Take The Long Road Home (by J.T. Hilltop) pt1


I haven’t written any excerpts from JT’s great American novel about growing up in the 60’s in a little town of Centerlawn in awhile so the journey continues as he gets out of jail in the deep south.

Long And Winding

Thirty three days in jail may not seem like much but it certainly frees up your time to reflect on a good many things. What I had to reflect on in my final day at The Aikon County South Carolina Correctional Facility was the fact that Max and his junkie girlfriend left me down and out in bum fuck South Carolina with nothing but the clothes on my back and…..well tactually that’s all I had. I was busted, disguted, and couldn’t be trusted. No money, no extra clothes, food, not even any cigarettes as I left the half pack for my cell mates to fight over. I was dejected and alone, nowhere near home, and it seemed like I had not a friend in the world. But then a thought hit me, “JT my boy, what about Rhonda? Yea, that’s what I need, ‘You gotta Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda.’ Rhonda Harris. Rhonda was a friend from high school whose family moved to Myrtle Beach at the end of the eleventh grade. We weren’t what you would call close friends but close enough that she’ll remember me and right now I needed somebody, anybody to talk to. I mean we talked a few times probably even flirted some but the plain cold truth is other than Rhonda Harris the closest friend I could think of was some six or seven hundred miles away back on Long Island. Forget family, no one I could or would talk to about my failure here. besides Myrtle Beach was a mere one hundred and fifty miles from this boondock town of, of wherever the Hell I am. After a quick calculation and a group meeting it was decided that me and the new voices in my deranged head that had adopted me during the correction phase of my stay would hitchhike to Myrtle Beach and look Rhonda up in the phone book.
So we pointed ourselves in the direction of Myrtle Beach, stretched out the faithful old hitchhiking thumb for some digital exercise, and began walking down the highway feeling happy, free, and positive that a car would come along any second. Well maybe any minute. Any hour? In fact it was almost two hours before even one car came by going my way and it zoomed past like I wasn’t even there. I checked my thumb to make sure that it was still working properly and satisfied my hitchhiking digit was in order my thumb, the voices, and I plodded forward. Four cars, one bus, and a dump truck later my first potential ride pulled over. A nice pearl white Chevy pick up had stopped and the driver rolled down his window. “Where y’all headed man?” Comforting. The front cab was full with four hippie looking young southern dudes. He motioned towards the back as I called out, “looking for Myrtle Beach man, thanks for the lift. How far am I from the beach anyway?” Driver dude smiled, “We’re heading up to Raleigh but we can get you about halfway up to Camden man. Then Y’all only have roundabout another fifty miles east. Ain’t no more room up here Bro, jump in the back. We’ll let ya know when we get there, maybe an hour or so.” Feeling grateful and happy to have a place to sit awhile I jumped in the back with a big ass smile on my face. The voices were happy too.
After the third or fourth huge bump my huge ass smile fell out of the back of the truck and I wondered if I would ever see it again. My new metal palace was in constant motion as if I were a crash test dummy taking the shock absorbers out for stress diagnosis. I bounced up and down, rolled left and right, and every so often the side of my new surroundings gave me a body check into the wheel well. But fuck it man, I was free, I was on my way to finding a long lost friend, and I was grateful. Hungry as all hell, but grateful to be getting as far away from Aikon County South Carolina as possible. When my savior in the pearl white Chevy pulled over at a gas station an hour later to refuel he came up to me. “here ya go man, this here’s Camden.” I was almost disappointed. He continued, “If’n y’all take 22 East ya run straight on inta Myrtle Beach. Ain’t no more’n hour an a half away. We be headin’ on up north here. Good luck.” I thanked him profusely as I took stock of the many new bruises I had acquired during the ride. Ith a hint of sadness and some serious hunger pangs I watched them take off. Now if only I could find something to eat. I had come to a sort of small bridge, both literal and metaphoric. I equated it to Dorothy stepping out of the black and white house into a world of wonder and colors. Yea, the way I figured it I was heading to Munchkin land, Utopia or Eden, but halfway across I looked into the slow moving rivulet and a stinging wake up call shook my very foundation, and when I answered it said, “No yellow brick roads here in River Styx, just a crickfull of danger. ” Sloshing around in the water beneath the bridge was a congregation of razor toothed alligators. Apparently congregation is what you call a group of alligators and this congregation was holding high mass, or maybe even celebrating baptisms. I was impressed with the smoothness grace and speed with which these parishioners swam and regardless of the fact that I was up here and they were down below a wave of paranoia swept over me. I ran across the metaphoric bridge as if they were chasing me to the other side. I made it over without incident but slightly disillusioned. Nothing changed, but at least there were no wicked witches or alligators with ticking clocks in their bellies. The other side of the bridge was nothing more than the other side of a bridge. To make things even worse, the running only made me more hungry.
