Morning: “It started innocently enough,” I told Jerald. “At a Christmas party in a Missoula Italian Restaurant, my campaign manager scribbled in crayon upon a paper table cloth: ‘Robert for President.’ The idea stuck. I thought why not. Within days, the website was constructed and our bar was transformed into Campaign Headquarters. It became a community civics lesson. On an occasion or two, the entire bar would be talking about the campaign and what role they would play in it and subsequently the Robert Administration. Of course, as time went by many lost interest but a few hardcore believers held true to the idea. We’re not delusional, we knew from the beginning we didn’t have a chance to get on any ballots, let alone win a state. We have our goals, and if we attain them, we will consider ourselves victorious, a group of hicks from rural Montana making a statement in presidential politics, only in America.
Jerald was good at his job. Creating a comfortable environment which I felt at ease to talk about the details of the campaign few outside of Alberton’s inner-circle knew.
Outside of a fundraiser, I am funding this campaign with savings. As I state on the web page, I know how to work with a shoestring budget. I can get mileage from a dollar. Many leaders have forgotten this skill.
“What is the campaign’s goal?” Jerald asked.
“I could say a blond in every fridge, but I won’t. It’s an Alberton secret, one that may be released on November 5th.
“What’s the big deal; why the secrecy?”
“It’s not a big deal. You will be disappointed by its banality.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
Afternoon/Night: I’d parted ways with the freelance writer and worked my way to Boston Common. I took an hour to stand on the corners about the park and waved my sign at the infamous Boston traffic. Afterwards, I avoided Bull and Finch Tavern, aka Cheers and settled into the 21st Amendment on Bowdoin St. This stop kicked off a tour of local bars that I hadn’t matched since Minneapolis/St. Paul. Around 9:00PM I found myself in Durty Nellyn on Blackstone St. It was here I switched from Tall blondes to 7-up. “Get a load of this clown, the bum thinks he’s running for president!” a twenty-something adolescent cried to his cronies. “You gonna dig the country out of debt by panhandling?”
“There’s an idea,” I retorted before walking away.
“Where you think you’re going?” he called after me.
I turned to him and said, “Leave me alone, Man.”
A few heads turned towards us. “What do you think of National defense?” he said before shoving me.
“I said leave me alone, man!”
“Ma-an,” he mocked. “With a national defense plan like that, the raghead’s will be over us like stink of shit.” He approached me again.
I held my ground and as he was about to shove me again I kneed the knot head in his most vulnerable area. Standing over him as he writhed on the ground, I told him that was a demonstration of my national defense plan. When provoked, we will warn an aggressor before striking a definitive blow.
To rousing applause, I left the bar, hailed a taxi and hitched a ride back to Medford where I holed up in a boxcar and awaited my next stop.
Providence RI. After my experience in Augusta, ME. I wasn’t about to campaign near Rhode Island’s capitol building. Instead, I headed downtown in the state’s largest city. I was in rare form and held numerous conversations with passerby’s as I stood on various corners waving my sign. I think I entertained more than convinced. As mid-afternoon rode around, I found a neighborhood dive I prefer: Nick-A-Nees, it’s kind of Cheers meets biker bar. I found myself talking to a long gray-bearded chap dressed in leather. At first, he was quite amused that I was running for president. Within a few moments he was convinced I was for real and introduced me to a colorful cast of locals. I only bought one drink that afternoon; my money was no good. “Anyone who would pay their own way for a thankless job earned this privilege. “At least you ain’t spending my money man! That makes you better than Obama and McCain.
Around Six PM I pulled my patented disappearing act and slipped onto the street, convinced I earned a couple votes.
“Hey, where you think you’re going?” A voice rolled down South St. after me.
I turned and faced the bearded fellow whose name was Joe. “I’m hitting the campaign trail, man.”
“Not without me you ain’t. I know a bunch of places on the island and Connecticut, I’m gonna introduce you to some friends.”
Before I could balk, Joe continued: “I’m parked ‘round the corner. We’re taking a road trip.”
“Jump in,” he told me standing before a ’59 black Cadillac, complete with wings. “I call her the Bat Mobile.” The Caddy purred when Joe turned it over. Within minutes we were headed out of downtown Providence and stopped for a tall Blonde at Bishop Hill Tavern in Johnston. Joe introduced me to the few locals and informed them they would vote for me in November. “I’d love to hang around, but I gotta get Robert on the road.”
For the first time I felt as if I had a handler. Joe ushered me in and out a dozen bars across Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. As much as I refuse to be intinerized, the treatment was novel. Every bar we stepped into, Joe earned me instant attention. I took advantage of the situation and brought my A game.
After Midnight, we ended up in Westchester, CT, at Mothball Billy’s. Mothball was a leather-wearing friend of Joe who was as well versed in C-Span as the workings of a Harley. We sat around his kitchen table to the wee-hours discussing my campaign and its strategy. Mothball would fit in and be an asset to Alberton. I’ll also blame Mothball and apologize for him for keeping me from posting yesterday.
August 3rd: I slept in. A comfortable couch trumps a railcar and I was going to take full advantage. I woke about noon, shuffled into Mothball’s kitchen and started a pot of coffee. I contemplated bolting, it was an automatic response that I was well aware, but knew when to circumvent. I understood that my new friends were a great asset in southern New England and giving in to impulse would cost me.
Last night, Joe and Mothball unleashed a fury of promotional ideas, including rehashing my Erie folly. Joe had a friend who worked at McCoy stadium in Pawtucket, the home of the International League’s Red Sox; he was sure a slogan or two supporting the campaign would find its way to the big board. They embraced my boxcar graffiti idea and Mothball said he would call in a favor and have a local ‘artist’ adorn railcars.
I went about preparing breakfast for my host and Joe as I imagined where this could lead. I didn’t want celebrity, and if the right people caught wind, it could happen. Celebrity wasn’t the point of the campaign, but it may be a cost. The Campaign manager wouldn’t mind me attaining celebrity, it would, after all, promote the campaign. When the campaign is over, I want to go back to anonymity; the campaign manager would like to turn me into a Stern show regular.
I fought the impulse to hunker in for a day, both the Augusta and Utica affairs cost me time and I needed to keep pushing forward. When the other two awoke I fed them and asked Joe where in Connecticut would he recommend visiting.
“Forget the coast, to ritzy, you’ll end up getting another vagrancy rap.” He paused a moment before saying, “Middletown , Cheshire, Naugatuck, Seymour, Derby, Ridgefield. I know people in ‘em all. We can be through them all and in New York State by nightfall. I’ll guarantee your campaign’s goal being reached.
True to his word, Joe ushered me through the above-mentioned towns. I enjoyed a tall blonde in each as I spouted my views on foreign policy, the economy, healthcare and the supreme court, an area which Joe had a strong interest.
As the sun sank low in the sky, we crossed into New York and pulled up near Cross River and camped in Lewis Boro Town park.
August 4th After a breakfast that Joe didn’t allow me to buy, he pointed the caddy in the direction of Gotham. With Johnny Cash blasting over the CD player, the city’s skyline came into view; my mind wandered back twenty-odd years ago when I lived in a tenement in Brooklyn. I smiled thinking back to the day an apartment below us caught fire and my roommate and I carried our couch down to the street and drank beers watching FDNY perform their magic.
Joe had a plan to visit one of his favorite taverns in each of the five boroughs. I questioned his wisdom about driving a classic into the city. “No worries, man.”
Our first stop was Beal Bocht in the Riverdale section of Bronx. This place was true Irish and I switched up my norm and had a Guiness and a Tullemore Dew in honor of Dick Knightly. Six people sat at the bar and Joe knew three of them. He introduced me and I stumped for an hour.
A quick jaunt over the Triborough bridge took us to 29th street in Queens and The Sparrow. The Sparrow was the dive joint that I love: dark, a tad seedy, cheep beer and good people. The conversation quickly turned to the economy, specifically fuel prices. People are worried if they could afford heating costs when the seasons change. Joe stirred the pot with an old timer and got into a shouting match about abortion
In the Caddy, I chuckled. If you can’t be nice, don’t talk politics in bars my friend. We jumped into Manhattan over the Queensboro bridge. On East 6th St, he parked in front of Joe’s bar, no joke. Inside the low- key dive, I enjoyed the very cheap prices and a great country jukebox. Joe, my driver, behaved himself and didn’t get into any arguments. I got into a conversation with a working girl. She was cynical that I was really running for president. I told her I would work to legalize prostitution.
Joe pulled me away from my conversation and crossed the East river again. This time we entered Brooklyn. Joe piloted the Caddy through traffic to 5th St and Jackie’s Fifth Amendment. We caught the end of the after work crowd. The hours flew by quickly as the discourse covered the gamment. I enjoyed being back in the city again and so enjoyed the east coast sensibilities of the crowd. There is something very refreshing about the f-you attitude.
We crossed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge as the sun sank on the horizon. Joe snaked the caddy through streets I was unfamiliar with till finding Forest Ave and the Drunken Monkey. Nothing memorable happened in our last stop. I shook a few hands after brief conversations and we got back into the bat mobile and headed for New Jersey.
We drove down the coast towards Atlantic City before pulling up in Tom’s River.
I’m an alcoholic. I don’t think you’re surprised. I’ve been a functional alcoholic for years. I know my limits and I know my body. I can drink relatively heavy for five, six days before drying my system out for three or so days. I’ve had very few down days since the cross country campaign began and I’m feeling it. I told Joe this morning that I’m forgoing alcohol until my body tells me it’s okay. He asked how is this going to affect the barhopping strategy.
“It won’t. I’m not against drinking water or seven-up.
Joe chomped on his breakfast.
“I need to spend a few days outside, I’m tired of spending day after day inside, and since this is the height of tourist season at the Jersey shore, we should focus on boardwalk towns. I have an idea for Atlantic City, Ocean City and Wildwood. Half of Philly is down the shore and we can spend an extra day here and skip Philly.
“Skipping Philly is a bad idea. Do both, what’s the rush?”
Joe had a point, but I’ve been on the road a month and was concerned I wouldn’t be back to Monday until mid-October. “I’m getting tired,” I admitted.
Atlantic City: “Forget it, I ain’t doing it,” Joe said.
“Pussy,” I commented in Boscov’s department store as I tried on a pair of rollerblades.
