Monday, January 30, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Eight, Iakob Erricos Petros

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.


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Seven, Dirty Monkey

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.

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Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Six, Whee!

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.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 246, Coming Soon!

Alive and well, a day's walk from Miami, Florida.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Five, Sugar, Sugar

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.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Four, Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane

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.

Happy dreams.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Three, Okeechobee, The Lake

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.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty-Two, Escape From Okeechobee

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.

Happy dreams.

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Days Two-Hundred-Forty-One, Obiwan Kenobi

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.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Forty, Yeehaw

I didn't accomplish much today.  It was a failure of imagination.  Many failures are.  I came up with a plan and stuck to it loyally.  Long after it turned out to be stupid.  Many of my plans are.

The idea was to hike up to Yeehaw Junction and install myself at a truckstop.  I'd have a shower and then maybe breakfast.  I'd get some washing done. And get back on the road by noon or so and put in some token miles.  Fifteen, maybe twenty of them, depending on how well I felt.  As it was I walked a dozen, and did very little else.

There was no truckstop at Yeehaw Junction.  It's a few more miles up the road.  And out of my way.  I had no reason to stick around as long as I did.  But I was there until two, sipping soda and watching the cars roll by.

And the bikes.  In a lot of ways it was like being in Montana again.  A crossroads in the middle of nowhere, defined by one ancient saloon.  The Desert Inn started life as a whorehouse in 1880 or so.  Now it is a restaurant and bar.  They will give you breakfast cheap.  And lunch, it turns out.  In the interim I was at the gas station.  Out front at a filthy picnic table, winning friends and making people nervous.

Had I come a week later I'd have been just in time for the bluegrass festival.  You know I'm nutty for banjo music, but it just wasn't to be.  I was befriended by Cricket, who works inside.  I chatted with the Bob the Sheriff.  Who did not let his professional curiosity prevent him from being kind.

"Be careful when you get to Miami."  I get that one a lot.  It seems that once I get there I'll have every chance of being killed.  Surely the dangers are exaggerated.  No, not at all, said Bob.

I spent all morning studying my map without reaching any good conclusions.  I invite you all once again to call up Google Earth.  Have a look at Dade County.  And tell me how I can get through there without being in the thick of things.  If I go wide left into the Everglades there is no way I can keep fed.  Though there is every chance I'll be eaten by gators.

"It's the snakes you've got to watch out for."


Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.  So are most chimpanzees.  So it's not as if I'm alone in this.  I am in good company.  It's well for you, safe in your armchair.  I'm the one knee-deep in vipers.  Or sociopathic gangsters or ravening hogs.  The gators remain a concern.  And the skeeters are chewing on me.  It's not easy being James.

And therein you see my heroism, unlikely though it may be.  It's not hard to Walk Across America, but it is hard for me.  I'm unathletic.  Lazy, you might say.  Beset by girlish fears.  But I'm still out here, aren't I?  Far better men would have quit.

So Miami, hell.  I'll figure it out.  In the end I always do.  And if I'm eaten or constricted or stabbed the joke will be on you.  I'll die as a kind of parable.  I'll remind people not to try.  Look what happened to James, you'll all say.  We'd better just stay home.

Miami.  What a mess.  And I really could have done with a shower.  I'm working on one hell of a stink.  I'm not a fastdious person.  But I do like to bathe regularly; I'm just silly that way.  And I'm running low on socks.  And I'm fast running out of shorts.

Okeechobee is twenty miles off.  I may have messed up some there.  Unless I really haul ass tomorrow I'll be too late to get laundry done.  Maybe I'll get lucky and have a rotten day.  Maybe I'll stop short of town.  But I also have got to get fed.  I did buy a sandwich for tommorow.

It was delicious.

Find me now on the edge of Highway 441.  You could see my tent if you tried.  But I'm on the far side of a deep canal.  I like to think of it as my moat.  The night is warm.  The stars are beautiful and I'm protected by crocodiles.

I SAW another one of those feral hogs, again thoroughly dead.  You should see the teeth on them critters.  I hope I don't meet a live one.

I SAW TOO my first armadiller.  I have seen thousands of them.  Literal thousands, but this one was alive.  He was smaller than most.  About the size of a football and of about the same shape.  Rather a cute little feller.  He ran in little hops like a lamb.  I like armadillers.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Nine, By The Way I Use My Walk

My new air matress has sprung a leak.  A slow one; it's not big deal.  I wake every three hours and puff it back up.  It gives me something to do.  And I'll get it patched one of these days.  All I need is a bathtub.

To find the hole.  I'll patch it with duck tape.  I do not have duck tape either.  I meant to steal some from my friend Dennis.  Not the entire roll.  That would be unchristian.  Just a couple of feet, wrapped around my can of deodorant.  That's a trick I learned on the REI website.  They've got all kinds of camping advice.  Like how to adjust those various straps my backpack no longer has.

