FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES
I was thinking about this the other day, and I’m reminded of it again today, after a short discussion I had with the maintenance guy here at Stagecoach.
I would much rather have a discussion with people, or be friends with people, on the lower rungs of the social ladder than with those enjoying the lofty confines at the top. I find them, on average, much more interesting, and I think we have much more in common than me and those living in thin air.
It goes back to my upbringing, and things I was taught, important things, holy shit things, which have never left me.
I was maybe six, seven years old, my dad and I driving to the grocery store, when Dad pointed out a disheveled man, wearing rags, a rucksack over one shoulder, sitting on the curb. Dad told me that was Master Sergeant Wilson, back home from the war, but not all of him, part of him still over in Italy, still hearing the sounds of artillery and still seeing the sights of death, and he told me that was a man to respect, never to pity, but always respect, for he had paid a price few ever will, and sometimes the price you pay is a repeating film in a man’s head, a one man film for a one man audience. “Bill,” Dad told me, “we are no better than that man, never will be, and you always remember that.’
And I have!
Anyway, I have much more in common with the lowbrows than the high, and I find them much more interesting. I enjoy their warts and fault lines and ever-shifting, unstable foundation. They are real, not manufactured, and there is nothing make-believe or fabricated about them. And I write about them often, or once did, my favorite literary characters, created by me, being the fallen from grace characters, those who have paid their dues, and continue to pay more than their just dues, don’t wallow in self-pity, and will look you straight in the eye in a way which demands your respect.
Have a conversation, some day, with someone down on their luck. There is no small talk with a person facing deportation or being evicted from their home or working three jobs to feed four children. They don’t have the luxury of small talk, because every single thing happening, in their lives, has important consequences. That’s the kind of in-your-face talk I enjoy. I want to know a person. I’ve been force-fed small talk most of my life, and other than being polite, it is practically meaningless. Hi, how ya doing, great weather we’re having, ooh, look out for that crabgrass, hey, how about them Mariners . . . little ten second soundbites, similar to the news headlines, or the social media shorts we are now told is the next great thing for communicating to our fellow media junkies.
If you ask me how I’m doing, you better get comfortable, and you better have your big boy panties on, because you’ll find out damned quick exactly how I’m doing.
Anyway, I hope I meet more friends in low places during this trip.
IT HAPPENED AGAIN
As I write this, it is April 2nd. I’m not sure why I mention that, other than for you all, so you have some perspective of the time continuum.
Bev has been on the trail now for fourteen days. She has covered, as of today, 151 miles. The loose plan, from the start, was to average about ten mile days for the first month, and I’m happy to report she is right on.
151 miles! Seems like a huge number. Hell, it is a huge number, and then we toss in the reality of only 2,500 more to go.
Anyway, this chapter’s heading has nothing to do with miles, and everything to do with being recognized, once again, and it still catches me by surprise, like winning at getting the toy I wanted in the box of cereal, or beating my dad in pool, it just wasn’t expected and then that holy shit moment happens, you know?
I walked into the Montezuma Valley Market today, not the first time, mind you, but the first time that the owner, Kemi, was there, and I swear, I had barely crossed the threshold when Kemi said, “Are you Bill?” And then she proceeded to thank me for supporting her store online, and those warms and fuzzies spread over me again.
Kemi is a survivor. She opened her store a few years back on a shoestring budget, barely held on during the tough times, became a favorite stopover for PCT hikers, only to have her store burn to the ground in 2021.
With the help of some friends, she tossed together some plywood, put a roof on it, and opened back up, in a temporary location twenty feet from the charred remains of her original dream . . . only to receive harassing hate mail and threats from narrow-minded Neanderthals who really shouldn’t be allowed to walk this planet. I don’t know the story behind the harassment. Anything I suggest here would simply be an exercise in mental masturbation. I have my suspicions, but those are worthless. I think it’s a safe bet that this is yet one more example of hatred and bigotry and nonsensical b.s. from the cheap seats, from people who have nothing better to do with their lives than to rail against anything, or anyone, different than them.
I am reminded of a line I once heard, on a television show, which went something like this: “In the absence of a voice of reason, people will line up to listen to any idiot with a megaphone and, not only listen, but believe, because they are too lazy, or too stupid, to form an informed decision.”
Kemi is a gem. I am so happy I was able to meet her, one of the good people, tucked away in this bastion of narrow-mindedness.
