hoping I will make some friends. Which may be harder than I imagined. It's a much bigger town than I thought. A proper city of some 25,000 people. I will be eaten alive.
My first five miles were fairly rough. I was still in the jungle. And this 997 is strewn with garbage, home and industrial. Dirty. Humid. A narrow road. I had to walk in the gutter. My pack was collapsing and my back was sore. I was hungry.
The road opened up some time after that. I passed a number of farms. Strawberries, tomatoes and corn. And what I want to call potatoes. But that can't be right. The soil is rocky, but it is soil indeed. Not everyone here is so well off. Most of this state's made from sand.
The wind picked up; that helped a bit. Then came the nurseries. Exotic plants, I guess you would call them, mangoes and orchids and palms. The palms were being circumcised, I guess that makes them grow taller. By a man with a machete standing in the bucket of a front loader. While his friend drove him from tree to tree. Someone call OSHA, quick. But not immigration. That won't win you friends. I'm making assumptions here.
You can buy a twenty-foot palm tree for $75. Delivery is probably extra. It still seems like one hell of a deal. I lived well ten years ago. And had a palm tree in my living room. It was about three feet high. And cost at least that much, I'm sure. When my girlfriend moved out it died.
Six-thousand calories. I believe that's what I need to be happy. Yesterday I had a good many less. It made the walking hard. But I did at long last get where I was going, a gas station with a Subway. With which chain I do have my complaints, but they will feed you for five bucks. I sat there for three hours, recharging and chewing my sandwich slow.
I was in no hurry to get to Homestead. Tomorrow I'll spend the night. Indoors. I need to get rinsed. I am not feeling my freshest. I tried to find a truck stop but no joy. This shower is going to cost. So I'll check in early and check out late. I'm determined to get my money's worth.
I did in fact walk all the way to town. Big place, Homestead, Fla. So I turned around and walked back out. My hobo skills kicked in at last. I'm in the city. I'm in the woods, camped behind a Lutheran church. And very much looking forward to my bath. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.
CHEERS TO Dewayne and Mickey, Christian bikers. They're down from Alabama. Riding their Harleys and sleeping rough. We shared stories of the road. They gave me a Bible book to read. I expect I will.
I HIT A Goodwill for a new shirt and a used pair of shorts. Nine bucks. Damn. The price I pay to look halfway presentable.
PICKING TOMATOES looks like awfully hard work. Hot. A lot of bending. I bet these anti-immigrationists have never picked tomatoes.
I THINK I like Cuban people. One does hate to generalise. But the ones I've met have been polite and dignified. I wish I was a Cuban person.
EVERYONE DOWN here speaks Spanish but me. I feel a little left out. I believe I may have to sit down and learn it. Don't laugh; I'm capable. I'm a cunning linguist. I can do anything. I Walked Across America.
JALAPEÑOS do not agree with me. When will I ever learn.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
I've got a weather app. It sometimes works. It used to tell me how cold I would be. And when it might rain and when it might not. It is usually wrong about that. Now, for example, it acknowledges clouds. It makes no mention of rain. But it is raining. I am camped in a swamp. If it rains any more I am done for.
Such is life. Easy come, easy go. Better men have been swept out to sea. And eaten by gators and swallowed by fish. Found dead in their own bathtubs. What's important here is this weather report. Right or wrong it means nothing to me. But with GPS it is localised. It puts me in the City of Miami.
Or in the county at any rate, and on the far edge of that. Just off highway 997, just south of the Miccosukee Casino. A name that invites inappropriate wordplay. I will control myself. It's a proud name, no doubt, and Florida is lucky to have any Indians left.
It is thought the name comes from micos sucios, Spanish for "dirty monkeys." Because they lived in mud huts and because Juan Ponce de León was really kind of a dick. They were originally part of the Seminole. They sponsor a NASCAR team. They have a grand casino and a golf tournament. They're doing alright for themselves.
Remember Andrew Jackson? We've discussed him before. He and Juan Ponce could be twins. He kicked all the Indians out of Georgia and marched them west on the Trail of Tears. In violation of United States law, in defiance of the Supreme Court. Even back then we were a nice country on paper. Everyone had their rights.
The few Indians who stuck around got stuck with the shittiest land. Which brings us full circle and I hope explains why I am camped in a swamp. This whole area is below sea level. You couldn't raise crops here. Rice, maybe; but from what I hear, there's a lot more money in gambling.
I had a hard day. I've said it before, life ain't all sunshine and daisies. I sticky and stinky and underfed. It was another long thirsty day. A lot of it's due to poverty. A lot more was just bad planning. Throw in some punishment from our benevolent God and I think you've got the picture. Did Job get a rash? I forget. I wonder if his was where mine is.