I missed them today.  Man, what a stinker.  I'm on Florida's highway 60.  It is narrow with an eighteen-inch shoulder.  Traffic moves at eighty miles-per.  Which is not quick enough for a lot of these maniacs.  There's a whole lot of passing going on.  Which brings cars fast up behind me, unannounced and six inches from my elbow.

I made it a point to give them all the finger, just to make sure my arm was still there.  And to express my mood, which was rotten.  It was a hard-walking day.  My feet hurt and my shoulders were killing me.  The landscape was not much to see.  Dead flat scrubland, hot and dry.  It still managed to be humid.  I had to keep my eyes on the road.  I could not let my mind drift at all. 

I like to stop every now and then.  I like to meet the folks.  I want my thirty-nine Cokes and my big breakfasts.  This was miles of nothing.  With a heavy pack and the beginnings of shin splints.  I was running low on water.  Once across America is perhaps enough.  Today made me remember Montana.

You would think these long stretches between towns would make me want to walk faster.  But they seem to have the opposite effect.  They fill me with a sense of defeat.  All I want to do is sit and sulk.  I'm sure it points to a weakness in my character.  But even still I walked twenty-three miles further than you did today.

And I was depressed, which itself depressed me.  I've been so cheerful of late.  I wanted to believe my dark days were all behind me.  There may be a few yet ahead.  Adversity, I fear, does not bring out my best.  I can be as sour as ever.  It's easy to be happy when life is good.  Misfortune is the chief cause of depression.

I struggled but could not find my rhythm.  I'd walk two miles and stop.  And walk two more then stop again.  Then maybe one and a half.  I stopped at a veg warehouse and begged water.  That should have cheered me up.  But it also made my pack heavy.  It just wasn't my day.

Around three a fat girl in sunglasses threw a bottle at me.  From a passing car.  She missed, the cow.  It got me thinking about things.  I'm doing something great here.  It's easier than it looks.  But you cannot deny the scope of it.  It takes courage and determination.  And even hinting at greatness puts you at risk.  Think about it; see if I'm wrong.  The world is geared towards mediocrity.  The protruding nail gets hammered down.

Or bottles thrown at it by idiots.  Or shot three times in the chest.  Or nailed up on a cross.  I got off easy.  Look what they did to Roseanne.  People are frightened of what we don't understand.  I should learn to embrace their contempt.  But if I see that bitch again I'm going to kick her ass.

And make her boyfriend hold my jacket.  I have some capacity for violence.  Or I'll just make fun of her until she cries.  Words can wound, you know.  And I've got a lot of them.  Call it a gift.  I am too blessed with empathy.  But I can turn it on and off like a light.  Empathy wears you out.

I became suddenly cheerful after that.  I never thought I would be again.  But it's hard to drag yourself out of depression.  It took music to do that.  My little radio coughed back to life.  I'm getting a Fort Pierce station.  Oldies.  That includes the Seventies now.  The BeeGees made good walking music.

There were other songs too.  It was like night and day.  I took off like a rocket.  And clicked off twelve miles in half the time it took me to walk the first ten.  I'd have preferred NPR but that's just me.  We get our stimulation where we can.

I'm a mile from Yeehaw as the crow fles, but I will have to double back some.  I found an old highway buried in shrubs.  I just had to see where it went.  I followed it for two miles or so before it became unpassable.  But I did not turn back.  It was getting dark.  I put my tent up right there.

On asphalt, no less.  I miss my air mattress in its better days.  But I'm camped in a jungle, a proper jungle.  No one's been back here for years.  With vines and palm trees, gnarled old oaks.  Somebody's grunting outside.  A pig, I gather.  I saw another one today.  Ugly beasts.  They'll put you off pork.

I also saw four-hundred snakes today, medium-sized and black.  Most were squished flat on the shoulder, the same shoulder I was walking on.  Which made it frightening on two levels.  One would be enough.

I saw too another alligator.  He was not very impressive.  Big enough to bite off my toes, but small enough that I could pick him up by the tail and swing him round and round until he got sick and coughed them back up.

There is a canal twenty feet from my tent.  I hear someone splashing around.  But everyone says the gators won't eat me.  I've decided to put it to the test.  But I'm not going out there to pee.  I'm on cold weather protocol.

HIGHWAY 60 is also known as Hesperides Road.  I believe they were some brand of nymph.  But I ain't got the battery to look it up.  Call it homework for you.

MY AGED mother has been snowed in for three days.  She was without power for one of them.  But no snakes, no pigs, no crocodiles.  I hope she can see the bright side.

