Dismally we return to the car, ‘They told us to try you.’
The roads twist and just and disengage, branching out into dark, obscure county roads and Highways named after the Alphabet.
We get the attention of a police car, to ask for assistance and directions. Their pleasantries are a welcome mat of thorns. We tell them we’re looking for somewhere to camp, the cops turn on their flashers and more squad cars pull up behind us and make the display even brighter.
Two officers come to the window with a ‘what the hell are you doing in these parts’ demeanor. One of them rattles off a list of everything they’d like us to produce; Drivers License, Registration, Proof of Insurance, Proof of Purchase, Proof of Citizenship, Social Security Card, Medical and Dental Records, Work History and Tax Records for the past six years, all winning lottery tickets in our possession and any pornography we might have.
We suffered abuse and accusation before they understood that we were trying to ask them for directions. After some deliberation, a silent admittance began to shine through their dogmatic attitude of authority, they were as lost in these backward boonies as we were.
We gave up all hope. The police finally bid us goodnight, and we hopped back onto the turnpike, heading for the nearest rest stop.
Service plaza coffee, parking lot hotel. A hell full of hippies sleeping in and on their cars. Let’s wake these bastards up, the locals anyway, the ones with Ohio plates. Let’s make them party! In honor of their wonderful home state, in honor of a newly wonderful state of mind.
“Come on, ya fachs, get up! It’s four thirty, the sun will be rising soon!”
These roads won’t lead anywhere for us, only back to where we never wanted to be in the first place. So come on, native, lead us to the watering hole or the Booze ‘n Burgers. Take us somewhere we can let the car cool down while we roam along a stream or ascend into the trees.
Been up all night at the rest stop playing pinball, giving up when the machine overwhelmed me with at least a dozen balls for me to juggle at once.
Outside it is tranquil Light is just streaking the Eastern sky, between watermarked clouds with flat, black bottoms. The sun is yet to make it’s initial peek over the horizon, but it seems to be preparing a spectacular entrance for those brave enough to wait it out.
People are sprawled out on picnic tables, asleep, huddled up in large wads of sleeping bags and blankets. Headlights from trucks and cars are view-pointers for the constellations.
Birds in the trees are going crazy. Chattering on and on, moving from branch to branch, tree to tree. An owls god is as good as any, but fall is frighteningly imminent this morning.
They’re all on edge, ready to attack. Don’t shake the tree. We kept them up all night, and they’re trying to figure out what to do now that the cold is coming.
Chirp, chirp. What’re you going to do? I don’t know, what are you going to do? I’m not sure, let’s check with everybody else. Chirp, chirp.
They flutter around in confusion, trying to put it to a vote. Same thing as last year? Chirp, chirp.
South again? Fach south! We go south every year! Is that all you can think of?
The birds chirp wildly, almost in a riotous state, until one steps out and demands attention from the rest. “Well, can any of you think of somewhere else to go this winter? Anyone? Anywhere?”
The tree is silent and still. A slow remorse and resolve falls upon them, the birds all come to agreement on the plan.
“Come on, everyone! We’re heading South, again!” Chirp, chirp, chirp.
The sun makes its first appearance, coming over the Eastern sky. The birds gather in formation and disappear high in the sky. And cars full of hippies, some just waking, some still up from the night, flock together in line on Ohio’s winding turnpike in search of the paradise camping ground.
© Robert Emmett McWhorter (circa 1994)