“No one calls me a pussy,” Joe snapped.
I snickered and stood, wobbling on the skates. “Think of the spectacle of two sexagenarians with gray beards to their sternums. The bikini sect will dig us, man.” Joe considered the thought for a long moment before finding a pair of rollerblades and trying them on.
On the boardwalk, we had one more stop before beginning our trek. We slipped into one of a million t-shirt shops and got two shirts printed with Robert ’08 printed on the left breast and “From a cardboard box to the Whitehouse” across the back on mine and “Elect Robert and get Dick Knightly,” on Joe’s.
We waddled our way down the boardwalk, looking like two old flailing billboards. Despite a cool afternoon ocean breeze I worked up a heavy sweat.
“I hate you, go combust!” Joe said as we leaned against the seaside handrail.
Laughing, I waddled away, enjoying the scenery and the expressions of those who noticed.
Evening: Feet screaming and legs burning, we sat down at an outdoor café in Ventnor. I chowed down on Lasagna and drank 7-up as Joe wolfed down fettuccini alfredo and one Budweiser after another.
“Where we staying tonight?” Joe asked.
“Ocean City,” I answered. I didn’t tell him it was dry.
Night: Joe called bullshit and said he was getting a room. I would be surprised after today that he would hang around. I wanted to sleep under the boardwalk; I haven’t done so in ages. I slipped into my bag and curled up. The pounding surf lulled me to sleep quickly.
August 6th I was very comfortable atop the sand in the shade under the boardwalk, until the rhythmic thud of bicycle tires running over the wooden blanks carried me from a dream-filled sleep. I slipped from my bag, stuffed it, secured it to my backpack and emerged into the sun drenched shore scape. Thighs burning from yesterday’s exertion, I paused for a moment, watching tidal fowls running back and forth ahead of the ebb and flow of tide. The crazy cry of the gulls reminded of the press corps crowing over the mainstream candidates.
Even a presidential candidate, especially a presidential candidate doesn’t know everything. Joe didn’t leave last night. He waited patiently on top the boardwalk for me. “I thought you would have ended for home,” I said as I noticed him sitting upon a boardwalk bench.
“If I had known this town is dry, I would have.”
I sat next to him, soaking in the early morning energy. “Want breakfast, my treat.”
“I ain’t rollerblading today. I’m too old for that bullshit!”
“I take it that as a yes.”
After breakfast, I slipped into my blades and campaign t-shirt and forced myself to waddle up and down the length of Ocean City’s boardwalk. I stopped at Shriver’s and bought a box of Saltwater Taffy before resuming my campaign skate. I am not the most graceful skater and more than once a passing kid laughed at my struggles. The parallel to my campaign wasn’t lost upon me. However and although, when the mainstream campaigns diminish themselves to debate over tune-ups and tire pressure gauges, my circus trick rings authentic. After all, when is the last time Obama or McCain checked their tire pressure. Hell, I want to know what mileage their limos get. It smacks of Al Gore’s multi-thousand dollar a month electric bill. You can call me many things, but you can’t call me a hypocrite. Be rest assured, dear reader, you will never see this candidate lower himself into silliness of tire pressure and tune-ups.
Afternoon: To Joe’s delight, we left Ocean City and toured the small seaside towns of Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon, and Stone Harbor before stopping in Wildwood, the destination for the late teen and twenty something sect. Joe pulled the caddy into a c-store and bought a couple six packs of Bud and ice. Slipping back into the driver’s seat, he quipped, “As you Roller campaign, I’m gonna pull up a bench, drink beer and stare at tits.”
At the amusement pier, I waddled to the ticket booth, purchased the tickets it would cost me to ride the loop to loop roller coaster and got in line. In line, I sat on a rail, undid my rollerblades, laced them together and through them over my shoulder. Then entire time a ten-year-old kid watched.
“Mister, you really running for president?” asked a kid from an obvious upper middle class back round
His parents nudged him, as to punish him for asking such a creepy fellow such an intrusive question.
“Yes I am. Tell your parents to vote for me, Robert, for President.” Looking from the kid to his stuffy parents, I continued. “ My running mate, Richard Knightly is over qualified for Vice President, so he more than makes up for me. Elect me and get Dick Knightly,” I snickered.
The ride was quick and thrilling, and I departed before it became stagnate. It reminded me of my eight marriages. My feisty, semi-belligerent side was starting to emerge, in another day, when it would become evident; I will allow myself the company of a tall blonde to remove the edge. I sat down next to him. “Lets get out of here,” I said as I took off the rollerblades.
Early Evening: I approached Joe, who was leaning against the back of a bench and his feet resting on the boardwalk’s handrail, Budweiser in his hand. I sure there’s an open container law in Wildwood, but the cops never bothered him.
“Philadelphia, here we come.”
We made the mistake of hitting the morning rush hour. The caddy crept northbound along the north/south freeway in the Jersey burbs of Philadelphia. “We should have left Wildwood last night,” Joe complained. My self-appointed chauffeur patience was thinning and I wondered how long he would stick it out. The man had nothing to gain; if he actually thought he would be a Supreme Court nominee, he was crazier than I thought. He was enjoying an extended barhopping trip, I told myself. The Walt Whitman Bridge came into view and so did the bottleneck its tolls created. I thought back to Howard Stern’s Gubernatorial Campaign when he promised elimination of all tollbooths, sitting in traffic, it didn’t seem such a farfetched idea.
“You off the wagon yet?” Joe asked. “I have some people I want you to meet.”
My body screamed at me. I so wanted a tall blonde, I could taste it.
“I’m there, it’ll probably be more effective than a photo op at the liberty bell.”
An hour and a half later, we were in Port Richmond section of the city. Joe brought the Caddy to a rest in front of a small corner bar called Shenanigan’s Saloon. “We could have gotten your photo op,” Joe said noting that the bar wasn’t yet open. I shrugged.
I slipped out of the car and walked down Gaul Street, thinking back to the time I spent in Philadelphia. It was back in the days of the 1978 MOVE standoff in Powelton Village, when the cops made a military style invasion of the group’s home. Frank Rizzo was still mayor and after the incident, I left Philly and never returned until today. When I finished with my walk, Joe was inside the bar. He was munching on hot wings, drinking a cold one and wiping the tears from his eyes. Looking up, he said: “Hottest Wings in the city. I ordered you some.”
The small crowd, consisting of a local and the bartender, was interested in what had to say. Before long, the conversation turned parochial and we discussed the happenings of the city in the past thirty years.
We ended spending the afternoon and part of the early evening. Patrons shuffled in and out, some coming in just to see a presidential candidate. Around 7 PM we said goodbye to our new friends. Joe guided the Caddy through Philly to the Schuylkill Expressway and out to the western burbs.
I owed a visit to the campaign manager’s hometown. Joe pulled into Royersford and found Tom’s bar. I immediately understood why this was his watering hole. Any bar that has $1.50 tall blonde specials is my kind of place. I introduced myself to the silver haired lady sitting near the side door and a faint smile came over her face as I told her I was instructed to stop at Tom’s on my campaign. We fell into a friendly chat in which I gained dirt on the campaign manager.
I learned when you had the attention of the diminutive boss, you had the attention of the bar. Tonight, the bar was crowded and I fell into a tizzy of handshaking and stumping. Between my experience in Erie and the southeastern corner of the state, I think the campaign’s goal for Pennsylvania will be attained. I looked across the bar, saw Joe in conversation, and knew that I was wearing out my welcome. I slipped from Tom’s into the parking lot, retrieved my pack from the Caddy and walked down Royersford’s Main Street till I came to the tracks. I looked east and west, standing indecisive for a minute before choosing west. I strode down the tracks into the darkness of night.
Last night I slept under the stars. After walking an hour, I hunkered down between the tracks and the Schuylkill River. A passing train woke me, I considered running for it but rolled over instead. Laying there, between sleep and consciousness I realized I made a mistake going west. If I caught a westbound to Harrisburg, I would be closer to Baltimore but I would have to backtrack to Delaware.
Doubling back, I headed back towards Royersford. As I rounded the corner before the long straightaway, an eastbound rumbled behind me. I did the dangerous thing, especially someone my age, I jumped the moving freight and landed atop an empty flatcar. Sitting back, I enjoyed the ride, waving my cardboard sign at each crossing.
Afternoon: I contemplated spending another afternoon in Philadelphia but decided against the idea and instead worked my way south, catching a southbound freight around Chester. I kicked back and rode into Delaware, enjoying the pleasant weather from another flatcar. I decided to bypass Wilmington, hunkering down till the outskirts of Newark.
As the train slowed approaching my destination, I jumped from the flatbed and almost did a standup before falling lightly to my knees. Do you think John McCain is this limber? After brushing off my pants, I hoofed it into the historical little city. A small town until World War II, it is now a college town of about thirty-thousand residents. Wasting no time, I made my way to Deer Park Tavern. I ponied to the bar and ordered a burger and a blond and took a moment to enjoy the surroundings. George Washington and Edgar Allen Poe are purported to have stayed here. Another legend claims that Poe haunts the upstairs.
Before too long, I stumped with a few poly-sci summer students from nearby University of Delaware. The conversation quickly turned to Russia and Georgia, and the breakout of hostilities. I commented that the Russians were drawing their line in the sand, concerned about the flirtations of T’bilisi with NATO and the west. That breakaway territories Abkhazia and South Ossetia are supported by Russia provide a convenient excuse for Moscow to influence international policy within the old Soviet boarders.
We closed the bar, I bid farewell to my new friends, found a reasonable motel in town, showered and turned in.
I slept late, being roused by the maid’s knock on the door. “Check out time!” She said in a broken accent. I never knew a cleaning staff deputized as an eviction service. I grabbed my pack and slipped past, muttering about annexing her home country so she could hold her job legally. I can be a bear till I get my morning caffeine, allow that to serve as a warning to the Chinese, Al Quada, the Russians or anyone else I would roused from sleep to deal with. Grumbling silently, I stumbled to the nearest coffee shop, ordered a 24oz drip with cream and felt my sanity return with the first sip. I thanked the teenaged barista for being good medicine and asked her to vote for me.
