Take The Long Road Home (by J.T. Hilltop) pt2

road

Where There’s Hope…

When I thanked the sheriff for the ride it occurred to me he may have had an ulterior motive. He wasn’t saving me in the name of Jesus, he was getting me the hell out of his Dodge. I was a hindrance, a public relation nightmare. If some of his people were to engage me in a game of full contact Red Rover and leave this New Yorker dead on the side of a road in his jurisdiction the repercussions to tourism would be staggering. The mother fucker left me off in the middle of nowhere, full on darkness and a stretch of road so straight and lonely it begs tires to rotate as fast as they can in an audition for NASCAR status. The side of road across from me was dotted with a few little shacks, a general store, and a pub advertising a pool table. My side of the road was a fucking swampland. Nothing but marshy woods mainly due, I would soon find out , to the fact that you can’t build a decent structure in mud. The only thing that could survive this side of the highway was Swamp Thing or some genetic mutation thereof. But there was life somewhere because I could hear a deafening din of some kind of amphibian-like croaking. A group of frogs are called an army and this sounded like The Amphibian Marine Corps out on massive combat maneuvers. They shocked and awed me! I had never heard so much ear shattering croaking in my life and the voices in my head were nice enough to remind me of the intimidating alligator congregation so the level of fear intensity was through the roof. I was imagining killer frogs and mutated swamp things waiting for me to take one step too many. Nothing to do but start walking and hitchhiking with my back turned to whatever went whizzing by in the hopes that another pearl white Chevy truck would come my way and not a gaggle of goose stepping backwoods hicks looking for some boot practice. Well it was neither, after the first ten vehicles raced past without as much of an acknowledgment a foghorn drowned out the incessant croaking. An eighteen wheeler was barreling towards me not signally a ride but letting me know in no uncertain terms would it slow down or move over for me. A tense decision, either close my eyes and hope I’m not road kill or take a few steps into frogland. The thought of some Appalachian chef dicing me into human roadside stew swayed me and removed my fear as I stepped into the marshy terrain. With my eyes closed as tight as I could I felt the cold muddy substance on my feet and the most amazing thing happened. The fucking frogs clamed up! I mean like every last one of them.
It was downright spooky, the silence would have been laughable if I had even a scintilla of laugh hormone left in my body. The truck blew past me so fast it kicked up a wind that forced me to dig into the mud to maintain my balance. A header into Hellswamp would have been the end of my existence for sure. Feeling ever so slightly angered tempered with being scared shitless I decided to listen to the voices this time. To hell with it all! I stuck my middle finger up as high as was humanly possible while he blew past down the road and shouted out a resounding FUCK YOU! Even the army of frogs were taken aback and remained silent allowing only a smattering of croaks, mostly from deeper in the marsh where I promised never to find myself. It felt surprisingly good until my reality check bounced. I’m alone on Swamp Boulevard in the town of “Deliverance”, there’s a tavern back about a half mile that’s probably filled with inbred cousins of the gorillas shit kickers from Camden and their drunk ass selves would be piling out of that bar stinking drunk in a few very short hours looking for something, or someone, to do. Being a New Yorker would definitely not work in my favor under those circumstances. My pace tripled as I power walked down the road just hoping to find a somewhat safe area.
A new game for me, step off or become road kill. It took me a good two hours to get past this stretch of hopeless landfill and find at least a bit of road with some shoulder to it. Every time any vehicle came by I just stepped into the marsh and with my back turned with my thumb out to begging for salvation. Nary a ride. But I was past the worst, at least where I ended up had a hint of human civilization to it. Feeling completely exhausted, hungry and dehydrated, and having come down with a chronic case of hopelessness I spotted a tiny abandoned gas station surrounded by wood. I had little to no strength and the station offered at least a modicum of cover so I went around back to find the door open. I always try to see the bright side of things but this was really challenging. Well I can add hobo to my resume? Didn’t cut it, but there was a tiny sparkle of bright. The garage was empty, smelled a tad rancid but not overwhelming, and none of the local anarchistic militia truck drivers will find me. As unsettling as the garage was it was still a haven. I settled in, laid down and began to contemplate where the fuck I went wrong in life and how I ended up tired and starving in some tiny backwoods southern town where not one soul knows I’m even alive. Hopelessness came out in tears of self pity so I gently cried myself to sleep.
