Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

A Box Full of Pennies and a Dream, Part III: Perhaps Duct Tape Will Hold It

Takkic’s Tale

Link to Part I; Link to Part II

So Lee Murr and I parted ways, he to explore the continental divide and I to get my ass back home, wherever that happened to be.

            Using the balance of my blood donor money, I added a few gallons of gas and a pint of oil to my guzzling, leaky beater, the formerly jovial, Jolly Cow. Now a few hours outside of Denver, I was beginning to run low on gas. I spied an exit with nearby gas stations and restaurants and figured it would be good place to beg for money.

Jesus Saves!

            I pulled into a McDonalds, ready to begin my hustle solo for the first time. I happened to notice an old station wagon with a cross mounted on top that said “Jesus Saves.” Said Jesusmobile and the trailer hitched in back were covered in placards containing biblical quotes and religious epitaphs. “What a freak!” I thought, making a mental note to avoid those folks.

            As people walked in and out of the restaurant, I approached them with a story about having my wallet and money stolen and being stranded on the road. Most were unsympathetic and walked away. Then I found an older guy with a beard who would listen.

            “Ya know, what you’re doing is panhandling,” he said, “and you can get arrested for that.” Yikes!

            The bearded fellow then revealed the he was, in fact, the Captain of the Jesusmobile and he was a traveling preacher. He wanted to pray for me. So why the hell not, it’s not like I had any where else to go.

            He put his hand on my shoulder and bowed his head: “Lord Jesus, look over and protect our wayward brother. Guide him safely through his travels . . .” and so on. Then he mentioned he could probably spare me a couple dollars, but I had better move on before somebody calls the police.

            I took this warning to heart. It did not appear I was welcome, judging by folks’ initial reaction to me. By now, I had nearly a week’s growth of stubble on my face, my long hair was greasy and I was ripe. And they probably didn’t understand why I had a canteen fastened to my hip with handcuffs as well. So I thanked the gentleman, scraped together the last of my pennies from the shoebox and put about $2.37 in the tank. I also topped off my oil, which exhausted the quart I had been carrying around. Things looked bleak, but hey, Jesus was looking out for me.

            As I rolled to a stop sign next to the on ramp to the highway, two hitchhikers approached me. “Goin’ to Kansas City? Just give us a ride to Kansas City. We’ve been waitin’ all day. C’mon, man, we ain’t gonna’ hurt you!”

            “Can you give me gas money?” I asked.

            The other nodded. This was their magic ticket.

            Both hitchhikers were about 30, give or take a few years, and heavily laden with bags. Gabriel was short, stocky and black and did most of the talking. He sat in front. A tall, quiet, red-headed white guy sat in back. Red only produced a measly $2, but I wasn’t about to turn any cash down at this point.

            So I got onto the highway at a 40 mph crawl attempting to conserve fuel, which made the hitchhikers uncomfortable. Red found me suspicious, asking if I had stolen the car.

            It was nearing sundown as we approached the Kansas border. To my sheer panic, the engine temp warning light flashed on. The hitchhikers advised me to turn on the heat, which helped cool the engine a bit.

            We pulled off into a gas station at the next exit and discovered a leak from a dry-rotted bend in the lower radiator hose. At the advice of the hitchhikers, I temporarily patched the hose with duct tape and refilled the radiator with several trips to the restroom with my canteen.

            “If the duct tape can hold it, we might make it,” said Red.

            Leave it to duct tape! On this day I would be witness to  the versatile power of this wonderful adhesive. Throughout the years I would use it for ad lib autobody work, low-end upholstery repair, temporary electrical and plumbing work, ugly carpet patching, emergency restraint and various on-stage applications. I would eventually dub this wonder of modern science, “musician’s tape.”

            The repair process took quite a while because we allowed the engine to cool before opening the radiator cap. In the meantime, I was approaching strangers for money as they pulled into the station. Red was becoming increasingly more leary of my behavior. It just didn’t add up to him.