Anyway, it happened again, someone recognizing me, and in the process, me being rewarded with a meeting which enriched my life.
IT’S TIME FOR A DETOUR
I’m writing this from the Bluebird Cottages in Idyllwild, California, mile marker 180 on the PCT. Bev and her son needed a well-deserved day off, so here we are, over a mile high, temps in the thirties, clouds shrouding the town, mist kissing those brave enough to walk the streets.
Idyllwild is a cute town, a tourist town, a PCT hiker tradition, stop in and see the Mayor of Idyllwild, who just happens to be a dog named Max, I joke not. It also happens to be the town before hikers enter Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness, the first real mountain test on the trail, and this year that test is for serious mountaineers only. It was just reopened after being closed for the month of March, but that reopening in no way means it is safe. It is, in fact, quite dangerous this year.
Which brings us to the detour previously mentioned. Many a hiker this year, 2023, is skipping ahead to safer environs, then hiking southbound to Idyllwild when Jacinto is safer. It’s called flip-flopping in thru hiker parlance, and it is being adopted with great regularity as March gives way to April.
Bev informed me that she wants to skip ahead to the town of Tehachapi, about 170-car miles north of here, and then march southward to Idyllwild. I think that’s a very wise decision and so, barring a complete change of mind, that’s what we will do starting Wednesday, the 5th of April. It will take us about four hours to drive there, counting dog breaks, and it will be the second time we’ve visited that town, the first being about six weeks ago as we drove south from Olympia.
I am quite relieved with this decision.
For me, it means a little more driving, but I’m loving this bus-driving, adventurer thing, so no skin off my whatever.
I was going to stop this chapter at that spot, but I’ve got more to say.
It was a miserable day today, any old way you slice it, a miserable day. After a day yesterday, kissing-cousin close to seventy degrees, today was in the thirties with winds gusting to seventy mph, and I’m not smart enough to figure out the windchill with those numbers.
I mention that because I arrived at the trailhead, near Idyllwild, about an hour before Bev and Leo came off the trail. I had barely put Shadow Walker in park when two hikers waved from the trail, fighting winds, hair wild, but smiles on their faces, waving at me. “Windmill!” they shouted, running for the bus, I opened the doors, they piled in, “you’re a lifesaver, Windmill, I saw the bus and just started running to get out of this weather,” and I once again was reminded of how important this trip is for me. It is my chance to become a member of a very exclusive club, to be a valued member, a member who can help those who have the courage and desire and fortitude to take on a challenge most people cannot fathom.
That scene replayed four times before Bev and Leo finally arrived, twenty hikers total I shuttled a mile down the road, to Paradise Valley Café and a well-earned breakfast, and by the time my own personal vagabonds arrived, I was feeling some serious feel-goods about my life.
This is, in a very real sense, my last chance to become an active member in a society, a participating member, an enthused member, and it has more importance to me than I thought possible. It’s frightening, truth tossed out there, this peeling back the armor and allowing others to like me, or not like me, based on who I really am.
So emotionally taxing!
Andrea, it’s so nice of you to reach out. Thank you for that. I am far behind on reciprocating. Life on the road presents some problems with internet and WiFi, and I have not found a solution as of yet.
Hi Bill, it’s good to catch up with you even though I’m late to the journey. A pleasure to read your wise words about the lessons you learned from your father and also about the connections you’re making on the journey.
Sis, as corny as this may sound, this trip has transformed me in a way I never saw coming. I had no idea how frigging bored I was, with life, until I said “to hell with it” and left it all behind. Now I can’t imagine ever having a “routine” again. I am in love with life once again.
Hey Bro….WOW! This Journey Story is amazing. This will sound silly, but when have I not been silly? Your recounts throughout this journey, remind of reading a long menu at a cafe. I think I’ve found what I want to eat until I keep reading and everything sounds too yummy to pass up…so I keep on scanning the menu until I’ve seen about 6 meals to choose from and my stomach is growling loud enough for other customers to hear it..
And I can hear you, Bro! “What the HELL is Sis talking about?” Simple! Each Journey addition you’ve shared with us, I think to myself, is my favorite. That is, until I read the next great story, or go back to read your former tales. There I go, confused once again. Bottom line is you are gracing your readers with so many wonderful experiences, while in each tale, teaching us another valuable life lesson. The one single conclusion I’m always sure of is that I am grateful to know you & Bev and I love you like friends I’ve known forever! That’s just the way it is!!…..Thank you!! ..Big Sis.