“Cold ground was my bed last night, rock was my pillow too.” A line from the Bob Marley tune “Talking Blues” that had become my reality. Not sure how long the burning sun had been shining the full force of its ultraviolet rays on my face acting on behalf of the alarm clock association but it was long enough to impart the slightest hint of reddening discomfort. I woke up with an aching body wishing I was home in bed, feeling dejected, tired, and hungrier than I ever remember. I found a water faucet in the back of the old store and gave myself a hobo shower giving some extra splash to my face to compensate for my lack of caffeine. I chanted a positive mantra to myself in the hopes it would renew my luck and perhaps withdraw a touch of good karmic returns from my good deed bank. I needed something.
I set back out on highway 22 convincing myself that the sleep and light of day would bring me fortune. The third car past me was a small Volkswagon Karmann Ghia with a young long hair college boy with a full beard and the idealistic life outlook that had been missing since I began this ordeal. He drove me all the way into Myrtle Beach chewing my ear off about politics and the southern “head up the ass” mentality that prevailed with most of the young robotic clones in South Carolina. It was like Karma jackpot, someone I could talk to and who understood, perhaps even viewed me as a sort of Kerouac’s Dean Moriarity type character. He claimed not to have much money on him but when he dropped me off on the outskirts of town he bought me a soda, or pop actually, and a buttered roll. Then he gave me the half a pack of cigarettes he had. “Well its sure been a pleasure chattin with Y’all JT, in I hope Y’all fine what it is yer searching for. I’m meeting my Mom and Pops up in Columbia so this is the end of our road. This here’s Myrtle Beach, that a way down there is Conway, a lot cheaper place than the beach and up that away is North Myrtle Beach which is touristy but more for camp like tourists. Make sure y’all check out the boardwalk and be careful.” I didn’t want to leave, almost suggested I go to North Carolina with him but this was my new path, I was going to find out what Myrtle beach South Carolina is all about.
What is it all about? Unfortunately Jonas the preaching sandwhich maker was right, it’s all about money. You can get whatever you want if you have enough money but if your looking for a helping hand its not here. Everywhere I went people tried to hustle me until they discovered my finances, then they would dismiss me with contempt. I was getting more and more hungry by the minute and was walking in circles. I could feel the dust had formed a film of dirt on my face. I was a mess, again busted disgusted and can’t be trusted. My stomach had gone from growling to downright snarling and I couldn’t barely walk any further. Weak from hunger and almost completely dehydrated I took a chance on a KFC.
My feet were filthy, my flip flops had flopped, and I was too exhausted to even formulate my puppy dog eyes but I knew I had to give it a shot, I desperately needed some water. I entered the Kentucky Fried Chicken getting in line behind one other person. When I got up to the counter a young African American boy looked at me curiously saying, “how can I help you sir?” I gave him the readers digest condensed version of my plight pleading, “Please, all I want is some water, this is my first time in Myrtle Beach, I’m trying to get back home to new York and I can’t even get a drink of water anywhere.” The young man gave me a look that said okay but he said, “one minute sir.” and started putting together an order for the drive through window. I was thinking he was dismissing me and was about to leave when he returned, looked me straight in the face and placed a box of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a biscuit, and a large soda in front of me. “Thank you very much sir, have a nice day’” and then he winked at me. I could see behind his eyes, it was a genuine caring for another human being and he was likely going to end up paying for the meal himself. I grabbed the box and with tears of gratitude in my eyes and thanked him.
As thankful as I was gratitude had to be put on hold for a second, because at the moment I was a wild animal who had finally found his quarry. I found a patch of grass in the back of the building and crouched down with my kill, glaring back and forth from side to side ensuring no other hungry varmit was going to make a play for my fried chicken and bisquit. I ate like a starved vulture nearly choking on the bones as I was not going to let anything palatable remain in the box. If the napkins were edible I would have chewed them. When I had finished my meal, the absolute best meal I’ve had in well over a month, I sat like a sated lion, overseeing my parking lot pride as I leisurely finished my large pop. Time to formulate a plan now, where to go and what to do next but this time with a full stomach. I glanced through the window and saw the young man who had so selflessly given a total stranger, one who looked like a psychotic serial killer than a desperate human a meal. No, not just a meal, that young man gave me far more than mere food. He had given me a renewed sense of good, of the best that humanity can be, a renewed sense that there are things in this srtinking world that can rise above the stench of inhumanity and not only cover it up, but totally obliterate it, if only for a while. I promised I would never forget that young man, his face will forever etched in my memory, and every time I do any good deed, I will remember him and his incredible gift to me. The gift of hope! But for right now I’ll just have to settle for finding a friend ans getting back home.
TBC

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