Route 122

March 19, 2009
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Half an hour after leaving his house, Kevin stood on the shoulder of Route 122. It was early, still only 8:00. He slouched, his shoulders rounded. Every so often he rubbed his hand along the red stubble on his chin. “I need a good shaving,” he thought. Reaching into his deep jeans pocket, he pulled out his notebook and flipped over the cover. He could tell which days it had rained. On those days his writing blurred together and ran in streaks. It didn’t matter though. Kevin rewrote everything at home before he could forget. He turned to Bill’s page and imagined the maroon Volvo station wagon pulling up along the shoulder. Kevin remembered Bill’s balding head rocking back and forth to Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. Bill especially liked “To Beat the Devil.” Kevin knew because Bill actually started singing along, and he played it four times. After Bill dropped him off in God knows where, Kevin started a knew page in his journal. Mostly he wrote about “To Beat the Devil,” about Kris Kristofferson’s deep, rough voice, and about Bill rocking back and forth. He liked that best of all. And from then on, Kevin trained himself to talk like Kris, and he rocked slowly back and forth whenever he heard one of his favorite songs.

Kevin looked down at his muddy, tan work boots whenever a car passed with flood lights scorching his eyes. And he extended his arm, hand arched in a sideways “thumbs up” position, begging for a ride. This was his spot. He had been here every morning for over a year, not even taking the holidays off. After all, people were more charitable during the holidays. Last year on Christmas morning, a middle aged woman stopped to give Kevin a ride. He had been surprised, thinking that women didn’t usually stop for hitchhikers. And, when he looked at her, observing her graying hair and deep worry lines, he thought she looked much too cautious to pick up a shady looking character like him. Regardless, Kevin rarely turned down an offer. When he opened the door she grinned a strained smile and said, “Hop in.” They sat in silence for a while. Kevin preferred to let the driver initiate conversation. Finally, the woman glanced over at him, obviously assessing his dirty appearance, and asked, “So where do you want me to drop you off?”

“Anywhere. Doesn’t matter much to me.” He stared straight ahead.

The woman laughed, a sort of high sing-song laugh. She glanced over at Kevin, realized he wasn’t laughing, and stopped abruptly, uttering a whispered, “Oh.”

Kevin looked at her and smiled.

“So... uh... what are you doing hitchhiking on Christmas morning?” She asked.

He paused, glanced over quickly and caught her eyes. Then he asked softly, as if truly concerned, “What are you doing picking up hitchhikers on Christmas morning?”

That did it. The face muscles couldn’t hold that strained look of composure anymore. Her face crumpled up like tossed away tissue paper and her tear ducts started to leak. Then they gushed. Kevin stuttered something incoherent and looked down at his lap. Without thinking, he reached into his pocket and started fingering the wire binding on his notebook.

The woman sniffled and started searching around in her purse with one hand. She produced a used tissue and struggled to regain her composure. “Oh. I’m so sorry. Lost it there for a second. It’s my first holiday without the kids, you know. Just wish I could of had them for Christmas.” She glanced nervously over at Kevin, then back to the road.

He nodded and said he understood. She dropped him off at the next rest stop. As she drove away, Kevin pulled out his notebook and turned to a fresh page. He realized he didn’t know her name, so he labeled it The Woman. Then he wrote underneath: Never fall in love.


Kevin looked down at his watch. He’d been standing along the road for nearly half an hour. It didn’t surprise him though. At 8:30 most of the drivers were on their way to work, much too busy to pick up a hitchhiker. He never learned anything worthwhile from business men anyway, besides that he wasn’t made for the corporate world. The wind blew some of his notebook pages around, and they tickled his dry hands. “The notebook’s almost full,” he thought. Kevin felt the crease marks and torn edges of his notebook. He thought back to before his hitch hiking, to the office, to his father’s scrutiny. About how at his Dad’s work, nothing Kevin did sufficed. “You laugh too loud around customers, you type too slowly, you are so fucking lazy. Why do you wear your hair like that? You look like you just stumbled in off of the damn streets.” Etcetera. And what was there to do? He had to change, to make improvements. So far he had nearly one notebook full of them, and soon he would be faced with a decision: buy a new notebook or settle with his current self. Maybe one notebook was enough. After all, he could use a full night of sleep. By the time Kevin found a ride back into town and stopped by the bar, his hours were dwindling. But for some reason, Kevin felt like his mission was incomplete. He thought back. Sure, he had learned a lot from the drivers. He changed his voice, learned not to fall in love, and became a vegetarian, but still needed meaningful advice. Kevin was certainly improved. A year of building yourself around the best traits of others can do that to you. He studied each word in his notebook every night, and he thought he was almost the best he could be. Why then, did he still live in the same slovenly house, waiting for that one piece of advice, the one that would change everything.

