Another cold night turned into a surprisingly chilly day. The winds kicked up and, despite the sun, temps hovered in the upper 60's all day leading to a surprisingly comfortable hoodied Wednesday.
I woke up around 7:45, packed up the gear in a much more efficient fashion, and proudly found myself back at my spot by 8:15--only to discover that nearly all of the trucks were already long gone! In that annoyed moment, I resolved to be awake earlier, much earlier, if I found myself in Jean again Thursday.
The primary theme of the day was set the night before as I lay writing in the nest. "Digital Detox" once again. Presence. Being "here". As I was writing, I found myself hypnotically looking up at the moon and Orion...then back down at my phone as I finished a blog post. I found that almost silly while, at the same time, tried how technology has changed and I needed to adapt; learn to use this connectivity as a tool rather than a habitual crutch.
For much of the day, I sat there with the phone off. No music. Nothing. And in a pseudo meditative state. Completely immersed in where I was and what I was doing. My observational senses heightened because my attention wasn't fragmented between " here" and everywhere else. It was almost intoxicating as I found myself remotely connecting with people from beneath my shade tree. Looking beyond the thin, often judgmental "appearance" veneer as people walked by, pumped their gas, or walked in to get their snacks and drinks.
It's hard to explain, but the general feeling was empathy. And it was borne from having forged a tangible human connection with the "real" world. I remembered this from my other trips, but back then I was typically preoccupied with getting somewhere. Not today. Today, again, wasn't about my personal selfish mobility. It was about really "seeing" people and re-focusing my eyes on the reality of humanity. The trip's personality was beginning to show itself. And, yes. Today, I was the Truck Stop Philosopher. And content with that.
Get On Your Bad Motor Scooter & Ride!
Around mid-afternoon, three loaded down motor scooters, complete with trailers stuffed with gear, pulled into Terrible's. I was fascinated! These guys had taken the bicycle touring idea and adapted it to scooters! I had to check this out!
I slung on the pack, walked over to the gas pumps, introduced myself, and asked what they were up to. They were three guys from Las Vegas in their 20's who were planning an extended scooter tour . This was a little trial run to test things.
My people! They had the explorer's "what's really out there?" mentality and were setting forth in their little motorized ships to see for themselves. With an intense, optimistic sense and embracing of adventure. They'd seemingly embraced the "Live! Now!" notion and I loved them for it. Their almost uncontrollable excited energy was contagious.
When I told them what I'd done since '08, they had a few tactical questions about what to bring, etc. My advice: Dont make my mistake by overthinking. Just go! Don't fucking worry about it. You'll figure your own method out along the way and almost immediately. In fact, that's part of the fun. Take too much if you must. You can always get rid of it along the way. Overlook something? Get it later.
We chatted at the gas pumps for at least 20-minutes and exchanged social media info before they left, and a large part of me wished I were tagging along. I was excited for them and even slightly envious that they were at the beginning when everything lying ahead was an exciting, invigoratingly nervous mystery! They were "alive"! And, as with the night before, I was struck by the intense reminder of "why I do this".
Meeting these guys, and being able to keep in touch moving forward, tempered any potentially pesky dogma surrounding Digital Detox. They were playing the role of returning to The Cave to show the Upper World to those still chained beneath. Even if it was unintentional and via Instagram.
No. Selfishly hoarding these experiences in a personal vacuum was certainly not the answer. One could effectively argue that the act is the height of self-centered narcissism. Not everyone "can" do this. (The day's empathy at work.) If you can even slightly help these folks by allowing them to experience these moments and insights, even second hand, why wouldn't you?
As these young men sped away on their scooters, I made friends with my smart phone. This thing can be a positive asset if it's "used" and not "using" me.
Shortly thereafter, I walked up to a NHP trooper and asked him to clarify the state's hitching law. What I learned? That the only part of hitchhiking that's illegal: raising your thumb! I could sit at the I-15 exit ramp. I could have a sign. I could even WALK the fucking interstate! I just couldn't...hold my thumb in the air.