I woke up early and went back to sleep. It's been a rough couple of days. But I was back on the road at nine or so. My radio got NPR. But it conked out before Car Talk came on. I remember a few weeks back. Reception was poor; all I could hear were the snorts and a great deal of laughter. I still listened to the entire show. And I enjoyed it immensely.
You never hear too much about Joy, as if it's one of the lesser emotions. But I think of them all it's my favourite. Without it Love would just suck.
Two miles took me to a Sunoco station. I was there for a couple of hours. I finished typing up yesterday's notes and juiced up my little computer. I would have liked to buy food but it was really expensive. I had a Coke and a small breakfast sandwich. I introduced myself to the man working there so he wouldn't throw me out.
"Write that the Latin people are good." I can honestly say that they are.
Spanish is the language down here. Japanese is worth nothing at all. English, carefully applied, will take you only so far. I like Spanish. I think I could learn it. I have some small knowledge of Latin. In that I know it exists; that's a good first step. I was looking at my map. I'm closer to Costa Rica than I've ever been. I think I might go there next.
I'll fly, thank you.
I also thought I might walk the length of Japan. It isn't so very far. South to north, in the springtime. They have public baths in each town. And the people are most hospitable, so long as your Japanese is not too good. In that case they treat you like they do each other, or according to their mood.
I expected to find cheaper food some ways down. As it was I did not. I was trying to avoid Miami. I avoided the crap out of it. Nothing against that noble town. I find pastels most soothing. But it would have been hard to find places to camp. That's what took me out here.
To the absolute middle of nowhere at all. I had a twenty-mile walk. Through these ubiquitous Everglades. There was nothing out there at all. But a narrow strip of road. People drive fast. I was hungry and did not have much water.
Mr. Martin saw me and stopped. He's a gentleman philosopher. I had met him at a motel in Okeechobee. It took me ten minutes to remember him. He gave me a can of RC cola. In fact, he gave me four. And so saved my life. We talked for an hour. It was nice to see an old friend.
That still left me nine miles to the next town, or at least my next source of water. It was late; I'd been dawdling. I had to walk very fast. Which took some strength. I had it to give, but I am a lazy man at heart. And was burning more calories than I'd taken in. That always makes me cross.
I found a gas station and found a sandwich. I'm still fairly underfed. And I had barely enough daylight to find a place for my tent. Which was a trick, I tell you. This is the Everglades. I waded through water up to my shins, upsetting God knows what fauna. And finally made a dry nest for myself, in the manner of a mountain gorilla.
Suck on that, creationists. We're not so very far removed. And it wasn't book-learning or divine inspiration, it was purely animal sense. Instinct. Monkey skills. I've got them and you've got them too. But mine are a good deal more advanced.
Or retarded, as the case may be.
THE PRETTY lady who made my sandwich did not speak English at all. And this wasn't some strip mall bodega. This was a national chain. There was no suggestion that she should speak English. She had beautiful eyes.
IN MY WHOLE life I have never been dirtier, stinkier or more bedraggled than I am right now. That's saying something.
Google puts me twenty-five miles from Miami. I could be there this time tommorrow. But I'm going to bypass it to the west and continue south to the Keys. "Seattle to Miami." That's what it says on my card, and generally it is true. But I've tacked just a bit on at both ends of this trip. I went wide around Seattle too.
There was a beautiful sunrise this morning, all pinks and pastel blues. I was up early and packed up quick. I was trespassing just a bit. In a sort of nature preserve. The world was all my own. And I was pleased to share it with the birds and the beasts and all things slithery.
But I had no desire to get yelled at. That's no way to start a hike. I was up on a dike on a gravel road. I had not slept very well. The ground was hard and I was surrounded by frogs. They'd all come up from the water. To inspect my tent at all angles and growl at me. There was a gator too. And birds making jungle noises, like you hear in the Tarzan films.
I felt strong; my pack was light. I was quite out of water. At some point in my sleep I drank up my last two pints. I was thirsty with thirteen miles to go. I should have brought more but my pack's hard to carry. It's held together with duck tape and spit. And bits of rope I find on the road. And one or two unbelieving prayers.
It was hard; I was drying up fast. My tongue was starting to swell. I couldn't swallow; I was cramping up. I developed a pain in my chest. I had no choice but to take it at a gallop, thirteen miles nonstop. It was not as if I was going to die. It was just so uncomfortable. We rarely get really thirsty these days. It's like not being able to breathe.
And interestingly, do you know what I longed for? Cold beer or CocaCola? A mint julep? Gatorade? No, I wanted water. Things simplify themselves in a crisis. I'm reminded of an interesting fact. The last words of most pilots before they hit the ground? "Mama." That always makes me cry.
Nine miles in I found a fisherman and bummed a bottle of water. I drank it slow and sat a bit. I must say it cheered me up. Thank you, sir, whoever you are. I'm glad you come prepared.