Within the hour, I was on a freight heading towards Baltimore. Despite threatening skies, I rode a flatbed, the wind cooling my sweat. Soon we crossed the Susquehanna, and skirted the Chesapeake at Havre de Grace. The freight plotted past Aberdeen and ran aside the Pulaski Highway into Baltimore.
Being Saturday afternoon, I decided to stand on a corner and flash my sign at passing traffic. On the corner where West Mount Royal turns to East Mount Royal, and is intersected by Maryland Ave I worked my magic. After a couple of hours I worked up a thirst. Around the corner, I found Mount Royal Tavern, an elegant dive; with brick walls and a local artist’s version of the Sistine Chapel painted on the ceiling.
I sat next to a gruff fellow at the edge of the bar. “You’re the guy standing on the corner waving the vote for me sign.”
“Name ‘s Robert and I’m running for president.”
“Doug, I’m here every day to remind you how lucky you are you ain’t me.”
I liked this guy, and we fell into a long conversation while enjoying the delights of many tall blondes. As the afternoon progressed the place busied. “Doug, who’s your friend?” numerous locals asked as they visited. “Doug, somebody can stand you?” Between barbs, I held ongoing court over Mount Royal’s brick oven pizza. I was having trouble keeping my edge, days and days of talking politics was wearing thin. I applied the inner-ninja and applied the discipline that made others believe I was fresh and passionate over subjects I revisit day after day.
Around 9:30 PM, I slipped from Mount Royal Tavern, and started down the spur line across West Mount Royal. I holed up in a boxcar and complied my report. Sometime later, the car was coupled. Soon the train was moving down the tracks; Washington DC was the next stop.
I approached our Nation’s capital with trepidation and excitement. The abstract ideas and notions of this campaign seemed tangible. Somberness and heightened responsibility overtook me as the sun rose over Capitol Hill. Other than those with a heightened sense of public service or those making a naked power grab, I questioned why anyone would aspire such burden; I questioned myself.
As I turned and looked westward down the mall, my eyes following the Washington Monument to its apex, I could feel history ooze from the city’s pores. I was idealistic during the Kennedy years and I bought into the notion of Camelot. Today, older, more cynical, and hopefully wiser, I still can feel the magic of Camelot; the mall was the central palace of a kingdom. For a brief moment, I was proud of my endeavor and allowed myself to bask in its glory.
The irony of reality grounded my thoughts. For here, at the heart of our republic, where idealism should reach its zenith, my campaign would be viciously ridiculed, simply because I am not part of the establishment that perpetuates itself. The people who play kickball on the mall, the cogs of this bureaucracy, would see my campaign as satirizing their profession, mocking their effort to make our nation a better place. In this city, where perception is nine tenths of reality, based on appearance, I would be run out of town on a rail, much like in Madison and Augusta.
I sauntered across the Ellipse and stood at the black wrought iron fence peering a long moment at the white house. I contemplated finding a large cardboard box and setting it right here with my campaign slogan, “From a cardboard box to the Whitehouse,” written on each side and climbing inside and begging for campaign contributions. It would be a wonderful publicity grab.
Sighing, I turned away from the fence and headed down 17th street to the reflecting pool and Lincoln Memorial. I’m sure Abe would approve, but I wasn’t up to the fight today. Cynicism again trumped idealism and as I approached an intersection which a half-dozen people waited for the light to change despite there being no traffic, I walked around them, crossed the street and left town.
I took the rest of the day off.
One can never take a day off on the road. I traveled yesterday, but I didn’t campaign. I ended my day in Arlington. After taking a stroll through the national cemetery where I visited a navy friend and JFK’s grave, I got a cheap motel, showered and watched TV. This morning, after checking out and finding a decent breakfast, where I won over the waitress, I made my way to the rail yard and hopped a southbound. Riding a flatbed, I sat back and enjoyed the ride, waiving my sign at crossings. I snickered with the image of George W. riding back to Crawford, Texas in this manner, only his sign read, “Thanks for the memories, suckers!”
Manassas: I stopped here more to check out the Bull Run battlefield more than a campaign stop, but somehow I ended up at The Clubhouse, a wonderful dive complete with smoky air, sticky floors, colorful locals and good conversation. A day off does wonders for my game face. I jumped into stumping with renewed vigor and had my best session since Providence, Rhode Island. After a few hours, I bucked trend and announced my departure, shook hands and walked the short distance to the tracks. A few miles down the tracks, I hitched my next ride, hopping a slow moving westbound.
Charlottesville: The home of three presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, a presidential candidate owes a visit to this city. It’s also a hopping College town, the home of the University of Virginia.
As I walked through the city, I caught a news report about the Russian Invasion of Georgia. I couldn’t help thinking about the hypocrisy of our government’s reaction. I’m not condoning Russia’s action, but, we are a nation who invaded another country; the rational of our invasion of Iraq built on lies. The current administration is like a television minister outted for an extramarital affair and then decrying a contemporary for committing the same sin. If that isn’t embarrassing enough, our leader, in his speech about the crisis, mentions that the Russian government as being deposed in an invasion. I am many things, my fellow Americans, but I do not promote double standards and I know who has invaded whom. I walked away from the Television shaking my head with disbelief. Maybe my idea isn’t fresh enough; we already have a bum in office. Maybe our nation needs a streetwise bum, not an educated idiot.
Though the crowds were light, I campaigned in the Buddhist Bar and Grille and ended up at Miller’s. At my later stop, even though there was live jazz, I moved on. I wasn’t winning any votes soaking in great music. I worked my way down University Ave. introducing myself. Most ignored me; a brave few shook my hand and wished me luck. Without a doubt, a bar environment was the best for canvassing the electorate. People were simply more approachable inside a watering hole. I returned to Miller’s and allowed myself to enjoy the music. When the band finished, I headed for the tracks and headed westward. About a mile out of town, I pulled up under the stars and bedded down for the night.
I woke to a rustling in the nearby woods. I rolled onto my side and peered into a misty dawn. A hundred or so feet away, along a tree line, a black bear foraged for a morning meal. For ten minutes, I lay still watching the ursine make a living. It peered up, looking in my direction, but not at me, before slipping into the trees like a bouncing ball of fur.
The spectacle served as my morning caffeine and I rose, knowing it futile to try to gain more sleep.
With a smile, I rose, stuffed my bag into my pack, found the railroad tracks and followed them west towards Waynesboro. Forty-five minutes later a freight rumbled out of the east. I jumped it and rode it to Clifton Forge, a CSX locomotive fueling depot. The town of Clifton Forge is built along the Jackson River, which runs through the middle of the town. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this town, other than it is a railroad town, is that the Civilian Conservation Corps – which in my platform, I call for its reformation – built the nearby Douthat State Park.
At a late breakfast, I asked the old timers at a local café what they thought of the idea of revamping the CCC. The question was akin to asking the church choir what they thought of music in church. I shook hands and even signed my autograph on napkin. I bid the crowd farewell and hoofed through the quaint town before returning to the train yard. Within an hour, I was crossing the border into West Virginia.
Beckley WV: I strolled into this quaint town nestled in the heart of Appalachia. My mouth dry with grime of the rails from the last leg of my journey. This was my second time in town, once, in my hobo days, I passed through, camping a night in Babe Ruth park. I stepped into Billie Joe’s and the six eyes that were in the bar turned my way, five of them looking at me and one off to my left. Quickly four eyes turned back to an Olympic boxing match. The other two, belonging to a middle-aged woman, appeared to look at me and the back bar simultaneously.
Between rounds, the bartender took my order and set my tall blonde on the bar with a thud, took my money and slipped into the shadows. The woman spoke with a gravelly voice. “Gentleman may prefer blondes, but real men prefer brunettes.”
I looked at her, holding the gaze of her right eye a long second before giving into the impulse to look at her left eye and following its gaze to the back bar. “Don’t you get confused looking at two things at once?” “I have broad horizons.”
I snickered, raised my bottle in toast and took a long sip. I learned that the woman’s name is Shari, that she is an alcoholic, is unemployed, her trailer was in danger of being foreclosed upon, her eldest daughter was murdered eleven years ago in Baltimore, and her husband is in prison in Kentucky all before she found out my name is Robert and I’m running for president.
She laughed, spitting out her drink. “You have as much a chance getting elected as I do getting a job modeling contact lenses.”
That Shari wasn’t sensitive about her lazy-eye made talking with her easy.
Especially, when my gaze found itself distracted – as she spoke, I found myself looking in the direction of her left eye, as if she was talking to me but watching someone else.
I bought her a drink and quickly learned she was passing through Beckley on way to Beattyville, KY to visit her husband.
“Want to share the road to Kentucky?”
“Sure,” I answered. We finished our drinks, left the bar and slipped into her Toyota Tercel. Surprisingly, she didn’t jump onto the freeway, instead she kept to back roads, making pit stops in Glen Daniel and Bob White, where I talked to a few folks at the convenience store, before stopping for the night in Madison.
In Madison, Shari introduced me to Hudson’s Bar and Grille. The local’s were receptive and I returned the favor by bringing my top game. Being Tuesday night, I bought a few votes by helping a couple new friends butcher karaoke. I am confident that no tapes exist and the threat of blackmail well mitigated.
Before Madison, I was concerned that I would not succeed in West Virginia. I pinned my attention on Beckley and allowed myself to be distracted. As things worked out, Madison turned out to be a much better campaign opportunity.
I woke up in a cheap motel room, snuck into the bathroom, took care of business and moved towards my backpack sitting on a chair when I felt an eye on my back and imagined the other upon the door. I exhaled, knowing I was busted trying to slip out onto the campaign trail.
“Where you going?” Shari asked.
“Getting a cup of coffee,” I answered.
I should hire her to create a documentary of my campaign, I thought as the toilet flushed. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I absentmindedly watched Headline News till Shari emerged from the bathroom. Awkward, at least for me, small talk filled the air between us till we hit the C-store.
“What is your old man in the can for?”
“He’s a bit hot tempered. He beat a fellow he thought was sleeping with me.
We were just friends, nothing ever happened. Don’t worry sugar plum,” she said patting my knee. “I won’t utter a word and Moses, he don’t follow politics and anyhow, he can’t read. You’re free and clear.”
“Keep an eye on the road,” I responded. The prospect of driving closer to a man – with his wife – in prison for assault was unsettling. I was a gut check, for if elected, I would be facing crises that would require intestinal fortitude.