"What. The. Infernal. Fuck?"
Time to Go
Looking back on it, my useful time in Jean came to an abrupt end when these scooters sputtered off. That was what I needed, and from that point forward, I was first being gently nudged along. Then not so gently.
People always implore me to "be careful". I've never had trouble with rides. At ALL. It's always the seldom seen other travelers, "Rainbow Family" Dipshits, or occasional homeless dude that wigs me out. West Virginia in '12 for example.
Early in the evening as I was listening to the Cubs-Dodgers again, I was joined at my little desert Oasis by a desperately sketchy and disconcertingly nervous little road rat who spent much of the evening scampering around hunting and harassing disinterested truckers for rides. It was as though someone had methed-up his Newports. Think: overly aggressive panhandler. Of course he stopped over long enough to bum a smoke and use my Sharpie to make a sign. Then he vanished to the ramp to try getting to Primm's Flying J that night.
I hoped he'd have some luck, but unfortunately he didn't and would reappear shortly before I decided to bed down and prepare for an early Thursday.
"Just great!", I thought.
"Now I'd have to sneak back to my spot then lie awake in my rocky little dirt nest to see if Tweaky McBallsuck found me."
Plus, I was sure that, in the interim, he'd ask for another smoke simply to use it as a segue to tell me all about how the cops keep trying to frame him. Or how "that lyin' bitch fucked him over". They almost always do. It's fucks like this that makes life more difficult out here from top to bottom. At least the stories are good.
Thankfully he vanished. I don't know if he got a ride or what, but once he went behind the truck stop, I never saw him again. No complaints there. I did lie awake for a bit but, after the events of being found the night before, I was mindful of being overly paranoid while still not being careless. I set the alarm for 5am and dozed off, on top of the bivy again, around 11.
I woke up at 4:40. Cold. Again! I packed up in the dark, it was still an hour before sunrise, and got to the parking lot around 5:15. I was still a bit late. Several of the trucks had already left. I drew up an "I-40, 70, or 80" sign determined to at least try my best to catch a truck and get moving. No luck. Not even close.
Around 8:30, I was looking at my phone trying to connect with Scooter Guys, when a shiny little black sports car occupied by a couple of young black guys pulled up to my spot beneath the tree...and asked me, with excessive, contrived politeness, for money.
I laughed. Obnoxiously. Out loud.
"Really? You're asking ME for money? If I had money, I'd be on a bus!", I lied.
"What's a bus?", the driver answered. Without a hint of humor or irony.
Then the passenger took over. He looked me up and down and immediately I knew where this was going.
"That's a nice jacket. Nice boots. Saw that phone. We could just come back and take all that shit. And your wallet, too."
Again, I laughed as the car began slowly driving off. The passenger said something to the effect of "see ya later" as they turned right toward I-15. I looked him dead in the eye and smiled as if to say, "Yeah. Maybe I'll see you, too", then eyeballed them as they got on I-15 north back toward Vegas.
Well, shit. Yup. Definitely time to go.
I drew on the events of the past two nights and didn't let paranoia rule the day. I was pretty sure that they were just punks looking for an soft, gullible target and had failed. Otherwise, they were poor excuses for thugs!
Nevertheless, I couldn't be certain. So, I waited for 15-20 minutes to see if they returned, went inside to grab some beef sticks and water, then walked to the I-15 southbound ramp. My pesky decision was suddenly made. Fuck everything to do with dealing with Las Vegas. I was going south. At least as far as the next exit, Primm, where I knew there was a Flying J.
The only question? Would anyone stop? I was bolstered by the fact that it was only around 9am and I had never been completely shutout when I'd spent a full day actually hitching.
I drew up a sign for Primm, then sat for nearly three hours. Right about the time I began wondering if this was the day I'd finally get shutout, I looked over to see that a minivan had pulled over and was backing up on my direction.
My first ride was from the most unlikely of sources. And far more than a positive counterbalance to the morning's silliness...