I ENJOYED a very fine sandwich for lunch.  From Rosie's restaurant.  I'd been carrying it for a day.  It was still just lovely.  A Cuban, they called it.  Stop in and get one next time you are in town.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Eight, Two Legs Bad

I walked all of, what, eighteen miles today.  You do the best that you can.  And rarely much better.  Not me, certainly.  I almost always fall short.  I am a man of enormous potential.  It is hard to compete with myself.

It was bitter cold last night, down in the forties or so.  Which a month ago would have had me dancing.  Now it just numbs my toes.  We Floridians thrive on warm weather.  Cold is our kryptonite.

And I was tired, tuckered out.  At least I think I was.  I slept through the very worst of it and woke up at seven o'clock.  Which is earlier than I start most days.  I should wake up at five-thirty.  Or whenever it is the sun comes up.  It's been weeks since I've seen a sunrise.  But I much prefer sunsets.  They're warmer, more friendly.  They make fewer demands of me.

It was nippy this morning.  I have faced much worse, but I thought I'd left that nomsense behind me.  I had even considered lightening my pack by giving my long johns to the poor.  Not that they would brighten their lives, the misshapen holey things.  But in any case I'm keeping them, at least for another week.

I've been complaining in my casual way about overdevelopment.  But that small patch of woods where I'd hidden my tent was on the edge of civilisation.  Today and tomorrow I am back in the bush.  I can't say I'm too awfully glad.  I'm lugging around tons of food and water.  It's like being in Montana again.  Only cooler and a bit more humid, with a lot more cars to avoid.

Some four miles in I found Rosie's restaurant, tucked in among the orange groves.  Where everything's cooked by Rosie herself.  I was sure glad to find the place.  I'd resigned myself to gas station food. Yesterday I ate at Denny's.  But you've got to find a proper cafe if you really want to get fed.

I ate as much as I possibly could, my usual plus toast.  It might be days till I eat well again.  I did not want to waste the chance.  And I really liked the place.  It was packed full of locals.  Local locals, not the imported brand.  There aren't many of them left.

I wound up staying three or four hours.  It was just such a nice place to be.  The weather warmed up; we sat around talking on the front porch.  I was in no hurry to get back on the road.  My computer needed its charge.  And I knew I had a long bleak stretch ahead.  Most of it is still there.

Flat with acres of palmettoes, tightly bunched together.  And dry grass that prickled my ankles and worked its way into my socks.  There was a canal running along side the road.  I didn't see any gators.  But I could feel their eyes on me.  It put a little spring in my step.  And once I heard an enormous splash.  Something huge hit the water.  It didn't slide in all sneaky like.  It did a belly flop.  I did not stop to investigate.  I did not stop to change my shorts.

"I'm sick and tired," says one old man, "of Yankees coming down here and complaining about our gators.  If you don't like them you should go home."

I expect he felt the same way when Yankees came down here to complain about Jim Crow.  I told him that if I were to complain at all, it would be about him and his kind.  I said it smiling.  He was delighted.  He was just looking for a fight.

I've often thought I'd make a fine curmudgeon, when I get old enough.  I thought I would someday slide into the role of the Grumpy Old Man.  But there's enough sourness in this sad world.  I want to be a Positive Force.  So the next time some old fart flips me shit, I'm just going to headbutt him.

I met another one on the porch.  I set him off my saying good morning.  "Obama wants to take away my guns!"  I hope Obama does.  Not everyone's.  Just his.  He sounds like lunatic.

At length I reached a gas station, my last for a couple of days.  A nice lady this morning sent me off with a sandwich, but I added quite a bit to that.  Convenience store food, cellophane donuts, power bars and Corn Nuts and such.  If I starve it won't be my fault.  I got too a ton of water.  And Gatorade.  It put my pack up at something like fifty pounds.  Which is damn heavy given its current state.  I wound up sitting there for a while.

To psych myself up.  I was just being weak.  My computer was already charged.  But I did not want to climb back out on the road.  It's what slowed me down in Montana.  Anticipation of misery.  I just made tomorrow worse.  My next stop is now twenty-four miles off.  At least I will have no excuses.  There is no place to stop.  It's just pines and palmettoes, gators and feral hogs.

I'm camped in the feral hog's stomping ground.  I guess they are meaner than snakes.  I saw one earlier, in the canal.  I guess he had been there a while.  So gator is saving him for his kunch.  He must have weighed two-hundred pounds.  That's a small one.  He looked mean, even though he was dead.

There are around here hundreds of them.  I hear they breed like bunnies.  Their ancestors were domesticated, but then one day they rebelled.  Like Orwell predicted.  They've grown their teeth extra long.  They travel about in ravening packs.  I think I hear them out there now.

One goid thing, the stars are pretty.  I'm miles from any town.  And may be for some days to come.  I'm sticking to the center of the state.  Or not.  I'm unsure.  Miami's a mess.  There are two-hundred miles of town.  And everyone assures me I will be killed.  The interior has its dangers too. 

