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Part One Chapter 3
It was an ordinary bus trip with crying babies and hot sun, and coun- tryfolk  getting on at one Penn town after another, till we got on the plain of Ohio  and really rolled, up by Ashtabula and straight across Indiana in the night. I arrived in Chi quite early in the morning, got a room in the Y, and went to bed with a very few dollars in my pocket. I dug Chicago after a good day's sleep.
The wind from Lake Michigan, bop at the Loop, long walks around South Halsted and North Clark, and one long walk after mid- night into the jungles, where a cruising car followed me as a suspicious character. At this time, 1947, bop was going like mad all over America. The fellows at the  Loop blew, but with a tired air, because bop was somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis. And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has  come to represent for all of us, I thought of all my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same vast backyard doing something so frantic and rushing-about. And for the first time in my life, the follow- ing afternoon, I went into the West. It was a warm and beautiful day for hitchhiking. To get out of the impossible complexities  of Chicago traffic I took a bus to Joliet, Illinois, went by the Joliet pen,  stationed myself just outside town after a walk through its leafy rickety streets behind, and pointed my way. All the way from New York to Joliet by bus, and I had spent more than half my money.
My first ride was a dynamite truck with a red flag, about thirty miles  into great green Illinois, the truckdriver pointing out the place where Route 6, which we were on, intersects Route 66 before they both shoot west for incredible distances. Along about three in the afternoon, after an apple pie and ice cream in a roadside stand, a woman stopped for me in a little coupe. I had a twinge of hard joy as I ran after the car. But she was a middle-aged  woman,  actually the mother of sons my age, and wanted somebody to help her drive to Iowa. I was all for it. Iowa! Not so far from Denver, and once I got to Denver I could relax. She drove the first few hours, at one point insisted on visiting an old church somewhere, as if we were tourists, and  then I took over the wheel and, though I'm not much of a driver, drove clear through the rest of Illinois to Davenport, Iowa, via Rock Island. And here for the first  time in my life I saw my beloved Mississippi River, dry in the summer  haze, low water, with its big rank smell that smells like the raw  body  of  America  itself  because  it  washes  it  up.  Rock  Island-- railroad tracks, shacks, small downtown section; and over the bridge to Davenport, same kind  of town, all smelling of sawdust in the warm midwest sun. Here the lady  had to go on to her Iowa hometown by another route, and I got out.
The sun was going down. I walked, after a few cold beers, to the  edge of town, and it was a long walk. All the men were driving home from work, wearing railroad hats, baseball hats, all kinds of hats, just like after work in any town anywhere. One of them gave me a ride up the hill and left me at a lonely crossroads on the edge of the prairie. It was beautiful there. The only  cars that came by were farmer-cars; they gave me suspicious looks, they clanked along, the cows were com- ing home. Not a truck. A few cars zipped by. A hotrod kid came by with his scarf flying. The sun went all the way down and I was stand- ing in the purple darkness. Now I was scared. There weren't even any lights in the Iowa countryside; in a minute nobody would  be able to see me. Luckily a man going back to Davenport gave me a lift down- town. But I was right where I started from.
I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that's practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course. I de- cided to gamble. I took a bus in downtown Davenport, after spending a half-hour watching a waitress in the bus-station cafe, and rode to the city  limits,  but  this  time near  the gas  stations.  Here the  big trucks roared, wham, and inside two minutes one of them cranked to a stop for me. I ran for it with  my soul whoopeeing. And what a driver--a great  big  tough  truckdriver  with  popping  eyes  and  a hoarse  raspy voice who just slammed and kicked at everything and got his rig under way and paid hardly any attention to me. So I could rest my tired soul a little, for one of the biggest troubles hitchhiking is having to talk to innumerable people, make them feel that they didn't make a mistake picking  you up, even entertain them almost, all of which is a great strain when you're going all the way and don't plan to sleep in hotels. The guy just yelled above the roar, and all I had to do was yell back, and we relaxed. And he balled that thing clear to Iowa City and yelled me the funniest stories about how he got around the law in every town that had an unfair speed  limit, saying over and over again, "Them goddam cops can't put no flies on imyi ass!" Just as we rolled into Iowa City he saw another truck coming behind us, and because he had to turn off at Iowa City he blinked his tail lights at the other guy and slowed down for me to jump out, which I  did with my bag, and the other truck, acknowledging this exchange,  stopped  for me, and once again, in the twink of nothing, I was in another big high cab, all set to go hundreds of miles across the night, and was I happy! And the new truckdriver was as crazy as the other and yelled just as much, and all I had to do was lean back and roll on. Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars, across the prairie of Iowa and the plains of Nebraska, and I could see the greater vision of San Francisco beyond, like jewels in the night. He balled the jack and told stories for a couple of hours, then, at a town in Iowa where years later Dean and I were stopped on suspicion in what looked like a stolen  Cadillac, he slept a few hours in the seat. I slept too, and took one little walk along the lonely brick walls illuminated by one lamp, with the prairie brooding at the end of each little street and the smell of the corn like dew in the night.