            Gabriel asked me again: “Just tell us the truth, we’re not going to rat you out. We  just need to know. Is this car stolen?”
            Red wasn’t buying my story and walked off into the darkness. Gabriel likely pegged me as more of a fool than a thief and stayed on board. I was able to scare up a few more dollars for the tank.

            We progressed eastbound into the dark Kansan flatness, chatting as we crawled along. As it turned out, Gabriel had just been released from prison and was going to Kansas City to meet up with an old friend. He indicated that I might obtain temporary lodging at his buddy’s place when we got there.

            As I began to get too tired to drive, we pulled into a rest stop to sleep. In the morning, we awoke to share the last can of cold soup. Gabriel declined my offer of a mustard sandwich on slightly stale bread.

            Again, I worked the rest stop crowd, panhandling and selling anything I could sell.

            Then I noticed that one of my tires was nearly flat. Closer examination revealed a giant screw embedded in the tread. We proceeded directly to the nearest gas station to pump air into the tire, hoping it was a slower leak. Meanwhile, the duct tape on the radiator hose appeared to be holding up.

             To my frustration, Kansas was more difficult the second time through than the first. People were less inclined to help us, most likely because I was now considerably grubbier and stinkier and I was accompanied by a black man. By evening, we were getting desperate for food, fuel and money, so I decided to seek one out of those churches that had a “travelers’ assistance” fund. After pulling off in a larger town, we found an apparently well-to-do parish that had a few cars in the lot.

             It was getting dark and chilly. I caped a blanket around myself as we knocked on doors and looked into windows attempting to rouse somebody. We noticed a carload of well-dressed, older folks in a nice car circle around a few times.

             As they approached for a third time, Gabriel hailed them. “Excuse me sir,” he said to the driver through an ever-so-slightly cracked window, “we are looking for the preacher. We need assistance.”

             “Go find a cop,” he replied as he drove off.

             Gabriel turned to me. “They are going to call the police,” he predicted.

             Sure enough, within a few moments, the police pulled up on us as we were returning to the car. It was now completely dark, and they hit us with a spotlight. “Keep your hands where we can see them,” we were ordered.

             After telling our story, the police ran our names and plates to find we weren’t wanted for anything. They also searched my car and nearly puked when the saw Lee’s guitar.  Gabrielle was carrying papers pertaining to his release from prison.

            “What were you in for?” one of the officers asked.

            “Threatening the President,” he replied. Gabriel claimed to be in a bar drinking, made threatening remarks about the president, and was then arrested by Secret Service agents.

              We ended up at the police station. A man from one of the churches in town showed up regarding our request for traveler’s assistance. He questioned me persistently about why I was driving across the country without any money. Eventually, the man must have concluded that I was more of an idiot than a criminal and gave me a voucher for enough gas to get us to Kansas City, where we said we were going.

            “Excuse me, sir,” Gabriel said as the man was leaving, “Is there a shelter around here where we can get something to eat?”

            We were directed to a mission a few blocks away, and we arrived just in time for dinner. Gabriel and I enjoyed a meal consisting of sloppy joe sandwiches, applesauce and angel food cake. Nourishment surged through my veins! Nevertheless, the surroundings were depressing, most of our company being older, homeless and/or addicted individuals who didn’t say much. A television mounted in the corner accounted for 90 percent of the sound in the building.

            This excursion had been a real eye opener for me. I was hanging out at missions, blood banks, police stations, rest stops and temp agencies with the homeless, hitchhikers, homosexuals and ex-cons of various races. It was a world entirely different than the middle-class suburban environs I had become so accustomed to, my recent struggles not-withstanding.

            We fueled up with the voucher, added some oil, retaped the hose and added a little air to the tire. Despite all the leaks, all of our problems were still manageable.

            After driving several hours continuously, we arrived in Kansas City late in the evening. With some help, we found our way to Gabriel’s friend’s address. We knocked on the door to be received by a voice on the other side of the door.