If I do survive, you'll hear from me.  If not, so be it.  I rather like the irony of dying this far in. I'd like better to live, don't get me wrong.  We'll see.  I promise.  We'll see.

CHEERS TO the nice lady who bought me a sandwich.  I got your photo but I don't know your name.

NEXT STOP, Yeehaw Junction.  Really.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Seven, Quackery

I walked something like twenty-eight miles today.  I am a superhero.  Now twenty-eight miles is nothing at all.  I'm pretty sure Oprah could do it.  If someone towelled her off now and then, and someone else carried her purse. 

If I'm bragging it's about my skills.  I used the Hobo Force.  To find a place for my tent well after dark.  I've got suburbs on three sides.  None of them more than fifty yards off.  Nobody knows that I'm here.  Or won't until morning.  Then we will see.  I think I may get away with it.

I didn't set out to walk far today.  I was shooting for nineteen miles.  I meant to pull up just short of Lake Wales.  I had some decisions to make.  My road gets just a bit tricky from here.  I'm on the horns, as they say.  It's gators or suburbia.  I'm not sure which one is worse.

In a way walking is easier here.  I'm always sure to get fed.  An icy Coke is never more than five miles off.  Camping is what makes it hard.  I may have to spend all next week in motels.  It gets crowded when you hit the coast.  I don't want to spend any more than I have to.  I am, it's official, poor.

Since I left Ocala it's been one great big town.  It thins out a bit here and there.  I am passing more and more acres of orange trees.  There is that smell in the air.  I was surprised to see how many oranges you get.  We grow them for sport way up north.  And one shrivelled fruit every two or three years is a cause for celebration. 

But these trees, I tell you, they produce.  They are covered with hundreds of the things.  It makes you wonder why they cost so much.  I guess because they keep whacking them down to build more golf courses.  And strip malls and Walmarts and other such things.  I'm sure their intentions are good.  But I've been around all kinds of old people and they don't smell nearly as sweet.

Nor do I, truth be told.  I spent two hours at a truck stop this morning.  They did have showers there.  But they wanted ten bucks and I did not want to fall into the trap of soft living.  I'll get rinsed off in a couple of days.  I made do with breakfast.

At Denny's.  I miss my small town cafes.  I miss my biscuits and gravy.  Made right, with secret ingredients.  Love, or cigarette ashes.  Denny's makes their food beautiful, but they don't make it very good.  I had a hamburger topped with an egg and hash browns.  It was not even pretty.

Filling though.  I had thirty-nine Cokes.  My waitress was most understanding.  And too pretty to be working at Denny's.  I hope she goes back to school. 

I left there at a leisurely pace.  I had no plans to walk far.  I'm doing my best to smell the flowers, or the oranges, as the case may be.  I really don't want to finish this journey.  The future does not frighten me.  It would if I gave it a moment's thought, but I'm having fun where I am.

I lunched a few miles down the road.  This time at a Subway.  Yeah, I know.  But it's cheap and they always have outlets free.  You can refill your Coke.  (Root beer after noon.)  I sat there until four o'clock.  Which left me plenty of time for six more.  I had come all of thirteen miles.

I was feeling good when I reached Lake Wales.  There's an orange juice plant outside of town.  It sure smelled nice, not like paper at all, or vinegar potato chips.  Those can be nasty but this was most pleasant.  The trucks roll in day and night.  Carrying millions of oranges, just thrown in the back.  Not pretty, like the ones on the box.

Oranges are sometimes picked by slaves.  I bet you didn't know that.  It is the natural consequence of subcontracting.  Each level squeezes the next.  Until the only way to show a satisfactory profit is to keep your workers locked up.  Pay them nothing.  Make them afraid.  Sometimes America sucks.

I had my eye on a good camping spot.  I had found it on Google earth.  I thought it was pine trees but it turned out to be oranges.  I don't want to camp in an orchard.  They are irrigated, for one thing.  And patrolled.  If not, there are workers, whether they are paid or not.

Also the arrangement of the trees makes it hard to hide my tend.  So I walked on.  And on.  And on.  It was by then quite dark.  I walked through Lake Wales, across two bridges.  I'm lucky I didn't get squished.  And I was resigned to walk all night, until I at last found this spot.

I'm kind of a mess.  I'm sore, I'm tired.  It's fifty but I'm awfully cold.  And a bit nervous about my surroundings.  I hear people on all sides.  And I have developed an unseemly rash.  It makes me walk like a duck.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Six, Fluff

It is snowing in Seattle.  They won't get the promised two feet.  But it will be more than they are accustomed to.  Enough to shut the place down.  I am camped beside an orange tree, lonely amongst the pines.  It was eighty or so this afternoon.  It is now a chilly sixty-five.