Four easy miles took me to the Sawgrass Recreation Center. They offer airboat rides. Which made me sad because I couldn't afford one. I need to watch my dimes. Which I put to good use at the lunch wagon. I had a sandwich and six cans of Coke. At a steep discount, unasked for. It was awfully decent of them. Good old Chfristian charity. I must have looked like hell.
Or maybe I looked more genuine than the rest of that crowd, more of the earth, as it were. It was a much bigger place than I had expected. There were tourists, busloads of them. Toting cameras and shopping for gifts. Posing for pictures and looking so clean. Frolicking in their silly shorts. I sat in the shade and ate my sandwich, feeling superior.
I'm not an absolute jerk; the feeling passed. I did not let it go to my head. But I have earned Florida. I was happier than anyone to be there. It was a pretty place; I was getting fed. Of course I looked like a hobo. I've walked some three or four thousand miles. I've swallowed a lot of dust.
I eat better than most hoboes. I'm healthier; I drink much less. Nevertheless I feel a kinship. My affinities are with them. And every one I have met has been proud. And every one had the right. So look down your noses. Lock us up, beat us down. Kick us out of your stores. We are brave and strong and free. We don't take our showers for granted.
I met Mike, Big Mike, I want to call him. His family runs the place. "You're the guy walking across America. Do you want a free airboat ride?"
I wanted it as badly as I'd wanted water. I never get to do anything fun. Don't misunderstand me here. This whole adventure has been a blast. But I do miss out on some things. I don't get to drink beer or hear live music. I don't take side trips and scenic tours. I'm always too poor or in too much of a hurry. This was an abslute thrill.
An airboat, I'll remind you, is a flat-bottomed craft. It is powered by a propeller. Which means it can go almost anywhere. It will float in three inches of water. Usually you sit up very high, but this was the tourist model. There were twenty of us. We all had fun, but the biggest smile was mine.
Big Mike took me up and they gave me a ticket, a band strapped around my wrist. And a set of ear plugs. I stood in line. On the way in they took my picture. I couldn't afford to buy a print, but I tell you, I looked good. Bearded and sunburnt and covered in dust. And happy. Life is good.
The Everglades, I knew this once, are not a swamp but a river. They once stretched from Orlando south to the keys, the whole width of Florida. But developers have been filling them in. They saved a few thousand square miles. The water is about two feet deep and flows at one mile/day.
I was the only one by myself. I wedged in on an aluminum bench. Which vibrated most interestingly, like a tickle but more satisfying. If you know what I mean. It goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of airboat rides.
But it wasn't all there was for me. It sure gives you a new perspective. I've been walking past these swamps for days, but it's not a swamp once you get out there. It's pretty. The sky is mirrored in the water. From a low angle it looks like land. With all the grasses and cattails. We skimmed right over them all.
In search of one lonesome gator. For most tourists that is the high point of the trip. But I've seen so many in the last few days, I'd have been glad to give him a pass. He was just sitting there. That's pretty much what they do. In your mind's eye you'd have him thrashing about and snapping his jaws at you. Which I'd have been glad to see from the safety of a boat, but no. He was just sitting there.
The bigger thrill was being out there where only an airboat can go. Or a canoe. Airboats are more fun. We saw an osprey eating a fish. And learned how to make gauze from cat tail pulp. We were attacked by boat-tailed grackels. Clever birds. They behave like seagulls. They've got the tourists wrapped around their fingers. Or talons, as the case may be. Their favourite food is Cheez-Its.
There was a brief question and answer session. I wish it had gone on longer. I had a thousand questions about gators and airboats and the state of the Everglades. Which have suffered some in the last fifty years. The last one-hundred, perhaps. If I were one of those biological types, that is where I'd pursue my studies.
The pilot got on it just a bit on our way back to the dock. The smaller airboats that people have can go 90 mph. We didn't come anywhere close to that, but it was still lots of fun. Especially the turns. My most sincere thanks to the Sawgrass Recreation Center.
Leaving there could see I-75, known as Alligator Alley. Which crosses right across the bottom of the state, another insult to the environment. (As are airboats, I'm all but certain. I'll compromise here and there.) I passed under it and continued south, another ten miles of nothing.
But I was fed and watered. It was not a bad walk. I stopped when I reached a gas station. With a biker bar next door. They were cranking the Jethro Tull. I sat outside and guzzled root beer and felt very good about life.
Two more miles south I put up my tent. I still had plenty of daylight. But it had been a good day. I'd walked far enough. I tucked myself deep in the trees. Figgy-looking something-or-others and evergreens with long wispy needles. And other trees standing tall and quite dead. White. They're all over the place.
I his myself better than I needed to. Someone pulled a knife at the gas station. Not on me. No one was hurt. But I didn't want to be around anyone who expresses their negative emotions that way. I've always done well with sarcasm. I should conduct seminars.
