He walked along Highway 30; The Lincoln Highway. The road that stretches from East to West. Starts in New York and ends out in San Francisco. Long stretches throughout the Midwest. It just keeps going. Seems like it never stops.
Truckers and vagabonds travel this highway. Lost Americans in vans going from one end of the country then back again. Killing time. Waiting for the second coming. Some say they’re running from something. A past. Some kind of haunting. Trying to escape a torture. A hurt. These ghosts follow them.
At night in summer the winds pick up out in the middle of no-where. Air shifts and sways making it hard to drive against. Dark skies loom overhead. Drivers pull into small town truck stops where runaways and junkies stroll from cab to cab looking for an exchange; their bodies for greenbacks. Some are just looking for a lift to as far as they can go. No particular place in mind. Just some town to start over again in. Then again and again.
The diesel pulled into a stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana amongst seedy hotels, strip clubs, twenty-four hour diners that welcomed truckers and other creatures of the night. The driver gave him a five for a cup of coffee. He knew the young man was broke. They always were. Spending what little money they had on cigarettes and the McDonald’s dollar menu. The boy hadn’t seen a vegetable in months. Just cheeseburgers and fried fish sandwiches. He’d lick the tartar sauce as it oozed out of the side of the bun. His pot belly was rumbling again. He needed to feed the beast. He chose smokes instead. Sat in the truck stop diner waiting to walk into town. Make a grand entrance. This was his nature.
Sun rose at 5:43. He followed it to Main Street. Kicking a can the whole time. Walked to the middle of town where there was a big fountain. Homeless people bathing in the water before the cops showed up to chase them away. He was surrounded by meth-heads and whores. Some young, some old. Teeth missing and ruddy skin. A pregnant girl drinking from a bottle in a bag.
He sat there and took it all in. Fort Wayne was as good a place as any to start over again. This is America, he thought. Land of opportunity, he whispered. The boy didn’t believe that. He didn’t believe in much of anything. Gave up on God and the Holy Ghost. Didn’t care for Christ who climbed on the cross for him. He’d given up those beliefs in his youth. Told himself when he left home, I don’t need anybody or anyone. Live life on my own terms, he said out loud. And, he did.
People in the park told him where the shelter was. told him the rules and regulations for a bed at night. About attending chapel and joining a twelve step program. It was the same in every town. Christian charity was on their terms. No sinners allowed. They wanted you to be dipped in the water. For your soul to be cleansed. And who is really clean? he thought. The Muslim, Hindu, Jew? he asked himself. I’m just a sinner and always will be, he thought. God bless America? Maybe. He hasn’t blessed me.
And within a week he was back on Highway 30. Headed for another town. His soul was restless. Always would be. Highway 30 was his home. The Lincoln Highway his savior.