I can't help it; it's just mind-blowing.  It is summer all the time here.  And it's not some distant exotic land.  This is downtown America.  I wonder why anyone lives anywhere else.  I told my mother as much.  "I don't want to live in Florida."  She is something of a grump.

So am I, to a certain extent.  The orange doesn't fall far from the tree.  But it is an impulse I continue to fight.  There are days I think I have it beaten.  Good weather and plenty of exercise, the Power of Positive Thought.  If I had a Reason for Living you could not wipe the grin from my face.

I did get caught in the rain today.  Life ain't all sunshine and daisies.  I managed to get myself plenty moist.  That's when the chafing begins.  But I found shelter at a Subway restaurant.  I let them make me a sandwich.  And I ate it without complaint.  My grudges are getting harder to bear.

[I've just now tried to take my own photo.  I don't look as good as I feel.  In fact I now feel a little less well, knowing how ugly I am.  But it was worth a shot; some experiments fail.  I will not share the results.  For your peace of mind; I am not vain.  I cannot afford to be.]

I slept undisturbed on the side of the road, under a beautiful tree.  A great live oak, very impressive.  It must be hundreds of years old.  I expect they'll lop it down soon enough.  Clermont is ever expanding.  Maybe they'll save it.  It will sit by the fence of a gated community.  Live Oak Acres, they can call it.  I don't think they've used that one yet.

But they may have.  There are housing developments all up and down this road.  All of them under some banal banner, often with a citrus theme.  Orange Acres, Orange Heights, Orange Hills, Orange Lake.  You lead with whatever you've got.  And I don't blame them even one little bit.  In Georgia it's the same thing with peaches. 

You don't see very much new construction.  I think the economy's still catching up.  But it will.  It always does.  And there is still some room to expand.  For my first ten miles I was in the country again.  It rather took me by surprise.  I was walking hunched over, not looking around.  I was having some trouble with my pack.  I stopped to fix it as well as I could.  I was in the middle of nowhere.  Rolling hills, covered with grass.  The odd citrus grove here and there.  One or two housing developments, but they were well off the road.  There were no strip malls, not a Walmart in sight.  It was lonesome out there.

It is not nearly as gatory as it looked to me on the map.  These are lakes not swamps.  I wouldn't swim in one for thirty-five bucks, but there are few places for gators to hide.  I'll likely see them before they see me.  That gives me a fighting chance.  Or a fleeing chance, at any rate.  Six of one, half a dozen of the next.

I have a theory that crocodiles do not like to climb hills.  So I feel safer up here.  I'm pretty sure it isn't true.  They can climb trees for all I know.  But I have a gift for fooling myself.  It is my trusting nature.

I stopped into a Wendy's for lunch.  I could not tell you where.  I'm not even sure these places have names.  I think it's just one big sprawl.  I'm happy to call it Greater Orlando.  Orlando is miles away.  President Obama is visiting tomorrow.  I hope he has a nice time.

Wendy's is not my first choice for lunch.  It's the best of the burger joints.  Cheaper and they toast their buns.  That means the world to me.  But I prefer something more mom and pop.  Some sort of local cafe.  But you don't see a lot of that in the suburbs.  And the boy has got to keep fed.

I was there a good two hours, recharging and nursing my Coke.  I rolled up at eleven, ten miles in.  I'm not walking so hard these days.  Twenty-one miles is a good enough day.  I've got enough power to do more.  But not the daylight and not the will.  This will all be over too soon.

I really wish I could walk back home.  My timing would be almost perfect.  I would hit Iowa in May or so.  I would catch the worst of Montana.  But I'm used to that.  There'd be no mysteries ahead.  Maybe that is the point.  You are only supposed to go forward in life.  You are meant to be afraid.

I really am running out of fears.  I try to play up this gator thing.  But I'm no longer nervous around people.  I've met too many of them.  Most are fairly easy to talk to.  Those who aren't, I can probably beat up.  Or outrun, if it comes to that.  It's my future that scares me.  Do you know what I want most of all?  I want people to be sad when I die.

I walked an effortless eight more miles before it started to rain.  I got to help push a Cadillac.  I love pushing cars.  It's my favorite kind of exercise.  It very much suits my build.  Top-heavy with strong legs.  This one had fallen off a truck. 

A great big semi, a transporter.  The driver did not speak English.  We got it up on the edge of the ramp.  He locked the emergency brake.  I think his plan was to zoom the truck back real fast to get it up the rest of the way.  He seemed confident he could do it.  It is something I would have liked to see.  But I was getting wet.  I wished him well.  He gave me five dollars.