I bought my safety with lumpy ground. It's hotter than holy blazes. I'm covered in sticky sweat and bug bites. Life is good all the same. Goodnight.
"ARE YOU afraid of gators?" the boat pilot asked me. There were twenty other people there. Why pick on me, I wondered. Yes, I said. He was satisfied. He lied and said he was too.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
When I woke up my tent was full of mosquitos, hundreds and hundreds of them. There were thousands more outside waiting their turn to climb through the holes in my screen. Of which there are some; it has been a long walk. There are no gashes or tears. Just a few little chinks, here and there, none bigger than a mosquito.
But they found them and told their friends. Their friends must have told complete strangers. I pulled my shirt over my mouth to breathe to keep from sucking them in. They sang in my ears; they coated my arms; they layed their eggs in my beard. I slaughtered countless dozens of them, but still they kept coming.
I suffered any number of bites. I could see who the culprits were. They left a splatters of my own blood when I squished them dead. My tent now looks like a crime scene. The police suspect Jackson Pollock.
They were helpful in waking me up. I was awake by five. But I dared not go outside. It was dark and there were frogs out there. Great hideous things, or so I believe. I never actually saw one. But I could hear them hopping about. I could hesr them growling at me. One has to assume there were gators as well. I waited two hours for sunrise.
It was all in all an awful night. I had a short walk into town. And high hopes cor a proper breakfast. I wound up at Subway. That's about all you'll find in South Bay, Florida. I was there until nine-thirty.
Coaxing some charge into my little computer. I had a sandwich and cookies. And another sandwich to go. And more cookies at a convenience store. And a gallon of water and Gatorade. My pack was unspeakably heavy.
But lighter than it might have been. I've shed my wooly socks. And my thermal underwear. All of it went to Goodwill. I'm not sure how pleased they'll be. But years from now the James Museum's acquisitions committee will pay thousands to get it all back.
"His actual long johns! Ooh, ahh. Were those stains always there?"
It was threatening rain when I finally left. It speaks well of me that I did. Fifty miles in the rain with a tired old pack. A long bleak gatory crossing. With blisters on both feet and the start of a rash. A lesser man would have hung back. Or one with more money. I just don't have the funds to enjoy an indoor life.
I walked twenty-six miles today. I needed every one of them. I beat the rain south but I was walking into a stiff headwind. Past miles and miles of cane fields, owned by the Domino company. Which is owned by the Fanjul Brothers. They employ slave labor. And are doing very well for themselves. The meek don't inherit shit.
I haven't quite figured how sugar is grown. I know they burn the fields. The EPA must have grandfathered that in. It makes an awful mess. Huge billowing clouds and unpleasant fumes. Ashes rain from the sky. Then the gather up the debris and truck it to a factory, where they grind it up, add 11 secret herbs and spices, and, I think, truck it back to the fields and spread it around.
But I'm not sure. All morning I watched trucks moving back and forth, back and forth like ants. A thousand of them, from fields to factory, from factory to fields and back. Bumper to bumper for miles and miles. It all seemed sinister. While the fields burned and the ash rained down. There were workers on old school buses. Painted white. They were brown people. I hope they are being well paid.
I think too we subsidise sugar. It has something to do with sticking it to Castro. And with the kind of influence a few billion dollars will buy. I'm thinking of boycotting it altogether. I hear high-fructose corn syrup is good.
The cane fields gave way to a sawgrass swamp. I think it's where Miami gets their water. It's all fenced off and beyond a canal. This is I guess the Everglades but not quite what I thought. I expected cyprus swamps and mangrove forests. This mes of sawgrass marshes. Wet though, and with plenty of gators, though I didn't see any today.
Lots of black snakes, five or six feet long and all very much alive. They move fast and don't very much like me. They shoot away as I approach, at least the ones I saw did. The braver ones may have held their ground and waited for me to pass.
Vile detestable creatures.
Find me now on the edge of a swampy lake in what I think is a wildlife preserve. It is pretty but not where I want to camp. I couldn't find anywhere for my tent. I hear crickets and frogs and fifty kinds of birds, not one among them shy. This is what they call a rich ecosystem. Nature is a noisy place.
I've got plenty of food but I'm low on water. Civilisation is twenty miles off. I think there's an airboat camp 13 miles up. There'd better be or I'll die of thirst. Water, water everywhere, &c.
It is almost certain to rain tomorrow. They promise lightning too. Poop.
AN INQUISITIVE child was charmed by my hat. "Are you a crossing guard?" No, I told her, I am a walker. She lost interest almost at once. And turned on her mother. "Mommy," she asked. "When are you and Daddy going to get married?"