He woke up with a start at dawn. Off we roared, and an hour later  the smoke of Des Moines appeared ahead over the green corn- fields. He had to eat his breakfast now and wanted to take it easy, so I went right on into Des Moines, about four miles, hitching a ride with two boys from the  University of Iowa; and it was strange sitting in their brand-new comfortable car and hearing them talk of exams as we zoomed smoothly into town. Now I wanted to sleep a whole day. So I went  to the Y to get a room; they didn't have any, and by instinct I wandered down to the railroad tracks--and there're a lot of them in Des Moines--and  wound up in a gloomy old Plains inn of a hotel by the locomotive roundhouse, and spent a long day sleeping on a big clean hard white bed with dirty remarks carved in the wall beside my pillow and the beat yellow windowshades pulled over the smoky scene of the rail-yards. I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the  strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was--I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps ups- tairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across Ameri- ca, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that's why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.
But I had to get going and stop moaning, so I picked up my bag, said so long to the old hotelkeeper sitting by his spittoon, and went to eat. I ate apple pie and ice cream--it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer. There were the most beautiful bevies of girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon--they were  coming home from high school--but I had no time now for thoughts like that and promised myself a ball in Denver. Carlo Marx was already in  Denver; Dean was there; Chad King and Tim Gray were there, it was their hometown; Marylou was there; and there was mention of a mighty gang  including Ray Rawlins and his beautiful blond sister Babe Rawlins; two  waitresses Dean knew, the Bettencourt sisters;  and even Roland Major, my  old college writing buddy, was there. I looked forward to all of them with joy and antici-pation. So I rushed past the pretty girls, and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.
A guy with a kind of toolshack on wheels, a truck full of tools that he drove standing up like a modern milkman, gave me a ride up the long hill, where I immediately got a ride from a farmer and his son heading out for Adel in Iowa. In this town, under a big elm tree near a gas station, I made  the acquaintance of another hitchhiker, a typical New Yorker, an Irishman who'd been driving a truck for the post office most of his work years and was now headed for a girl in Denver and a new life. I think he was running away from something in New York, the law most likely. He was a real red-nose young drunk of thirty and would have bored me ordinarily, except that my senses were sharp for any kind of human friendship.  He wore a beat  sweater and baggy pants and had nothing with him in the way of a bag--just a toothbrush and handkerchiefs. He said we ought to hitch together. I should have said no, because he looked pretty awful on the road. But we stuck to- gether and got a ride with a taciturn man to Stuart, Iowa, a town in which we were really stranded. We stood in front of the railroad-ticket shack in  Stuart, waiting for the westbound traffic till the sun went down, a good five hours, dawdling away the time, at first telling about ourselves, then he  told dirty stories, then we just kicked pebbles and made goofy noises of one kind and another. We got bored. I decided to spend a buck on beer; we went to an old saloon in Stuart and had a few. There he got as drunk as he ever did in his Ninth Avenue night back home, and yelled joyously in my ear all the sordid dreams of his life. I kind of liked him; not because he was a  good sort, as he later proved to be, but because he was enthusiastic about  things. We got back on the road in the darkness, and of course nobody  stopped and nobody came by much. That went on till three o'clock in the morning. We spent some time trying to sleep on the bench at the railroad ticket office, but the telegraph clicked all night and we couldn't sleep, and big freights were slamming around outside. We didn't know how to hop a proper chain gang; we'd never done it before; we didn't know whether they were going east or west or how to find out or what boxcars and flats and  de-iced reefers to pick, and so on. So when the Omaha bus came through just before dawn we hopped on it and joined the sleep- ing passengers--I paid for his fare as well as mine. His name was Ed- die. He reminded me of  my cousin-in-law from the Bronx. That was why I stuck with him. It was like having an old friend along, a smiling good-natured sort to goof along with.