I refused it.  I'm poor, but still.  There's a principle at work here.  Like I said, I like pushing cars.  I've pushed cars in Korea.  And in India and in Japan.  I pushed cars in Thailand.  I've even pushed a car in Canada.  It brings out my Kwai Chang Caine.  Wandering the highways, using my unique skills to do good deeds for others.

I don't know where the guy was from.  It was one of those proud countries.  It looked as if he would be insulted if I didn't take his cash.  So I pocketed it.  It paid for my sandwich.  I would have paid twice as much to see him get that great big Cadillac back up on his truck.

I loitered at the Subway a good long time, waiting for the rain to stop.  It didn't but I moved on.  I wasn't sure of a spot for my tent.  But I found one, a beautiful place.  It's wide open back here.  A bit gritty but I can't complain.  I'm invisible from the road.  And I may have an orange for breakfast.  There are a few on my tree.  They look pretty good but we'll see, we'll see.  Tomorrow is another day.

I'VE BEEN reading my Christian literature.  They keep me provided with tracts.  It seems the Pope is the Antichrist.  I don't even have one job.

A LONGISH DAY tomorrow will take me to Lake Wales, where I may or may not turn left.  If I do I'll be two or three days from the sea.  The End, as they say, is nigh.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Five, Rolling Stones

I've been burning up battery power reading about The Villages.  I've left it miles behind.  But it has stuck with me; it has left me unnerved.  Man, that's a trippy place.  Google it for a diverting few hours.  One day we'll all live there.  Sarah Palin is a frequent and honored guest.  They lead the nation in STD's.

But I can see why people retire to Florida.  It is summer all the time here.  Land is cheap and the people are friendly.  There are plenty of places to golf.  The gators hardly ever eat people.  You can gamble on jai alai.  And when it gets too hot you climb in your camper and visit your friends up north.

I stopped at an RV camp ten miles in.  I thought I might find food there.  I made do with four Cokes and sat down to recharge.  It was a friendly place.  With fifth-wheels wall-to-wall around a man-made lake.  Most folks have their own golf carts.  And I felt very young.  They were all so supportive.  Not one of them called me sir.

These are the Snowbirds.  Many of them don't have a permanent home.  They are retirees.  They live in their trailers.  Do not feel sorry for them.  Those trailers are nicer than the hovel you live in.  They declare residency where the taxes are lowest.  They are more than most of us free.

I honestly wouldn't mind living that way.  I am something of a nomad myself.  I have tried once or twice to put down roots.  Somehow they didn't take.  It is my parents' fault.  When I was five we moved to Iowa.

But they made it clear that we were not from there.  I was five.  I was from nowhere else.  Years later when we moved back to Washington State, I wasn't from there either.  I lived in Japan for many years.  I was fairly comfortable there.  But obviously a brand of outsider.  I've lived too in Thailand and India.  Horrible places.  It must be nice to have somewhere to call home.

Or not.  I'm not feeling sorry for myself.  Not this time, at least.  If I could I would keep travelling.  Costa Rica is looking good.  I've heard nice things about Spain.  I've never been to Africa.  They say Key West is nice.  Which is where I'll be in a couple of weeks, if God and the gators are willing.

It was a good day for walking.  I was in all kinds of pain.  Somehow it did not bother me.  I'm a little concerned about my back.  It has blown another strap.  The one that runs across my chest.  The last one to take weight off my shoulders.  But my shoulders are strong.  I'll get it fixed.  Or not.  Who really cares.

The Gregory company makes fine back packs.  They'll take you all the way across America.  Or almost.  They might conk out two weeks short of your goal.  So walk fast.

For days now I have not walked on the road.  I'm on the grass at the side.  It is harder walking but it's a world all my own.  I hardly even notice the traffic.  I'm seeing more and more orange orchard.  There are grapefruit as well.  I like grapefruit.  When I'm really rich I won't eat anything else.

I eventually made it to Clermont, home of the Florida Citrus Tower.  A great ugly thing, it's a tourist attraction.  At least it wants to be.  There were no long lines when I walked by.  It has been there for fifty years.  It is at a high point in the area.  I've been walking up hills for days.  It used to look out over acres of oranges.  Now it looks at suburban sprawl.

Good looking suburbs, as suburbs go.  By then I'd gone eighteen miles.  And hadn't eaten.  I wasn't hungry.  I was somewhat light in the head.  I dined at a Quiznos.  They make sandwiches.  They're a hundred times better than Subway.  But still not up to my own standards.  At the least I did get fed.

And marched on.  And on.  It's a rambling place.  A suburb of Orlando, I guess.  It seems to be under construction.  The roads and the sidewalks are new.  The developments all have blank spots.  There remain the odd patches of marshland and pines.  The Walmart still has its sheen.  I'm not a dozen miles from Disney World.  I'd stop in if I had the funds.  But l've been there already.  Years ago.  I remember I had a nice time.