I considered not reporting on this fandango, no one would ever be the wiser and I could continue onward without drawing attention away from the issues, but, it would be a missed opportunity. Unlike John Edwards, who made himself look silly, I am standing up and saying that I committed biological indiscretion. I screwed up and I had sex with this married woman.
The further we drove, the lighter my mood became. We crossed the Tug Fork River at Williamson and entered Kentucky. We were in the heart of Appalachia, the heart of coal country. Its people’s welfare correlated to the dying coal industry. We drove through many small towns, one seemingly poorer than the next. I pondered what my administration could do for the good people of the region. My only immediate answer was the reintroduction of the CCC. It was stopgap at best until we could come up with an alternative energy source whose production could benefit the region.
We stopped for gas and a tall blonde in Betsy Layne. In the Frontier Lounge, Shari introduced me to the barkeep and told her my story. “Do something ‘bout healthcare, darling, and you got my vote.”
“I need your vote to do something about healthcare.”
Within a half-hour, we were back on the road, taking the off the beaten path tour of Kentucky. Frankly, I couldn’t wait till we got to Beattyville, the endless talk of being wronged by everybody and everything was wearing thin. If there were railroad tracks nearby, I would have jumped out the window. An hour and a half later I got my wish, near Jackson tracks paralleled the road. Being so close to our destination, I thought it would serve better to ride it through to completion.
Beattyville: At the eastern fringe of the Daniel Boone National Forest sits this town a barely a thousand. Prisons seem to be the growth industry in this county seat. One public facility that serves numerous counties and a private facility that has contracts with Kentucky and Vermont. Shari dropped me off on Main and Locust and wished me well. I didn’t tell her to say Hi to Moses for me. I stopped in the APPCO 75, shared a coffee with the counter jockey and two locals, purchased a bottle of water and some jerky. I bid farewell and followed the tracks westward. They hugged the Kentucky river as it wound through the forest.
So far, my route through Kentucky was a bust as far as campaign stops, but that would change once I got to Richmond. An hour and two or so miles later I wondered if I would make Winchester, there wasn’t any signs of train traffic.
About four PM, the rumble of an approaching freight echoed through the canyon. I hopped the slow moving monster and settled onto the only flatcar on the train. After a series of wide S bends the canyons widened and the train rolled past fields.
Evening: Winchester. Apparently Frontier Lounge is a popular name in Kentucky, I slipped inside Winchester’s version exhausted from my day. I enjoyed a tall blonde as I watched the Olympics. After finishing, I slipped out without stumping and found a quiet corner of the Winchester Country Club to bed down upon. I promised myself a more energetic canvass tomorrow.
When I bedded down on a green on Winchester Country Club, I expect a certain degree of security. It’s a civilized place, with rules and order; I never considered sprinklers a scheduled part of the order. I was sleeping soundly on comfortable sod of the 10th hole when the sprinklers kicked on, giving me a shower inside my sleeping bag. I struggled out of the bag, to my feet, scampered across the green onto the fairway, cursing as I drug the sleeping bag behind me.
Soaking wet I found the nearest C-store and got a large cup of coffee. “Localized Thunderstorm,” I told the counter jockey. “Actually, my name’s Robert and I’m running for president, and I’m running the cleanest campaign in history.”
The counter jockey stared at me as if I was a midget Sasquatch and set my change on the counter.
I stepped out into the humid night, chilled from the store’s air conditioner. I found a nearby baseball field and hung my sleeping bag and my soaking clothes on a chain link fence while huddling in the dugout sipping my coffee. The warm humid air and the coffee warmed me quickly. My clothes and sleeping bag would weren’t as lucky.
At dawn, I realized I was naked, sitting in a little league dugout. If someone witnessed me, the situation wouldn’t look good for the campaign. I slinked from the dugout and slipped into my soaking clothes. I cursed Kentucky; my campaign in the state was ineffectual.
I returned to the same C-store, purchased another cup of coffee and tried to start a conversation with the morning counter jockey. “I don’t vote! Not interested! Fuck off!”
“Have a nice day,” I mumbled as I drug my tail out of C-store.
It was time to fold. I was giving up trying in Winchester. I just hope Helen Thomas, the legendary white house reporter, doesn’t learn I gave up on her home town. I found the tracks and headed south. Maybe Richmond would offer me better luck.
KY: I dried out and found myself on a campaign stop at Bottom’s Up on the corner of E. Main, Irvine, and Big Hill Ave. Once I walked inside I could feel my fortunes about to change. The home of Eastern Kentucky U. , Richmond was a college town and loaded with bars. I don’t know if because of my pipe cleaning or the impromptu shower, but my game was on and no topic could better your candidate. Within a few hours, I had reversed my fortunes in the Blue Grass State. I took my campaign up and down Main St. Around 8:00 PM I hitched a ride on a southbound. I kept my eyes open for East Pineville, where I would have to ditch this freight and catch another freight bound for Tennessee.
I jumped from this freight between Pineville, in which the sidewalks already were pulled up, and East Pineville. In the light of the nearly full moon, I followed the right hand switch and began walking through the night towards the Volunteer State. Kentucky wasn’t as rough on me as my recollections. In retrospect, my route through the state was questionable. As I pulled up for the night in a small clearing near the tracks, I considered my options for another visit.
A rumbling southbound woke me before dawn and I scrambled to pack my sleeping bag and hop the train as it passed. On board, I huddled in a boxcar. I was going to play boxcar roulette, riding the car till the train stopped. I didn’t travel too far before the train came to a halt. I could tell the train help up on a siding, most liking waiting for another train to pass. Peering outside, I could tell we were near a fair sized town; it had to be Middleboro. If I remembered right, the freight would pass through Middleboro, enter Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, cut a small corner of Virginia before heading into Tennessee and hopefully Knoxville.
Like Kentucky, Tennessee, and many other states in the south, had dry counties. Campaigning in those counties would be difficult, for if you read my ramblings you know I do best with a little “political lubricant” in the form of a tall blonde or a shot of Stoli.
By mid-morning heat was building in the boxcar. I reckoned the freight was more than half way to Knoxville, and I hoped that it wasn’t going to turn into a broiler. I managed to nod off for a bit and I woke to the squealing brakes. I stood and peered out of the boxcar and saw it we were in a train yard. I gathered my pack and slid the door open. I could tell immediately that I was in Knoxville. I spray painted “Robert ‘08” on the side of the car before hoofing it downtown.
My first stop was Barley’s Taproom, an establishment known for its tap beer selection and pizza. I always enjoyed brick walled bars; they give a place an earthly feel. The only think I enjoyed more would be weathered wood, the true rustic touch that every dive needs. Immediately, campaigning went well, the topic of the day, energy and fuel prices. The irony of gasoline prices dropping as the tourist season slowed and the election approaching. I mentioned ethanol, and that its price artificially inflated since last year’s bumper crop of corn left silos overflowing. The laws of supply and demand would dictate that prices should fall if supply is great.
I’ll spare you the litany of every stop and their conversations. Though, I must say, I wish every day was as smooth, and everybody as willing to participate in dialogue as this Friday afternoon.
Acting on a recommendation, I set my sights for a dive between Knoxville and Chattanooga. I found the tracks, hiked past the University of Tennessee, crossed the Tennessee River over a trestle, and started south, hopping a freight about two miles outside the city. I landed on a flatcar and like always, waved my sign at railroad crossings.
((The name of the town and bar are being withheld do to the events which took place. The name of the bar owner is also a pseudonym )Campaign HQ)
Around 7:25, I leapt off the train and walked into XXXXX. Just as told, the sign of XXXXXX dominated the town’s main street. A gray headed man with the red face of a beer slinger stood behind the bar, greeting me as if he knew me. “Hey Pardo, how are we tonight?”
He fetched me a tall blonde and we fell into a pleasant conversation. There were two patrons in the bar. I thought there would be more people, but I was told that the bar usually had a late crowd, and that it could be a cemetery in the early evening.
The bartender seemed tickled to have a presidential candidate and had me sign a Miller High Life Mirror that hung on the wall. The man flew into a litany of jokes, mostly one-liners, delivered with the mannerisms of Johnny Carson.
“I don’t care whose son you are, drop that cross one more time and you’re out of the parade.”
“More land, cried the king! The Queen sighed, kneed him in the nuts, and he had two more acres.”
You get my point, it was endless; suddenly, the bartender said to me, “You’re the most trustworthy fellow in here, would you do me a favor and watch the bar for about ten minutes, I forgot to get extra bourbon; I need to pick some up.
For some reason, I agreed and stepped behind the bar. He just told me to right down how many beers and mixed drinks I sold and put the money in the till. It shouldn’t be too bad, I’ll be back right away.
Al rushed out the door and the two at the end of the bar laughed.
Fifteen minutes later, no Al. The door opened and it was like a bus unloaded. A dozen people floated in and ordered up. Luckily it was all beer and I served them up.
Every time the door opened, I expected to see Al the bartender strolling in. Every time, I was disappointed and the crowd grew larger.
“I want a Cape Cod.” Not knowing what it was, I looked for the bartender’s bible. Not being able to find it, I asked what’s in it. Vodka and Cranberry, the patron told me. More people filed in. I struggled to keep up.
“Two Kamikazes and three Washington Apples,” a twenty-something lass ordered. Frustrated and overwhelmed I fetched her two Budweisers, three Miller Lights, Two shots of Jack Daniels and three shots of Early Times.
“What’s this?!?” she asked.
I pointed to the Buds and said, “Two Kami…” and then pointed at JD and added, “Kazes. The three Miller Lights are the Washingtons and the shots are the Apples.”
The girl shrugged and said, “What the hell, if you say so.”
The game was on. The bar was packed and whenever someone ordered a mixed drink, I produced a shot and beer.
When a smart ass ordered a Dry Martini, I got a Tall blonde and a shot of Stoli, slammed the shot, and handed him the High Life. “That’s a Dry Robertini. If you want the shot, order a Robertini.
This game went on for hours, contrary to being pissed, I was enjoying the experience, Word was out about town that a presidential candidate was bartending and the crowd grew. When was the last time a presidential candidate served you?”
The crowd stayed strong till the bitter end. Assuming closing time was two AM, I called last call at 1:30. As people left, be it one at a time, couples, or in small groups, I shook their hands, wished them well and asked them for their vote.