A MAN told me gators often eat dogs. "Swallow them whole," he said. I like dogs, I told him sadly. "So do gators," he said.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
I was attacked by a pack of wild dogs. It must have been two a.m. I heard them coming through the trees even before they started barking. "Yapping" might be the better word. They didn't sound very big. I told them to shut up and go away and I went back to sleep.
They were back in the morning, some time after dawn. They again sat me upright in bed. This time I got a look at them. They were something bigger than cats. One of them wagged his tail at me. I ignored him as well as I could.
You may remember my days in bear country. I was sure I'd be eaten then. But I've never been as uncomfortable with nature as I've been these past few days. Swamp life does not appeal to me. There are too many critters out here. Each one deadlier than the next. The mosquitos might be the worst.
I saw a good dozen gators today. Not one could have eaten me whole. Which is not to say they might not like to try. There's some danger in being delicious. Like it or not we are part of the food chain. You will find us near the top. But not at it. We do fool ourselves. We have our guns and environmental destruction. Perhaps your god did give you dominion, but try explaining that to a bear.
Atheists, the lot of them. Gators are even worse. Snakes may very well believe in God, but their hearts were forged in hell. They've got a constrictor problem down here. Escaped pets and zoo refugees. They've got no predators; they reach obscene lengths. They have been known to eat deer.
What kind of idiot wants a snake as a pet. They are incapable of affection. Love of reptiles is an affectation. The world is creepy enough. It's like people who claim black as their favorite colour. It's blue and you know it. Shut up.
So I got packed up without being bitten. Not by a dog at least. A few mosquitos chewed on me. Most of them do not. Their favorite trick is to hover just by my ear. They know it drives me nuts. They tortured me in India. We're supposed to be better than that.
I was back on the road at I-don't-know-what time. I was too hungry to check. I've been a bit underfed these past several days and it was affecting my mood. Canal Point was six miles off. I was swimming through bugs the whole way. Remind me to buy some spray tomorrow. There are fifty in here with me now.
Canal Point seemed to mean well enough. There wasn't an awful lot to it. But there was a Subway at the gas station. BP still shows its face here. But no tables. I ate out front. People glared at me. And made great show of locking their cars. A rooster crowed somewhere nearby.
Farmland here. Sugarcane. There was what I first thought was corn. But I think it was baby sugarcane. They get a few crops from each planting. Then burn the fields and start over again. Great clouds of smoke fill the sky. Sweet smelling but not pleasant. I think this goes on all year round.
Three short miles took me to Pahokee. I think that's a neat name for a town. Or some body part better not mentioned. There's a day care center called Pahokee Pals. Which I thought was cute, though it would serve just as well as the title of a gay porn magazine. I suppose it comes down to how your mind works. Don't drag me into your gutter.
I ate again in Pahokee. I did not really need to. But I needed to sit down and I needed to plug in and I needed to study my map. I have an awful stretch coming up. I march into the Everglades tomorrow. Where I will be for two long days, if not the rest of my life.
I'm not at all looking forward to it. The walk may not do me in. Though I will have to carry all kinds of water and a good deal of food. What worries me is the camping. I'll almost surely be et. Gators and snakes are no mere abstraction. I'm greatly outnumbered out here.
And I've got two nasty blisters, one on the heel of each foot. I've just now performed some gruesome surgery, with nose hair scissors and a safety pin. I stopped buying moleskin months ago. I don't think I can get more. It's going to be a hungry thirsty fifty-mile limp. It's Montana all over again.
The road from Pahokee was lined with palms. Not the kind I've been seeing. But very tall; you might describe them as "stately." The effect could have been better. I had seen closed factories and boarded-up shops. Parking lots growing weeds. It was what I've imagined Haiti looks like. It is not so very far away.
I met my friend Frank from yesterday, the Dutchman from Canada. He had made it all around the lake. He was less fresh than yesterday. Still it was nice to see him again. He gave me some Nutter Butters. My favorite cookie. They're shaped like peanuts. I've eaten them up just now.
I had been in Pahokee an awful long time. I had a nine-mile hike to Belle Glade. Which is at the southern tip of the lake. I met Virgil Rex on the way. A hobo, more or less, riding a push-bike. His baskets were full of turtles. He's a poacher of sorts. He catches them and sells them to turtle breeders. They sell them to pet stores.
You know what makes a nice pet? A dog. Not ready for that kind of commitment? A cat. Those are your choices. Stop outthinking yourselves.
We talked for quite a while. He used to work in carnivals. He had all kinds of hair growing on his nose. I wondered if he'd been a freak. But no, he ran the Ferris wheel. He said I should sign on there. And between you and me, if the chance comes up, that's precisely what I'll do.
I like the idea. It has a certain run-away-and-join-the-circus vibe. Carnies are weirdos and reprobates. Ex-cons. People with problems.