Find me camped on the edge of the road, not too far from McDonald's.  I may double back for an Egg McSomething.  I'm tempted to hike up there now.  This is not a great spot.  No cars can see me, but there's a sidewalk just overhead.  No development, just a sidewalk.  I guess they've got plans for this stretch.  And come morning some civic-minded power walker might see me and call the police.

Power walker, hell.

WIKIPEDIA is shutting down tomorrow.  I will miss it horribly. 

IT IS SNOWING in Seattle.  A lot.  Hee hee, hee hee.  It's warmish here.  Even at night.  I'm not even wearing socks.

I MET A NICE lady buying tuna.  She has twenty cats.  I like cats. 

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Four, Angel Eyes

I was up and at 'em at eight o'clock, after only four hours' sleep.  I'd been up all night studying the writings of one Mrs. Ellen G. White.  She helped found the Adventist church.  I think she is seen as a prophet.  She preached the power of good nutrition.  Dr. J. Harvey Kellogg was her friend.  He thought masturbation was a very bad thing.  I think he was doing it wrong.

Good Seth made me a fine breakfast, waffles and tater tots.  And loaded me up with sandwiches and a great big baggie of snacks.  We fed the horses.  We chatted a bit.  He delivered me back up the road.  To the very spot where he first found me.  And I started walking again.

I made it all of a half a mile.  I still had typing to do.  I plugged in in the shade of a car wash.  It was a beautiful day.  There's a lot to be said for having clean hair.  I did not want to mess it up.  Mine is of the long and luxurient sort.  Think Farrah or Jaclyn Smith.  My clothes were laundered and I didn't stink.  I wanted to enjoy it for a while.

I started walking in earnest at one or so.  I was in no real hurry.  My feet were sore and my pack was heavy.  I was feeling pretty good.  It is easy to forget that it's January.  They do it so well down here.  It was a spectacular day for walking.  I didn't want to waste it by walking too far.

I had too some questions about my road ahead.  It had been a while since I'd looked at my map.  It seems like I've been in one big suburb since I hit Ocala, Florida.  Which can make camping a bit tricky.  Remember, I do have skills.  But it's a different approach than I have been used to.  I don't want to go to jail.

I do like walking in cities.  There are always things to see.  There are places to stop and plenty of traffic.  There's a good chance of getting squished.  My real worries are yet before me.  Go ahead, pull up your maps.

I am south of Leesburg, south of the lake, about even with Okahumpka.  Off Highway 27, tucked into the woods.  Let Google show you from space.  Zoom in a bit.  Zoom in a bit more.  See all those little blue dots?  Those, my friends, are what have me concerned.  There be dragons there.

I don't think they'll get me out on the road.  If I see one, I'll cross the street.  Which reminds me of my ninth favorite joke.  I'll share it with you now.

Why did the chicken stop crossing the road?
Because he was tired of all the jokes.

It speaks to the role of society in making up all of our minds.  There are more pressures on us than we realise.  I've escaped most of them.  But I still long for your approval.  I want to be well regarded.  But it may be too late.  I may be better off focusing on other things.

From here on I cross a swamp or two.  I don't want to be there at night.  I'm worried I might be eaten by gators.  I think it's a valid concern.

Notice I don't hate crocodiles.  I'm merely afraid of them.  We too often fail to make that distinction.  I wish them all long happy lives.  I quite admired Lee Van Cleef.  But I would not have wanted to meet him.

Snakes I hate.  Snakes are the devil.  I wish every snake would die.

And there are snakes out here too, or so I am told.  I haven't seen any for weeks.  Maybe the gators ate them all.  Alligators are our friends.

NO TWO OWLS make the same sound.  They like to distinguish themselves.  Some are shy, some are plaintive, some are spookier.  There's one outside my tent now.  He sounds like the banshee, only scarier.  I've never been so much afraid.

DR. KELLOGG believed circumcision could cure the "solitary vice."  I assure you he was quite wrong.

JOIN ME IN thanking Mr. Seth Dixon, boy, man, gent.  He is due to be married in June.  Let's wish him the very best.

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Day Two-Hundred-Thirty-Three, Del Boca Vista

Find me on the lower tier of a bunk bed.  No, I'm not in jail.  I'm in the dorms at the Lay Institute For Evangelism in Lady Lake, Florida.  It's a boot camp for Seventh-day Adventists.  No, I did not enlist.  I'm just visiting.  Bunk beds are dangerous.  I have several times bumped my head.

My day started off slowly enough.  I did not wake up until nine.  Or when the sun found me deep in my woods.  There was no traffic noise.  So I wound up getting almost twelve hours' sleep.  That's a few more than I deserve.  And more than I wanted.  I did not start walking until ten-thirty or so. 

