Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Break an Ankle, Part 6

I trotted after the white Chrysler that had stopped on the ramp. I could see three men in the car. The back door swung open. I took a quick look. It looked like an episode of "Ozzie and Harriet."

OK, for all of you not old enough to get that, I'm not talking about zoned-out rock and reality star Ozzie Osborne, but rather Ozzie Nelson. That old TV show featured the real-life Nelson family in make-believe situation comedy. The two boys, Ricky and David, were the handsome, athletic, respectful, white-bread ideal sons with no nonsense about them. David's fraternity brothers were always dropping by the house for large helpings of milk and cookies. It was a show about typical America that exists only in the wishful thinking of chuckleheads.

Well anyway, David's fraternity brothers were offering me a ride, which I took. The guy sitting next to me in the back seat was wearing a short-sleeve madras shirt, white jeans with neatly ironed creases, and Docksiders. They all looked as if they'd just come from a barber shop. Where was I going? Why? Where was I from? What did my father do for a living? Did I enjoy sailing? They peppered me with questions, and all three, even the driver, felt compelled to look at me and make eye contact when they spoke. It made me nervous.

"Do you smoke pot?" the one in the backseat, the youngest, asked me. He seemed fascinated with my clothes and long hair and sideburns. I realized that they had picked me up out of curiosity. They had seen hippies before, but they'd never really talked to one. "Sometimes, but I don't make a habit of it," I answered. They all looked very disappointed.

By afternoon we were rolling across industrial Indiana. The questions kept coming: "How long do you think it will take you to get to California?" "Where will you sleep along the way?" "Aren't you afraid of being stranded in the desert?" I hadn't thought about these things, and although I tried to be nonchalant, the questions rang in my head like alarms. I unfolded my map and studied it. Hmmm. I thought Iowa was a small state, but on the map it looked enormous, vacant, frightening.

David's fraternity brothers were headed for their homes somewhere north of Chicago. Earlier, I had told them they could drop me off just beyond Gary, Ind. I thought about the 1,750 miles of hot pavement ahead of me and considered the bottoms of my moccasin slippers, purchased just a week earlier but already sprouting holes.
"Do you guys pass O'Hare Airport on your way home?" I asked them. "How about just letting me off there."

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