We arrived at Council Bluffs at dawn; I looked out. All winter I'd been reading of the great wagon parties that held council there be- fore hitting the Oregon and Santa Fe trails; and of course now it was only cute suburban cottages of one damn kind and another, all laid out in the dismal gray dawn. Then Omaha, and, by God, the first cowboy I saw, walking along the bleak walls of the wholesale meat warehouses in a ten-gallon hat and Texas boots, looked like any beat character of the brickwall dawns of the East except for the getup. We got off the bus and walked clear up the hill, the long hill formed over the millenniums by the mighty Missouri, alongside of which  Omaha is built, and got out to the country and stuck our thumbs out. We got a brief ride from a wealthy rancher in a ten-gallon hat, who said the valley  of the Platte was as great as the Nile Valley of Egypt, and as he said so I saw the great trees in the distance that snaked with the riverbed and the great verdant fields around it, and almost agreed with him. Then as we were standing at another crossroads and it was starting to get cloudy anoth- er cowboy, this one six feet tall in a modest half-gallon hat, called us over and  wanted to know if either one of us could drive. Of course Eddie could drive, and he had a license and I didn't. Cowboy had two cars with him that he was driving back to Montana,His wife was at Grand Island, and he wanted us to drive one of the cars there, where she'd take over. At that point he was going north, and that  would be the limit of our ride with him. But it was a good hundred miles  into Nebraska, and of course we jumped for it. Eddie drove alone, the cowboy and myself following, and no sooner were we out of town than Eddie started to ball that jack ninety miles an hour out of sheer exuberance. "Damn me, what's that boy doing!" the cow- boy shouted, and took off after him. It began to be like a race. For a minute I thought Eddie was trying to get away with the car--and for all I know that's what he meant to do. But the cowboy stuck to him and caught up with him and tooted  the  horn. Eddie slowed down. The cowboy tooted to stop. "Damn, boy, you're liable to get a flat going that speed. Can't you drive a little slower?"
"Well, I'll be damned, was I really going ninety?" said Eddie. "I didn't realize it on this smooth road."
"Just take it a little easy and we'll all get to Grand Island in one piece."
"Sure thing." And we resumed our journey. Eddie had calmed down and probably even got sleepy. So we drove a hundred miles across Nebraska, following the winding Platte with its verdant fields.
"During the depression," said the cowboy to me, "I used to hop freights at least once a month. In those days you'd see hundreds of men riding a flatcar or in a boxcar, and they weren't just bums, they were all kinds of men  out of work and going from one place to another and some of them just wandering. It was like that all over the West. Brake- men never bothered you in those days. I don't know about today. Ne- braska I ain't got no use for.  Why in the middle nineteen thirties this place wasn't nothing but a big dust-cloud as far as the eye could see. You couldn't breathe. The ground was black. I was here in those days. They can give Nebraska back to the Indians far as I'm concerned. I hate this damn place more than'  any place in the  world. Montana's my home  now--Missoula.  You  come  up  there  sometime  and  see  God's country." Later in the afternoon I slept when he got tired  talking--he was an interesting talker.
We stopped along the road for a bite to eat. The cowboy went off to have a spare tire patched, and Eddie and I sat down in a kind of homemade diner.  I  heard  a  great  laugh,  the  greatest  laugh  in  the world, and here came this rawhide old-timer Nebraska farmer with a bunch of other boys into the diner; you could hear his raspy cries clear across the plains, across the whole gray world of them that day. Every- body else  laughed with him. He didn't have a care in the world and had the hugest regard for everybody. I said to myself, Wham, listen to that man laugh. That's the West, here I am in the West. He came boom- ing into the diner, calling  Maw's name, and she made the sweetest cherry pie in Nebraska, and I had some with a mountainous scoop of ice cream on top. "Maw, rustle me up some grub afore I have to start eatin myself raw or some damn silly idee like that." And he threw him- self on a stool and went hyaw hyaw hyaw hyaw.  "And throw some beans in it." It was the spirit of the West sitting right  next to me. I wished I knew his whole raw life and what the hell he'd been doing all these years besides laughing and yelling like that. Whooee, I told my soul, and the cowboy came back and off we went to Grand Island.