"But they're not rats," Virgil assured me. He said I'd fit right in.
He was just out of the hospital. They "Baker-Acted" him. You may remember O'Connor v. Donaldson. The Baker Act contradicts that. They had him under observation for seventy-two hours. In the end they decided he was sane. He'd told him he was but they didn't believe him. Lunatics lie all the time.
"They kept asking me what day it was. Make sure you always know that. What day is it?" he quizzed me.
"Tuesday?" I guessed.
"Thursday," he said. He looked worried for me. "Figure out some system for remembering."
And so I shall. One of these days. For the best part of the last decade I didn't know what year it was. I do now. I'm improving. But I don't care much more than I ever did. Let me know when I'm 100 years old.
Find me now in another sugarcane field, too close to a canal. Which is full of gators; I know that for a fact. My tent is full of mosquitos. There's a frog outside trying to sound like a dog. There's a bird trying to sound like a pig. Something or other is splashing about. I don't much like it here.
I'm a few blocks outside of South Bay, my last stop before the 'Glades. If my feet aren't too bad I set out tomorrow on one of the worst stretches of this trip.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I'm hungry. Underfed. I did enjoy one or two snacks. A bag of cookies I bought for a dollar. Three granola bars. Five cans of Pepsi at a saloon. Something from a microwave. So I'm not going to starve, not right away. I got some calories. At least as many as they recommend, but less than I'm accustomed to. I'm an American, dammit. We're big eaters. Gluttony is our God-given right.
And it has served me well out here on the road. I know many survive on much less. But I'm still dropping weight, little by little. I'm glad I had some in reserve. Otherwise I'd be gone by now. And then who'd be James Harry Pierce?
No one, that's who. You couldn't recruit. Not even if you doubled the wages. There are easier ways to spend your life. Forget the walking part. Just being James is trial enough. I should have quit years ago.
But you fall into habits. If you fall in a river you'll cling to the first rock you see. Though you be pelted by logs and debris. There are worse things waiting downstream. The current is strong. You cannot go back. It's your own fault you're where you are. A few strangers look blandly on from the bank. One or two might applaud. Some are disgusted; most are yawning and bored. They all think you're out there on purpose.
I did have a sandwich prepared for today. I ate it last night. As usually happens. There must have been a pound of jalapeños on it. I watched the nice lady put them on. I did not have the courage to protest. I didn't want her to think I was weak. And it tasted fine. I woke up well before the sun rose.
With intestinal problems, abdominal cramps and a strong sense of urgency. It was no way to start the day. It did get me out of bed. Better than any alarm clock has. Alarm clocks can be turned off. This persisted at least until noon. I managed. It could have been worse.
Less than a mile down the road I found a bridge to the lake. Which is encircled by a canal, and a tall embankment. It's an awfully big lake, 110 miles round. It is remarkably shallow. But it can get lippy in hurricane season. They like to keep it penned in.
It's a good looking lake. I tried to take pictures. I don't think it I did it justice. There are no buildings on its shores. Just one or two crocodiles. And more long snakes than I cared to count, the detestable evil things.
I walked along the top of the dike. The lake was to my right. Looking very much like the sea itself. There was no surf, of course. But the vastness of it. There were palm trees and a thick buffer of marshland. To my left was the canal with a few fishermen. Beyond that were trailer parks.
And some nice homes. Here and there woods. All of it teeming with gators. There was no one out on the lake, insofar as I could see. And I was up so high I could see for miles. The sky was wide overhead. Blue with very tall white clouds. I was walking into the wind.
Two miles in I passed a sandwich shop. I did need to get myself fed. But it was a hundred yards across the canal. I wasn't about to swim. And it was a Subway, so no harm done. There's another six miles from here. It's where I intend to have my breakfast. I can hardly wait.
I met a Dutchman down from Canada. He was riding around on his bike. He had all sorts of gear; I thought he was going further. It would take a couple of days. He took my picture to show his mother. She is not feeling well. Pray for her, those of you who do. She raised herself a fine son.
Would that my own mom could say as much. She wouldn't if given the chance. Or probably not. We may never know. I still have some work to do.
I met too three hikers with packs. Men in their sixties, I guess. They do this sort of thing every year. This year it's Lake Okeechobee. They were just about done when I met them. They went once around in eight days. They did not appear to be having fun, but I'm not the right one to judge.
They contributed the granola bars. It was awfully good of them. It made all the difference. Now I'm just sad. If I'd eaten less I'd be mean. Thanks guys.
Ten miles on I climbed off the dike and back out onto the road. I was out of water and delighted to find a saloon at the J&S Fish Camp. Open-walled with a tiki theme. Run by the lovely Miss Bonnie. There was no food today. I filled up on Pepsi cola. And a "Hot Pocket." I'm sure it meant well, but biscuits and gravy it's not.
