Monday, May 07, 2007

For all we know, he might be an angel

Wow! So much to say, but there is no way I can possibly say it all right now. Believe me, though, there will be a book about this.

Right now I'm in a condo in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I camped out in a forest last night, then started walking toward the beach at about 10:00 AM, when a guy named Billy De Lorenzo stopped to ask me if I needed a ride. I didn't really need a ride, being less than a mile from the beach, but I hopped in anyway. In the car he said I was welcome to hang out at his house, take a shower, do laundry, etc., so I came on over. He has since told me I'm welcome to stay as long as I want.

Now flash back about a week...

When last I checked in, you may remember I was in Covington, Kentucky. After writing those two entries, I stood around the I-75 on-ramp for four hours before a guy gave me a ride about ten miles down the road to Kentucky Route 371. (Can't remember his name right now, but I have it on tape. It will be in the credits.) I waited on the on-ramp for a few minutes before just deciding to walk along the road intersecting the interstate. I walked a couple miles and ended up at the Dixie Highway. Took the Dixie Highway south to Florence. Being off the trails, I had a difficult time finding a good place to pitch the tent, but I eventually found a pretty decent place.

I've had four encounters with cops so far, with the last one occurring not long after I woke up in Florence. No problems with them or anything; just cops doing what they're supposed to do.

From Florence I had to backtrack a few miles because I had managed to venture off of the Dixie Highway. So I found my way back to the Dixie Highway and headed south. Walked miles and miles with no luck getting a ride, so I walked over to a Pilot truck stop where the Dixie Highway met up with the interstate.

Within about three minutes of my arrival at the Pilot station, a trucker walked by and asked, "North or south?" I responded, "South. How 'bout yourself?" He said he was also going south, to Duncan, South Carolina (between Greenville and Spartanburg). At this point he didn't seem to be offering me a ride, but after a little more chit-chat, it was on. I rode with Bruce overnight through Lexington, Knoxville, and Asheville, to his destination in Duncan, South Carolina.

From upstate South Carolina I thought I might as well head toward Charleston or Savannah since I was so close, but I was in a bad spot to catch a ride that way. Where I was (beside I-85), it would have been much easier to get a ride to either Charlotte or Atlanta, but I really didn't feel like going to either of those cities, so I started walking west, thinking I was only a few miles from I-385. After walking five or six miles, I realized I'd put myself in an even worse spot than I was before. But I waited for a ride anywhere, and it didn't take long for someone to stop and offer me a ride closer to where I wanted to be.

I was now next to I-26, where I waited for a ride south. After four hours, no luck. I got sick of waiting, so I just started walking somewhere. I ended up walking through Roebuck, south of Spartanburg, about three nights ago, but again I had trouble finding a good place to set up camp. After about 12 miles of walking, at 11:00, I plopped down in someone's front yard, not pitching my tent because it just wasn't a good place to camp.

I unstrapped my sleeping bag from the backpack and tried to rest a little bit, using the sleeping bag as a pillow, thinking I would continue heading down the road after a few hours. Didn't happen, though. I woke up at about 1:00 AM cold and still tired. I decided to just pitch the tent and hope I don't wake up with a shotgun in my face.

Instead of a shotgun in my face, I woke up with a flooded tent at around 7:00 or 8:00. I got out of the tent and stood around for a while, trying to figure out what I might be able to do. Then I noticed a carport at one of the houses nearby, so I walked over to it. At that point I heard a voice from the front of the house. Someone wanted to know what I was doing, so I walked to the front door and explained what I was doing. I then asked the homeowner if I could keep standing under his carport. He said it was OK.

I can't tell this story right now; it would just take too long. But I want you to know it's an amazing story and it will probably be a very moving scene, the scene that will let viewers know this thing is gonna be good.

Anyway, Vernon Payne ended up making me breakfast--eggs, toast, grits, and a biscuit--as his initial apprehension gradually turned to friendliness. I also met his next door neighbor, who is related to him, before Vernon drove me to the nearby truck stop. At one point while we talked, the neighbor, Galen, said something like, "For all we know, he might be an angel." That's when I started realizing that I'm somehow enriching the lives of the people who help me. I can't really explain it because I don't really understand it, but somehow I am making a huge positive impact on the people I meet. This is all really amazing; it's beyond comprehension.

After Vernon took me to the Kangaroo truck stop, I stood outside for a while, trying to stay out of the rain. Eventually the manager of the place stepped out to ask me what I was doing. I said I was just trying to stay out of the rain, maybe get a ride somewhere. He then invited me to come inside and sit in the dining area. His name is Jessie Wright and he is also a minister.

I sat inside the gas station for hours, talking to a few people while not getting a ride. I ended up talking to a group of four people (two couples) I estimate are in their 60s. Like most people I talk to, they were intrigued by my story. They were heading toward Myrtle Beach from Peoria, Illinois. I mostly talked to one of the men. His name is Ken Waggoner or Wagner (or something like that). Before they left, he slipped a 20 dollar bill into my hand, even though I said I'm not hurting for money. (Vernon and Galen also gave me $5 each.)