We got there in no time flat. He went to fetch his wife and off to whatever fate awaited him, and Eddie and I resumed on the road. We got a ride from a couple of young fellows--wranglers, teenagers, coun- try boys in a put-together jalopy--and were left off somewhere up the line in a thin drizzle of rain. Then an old man who said nothing--and God knows why he picked us up--took us to Shelton. Here Eddie stood forlornly in the road in front of a staring bunch of short, squat Omaha Indians who had nowhere to  go and nothing to do. Across the road was the railroad track and the  watertank saying SHELTON. "Damn me," said Eddie with amazement, "I've been in this town before. It was years ago, during the war, at night, late at night when everybody was sleeping. I went out on the platform to smoke, and there we was in the middle of nowhere and black as hell, and I look up and see that name Shelton written on the watertank. Bound for the Pacific,  everybody snoring, every damn dumb sucker, and we only stayed a few minutes, stoking up or something, and off we went. Damn me, this Shelton!  I hated this place ever since!" And we were stuck in Shelton. As in Da- venport, Iowa, somehow all the cars were farmer-cars, and once in a while  a  tourist car, which is worse, with old men driving and their wives  pointing out the sights or poring over maps, and sitting back looking at everything with suspicious faces.
The drizzle increased and Eddie got cold; he had very little clothing. I fished a wool plaid shirt from my canvas bag and he put it on. He felt a little better. I had a cold. I bought cough drops in a rickety Indian store of some kind. I went to the little two-by-four post office and wrote my aunt a penny postcard. We went back to the gray road. There she was in front of  us, Shelton, written on the watertank. The Rock Island balled by. We saw the faces of Pullman passengers go by in a blur. The train howled off across the plains in the direction of our desires. It started to rain harder.
A tall, lanky fellow in a gallon hat stopped his car on the wrong side of the road and came over to us; he looked like a sheriff. We pre- pared our  stories secretly. He took his time coming over. "You boys going  to  get  somewhere,  or just  going?"  We  didn't  understand  his question, and it was a damned good question.
"Why?" we said.
"Well, I own a little carnival that's pitched a few mile down the road  and I'm looking for some old boys willing to work and make a buck for themselves. I've got a roulette concession and a wooden-ring concession, you know, the kind you throw around dolls and take your luck. You boys want to work for me, you can get thirty per cent of the take."
"Room and board?"
"You can get a bed but no food. You'll have to eat in town. We travel  some." We thought it over. "It's a good opportunity," he said, and waited  patiently for us to make up our minds. We felt silly and didn't know what to say, and I for one didn't want to get hung-up with a carnival. I was in such a bloody hurry to get to the gang in Denver. 
I said, "I don't know, I'm going as fast as I can and I don't think I have the time." Eddie said the same thing, and the old man waved his hand and  casually sauntered back to his car and drove off. And that was that. We  laughed about it awhile and speculated about what it would have been like. I had visions of a dark and dusty night on the plains, and the faces of  Nebraska families wandering by, with their rosy children looking at everything with awe, and I know I would have felt like the devil himself  rooking them with all those cheap carnival tricks. And the Ferris wheel revolving in the flatlands darkness, and, God almighty, the sad music of the merry-go-round and me wanting to get on to my goal--and sleeping in some gilt wagon on a bed of burlap.
Eddie turned out to be a pretty absent-minded pal of the road.
A funny old contraption rolled by, driven by an old man; it was made of some kind of aluminum, square as a box--a trailer, no doubt, but a weird, crazy Nebraska homemade trailer. He was going very slow and stopped. We  rushed up; he said he could only take one; without a word Eddie jumped in and slowly rattled from my sight, and wearing my wool plaid shirt. Well, alackaday, I kissed the shirt good-by; it had only sentimental value in any case. I waited in our personal godawful Shelton for a long, long time, several hours, and I kept thinking it was getting night; actually it was only early  afternoon, but dark. Denver, Denver, how would I ever get to Denver? I  was just about giving up and planning to sit over coffee when a fairly new car stopped, driven by a young guy. I ran like mad.
"Where you going?" "Denver."
"Well, I can take you a hundred miles up the line." "Grand, grand, you saved my life."
"I used to hitchhike myself, that's why I always pick up a fellow." 
"I would too if I had a car." And so we talked, and he told me about his life, which wasn't very interesting,  and I started to sleep some and woke up right outside the town of Gothenburg, where he let me off.

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