After the last person left, I locked the doors, shut off the neons, jacked the stools upon the bartop and counted my tips. I made almost $150, smiling, I slipped the money into my pocket. Exhausted, I pondered what to do. Al never returned, but I wasn’t surprised, the locals told me Al was the owner and he often played this game. He would sucker someone behind the bar, drive to the next town and get drunk. I filed my report with Campaign HQ before laying out my sleeping bag on the pool table and catching some sleep.
I heard the key in the door. Rolling over, I watched Al stroll through the door. “How’s anyone gonna shoot pool with your ass sprawled over the table?”
“You forget how to tell time?”
“It’s the King’s birthday, wanna go to Memphis to celebrate?”
I considered this invite a long moment before answering. “Where can a guy get a hearty breakfast?” “You hungry too?
“Does a bear shit in the woods?” Al took me to the local café, introduced me to the old cronies, which he dubbed the “think tank.” He later told me, “the only thinking done in there, is how it used to be. Those old fools drive the truck by looking into rearview mirror.”
After breakfast, Al visited the bathroom. I threw a fifty on the table and slipped out the door and followed this alley way and that until I found the tracks.
By late afternoon, I jumped a flatcar and rode the freight towards Chattanooga. The temperature was pleasant; the skies overcast as I sat back and enjoyed the countryside. In Chattanooga, I rode the train into the DeButt’s yard, east of downtown. I ‘autographed’ the nearest boxcar before walking about town. Being Saturday, I looked for the best place to wave my sign to auto traffic.
Downtown, I settled for the corner of Market St. and E. Martin Luther King Blvd, just southwest of the University of Tenn.-Chattanooga. I enjoy waving my sign; most people ignore me, most thinking it’s just another bum begging for money. Some give me a double take; others will honk a horn or give thumbs up. The activity born in Buffalo, grounds me to the calendar. I considered doing this in every city I visit, but I doubt the tactic’s effectiveness. Though, if I were driving down the busy street and noticed what appeared to be a bum waving a vote me for president sign, I would remember the image as I stepped into the voting booth.
I packed in it and headed for Buck Wild. Last time I was Chattanooga, I had a memorable time. Tonight, I’ll quench my thirst and try to campaign over the jukebox.
There’s a spirit in this town that I can’t quite finger, but it calls to me. Maybe because it is the gateway to the deep south. Whatever it is, when I thought about this campaign, there was never a doubt that I would swing through town.
I barely had a chance to pay for a drink. “I don’t know if you’re legitimate or not, but someone who is barhopping across country under that guise of running for president is a genius, and I ain’t gonna let them buy no drink,” a poly-sci grad student told me.
“I assure you that I’m for real. I used to ride the rails for fun. Now it’s all business.”
I rode the lad’s coattails all night and managed to campaign while having a good time and introducing the local’s to a Robertini.
At closing time, feeling good, and with some extra change in my pocket, I checked into a decent Hotel, showered, turned on the TV and fell asleep to the Olympic recap.
Even on a seemingly chaotic odyssey like mine, there is a semblance of daily and even weekly routine. Every morning I contact Alberton, I let them know my location and what I think will be the days destination. At the end of the day, I contact them if I have any “gossip,” our euphemism for significant events. During these communications, I tell them if I’m in need of any resources and Alberton will arrange to a rendezvous with the needed supplies.
On Sundays, I take extra time to formulate an idea of the week’s travel. I never over plan or worry about keeping to the week’s itinerary, after all, I refuse to be itinerized. As my Campaign manager spouts, “It’s all about Tactical flexibility.”
Watching the Weather forecast this morning, my tactical flexibility will be tried this week, and so will my one rigid rule for this campaign, every state in the contiguous forty-eight must be visited. Tropical Storm Fay will complicate matters, especially if the storm develops into a hurricane. Originally, I was planning a sweep through Northern Georgia before heading into North Carolina and work my way to Florida. I am altering this plan, I will cut out Northern Georgia, instead I will work into the heart of North Carolina. Depending on storm’s progress, both in intensity and movement, I will either expedite my campaign swing or find a place to hunker down.
Midmorning: I was planning to spend more time in Chattanooga, but unfortunately, I had to turn away from the gateway to the Deep South. I returned to the DeButt yard and eyeballed an eastbound freight. Within an hour, I was onboard a flatcar motoring through Cleveland, TN. I hated to backtrack, but the quickest way to North Carolina was via Knoxville. Throughout the leg, I created the images which I spoke of a couple of days ago. Through towns like Athens, Englewood, and Maryville, I stood and waved my sign at the stopped traffic.
Afternoon: In Knoxville, I resisted the urge to spend another afternoon in the city, and hoofed from the yard eastward until two hours later, I caught a freight heading to the Tar Heel State. Outside of Erwin, TN the train crossed into North Carolina. The landscape was beautiful, and it made for an enjoyable trip. I imagined the Appalachians as they used to be, when they were the size of the Himalayas. The elderly Mountain Chain serves me a reminder of the wears of time and environment.
Around 5ish, outside of Hickory, I jumped off the flatbed and landed hard on my knees. Pain seared through me and I looked down to see my skinned knees protruding through my ripped pants. I stood, wiped the dirt from my pants and gimped into town.
I stumbled into the Side Pocket Lounge. A sign on the door stated you must be a member or a guest. I told them I’m a guest, and they let me sign the book and step inside. At the bar, I was beginning to enjoy my tall blonde when I was approached by a gal who reminded me very much of wife #7, in as much as her face was, let’s say challenged. She said her name was Torri and after a few moments of conversation, she introduced me to the regulars and I began a long evening of stumping.
The Side Pocket resembled Campaign HQ in regards to the colorful personalities. Not to mention, I haven’t seen as many long beards since leaving Alberton. A youngster name Frank invited to shoot a game of pool, with the stakes being if I won, he would vote for me, if I lost, I would buy him a beer. The game was Eight ball, 1, 15, side, follow you last ball, tournament rules. It all translated into, you can play defense and win. Frank almost ran the table, leaving only the 8 ball, I played it safe and snookered the cue ball between a side rail and one of my balls, there was no way he could hit the eight ball and I won on a scratch.
As I said, I will do anything for a vote.
I left the bar and found a small park on the corner of 1st and 3rd, I transmitted my blog and set about enjoying a warm, humid night under the stars.
Unlike most mornings, I woke with abandon. I found a coffee shop, got a cup of coffee and muffin, bummed a needle and thread off the proprietor, a pleasant lass named Jackie, and hoofed it, ripped pants and all to the tracks. An hour later, I hopped an eastbound. In the interest of the public’s modesty, I slipped into a boxcar and slipped out of my pants. If only there was a picture, a presidential candidate, sitting on crates in his skivvies darning ripped pants, the press would have a field day; I am sure I would be a national hero, at least amongst the sewing sect.
Somewhere along the line, the train turned southbound. I slipped back into my repaired pants and waited for Charlotte. The largest city between Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Charlotte caught my attention mainly because of its history, specifically during the revolution, when locals, drove out the occupying Cornwallis, leading him to comment that the city was a hornet ’s nest of rebellion,. Eleven score later, I wonder if the same spirit prevails.
I slipped from the boxcar after it came to a rest in the freight yard; I autographed it, checked the last E-mail from Alberton and made my way to the UPS store addressed in the correspondence. There was a package waiting.
The campaign manager can be devious in his guerrilla tactics and this scheme didn’t disappoint. Inside the package, there were one hundred oversized, $100 bills with my mug replacing Ben Franklin’s. On the back, was information about the campaign along with the slogan, Elect Robert President: Vote Dirty Bum! Elect Robert and get Dick Knighty! It’s about time Dick got a little attention. Mr. Knightly is perfect VP material, quiet, confident and glad to be lurking in the shadows.
The idea was to drop the “$100 bills” on the ground so people would think it is their lucky day. They would pick up the bill and be assailed with campaign information.
I spent the afternoon walking about the uptown district dropping bills on sidewalks. With half the pack gone, I headed towards Elizabeth section of Charlotte and perhaps the best dive bar in town, The Penguin. I dropped a bill at the door and entered, ordered up some fried pickles, a burger and a tall blond and laughed when someone stumbled in showing off the $100 bill.
“You’re the bum on the bill!” The mohawked biker exclaimed.
Late Afternoon: After a successful stumping session, I slipped from The Penguin, found the tracks in Elizabeth, worked southeast before hopping a freight. I leapt on a flatcar and did my thing as the train passed through Monroe, crossed into South Carolina, journeyed through the South Carolina Piedmont and Sumter National Forest before ending up in Clinton as the sun fell in the western sky.
I found a nondescript place called Dano’s and settled in for a tall blond and a very quiet night. I shared a long conversation with a self-employed excavator who admitted his business was struggling with the economic downturn. “Luckily my equipment is paid for; otherwise I would be plum out of business.”
He asked if I had a place to spend the night. I said I was planning to spend it under the stars, he told me he had a small guest cabin and I was welcome to it. I accepted his offer, and took advantage of his extended generosity and laundered my clothes.
The excavator, Galen, knocked on the guest cabin’s door and invited me to a home cooked breakfast. Who am I to refuse southern hospitality? I am starting to doubt my platform plank to limit a presidential campaign to the year of the election. If I had enough time, I could win each voter over individually. The thing about me, even if you disagree with me, upon talking with me, you would know that I have our country at heart every moment of every day; I don’t care about money in my pocket or power on my broche. I’m too old for such aesthetics, this country has afforded me a great life, it’s my turn to return the favor.
Galen and I couldn’t be further apart politically, but, when he looks into my eyes, he doesn’t see a label, he sees a fellow countryman putting his money where his heart is. I would pay to see Al Franken cook breakfast for Mike Huckleby, or conversely, Rush Limbaugh making French Toast for Joe Biden. We have lost respect for each other; we speak in terms of division: Red/Blue, Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative, Haves/Haves Not, when are we going to learn to celebrate our commonality? In the nineties, a buzz phrase was the balkanization of America, on my journey so far, I fear I have seen that phrase take a step closer to reality. If I gained anything from this small South Carolina Community, this wise American frying bacon; is we are in the fight together, we all have our country’s best interest at heart, we just have different ideas for the possibility that is America. Our true domestic enemy is not opposing philosophies, it is naked power grabs and greed, it is gluttony at the public trough.