             “Who is it?” a woman demanded.

             “You don’t have to open the door, ma’am,” Gabriel replied, trying to be as non-threatening as possible, for which he had a knack. “I’m a friend of Sean’s. Is he here?”

             “He’s in Leavenworth!” the woman answered.

             “Where’s Leavenworth?” I asked. “Isn’t that in Kansas?”

             “It’s a prison, you fool!” Gabriel responded. We left dejectedly. Why should I be surprised? Nothing on this cursed trip went right.

            Gabriel and I hunted for a place to sleep. Our first choice didn’t work out so well. It was in the Westport area of Kansas City, and we were frequently disturbed by loud, screeching cars buzzing about among the local bars. We ended up settling on an industrial park. It was relatively quiet except for the occasional “beep, beep, beep” of a distant forklift. We talked about our families and our struggles and being black and being white and ending up in an industrial park in Kansas City until we eventually dozed off.

            Early the next morning we found ourselves downtown panhandling. Gabriel was torn between staying in Kansas City or continuing with me a bit on his way home to Virginia.

            I approached a stranger for change, who then offered me $20 to let him and a friend “go down on me.”

            “No thank you!”

            I caught up to Gabriel, who had continued walking. “Let me guess,” he said, “He’s a faggot and he wanted to suck your dick.” The dude didn’t miss anything!

            Gabriel suggested that we split up and work two different streets, which I agreed. After about half an hour and minimal success mooching, I started looking for him. Nowhere. I made my way back to my car and waited. And waited.

           After about an hour, I assumed he had ditched me. Or might he have gotten arrested? His sleeping bag was still in my car. Surely he wouldn’t just ditch me. Would he?

            I began thinking about how lucky I had been finding him. Aside from being a travel companion, Gabriel’s street smarts and talent for measuring up people had helped keep me out of trouble. Then it occurred to me that I met him almost immediately after the Jesusmobile guy had prayed for me. Could Gabriel have been some sort of guardian angel? With me close to home, perhaps his work was done.

            So I fired up the Jolly Cow, sunk my meager scrapings into the tank, and left town.

I pulled over at the first rest stop I saw. It was Saturday, and the road was full of travelers. I was also pleased to discover that the rest stop was situated between the eastbound and westbound lanes, giving me access to more folks.

            For the most part, people were being generous. I managed to collect a few bucks right away. Then I saw a group of bikers, their choppers heavily laden with gear, obviously taking a break from an extensive trip. About four men and two women were sitting in a circle on blankets eating lunch. I approached.

            “Excuse me. Would anybody be interested in buying a down sleeping bag for $10?”

            I had a taker. I fetched the bag from my car, pulling various papers from an external pouch. I had also noticed, for the first time, that Lee had left his coat in my car. He’d be bummin’ without that in the mountains!

            I tossed the bag to the biker. He pulled out a large hunting knife from a sheath on his hip, cut a tiny hole in the bag, and pulled out a piece of a feather. “It’s down alright!” He pulled out a crisp $10 bill from a huge billfold on a chain and handed it to me. I was glad the man with the knife was pleased.

            Before I was finished at the rest stop, I had experienced unprecedented success. I had sufficient funds to fuel the rest of the way home, buy some oil, get some real lunch, purchase some cigarettes and have a few bucks left over.

            I limped the travel weary cow to a populated exit, took care of its needs, which included gas in the tank, oil in the crankcase, water in the radiator and air in the tire. At the burger joint next door, I was able to buy a burger AND a shake – a treat! As usual, my body sucked in the nutrients like a dry sponge.

            As the result of this fortunate run of luck, I was feeling emotions I hadn’t felt in quite a while . . . like hope. It’s as if I had awaken from a week-long depression. I grabbed the handle to open the door to my car only to have it pop off in my hand. No worries. There was another door handle on the other side.

            I headed eastbound on the highway and realized that I actually had enough gas to run the air conditioner. I wondered how Lee was doing. . . .

to be continued

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