I enjoyed talking to the people there. It was a real mixed crowd. There were proper bikers, great fearsome fellows, in addition to the suburban kind. And retirees and a horseshoer. He gave me his best advice. "Learn to eat snake and for your next hundred miles, you won't go hungry at all."
"Not at all," he added for emphasis, and cackled to drive home the point. He was missing a few front teeth from where a horse kicked him in the face. Nice guy. Really.
I talked too to Gale, an unapologetic racist. He was seventy-two years old. From Kentucky. He spewed the most gentlemanly hate speech I have ever heard.
His wife of forty-five years ran off with a preacher. You've got to keep your eye on that lot. Preachers, I mean. But wives, too. It's getting so you can't trust anyone.
Nice fellow despite his issues. I liked him; he laughed at my jokes. I did not laugh at his; they were inappropriate. Sill he paid for my lunch. Which was very kind. Only in America. A hater with a heart of gold.
From there I could backtracked to the bridge, and continued to walk by the lake. But spectacular scenery goes a long way. I stayed down on the road. And put in my miles. At Port Mayaca I came to a bridge, a great tall son-of-a-gun. It was so steep I thought it was an open drawbridge. No, it's just one high arch. Crossing bridges is not my favourite part of Walking Across America.
There was a good wide shoulder but the guardrail was about as high as my knees. And it was pretty up there; a lot of drivers had their eyes on the view. I wasn't consciously scared but my heart was pounding by the time I got off the thing. I had to stop and steady myself. I sat for almost an hour.
And moved on. I always do. Find me now on a sugar plantation. At least I think it's sugarcane. Natural history is not my strong suit. I suppose I can go over and gnaw on a piece, but it looks awfully snaky. And there are mosquitos coating the outside of my tent. Cold weather protocol.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Twelve score and two, an awfully long time. I should have been done in two hundred. But I've dragged my feet; I've laid up here and there. These numbers are embarrassing me. I remember the night I typed "Day Twenty." I was awfully proud of myself. Twenty whole days in the wilderness. As many as I had fingers and toes.
And one or two more than I have now. Walking do wear down your feet. But I have no doubt that they'll grow back, stronger than ever before. If less beautiful. Mountain climbers lose toes all the time. And when the get home they brag about it. I'll never wear sandals again.
Not without socks. That is a privilege that comes to us all in old age. But small compensation for the sad fact that you are now falling apart. I'm not quite sure how I got on this track. It's not at all what I wanted to say. But it doesn't hurt to let your mind wander. It may come up poetry.
I got my eight hours, or not too much less. I did well without a TV. Or without a remote. It was too much trouble to lean over and turn it on. The beauty of TV is that it's effortless. It makes no demands of you. It is ruined if you have to do calisthenics before you can have your mind numbed.
I flipped it on in the morning. Save me. I was up at seven o'clock. And still I sat there until check-out time, comfortable on my bed. There was a pool but I didn't swim. It did not look wholly clean. Nor did the shower but I had three of those, the first two to wash off the stink. And the third just because I could. Appreciate what comforts you have.
It's nice to be rinsed. My hair is clean. Or was; it didn't last long. Back out in the humidity I got all sticky again. On a two-mile hike to the laudromat, rather a high-class place. There are RV'ers here, sophisticated, but without their own washing machines. So they keep the place cleaner and charge a bit more. Few good things in life are free.
I finished up there in an hour or two. I still did not go anywhere. I hung around town until four o'clock, contemplating my future. For this reason or that I hadn't been fed, not for some thirty-six hours. And it had me just a little light-headed. It was hard to make plans. I left town on a thirty-mile hike without enough food or water.
Main Street, I think it's called Parrot Road, runs south straight out of town. And stops when it hits Lake Okeechobee. There you go left or right. I went left, that's east, and a mile in at last had the wits to eat.
At a saloon. I did not catch the name. I made friends with some old people. I wish I could have sat and drank beer with them but it was fast getting dark. So I ate much too much, much too fast, and bolted back out to the road. I wasn't sure how far I would have to go before I found a place for my tent.
Lake Okeechobee. I wish I could describe it. It's not words that fail me here. I've not seen it myself. The whole thing is hemmed in by a thirty-foot dike. Around that runs a canal. Then a hundred-yard width of trailer parks. Then the road that I'm on now. Then more trailer parks and, luckily, a gas station/sandwich shop.
So I'll have food tomorrow if I don't eat it now. I am a little peckish. But it may be all I have to sustain me until I get to Canal Point. And a lot more than I thought I'd get. I really could have done with more planning. I've managed to survive at least this long. I'm too quick to think I always will.
I was still among trailer parks when it got dark. I wondered where I would sleep. But that problem always seems to solve itself. I was not too much concerned. And sure enough, I found a road leading into the tall tall grass. Twelve feet tall. Seriously. And you think your lawn is bad.