“Before today, I believed not voting for a Democrat or Republican was throwing my vote away. I know you will not be the next president, but I will write you in anyway. It ain’t the super bowl, it ain’t ‘bout voting for the winner. It’s about exercising…
I slipped a phony $100 bill across the table. “I’m not beyond buying a vote! My VP says that we aren’t beyond corruption, we’re for sale to the highest bidder, we’ll just be open about it,”
After breakfast, the idle excavator offered to drive me to the Savannah River. Who was I to refuse; one can ride a freight for so long without needing a break. We jumped into his red cavalier and headed south from Clinton on Highway 72.
In a low in the conversation, I thought about my morning’s optimistic outlook. There is validity in sitting in the path of a potential disaster to make one realize what is right with the world. It has been reduced to cliché’, but disasters bring out the best in Americans. I hope that Tropical Storm Fay cooperates and we are left bickering, so we don’t have to pull together and show are best colors.
Greenwood SC. Galen introduced me to Lucky’s Food and Spirit’s and it’s opening regulars. He refused my offer to buy him a drink. “You’re money ain’t no good here.”
I could have argued, insisting he was spending money hauling my ass about, but I didn’t. He was a believer and Galen did his best to spread the good word. It is true that the newly converted make the best proselytizers. After a round of hand shaking and back patting, we drove out of this town of twenty plus thousand.
We stopped again in McCormick and had lunch and a beer at Rubbies. The only thing better than the smell of hickory was the ribs, I loaded up the calories and insisted on footing the bill. I paid rapt attention to the weather channel and the progress of Fay. It appeared it was crisscrossing Florida and that it may ride the Atlantic coast. I considered an invite for a press interview in St. Mary, GA. and contemplated altering plans and giving the interview over the phone.
“I ain’t doing nothing,” Galen said as he headed Southeast from McCormick. “I don’t mind driving to Augusta.” We could have crossed into Georgia just to the south of McCormick, but, I had the feeling Galen was having fun campaigning.
Augusta GA: If I was a golf fan, I would have been excited with the prospect of entering the sport’s holy grail, but I’m not a fan, instead, I was excited about campaigning in another state. I felt confident that the campaign would reach its goals in the Carolinas. Georgia was another unknown, and the best thing to do on the road with such a variable was find a good neighborhood bar and make the transformation known. We came across the Limelight Café, which billed itself as Augusta’s original neighborhood bar. One thing for sure, even though I wouldn’t call it a neighborhood bar, the Limelight was a well-stocked venue. Galen and I shared a final beer – he a high-gravity beer, me, a tall blonde – before I bided my new friend farewell.
I slipped from the Limelight with the hope that Galen would win a vote or two for me. The afternoon heat lingered as I found the tracks and hoofed it south. An hour later, I was on a flatcar riding through Waynesboro.
My body was telling me it was time to dry out for a day or two. I needed to find if there are dry counties in Georgia. If there were, they would be perfect targets for a pop-the-vote campaign.
I rode the train to Milledgeville. Off the tracks, there was a small park, perfect for hunkering down for a night under the stars.
Milledgeville: Sleep hung on stubbornly. Even though I was outside, in a public park, I resisted starting my day. I forced myself out of my sleeping bag. I stumbled in the local Waffle house, shot the breeze with the waitress, who received my campaign with Southern politeness, but, who really didn’t give a shit. What she did say was that Flannery O’Conner is buried at Memory Hill Cemetery. After slipping a “Robert 100” on the table, I trudged down Clark Street to the Cemetery, found Ms O’Conner’s grave and paid my respects.
I stepped away, and set focus on winning the hearts and minds of the good people of Georgia. Something about this town lured me and I walked its streets until I found Milledgeville mall and discovered Starbucks. I chatted with a customer who treated me with the same bereft amusement one would hold for a babbling patient of the insane asylum that used to call Milledgeville home. Coffee in hand, I stumbled into Waldenbooks, found Obama’s Audacity of Hope and slipped a “Robert 100” inside. Converting the electorate one voter at a time, I chuckled as I left the mall.
Despite having an affinity for the town, the town didn’t have an affinity for me. Everyone one I approached politely rebuffed my spiel; thinking that I may have to delay my pop-the-vote campaign for a day, I made my way back to the tracks. I would test my luck elsewhere. A short freight ride brought me to Macon, the geographical center of Georgia.
I stumbled into Zak’s Tavern and joined three locals watching the weather channel. “My mother in law packs a bigger blow than this storm,” a customer at the end of the bar quipped. Within fifteen minutes, the conversation turned to global warming. I was shocked to learn that many in the Deep South doubt the existence of global warming. “It’s not any warmer than before.” I invited them to Montana, be it winter, summer, spring, or fall to see the profound effects of the phenomena.
I spent a good portion of the afternoon at Zak’s. The routine, well, routine, my game well practiced. Every time the door opened, within a few short moments, I had the newcomer eating from my hand. Two more bars saw my shadow, Dukes and Shur-Bet. My results much the same, I slipped from each venue with the confidence that I at least earned consideration.
It’s been my experience that when a worn trail is in danger of transforming into a rut, providence has a way of delivering a curve ball. As always, I caught a freight from the latest city. In Fort Valley, the freight turned west and I wanted to continue south. I leapt from the train and hoofed the tracks. Along Route 49, which paralleled the tracks, about a mile or so north of Marshallville, I came across a pickup truck that had rolled onto its roof. Inside, the driver and a passenger were conscious but injured.
I have never been an EMT, but a couple regulars at campaign HQ’s are, and I remembered listening to war stories of accident scenes. I approached the scene from the front of the truck so the occupants wouldn’t be startled and turn their gaze, possibly compromising a cervical spine injury. The driver was hung up in his seat belt while the passenger lay sprawled across the roof. There was spidering of the passenger side windshield, hinting that the passenger’s head slammed the windshield with significant force.
Another truck approached the accident. I instructed its driver to call 911 before I reached through the open passenger window and manually aligned and held C-spine until rescue workers arrived. During the organized chaos of the rescue, I slipped away.
I followed the tracks into darkness, eventually calling it a day in Montezuma. I got a room at Budget Inn. I showered before visiting the Dew Drop In for a nightcap with a Tall Blonde. Despite my fatigue, I managed to get into a long conversation with a local and the bartender. Four tall blondes later, after topics varied as race, space exploration, the economy and our military quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, I retired to my room, exhausted, yet invigorated.
The Weather Channel played on the TV through the night; the repeated reports of Fay’s progress sinking into my subconscious. As a northerner, being in the neighborhood of an Atlantic storm was exciting, much like what it must be for those who experience a raging forest fire the first time, the power and will of nature undeniable, sublime. Gone were my fears of being caught in a major hurricane, now I simply didn’t want to be caught in the incredible amount of rainfall associated with this system, I know what it is like to ride a leaky boxcar.
Being a bit of a history buff, and being near Andersonville, I would find in unconscionable not to visit the civil war prison camp. I’m sure Dick Knightly, a student of history, would resign from the ticket if I disrespected such hallowed grounds. I considered affronting my running mate and amused myself with potential replacements. I could offer it to T. Boone Pickens. I chuckled aloud with the idea of offering it to either Bill or Hillary Clinton. Despite the outcry from a good portion of my base, it would bring untold publicity to the ticket. But, it’s all silly speculation, for Dick Knightly trumps them all.
Staring over the prison sight, I found it hard to fathom 32,000 POW’s crammed into the 26.5-acre stockade. It was a sobering thought and pledged to console myself the next time I complained about a cramped railcar or my bungalow.
Of course, I took the opportunity to campaign, which included dropping a Robert ‘100’ near the driver door of an old El Dorado. Satisfied I hoofed it to the tracks and headed south. By noon, I was well on my way to Tallahassee.
By the time my ride rolled into Florida’s capital, I was a bit thirsty. On East Sixth Ave, there is a beer drinker’s paradise, that also serves as a perfect little dive to stump if you happen to being running for the nation’s top office. Leon’s Pub, a literal hole in the wall, with an amazing beer selection, the last time I was in town, the bartender told me they had over 300 brands. I stepped inside and ponied up to the bar, like a groom at his bachelor party, I strayed from my old dependable tall blonde, and enjoyed a taste of forbidden fruits.
Within moments, I was engaged in conversation with a gentleman who introduced himself as Kenny nine-toes. He explained that as a kid, he got a toe severed in an escalator accident. I brought my A-game to the table and had people on both sides of me engaged with my political banter.
“Robert, I have someone I’d like you to meet.” Nine toes said. Kenny introduced to me to Leon, the owner, who, I later learned, is a curmudgeon on his best days.
“Robert this is Leon, he owns this dump. Leon, this is Robert, he’s running for president.” I extended my hand to which Leon snorted and barked, “I don’t care what you’re running for or from, just shut up and drink your beer.” Leon moved away and disappeared into the haze of smoke.
As much as I loved this bar and the people, I had to keep moving. I bade farewell to my new friends and headed for the tracks. It wasn’t long before I caught a westbound headed for Pensacola. The skies were clear and I chose to ride a flatcar, so I could campaign along my tour of Florida’s Panhandle. Most of the trek, highway 90 paralleled the tracks and I did my sign waving dance to woo evening traffic. Around 11:00 PM the freight crossed over Escambia bay and into Pensacola. I painted today’s version of “ROBERT ‘08” on the nearest boxcar, hoofed it through Sander’s Beach, over Bayou Chico and bedded down on a green at Pensacola Country Club. Remembering my last experience sleeping on a golf course, I cursed myself for not checking for sprinklers. I was too tired to climb out and check. With a sigh, I rolled over hoping the sprinklers wouldn’t release their fury upon me.
Morning: Pensacola, the city which has gone about its business under five different national flags in its 450-year history. I will fix a Robertini for anyone who can name all five. I trudged back over the Bayou Chico bridge and found Jerry’s Drive Inn. At the counter, I sat next to Jerry himself, who told me he sold the place a few years back. To an observer, we probably appeared as old friends.
We visited for over an hour, covering a myriad of topics from my campaign to McCain’s guffaw over the number homes he owns. Jerry wouldn’t allow me to pay for breakfast and we shook hands as I bid farewell.