I had often heard the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, but to tell you the truth when you have dirty clothes, long stringy wind whipped hair, and a Yankee accent down south there isn’t a free anything except for advice! Most of the advice consist of things like Y’all should jess git yer Yankee ass back to new yawlk, woncha git that thar girly hair cut like a man, or take a bath hippie, y’all stink like a got damn angry polecat in heat. I was definitely not feeling the love of that southern hospitality I heard so much about, and frankly I would have preferred a bottle of Southern Comfort right about then. I was walking down highway 22 when I spotted an oasis in this backwoods hell, a small Salvation Army building. I walked inside and poured my heart out relaying my story of misuse, abuse bad luck, abandonment, incarceration, dehydration, damnation, degradation and to top it off getting scoffed at asking for a morsel of nourishment. The young man, Jonas, listened intently, offered me some apple juice and a peanut butter sandwich, told me I could take a shower and then we could talk some more. I accepted happily and even though I put a clean body back into those dirty rags I felt like a new man. Feeling fully refreshed and ready to talk more about my trials and tribulations I joined the young man in a sort of guest room.
The talk he referred to was not about me but about a much higher power, the lord. I was the beneficiary of a two hour lecture on God, Jesus, sins, repentance, and scriptures. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open but I remained grateful and awake. At least I wasn’t in jail anymore! When Jonas, finished his sermon he asked me why I was going to Myrtle Beach. Not wanting to get involved in anymore lectures I opted to explain how I had heard so much about what a wonderful city it was and wanted to experience it. Apparently Myrtle Beach was either the Sodom or Gomorrah of the south because I earned myself another thirty minutes of lecture which ended in advice to cut my hair and go back to New York because Myrtle Beach is about nothing but money and sin. I refrained from saying “My kind of town” and instead thanked him and meandered back out onto highway 22.
When I was a kid I loved playing neighborhood games, especially tag. Hitchhiker tag however isn’t quite as much fun and a lot more one sided. With the sun going down and dusk setting in another pick up truck pulled over, but this one was an old beat up rusted out model with three boys in the cab. Being a fast learner I ran up and started to climb in the back but instead of asking me where I was going the dude rolled down his window and snarled, “What the Hell you think you doin’ boy?” He then proceeded to pull the truck up about ten feet as I fell to the ground. I stood up noticing the rifle rack in the back of the cab and the Deliverance image made a brief reappearance inside my head. The loud guffaws of condescending laughter riled me a bit. After a second time the voices said to me, “ Fuck them, lets kick their asses, we can take them” Fortunately I paid the voices no heed this time as the funny truck driving asshole yelled back at me, “Hawhawhaw, I’m sorry man, we was jess kiddin’, c’mon git on in the truck.” I weighed my options, didn’t want to piss them off and certainly didn’t wanted want to get fooled again so I moved forward with some trepidation. Slowly I moved towards the truck and that’s when the game of tag ensued. After four more antagonizing times I just said “Nevermind man, I don’t need no fucking ride.” He slammed on the brakes and both doors swung open. I gulped and thought, “Fuck me! No wait, I don’t mean like literally I meant please don’t fuck me, please!!” The three amigos walked towards me and I felt like this was gonna be even worse than the beatings I got from my favorite jailhouse guards, Billy Boy and Jimbo.
“Whatchoo mean Y’all done want no ride, we aint good enough foe yo dirty stinkin hippie shit ass? Maybe you needs to learn a little manners ya pig fucking longhair.” I tensed up to brace myself for another order of southern fried ass kicking when an authoritative voice broke through, “Now come on boys, Y’all know better’n at stomp this young lad fer no reason.” I opened my eyes and walking behind my three wannabe ninja’s was a huge figure of a man with an impressive trooper looking hat. The boys looked disappointed as they had been forced to reseal their cans of whip ass. Having feared the cops for most of my immature adult life I wasn’t sure if I was being saved or enslaved. I had visions of being taken to the basement of a police station naked and hogtied with a red ball strapped inside my mouth while some huge half witted yokel prepared to jam his self amused hard on up my digestive aperture……. Sorry, I’ll give you a sec to get the image out of your mind.
After a few minutes of the boys apologizing to the sheriff and swearing they “Was jess gonna have them a little fun, wasn’t akchully gonna hurt im” the would be assassins got back in the truck and the sheriff came over to get a closer look at me. I braced again, this time for handcuffing or Billy club enlightenment but the sheriff must have been a follower of Jonas from the Salvation Army because he spoke with the same God preaching condescending tone. “Praise the Lord I got here in time here boy. Now son y’all really need to watch out for yourself in these parts, where you from?” I took to telling him most of my story, leaving out the jail part but telling him I was abandoned in the night by my one time friends and was just trying to get back home to NY. He listened politely and then began practicing empathetic lecturing on me and leveled some tried and true southern advice on me, to cut my hair, take a bath, and go back home. He offered to take me to the town limits on 22 where he was sure I would get a ride. I told him I was much obliged and I actually praised the lord out loud for his coming around when he did. Like I said, I’m a fast learner.

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