It was like a tunnel, spooky enough. God knows what's living in there. I spotted a length of coiled up hose and stopped so fast I almost snapped my neck. But it eventually opened up. I found a path leading me into the thick of it. To an open patch, a boar's nest no doubt, where I set up my tent.
I hope the pigs don't come to evict me. There are too sportsmen at large. Who drive monster trucks with a flying bridge, designed just for killing hogs. They've got a platform twelve feet off the ground. They go deep into the grass. And sit up there drinking beer until a pig happens by. Then they shoot it dead. My yellow tent makes me invisible back here. That might be my bad luck.
Find me at the Travelers Inn in Okeebochee, Florida. I should feel guilty but I do not. I was well overdue for a rinse. And the TV is not very big. It does not have remote control.
Which may in the end be the saving of me. That is what keeps me up nights. Flipping up and down through the channels, looking for something to watch. It's the impulse which glues us to slot machines. We pin our hopes on the next spin. It's the force that keeps me moving around. It's why I get up in the morning.
Or the afternoon, as the case may be. Time is a relative thing. I was up fairly early today. I hit the road with low expectations. Some days are easy. Some days are hard. I never know how it will go. But I had a bad feeling and I was covered with grit. I dared not hope for the best.
Which shows what I know. The miles flew by. It was no easier than yesterday. But I had a lot more progress to show. This is an awfully big country. And it won't walk itself. I'm happiest when I put some miles behind me.
I stopped for breakfast a mile or two in, at a roadside service station. Two sandwiches, not bad but not big, and a few jugs of CocaCola. Calories are what I'm after. Nutrition can see to itself. Soon enough this walk will end. I'll celebrate with vegetables.
I wasn't there long, an hour or so. I met a few interesting people. The Sri Lankan fellow who runs the place and an old biker from West Virginia. But I wasn't ready to set up housekeeping. I had a long way to go.
To Okeechobee and I hoped a laundromat. And as it turned out a motel. Traffic was heavier than yesterday. Some truckers get Sundays off. Twenty-two miles through wilderness. The developers have not got here yet. There are woods and the odd cattle ranch, what I think was a dairy farm.
This was all ranchland a few years back. You don't expect that from Florida. But aside frombthe palm trees it looks like Montana, only a great deal greener. Soggy, you might say, and humid at that. It still wasn't so bad for walking. My clothes were so dirty I didn't care. I thought some sweat might do them good.
Some ten miles in I found another gas station. They promised a restaurant too. It didn't look likely bt I can't say for sure. I was not allowed inside. Turfed out, sent packing, turned away at the door. They didn't want my kind there. That has never happened before. I must say it hurt my feelings.
I assume it is because I look like a hobo. But hoboes, as a rule, skulk. I walk tall and proud. I limp just a little. It wasn't too too far from town. If it were I would have had to explain myself, to earn my right to spend money. But I was free to turn and leave, I hope with my dignity.
I wish I could say I left quietly, that I turned the other cheek. But I am but human. I didn't hit anyone. I did not overturn a display. But I did share two words and gestured with two hands to make sure I'd made my point.
Kwai Chang Caine would have just looked down. He was not burdened by pride. But I find it easier to be like Jesus when people are nice to me. I would have much liked to punch that guy. That's a dark part of my heart. I hope a real hobo comes by and burns his place to the ground.
It's the hobo thing that offends people. I do my best to put them at their ease. But there are the few who express their fear with scorn and by picking on me. And that offends me too. I resent the assumption that I won't pound them into mush. Of all the ways I could react, that is right there on the list. Only one or two notches below "cry like little girl."
Hurt my feelings, will you, you bastards. You'd think I would shave my beard. So you could see the gentleman scholar beneath. I'd just as soon let it grow. I earned it. I am a man of the road. Let folks make their own assumptions. I'll shave it off when I get to Key West. I'll have tan lines on my face.
I'll have earned those too. I should have something to show for Walking Across America. They don't give prizes for this. I think they should. Pizza coupons or something. A commemorative T-shirt and a new yellow hat, in case I want to do this again.
I arrived in town with daylight left. I could have gone five more miles. But I needed a shower. I earned that, as well. I needed to get laundry done. And get fed, but I did not do that. I'm having cash flow problems. Tomorrow may turn out just a bit better. Here's hoping that I get fed.
I SAW a big turtle in the canal. Any movement there catches my eye. He was green-black and smooth-shelled. He looked a like some doughboy's army helmet, but bigger by just a bit. As if Charlie Brown had served in the Great War. I know for a fact Snoopy did.
I MET too an armadiller. I walked over to say hi. And got to withing six inches of him. He would not be frightened off. I could have picked him up if I'd wanted. I didn't want. They might bite.