A car pulled up along the shoulder. Kevin looked on skeptically, assessing the young woman inside. He didn’t want to ride with a business person. Not today. But, when the window rolled down Kevin saw she was wearing an Adidas t-shirt. Definitely not on the way to work. He sighed. She smiled, and Kevin noticed how perfect her teeth were. “Do you want a ride?”

“Yeah. Thanks a lot.” He climbed in the car and buckled his seat belt.

“So where are you headed? I’m on my way to New York City, so I can drop you off anywhere between here and there.”

“Okay, well it doesn’t really matter. Anywhere between. I’m pretty flexible.”

“Hmm. Ok?” She furrowed her brow and then laughed uneasily. “So what, you’re just sort of roaming around aimlessly?” she asked.

“Mhm. Sort of.” He smiled at her and then looked away. Looking at the blurring trees outside his window, Kevin thought again of his father. About the only time Kevin had visited him in a year. “Kevin, you should come home now. You’re like a complete stranger. You are so...different,” his father had said. But Kevin knew. His slight changes wouldn’t be enough for his father. Nothing was ever enough.

“So what’s your name?” Kevin asked.

She glanced over and saw that Kevin was just staring straight ahead. “Uh. Ashley. And you?”

“Kevin.” They both looked ahead for a few minutes, not really sure what to talk about. Kevin could have asked her a lot of questions, but he knew from experience to let the driver ask first. Some people were more guarded than others, so Kevin liked to let the drivers guide the conversation. Mindlessly, Kevin set his notebook on his lap, fidgeting with pages and staring at them blankly.

“What’s that?” Ashley asked. Kevin startled. He hadn’t realized she was watching.

“Ohh... this?... uh its nothing special. Just a notebook.... you know... for notes.”

She laughed her easy laugh and smiled. As she pulled off at a rest stop, Ashley turned to Kevin and said, “If I give you five dollars could you go buy me a coffee? Get one for yourself too.”

“Mhm. Sure.” He took the money and headed for the McDonald’s.

Ashley watched him walk away. There was something strange about him. She laughed. “Just a free spirit, I guess.” Then she looked down at the seat and picked up his notebook. After checking out the window, she flipped open the cover. The first page was titled “Jeremy” and a list of random information followed: Tan work boots, favorite beer is Blue Moon, sarcastic sense of humor. She turned to another page titled “Rob.” Runs every other day, gives his girlfriend yellow roses, keeps a clean house (Kevin didn’t live up to all of Rob’s standards, but he did run occasionally. And he remembered the yellow roses just incase. No falling in love though. He always remembered the crying woman).

As Kevin started back to the car, he could see Ashley’s forehead wrinkled in concentration. “She really is beautiful.” He thought. Ashley glanced out the window and saw Kevin approaching the car. Curious and unnerved by the notebooks recordings, she slipped the notebook into her purse and unlocked the door.

They both sipped coffee in silence for a while, and then Ashley finally turned to Kevin and asked, “Is the next rest stop okay?”

“Sure.” He rubbed his red stubble and stared into his lap.

As Kevin slid out of the car, he looked at Ashley, smiled, and said, “Thanks for the ride, Ashley. And the coffee.”

She smiled her brilliant smile and said, “Sure Kevin. Anytime.”

As Ashley pulled back onto the highway, Kevin felt his pocket. He had a lot to write about. But it was empty.

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