I had six or seven miles to Belleview, Florida.  It was a beautiful day.  It has been bitter cold at night, but you cannot find fault with the mornings.  It was a nice little jog, just a little bit hard because I was out of aspirin.  And because these back roads are narrow and well travelled.  I had to walk in an overgrown gutter.

I had a fine breakfast at an old folks' cafe, cheap and just filling enough.  And finally rejoined Highway 27, the road I've been on since Tallahassee.  It was good to find it.  It was like coming home again.  Traffic though is a little hairy.  This is central Florida.  It's where old people come to retire.  They drive like Chinamen.

"Ooh, what a racist thing to say!"  I do apologise.  Don't get me wrong, I like old people.  They're polite and they're interesting.  The Chinese can be a little brusque, but I'm sure they love their mothers.  But I've been to China and I'm in Florida.  They drive like maniacs.  Slice it up however you will.  Some stereotypes are based in fact.

I walked the next ten miles at a happy pace.  I tried to stop several times.  But none of the gas stations I passed had anywhere to plug in.  I was running on fumes.  It takes some power to type up these little reports.  For whatever they're worth.  I sometimes wonder.  It's best not to think about it.

My road took me to The Villages.  That's the name of a town.  And if it sounds ominous, trust your instincts.  It may in fact be hell on earth.  It's a planned community, founded in the Sixties.  It began as a real estate scam.   Now it's the fastest growing city in America.  You have to be old to live there.  It is all run by one vast corporation.  It's Republicanism gone mad. 

You have to be old to live there.  Everything's privatised.  The developer is the government.  They expand through municpal bonds.  Which are tax free.  Which means you are paying to make someone very rich. 

At first glance it is a paradise.  The shrubs are artfully pruned.  They have thirty-some golf courses.  Everyone drives around in golf carts.  Those things will do thirty-five.  And no one's afraid to open them up.  Hell, you're only young once. 

Highway 27 only showed me the edge.  There are plenty of places to shop.  And medical offices, lots of them.  Places to get your golf carts repaired.  Hearing-aid shops and smart boutiques, restaurants and auto parts shops.  And every one of them neat and trim, and of the same Spanish colonial architecture approved by the HOA.

The "villages" themselves are off the road, each one a neighborhood.  All I saw were the high walls and guarded gates.  Crime is frowned on here.

As are hoboes.  Literally.  The place had a really bad vibe.  It was getting dark and I was getting nervous.  It was nowhere I wanted to camp.  Sure I could have tucked myself in.  This is a boy with skills.  But the corporate cops would have shot me dead for sullying their hard-won perfection.

I was eager to be clear of the place. It was getting dark and it goes on for miles.  And all sorts of old folks were glaring at me.  There were no hoboes in the brochure.  I wanted to stop and talk to someone, to experience a human connection.  But it was golf shirts and tans and facelift smiles with no spark of life behind them.

I found a gas station on the far end of town.  I stopped to swill some root beer.  The gal at the counter looked normal enough.  You're not from around here? I asked.  "Oh, no! I'm from Ocala.  These people are mean."

Across the bridge I found Lady Lake.  I worried it was more of the same.  But I was back in America again.  I've never been happier to come home.  It would still be a trick to wedge in my tent.  I would have to be creative again.  But God sent me Seth, or so I am told.  "Come stay with me," he said.

Seth is a junior administrator at the Seventh-day Adventist camp.  They're between sessions.  He had been praying for a chance to share God's love.  I guess I was Heaven-sent.

I do not believe the Lord is my Saviour.  I don't believe I ever will.  But I believe in most of what He had to say.  That Sermon on the Mount stuff is good.  And it is how I am trying to live my life.  I'm getting better at it every day.  And I believe in Christians more than ever before.  They're much better than what you see on TV.  And I don't mean as they're portrayed in popular culture.  I mean as they portray themselves.

I'm showered and fed.  I got my laundry done.  Seth is a gent.  He is twenty-one.  He is going to be married in June.  And I think he'll make a good show of it.  He's living his life in his Faith.  He's got perfect teeth and an aura of goodness.  He gave me twenty bucks.

I was ashamed but glad to receive it.  My cash was not flowing well.  But the tap came back on and I tried to return it.  Seth was not having that.  I'll just give it away, I told him.  He gave me forty more.

So guess what, I have cash to dispense.  I couldn't be happier.  I meet a lot of people in need.  There is never much I can do.  I've given a few dollars here and there.  I share what little food I can.  But I do not have a great deal to share.  Now, now I do.

I could keep it, I guess.  I don't think Seth would mind.  Every little bit helps.  But it will be a rare treat to give it away.  I can hardly wait.

I WORRY that I may have inadvertently fallen in love with the wrong forest ranger.  Don't you hate it when that happens?

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