Immediately after they left, I turned around to see a woman handing me a styrofoam clamshell and an empty cup. It was a meal from Aunt M's chicken, located inside the truck stop. The woman was Leslie Browning; she works at Aunt M's. Inside the clamshell was a piece of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni, and a biscuit. I thanked her and just couldn't believe what was happening.

Later on, Jessie asked me if I needed anything, like a shower or food or drink or whatever. In awe of this undeserved kindness, I told Jessie I might take him up on the shower offer, as I had not had a shower in about four days. Shortly after, I told him I'd love to take the shower offer.

The kindness just doesn't stop. It takes some breaks for days at a time, but it never stops. I don't deserve all this kindness, and I just can't tell you how it feels. It's amazing.

I can now verify that Aimless is aptly titled. Even though I had some vague plans for where I would go first, I've ended up doing something completely different. I never expected to be anywhere near South Carolina at this point, but there I was in Spartanburg. And Myrtle Beach, no way. But here I am. Even when I walk, I take roads I don't know, not knowing where I'll end up. I know I am doing this right.

OK, so I hung around the Kangaroo station for about 12 hours Saturday, and I finally realized I was not going to get a ride that night. Business was dead and there were no lights near the on-ramp. I decided to pitch my tent near the lot where trucks park, and I got to sleep at a decent time.

I woke up pretty early yesterday and headed to the Kangaroo station to brush my teeth. After eating some soft batch cookies for breakfast and having a smoke, I made my way to the on-ramp.

Before I even reached the spot where I intended to wait for a ride, someone stopped to offer me a ride. Gaile Myers (I need to check the spelling), a 70-ish man, said he was going to North Myrtle Beach. Sounded perfect to me, so I put my backpack in the bed of his Dodge truck and joined him up front. Mr. Myers is an interesting guy--a reasonable conservative, I'd say. He reminded me in some ways of the character in American Beauty played by Chris Cooper, the dad of the boyfriend. He bought me lunch at McDonald's and showed me the town of Little River before dropping me off at North Myrtle Beach at about 12:30.

I walked about 15 miles yesterday, reaching the north (or northeast) edge of Myrtle Beach. I found my way to a McDonald's for some cheap eats when a mother and daughter initiated a conversation with me after noticing my red face and backpack. The mother (Linda Drost) offered me a ride to wherever I was heading, which I accepted, although I was not completely sure where I was headed. All I knew was that there were some woods where I might be able to find a clearing near where I'd already been.

Linda drove me there while her daughter Marialyn followed. We talked for maybe half an hour before finally separating. Marialyn gave me a lot of useful information about fire ants and bug bites, which I appreciate immensely. These two women were both very friendly. I enjoyed talking to them quite a bit. (Marialyn, if you see this, will you please leave a comment with a pronunciation of your name? I was so exhausted when you said it that it just went straight through me.)

After the ladies split, I walked around the woods, shortly finding a decent place to call home for the night. The clearing was of decent size, and the ground was reasonably soft. Unfortunately, like every other night I've slept outside, it got pretty cold overnight. (I've only slept inside two nights since I left on April 22.) Still, I got a lot of rest, and my very sore body feels much better now than it did last night.

As I already mentioned, I'm now sitting at a computer in a condo. Billy and his roommates are very friendly, and Billy has told me I can stay as long as I want. I think I'll probably hang around for a bit. It's cool and windy outside, so there's probably not much excitement (aka titties) at the beach.

I can't remember if I mentioned Robert Paschell in my previous update, but I know I didn't link to his web site, so I want to do that now. Robert lives in Yellow Springs and makes t-shirts. He's a very talented and unique guy, but he hardly makes any money at all. So I want you to take a look at his web site (which I haven't seen yet) and consider buying one or two of his shirts. He works so hard making them, one at a time, and he deserves better than what he's getting from life right now. I want to help him, and I hope you'll help me help him, so please tell your friends about his web site, too. I think he sets up shop every Saturday and Sunday in Yellow Springs, too, between Tom's Market and Ye Olde Trail Tavern. (If you go there looking for him, he has a long gray beard. Santa Claus-esque.) If you buy something from him, tell him I sent you.

I have now walked about 115 miles with 50+ pounds on my back. Unfortunately my shitty pedometer is toast after only two weeks. I hope I can manage to get another one--a better one--somehow, because I really want to keep track of my walking mileage. So if there is anyone out there who'd like to supply a new pedometer for me, I'd love to meet up with you (and it'll get your name in the credits at the very least). I can't check e-mail very frequently, but I always have my phone around. 614-738-3867.

Also, this will be a fucking incredible documentary when I'm done. I have absolutely no doubt about that anymore. This is going to be much bigger than I ever wanted it to be.

The Quasi-Aimless Trailer