Bill Hauser had been a bit of a mess since his girlfriend had left him for a matador. For the first few weeks this seemed a perfectly reasonable response. Then it stopped being reasonable and just got sad. He hated it. When hating it didn’t make it go away he got really drunk. Didn’t help. He went on dates. Didn’t help at all. He went to the movies, the theater – alone. Not so much. So Friday after work he rented a car, picked a direction and drove till Sunday. Pulled over, slept in the driver seat, and woke up in the Arctic.

From San Francisco to Deadhorse, Alaska: 3500 miles. He didn’t want to think what the rental charges would be for that. Then he did think about it and realized it would probably send him to debtor’s prison. Thinking on his feet – which had been asleep since Vancouver – he drove to the edge of the ocean and found a spot with a nice little cliff. He put the car in neutral, got out, and pushed it off.

It landed nose-first with not much splash. Not even an explosion. Bill knew there wouldn’t be an explosion but deep down he was still disappointed.

He was a little nervous when the car only went in about halfway and the entire rear section was sticking up out of the water. It kind of stood out. Maybe he shouldn’t have picked the cherry-red Mustang with the tail fins. But it did look rather beautiful, there on a very cold beach. He looked down the coast and pictured hundreds of cars, of every shape and color, half-buried nose-first in the sand. You didn’t see things like that nearly enough. Even in San Francisco.

With that Bill pulled out his phone and reported the car stolen. He decided to say it was stolen in Oakland. Simpler that way.

While he was on the phone he reported his bicycle stolen. That had actually happened – on Russian Hill – but he never quite got around to reporting it. Standing there, watching bubbles rise next to the car and the sun set behind it, this seemed like as good a time as any.

While he was at it he called his boss and told him he quit. The boss didn’t seem to care much. He also called his landlady and told her that he wouldn’t be home for a while. Fortunately he lived in his mom’s basement. Which might have been one of the reasons his girlfriend had left him for a matador.

Three phone calls were all that had separated him from freedom. He had a few grand in the bank that he hadn’t gotten around to spending yet. Everything else he had in the world was in his little backpack. Which, he realized, was still in the trunk of the car.

He felt around in his pockets. He still had the keys. He pressed the trunk button. It popped open. Bill stared at it for a while, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

He took a deep breath and took off all his clothing and slid down the cliff. In retrospect he wished he’d found a way to do those things in a different order. He waded out to the car, through water that should have stopped being liquid about ten degrees ago, and got his backpack.

He tried to close the trunk but it was awful hard at that angle. Also his teeth were chattering and his balls had gone so far into his body he was afraid they’d get stuck in his neck and choke him to death. He settled for tossing the keys into the open trunk. Got back to shore, walked around the cliff, and managed to get dressed shortly before he ceased being alive.

If the car had been stolen, why did it have the keys in the trunk? Bill took one look at the water and decided he’d just have to risk it. It’s not like people came by here all that often. As he discovered while trying to hitch back to town.

It was night by the time he got back. Not that you could really tell, that far north. He looked for a bar. Couldn’t find one. Pulled out his cell phone to check. No reception. He settled for a diner which was all but empty. He drank some coffee. He wanted some eggs – he hadn’t eaten in about 72 hours – but the waitress was flirting with two big guys in workshirts. Coffee it was.

Is this where he would start a new life? On top of the world, at the frontier, far from the things of man?

Making twenty grand a year and spending all of it on parkas and hand-warmers? Assuming he could find a job. There probably wasn’t a lot of call for latte art up here. Or literary theory, in which he had four years of training but wasn’t as good as he was with latte art.

Well, it was the middle of August. So he had about a week to figure it out before the snow set in. Maybe he should have kept the car…

Bill finished his coffee, got out on the road, and stuck out his thumb.

It was fifty degrees on the tundra. Which is about as cold as it had been in San Francisco when he’d left. He kept his thumb out for an hour before it started to turn blue. Two hours later an oil tanker stopped and picked him up.

It was driven by two ladies. Two very pretty ladies, with long legs and long blond hair. They sat him outside behind the cab, facing backwards. He used a length of rope to tie himself on. Sometimes he’d wake up to hear them laughing. Sometimes he’d just stare up at the moon and the stars.

They took him as far as Fairbanks. Where he spent the day enjoying the town, and at night stuck out his thumb again.

He kept this up for about four months. He never felt like stopping somewhere, or anywhere. Sometimes he’d think about going home but then he’d just want twice as much to see what came next.

He saw half the country, and a whole lot of road. Met a whole lot of people. Had a whole lot of time to himself, to watch the moon, to watch the trees go by.

He talked to his mother once a week. She seemed to have convinced herself that he’d found a job. She never asked what it was. She never quite asked if it was true, either, probably because she didn’t want to know the answer. She just told Bill that he could come home any time he wanted. She hadn’t rented his room. (Who’d want it?)

After a while he started to get bored. Not with travelling. Just with riding-along. It got to be too easy. He felt like a leech. He decided to try something new.

He tried riding the rails like some Steinbeck superhero. He spent thirty days in a county jail in South Dakota. He surprised the hell out of himself by not minding very much. It was kind of cool. But he’d try not to do it again. Like hitchhiking, the coolness would probably wear off.

It was winter now. He missed summer. He decided to head south until he found it again. He bought a bicycle and started pedalling. Ended up in Tierra Del Fuego. By then he’d gone through three bikes and had been beaten up twice and robbed four times and twice some nice men with machine guns drove him to the nearest border. He was living on a dollar a day and sleeping in church backyards and farmer’s stables. He looked pretty good. If you were into skinny muscley tanned guys who liked looking at mountains under the sunrise.

Somewhere he found a Bible, and gave into a romantic notion of travelling the world while reading the Word of God. He made it to Leviticus before he left it in a bus station bathroom. After that he kinda just read whatever he could find. He found a lot. He liked some of it. He read all of it.

Those first two days with the rent-a-car he’d driven pretty far. On his bike he’d covered almost twice the distance. It had taken a little longer – but then, that was kind of the point.

He looked south and saw the ocean. Not quite the Antarctic, but close as you could get. Then he looked behind him and saw a few thousand miles of riding that he’d already pretty much done. He gave his bicycle to some kid on the street and jumped on a boat.

It was a small container ship bound for Easter Island. There he talked his way onto a yacht going on to New Zealand. There he worked on a fishing-boat for a few months until he found a rich geek from Palo Alto with a ninety-foot three-master like something out of the Pirates of Penzance. They got captured by pirates off of Eritrea.

Bill showed the pirates how to use the ship’s DVD player. Specifically he showed them how to use it to watch porn. When the US Marines showed up he grabbed a horse and started riding. And left it in Morocco, where he swore he’d never get on a fucking horse again.

He walked across Gibraltar. Then he thought, Why Not?, and just kept walking. He covered about 25 miles a day. He saw a lot of Spain. They made fun of the Spanish he’d learned in South America. He made fun of their Spanish, which confused them greatly. He had more adventures. He met more people. He went through a lot of shoes. He kept walking.

It was wild and bustling in Pamplona when he walked through the city gates. He was walking in one direction. Everyone was running in the other. Then there were no people, only a bunch of angry bulls. He ignored them. They ran past him. He stopped at an overturned snack-cart and helped himself to a beer.

People were staring at him. People were taking pictures of him. He finished his beer and ducked into a bookstore. He hadn’t chosen a book in a long time. Ever, really. Maybe it was time.

This girl in the corner was looking at him. She was awfully pretty. She came over and introduced herself. She was from San Francisco. She asked him, how long had he been a matador?


~ by davekov on 6 March 2014.

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