At sixty-seven, it is refreshing to have moments of self-discovery. I never imagined myself a mall rat, but during the last few days of the campaign, I’ve taken to campaigning at Malls during morning hours. Today, I found myself working both the Cordova and University Malls. At a coffee shop in the latter, I got into a conversation with a plumber who was finishing an odd job.
“Name’s Munch,” he said.
I learned that he was headed to Tuscaloosa after he was finished with this job. “Mind if I tag along?”
Ten minutes later, I helped him carry his tools to his van. “What’s in Tuscaloosa?” I asked.
“A skirt,” he answered as he drove from the parking lot. The conversation remained with politics all the way to the Alabama border when Munch pulled into Odoms Bar.
There’s the old adage that one should never discuss politics in a bar. I happen to disagree with that notion, our nation’s revolution had it genesis in colonial alehouses, it is a natural place for political discourse. I almost flipped my position inside Odoms. Ignorance, politics, racism, sexism and alcohol don’t mix; our stay became a practice in discernment. Barack Obama is my opponent; Hillary Clinton could be an opponent, depending on who Obama selects as his running mate, but the level of hatred directed at both made me shake my head. How can someone hate someone they’ve never met? Can it simply be fear? Of course, politics is the dirtiest game, and mudslinging is part of the deal, but, I wouldn’t employ such personal attacks on my worst enemy.
Knowing that this year’s presidential campaign will be one of the ugliest in history, I promised myself that I will not ‘go nuclear’ – a euphemism for negative attacks upon an opponent.
Munch and I finished our beer, hopped in the van, crossed the Alabama border and stopped in Brewton, a great name for a town to score a tall blonde. So began my most successful day of campaigning as Munch and I hit a dozen bars between Brewton and Tuscaloosa. The experience in Century honed my sensibilities and I raised my A game to a new level. The rest of the day, I had people eating from my hand. I killed with the economy, alternative fuels, foreign policy, and my personal pet cause, health care.
“Man,” Munch told me at our stop in Monroeville. “You are the man, I’m on board. I need a job with you.” He paused, “I nominate myself as your head of security. I swear, if anybody looks at you cross eyed, I’m gonna break a bottle over their head.”
I snickered. “I’m a cross between Ghandi and Stalin, I advocate nonviolence, only on the occasion if they agree with me.”
Myself, and the head of Southern security pulled into Tuscaloosa well after midnight. Pleasantly buzzed, I tripped up the steps of Munch’s apartment. I gained my feet, tripped over the threshold and fell into the living room. Somewhere, the ghost of Gerald Ford laughed.
As my head of Southern security slept it off, I stepped from his apartment, didn’t fall down the steps and began another day. I contacted Alberton before finding a breakfast hole. Under the terms of my mudslinging promise and values instilled during a Minnesota childhood, I will not speak of the restaurant, because I have nothing good to say of it, other than now I know why they sold so many Rolaids. Breakfast did put a crimp on my activities, for I had to wave my sign on a corner with a gas station. I spent as much time in the restroom as I did waving my sign. On a day when Obama names his running mate, and the two share a photo op, I run the Chevron shuffle and become very acquainted with bathroom graffiti. Maybe, there is something to be said about a strong campaign organization.
Not being in the best of moods, I lamented the fact that where I sit currently is roughly 250 miles from where I spent last Saturday waving my sign. In the depths of my negativity, I felt as if I had one foot nailed to the floor and was running in circles. I sighed, knowing the remedy.
I stumbled into a place called Mugshots, pulled up a corner stool and ordered a 7-up. The bartender gave me the look of a McDonald’s worker who had to serve a diet pop to a 700 lb customer. For an hour, I sat alone, surly. Only after my second tall blonde did I feel the candidate emerge. By that time the happy hour crowd shuffled in and political discourse was following like the PBR tap.
After my second visit to the Men’s room, I was confident that it was safe to hitch my wagon to the next iron horse and see where the rails would lead. I shook hands and patted backs before stepping into a light rain.
I crossed over the Black Warrior River, followed the tracks around a bend and headed west. Near Coker, I caught a freight, and hunkered down into a boxcar. Alabama treated me well, and I was ready for Mississippi; hopefully Mississippi was ready for me. At that moment, I changed my overall travel plans. I would make a wide swing northward before taking on Texas, maybe the heat was getting to this northern boy.
Sometime around Midnight, I ditched the train near Meridian. When you debark a moving train, one has to hit the ground running, otherwise it’s skinned knees and ripped pants at the minimum. Unlike Hickory, NC, I hit the ground running and it probably looked like I was the old pro that I am.
At the first motel, I got a room, took a Saturday Night shower and fell asleep to Book TV on C-Span 2.
I have no recall of when coffee makers became commonplace in motel rooms, before this campaign swing, I hadn’t been in a motel room in two decades. I feel a bit out of touch, much like the George the 1st, that would be George Herbert Walker Bush, marveled at that new fangled tech known as the check out scanner. As I enjoyed a cup of java without having to leave my room, I poured over my Atlas, laying out the journey I outlined in my mind last night.
Votes don’t earn themselves, unless you’re a presidential nominee of a major party, and that’s even debatable, if you consider the amount of ass-kissing and back room deals one needs to reach that pinnacle. I left a Robert ‘100’ for the maid, before stepping into my challenge of winning one vote in Meridian.
I stumbled into a breakfast counter and began my quest. A Restaurant is a much more difficult venue than a tavern to win a vote. In the typical café, unless one is a neighborhood crony, one is treated much more skeptically. I’ve concluded, one is much more successful with the aid of a social lubricant. It isn’t impossible, it’s just harder. On this Sunday morning between Obama’s VP announcement and the beginning of convention season, political talk with rife. However, saying you’re a legitimate presidential candidate at a breakfast counter in the deep south raises more than one eyebrow.
The game becomes breaking down the walls of skepticism and cynicism. It’s not impossible, it just takes rigor. The coffee must have been fortified, for after weathering the smart assed comments, and executing a few tricks of verbal judo, I had the conies at this café’ eating from my hand.
The benefit of campaigning in a café’ is that there is no alcohol involved and one is more apt to remember the conversation. Satisfied, I finished my coffee, wiped my mouth, tipped the oversized waitress, left a Robert ‘100’ for the crowd and set to winning over Mississippi.
Within a half-hour I was departing the home of Peavey Guitars and Amps and journeying westward. There is something natural about traveling westward, maybe it’s the renewal of Manifest Destiny, or maybe is simply because I love the west. Whatever it is, I’m more relaxed with my ass pointed towards the old world.
I hopped a freight headed westward, still on the run from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay. I hunkered down in a boxcar, my destination, Jackson.
Afternoon: As my ride slowed to a stop in a Jackson train yard, I slipped out and autographed the boxcar with ROBERT ’08. I looked towards the city and decided that I was in the mood for a small town. I hoofed it westward until I was a mile outside of town and I caught another westbound. The skies were cloudy but not threatening and I jumped a flatcar and produced my sign, waving it every occupied crossing until it approached Vicksburg. Outside of town, I leapt from my taxi and strolled into the Town and Country Bar.
The one thing I didn’t enjoy about the south was dry counties, it did put a crimp on campaigning. Despite this hardship, I do support a local jurisdiction’s right for self-determination as long as it doesn’t violate the bill of rights. I pondered the idea of introducing a drunkard’s amendment to the constitution but realized Tea toddlers would demand their own amendment and the ensuing argument could lead to a second civil war. I dropped the idea and enjoyed the taste of a tall blonde while I entertained a short brunette as we watched the Olympic closing ceremonies.
Her name, Brigid, a newly minted schoolteacher, we talked well into the night, discussing the state of Education. “No child left behind is a bigger oxymoron than the Patriot Act!” she decried. I have a weakness in discussing subjects with the passionate, especially when they know the subject inside and out. I simply listen and learn. Dear voter, I will promise you this, if elected, I will be the dumbest person in the cabinet room, I do believe in hiring people smarter than myself.
I stood on the tracks upon the deck of the old river bridge. I peered back at Vicksburg and thought of July 4th, 1863, perhaps the most fateful day in our history, for not did the siege of Vicksburg end, but Robert E Lee’s was defeated at Gettysburg, dealing the confederacy a double blow which it never recovered.
Looking south, I peered at the new bridge, which upon I-20 spanned the Mississippi river; tires hummed as vehicles raced between Mississippi and Louisiana.
I took a sip from the bottle wrapped in the brown paper bag. As my throat burned, I pictured Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park, the ultimate headwaters of this great river. I took a long moment imagining the waterfalls pouring off glaciers into Medicine Grizzly Lake and rushing down Atlantic Creek as it began its journey that would bring it here and beyond.
Today, as the Democratic Convention began. Historic in its own right because an African American male is its nominee, A drizzle fell as I trudged through little Delta, Louisiana, the birthplace of C.J. Walker. If you’ve heard of her, I’ll buy you a tall blond, if not, she is historical proof that ultimately our nation is a meritocracy, if one has the skills and the desire, one can attain their goals.
For those who I don’t owe a tall blonde, C.J. Walker – first of her family born free, her parents were freed slaves – went on to become a millionaire developing and selling hair care products.
I caught a slow moving westbound and climbed inside a boxcar. I checked my maps before sitting back and caught a little rest.
Monroe: I ditched the Kansas City Southern freight, autographed the boxcar I rode and set off into the city. I walked through the Monroe, dropping a Robert ‘100’ here and there, until I came to the Corner Bar and Grille. I stepped inside the old lesbian hangout, ordered a tall blonde and began a long afternoon of stumping, which also took me to a half dozen neighborhood bars.
Being naturally shy, and at times, reclusive, I am amazed how my campaign muscle has developed since I stopped in Bozeman on July 4th.
“What scares me, is if Obama is elected, the Iranians, Russians, the Chinese, someone, is going to test him and because he’s perceived as green, he will overreact and overextend our military further. What would you do if say the Chinese rattled swords over Taiwan?”
“Rattling swords is a vague description. It would depend on what exactly is the threat. But, considering our treaty obligations, I would honor them and seek the advice and opinions of diplomatic and military professionals and respond appropriately.”
I took a long sip from my blonde.
“Spoken like a true politician.”
I shrugged. “Hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. I will say this, contrary to this administration, mine will be pragmatic.”
