Assategue was very disappointing for a National Seashore: no hiking, a beach scarred with tire tracks, and the woods crawling with hunters. The famed wild ponies of the Island are in abundance and seem to fill the ecological niche that raccoons occupy at other campsites. During the day they hang out, block roads, and bite people, at night they knock over garbage cans.
It was in this sandy recreation area that I met Dan and Leroy, sitting on the beach. Some polite pretext for conversation was employed, and in the ensuing dialogue they learned of my solitary holiday state. They told me I was more than welcome to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them. Sure, sounds great -- I was envisioning something similar to mine: canned food at a windy picnic table. I was wrong.
I arrived at six sharp, and they ushered me into their small mobile home. It was a Toyota Dolphin, built on the same chassis as my truck, so I was all the more surprised to see how much room they had. The inside was like a small living room, with space enough for five guests at least. I sat at the table, guzzling beer and eyeing my surroundings with envy. Oh, what I would give to be able to sit up late at night in a warm, electrically lit chair.
Soon, dinner was produced: a large chicken with stuffing, potatoes, corn, and cranberry sauce. I was flabbergasted -- it didn't even occur to me that someone might put an oven in one of these things. Champagne was popped and we chowed down. It was delicious and completely filling. After dinner, more beer in hand, Leroy reaches up over the cab and pulls out a 3/4 size electronic keyboard and begins to play holiday tunes. I get up and move into the bathroom -- it has a shower. Ohhh... Soon, Leroy tires of the Casio and pulls out instead the VCR. Three or four beers later, Brighton Beach Memoirs rolling credits, I stagger up and thank them profusely, then wander along the milky way to my bed -- small, yes, but cozy and warm.
I ended up spending most of the next day with them -- including, of course, breakfast and another dinner. It was so wonderfully comforting to be taken in by these two interesting, nice, and funny strangers. I found myself powerless to express my gratitude.
After leaving Dan and Leroy to a few more days of the beach, I headed straight for DC on US50. Just a mile outside Seashore I picked up a hitchhiker and gave him a ride all the way to Annapolis. His name was Ra (with a non-ASCII bar over the 'a', pronounced 'Ray'). He was 44 years old and had been visiting his grandkids(!) in Ocean City. He was about six feet tall and lanky in his jeans. He had straight, slightly graying black hair over his ears, huge dark glasses, and a well-trimmed beard. His teeth were yellowed and a number were missing. He had an immense nose. I thought later that he looked a lot like the Sheriff of Nottingham in the new Robin Hood. As we talked, bits of his past came out and told a story...
Ra is in his 14th year of backpacking around the country. He is deeply involved with the Shoshone Nation and their spiritualism and carries many rocks and talismans with him in his pack -- boosting its weight to 103 lbs. He went absolutely apeshit with delight when a pair of bald eagles hovered over the car -- I have to admit I've never seen anything like it. We talked of Rainbow Gatherings, geomancy, StarNation, drugs, hiking, and the general state of America. I played him Flute and Gamelan of West Java, and at the first calming notes he smiled and gave me five.
His past, however, seemed darker. He talked of fights and stab wounds, of working as a bouncer in a heroin whorehouse, of fits of jealous rage, of his old, defunct nickname: "Zombie". He also talked of his strong-arm employment for the government, hinting at unspeakable horrors he had committed. He talked about the job that might be waiting for him in Annapolis: a $16,000, two-month explosive demolition job. I asked him where he learned explosive demolition and he just smiled and said, "We'll just leave it at that."
And then he spoke, too, of his creative work, of his years in art school, of his lithography and photographic experiences, of his job sculpting figures for amusement parks -- his masterpiece being a 16-foot Hunchback of Notre Dame for Six Flags Over Texas. And he spoke of where he was going: to see an old 'lady-friend' of his, eight months past, who didn't know he was coming. As we grew nearer Annapolis he became more and more nervous and I tried to console him with breakfast and the memory of the eagle omen.
After I dropped him off, it took me hours to calm down, even after I reached DC.
No Simple Highway:
Last modified: Wed Feb 18 21:27:43 1998
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