So the day went, turning into night. Unlike before, with the arrival of convention season, the general population seemed interested in presidential politics.
Late Night: After the bar’s closed, I headed for the tracks. Outside the city limits, I caught a Union Pacific freight heading north. I settled into a boxcar and caught some sleep.
Sleep was light and unsteady and I woke as the train came to rest. Morning twilight was kissing the Arkansas countryside. In the throes of my morning nervousness, the idea to visit Hope crossed my mind. It took a minute to figure what day it was, struggling between Tuesday or Wednesday. After remembering it was Tuesday, the idea of watching the Democratic Convention in Hope the day Hillary gives her speech seemed poetically unjustified. I also wasn’t willing to sit around another day to watch Bill Clinton’s speech from the president’s home town. I laid back and allowed sleep to overtake me, content on campaigning in Arkansas without Hope.
I ditched the freight in Fordyce and stumbled into Kountry Kitchen for a hearty breakfast. Drifters are a common sight in small railroad towns; articulate, educated drifters aren’t rare, but presidential candidates, be they drifters or not, are rarer than the sushi at Benny Hanna’s. The rancher, farmers and good ole boys welcomed me and laid down the gauntlet. “You ain’t planning on taking our guns away?” “What you gonna do about crop subsidies? Fuel prices are driving us out of business, what are you gonna do?
It seemed they didn’t have any interest in answers, for every attempt I made was interrupted with another question. I didn’t blame them, they were excited to have their voice heard. Back in Alberton, if the shoe was reversed, and a drifter came through proclaiming candidacy for the highest office, I would grill him till I salivated.
With an hour, I won the half-dozen good ole boys over, taking time to revisit and answer each question. A change of tactics was in order, and I hoofed it out of Fordyce towards the state capital.
Around noon, a SUV with Texas plates pulled over and offered me a ride. The driver introduced himself as Gardner. Through conversation, I learned he was also a Navy Vet and a retired banker from Houston. Macro Economics is far from a strong suite and I spent most of the ride to Little Rock receiving a primer.
Gardner drove through Little Rock with an unannounced destination in mind. He parked in front of White Water Tavern. I laughed at the irony, if indeed it was named after the Clinton Administration Scandal. The outside looked a bit under my driver, but as I learned, despite his profession, he was a dive bar aficionado and he considered this a favorite haunt.
My host set them up for me, I knocked them down and he refused me the honor of setting them up. My money was no good here. Gardner bluntly told the bartender that I was not permitted to buy anyone a spirit. Throughout the day, not only did I enjoy a harem of tall blondes, but the attention reserved for a guest of a well respected regular.
The crowd shuffled in and out and the hands marched around the clock. During the evening, the Democratic Convention played on the TV. I felt a bit of pride when Montana Governor Schweitzer spoke. When Hillary spoke, I felt a tad dismayed, for she delivered the goods, tucking in her skirt for the greater good of the Democrats. I was hoping against hope she would have caused a bit of mischief. For her compliance, I’m sure she was promised a high profile position in an Obama administration.
Sometime around midnight, I pulled a disappearing act and found tracks two blocks down 7th street. I followed the tracks over the trestle spanning the Arkansas River. In the train yard in North Little Rock, I hitched a ride on a north bound. Much like last night, I hunkered down in a boxcar, unlike last night, I was exhausted and a bit tipsy. Sleep beckoned.
I woke when my ride came to a stop. We were on a siding in a very small town. I slipped from the boxcar, shook a nearly empty spray paint can and got to the r in my name before running out. In your travels, if you see a BNSF boxcar with ROBER sprayed on its side, drop me a line. Rare is it that I know a name of a street in a town before I know the name of the town. The preponderance of Missouri License plates along N. Illinois Ave said that I made it to the show me state. I was in the tiny town of Brandsville, population 174. At broad corner of the railroad, I crossed the tracks and moved across an open field north of a small wood. Fayes Bar sat waiting on Highway 63.
The clock on the bar’s wall said 1:00 PM. I was surprised I slept good and long on the rails. I was finally slipping into old habits. The bartender, who introduced herself as Marty, was the only person inside. At first conversation was sparse as she concentrated on cleaning and I focused on the Television.
“I find it boring,” She commented during a CNN report on the Democratic Convention.
“What if a candidate would walk in here?”
“Yeah, right, in Brandsville. Never happen,” she wiped down glasses with a bar rag.
“Say it did,” I teased.
She peered at me for a moment. “I would tell them how hard it is to raise two kids, work two jobs, be a month behind on the rent and have to choose between putting gas in the tank or food on the table. I’d ask if they knew what it’s like to hope that my car doesn’t break down and that the kids don’t need stitches. I’m not a lazy person, but, every day I fall further behind. But they wouldn’t understand with their $2000 suites and $400 haircuts.”
I nodded and ordered another pop. When she slipped into the back, I finished my pop, left a $20 tip on the bar and left.
West Plains: Peter Straub wrote wonderfully about rural desolation. A master of describing the loneliness of small towns, I wondered if he visited this area before writing his novel, “If You Could See Me Now.” That story took place in rural Wisconsin, but, it could have been anywhere in America’s Bread Basket. I strolled into the town of West Plains, the home of Dick Van Dyke. I smiled at the thought of seeing him trip over the ottoman at the beginning of his show. I caught a sign for The Spot, followed my nose and slipped inside the homey bar.
The crowd was much larger here, a grand total of three, including me. All eyes turned towards me as I entered. I considered not campaigning here, by looking at the clientele, I had a very good idea of where the conversation would go and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there.
The folks were friendly, but after two tall blondes and a half hour of stumping I discovered my instincts served me well. I was gaining firsthand the grind candidates face; for me, the hardest part of the deal is listening, especially when people’s views are skewed by negativity, fear and selective ignorance. I deal with my intolerance of these traits by going on autopilot and reminding myself that I chose my course.
I bid the customer’s farewell, shook hands and slipped them a Robert ‘100.’
I hoofed through West Plains before finding the tracks and hopping on the next northbound freight. Atop a flatcar, I got my sign ready and did my dance at every crossing.
It was approaching midnight when the freight rolled into Springfield. Despite the warmth of the night, I decided it was time to sleep in a bed and I checked into the nearest motel. After showering I typed this blog, pausing, I reflected on a very mediocre day on the trail. Tomorrow, I’ll give Springfield the college try.
Springfield, MO: The birthplace of Route 66, the cultural center of the Ozarks, the city with the most varied weather in the nation; seems like an exciting place, the kind of place one wouldn’t oversleep. I buck the trend; I overslept and didn’t wake till checkout time. With a yawn, I looked in the mirror, surprised at the tired face staring back. I splashed water on my face and walked from the room. I cinched my backpack and explored the streets of Springfield. At Starbucks, I ordered a coffee and sat down with the newspaper. I poured over the national and local news, I read an article on a man arrested for twenty bank robberies, another about a shooting. Another shooting, ah, the debate on gun control, I believe you know my position.
I’m libertarian at heart with a streak of compassion. The government has no right tinkering with rights already granted within the bill of rights; nor does the government have any right to tinker with any personal liberties not already granted in the constitution. Sorry pro lifers, it’s a woman’s body, it’s her choice. Gay Marriage, who cares what happens between consenting adults, it’s their business. Capital Punishment, take a life and lose your right to life. I am live and let live, I’m even live and let liver for those of us who like to tip the bottle, but if you kill, I’m very live and let die. I believe linkage between issues is a dangerous business; I believe in a line item veto and I believe in issues standing or falling upon their own merits.
I folded the paper and placed it in its rack. I finished off my coffee and stumped on the streets of Springfield. I received many cold shoulders, but I ran into two different people willing to take the time and talk issues. One, who I will call Jimmy, shared a swig or two with me from his bottle. We compared notes of our days of riding the rails before we turned to politics. “I have to vote for Barak,” he said. “I think you understand.” Ours was an honest and detailed conversation, the longest I held with a non-supporter. He said with a gravelly voice, “You’re a victim of timing, as far as I’m concerned.”
I shook his hand and thanked him. “Good luck, my friend,” I said and turned away.
Afternoon: I found a self-proclaimed dive called the Tipsy Turtle. A decent crowd greeted me. With the aid of a tall blonde I slipped into automatic pilot. I stumped like a professional politician. A customer dialed his cell phone and recruited friends to come to the turtle and meet a presidential candidate.
“Are you kidding me?” a yuppie snorted upon seeing me.
“I’m afraid the jokes upon me if I can’t convince you of my worthiness. You look like an upstanding citizen, but have you risked your life in service of our country, have you had a comrade die in your arms? I have, have you? Are you willing to judge worthiness simply on appearance?”
I stood before he could answer and walked from the bar, holding the door open for newly arriving customers. “Where is he?” I heard as the door closed behind me.
Satisfied, and with a smile, I made my way to the rail yard. I was told some 70 odd freights depart this yard each day. I hitched one headed north via west. I rode a flatcar to Independence.
Evening: Independence – the departure point of the California, Santa Fe, and Oregon trials; the birthplace of Harry S. Truman, and the hometown of Paul Henning, the creator of three very important TV shows: Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction – welcomed me with indifference. I stumped at The Pig and Jersey’s, tipping back tall blondes in both while laying down my gauntlet. Feeling good about my short stay, I shook hands and patted backs before finding the rails and catching a freight bound for Des Moines.
In French, Des Moines translates to, “of the Monks,” no wonder there are those who call it the city that never wakes. Those misguided folks never bent an elbow at Carl’s Place, a great dive that opens at 10:00 AM; for those with frequent rail miles, another benefit is its relative proximity to the tracks.
“Aren’t you a little late?” a regular asked me. “Most of the stuffed shirts were here last winter,” he said referring to the rush of presidential hopefuls that flood the city like spring runoff.
“What makes Iowans so special? I believe Montanans should have our asses kissed more. We have the nukes.” I went on to explain that if Montana ever succeeds from the union, the new nation would be the world’s fourth largest nuclear power. “We have more nuclear silos than grain silos.”
“That’s because it’s a waste land.”
“As it will remain under my administration.”
We turned our attention to the Television and the reports of Sarah Palin named as John McCain’s running mate. “What do you think about this Alaska chick?” the regular asked.
“McCain knows he’s against the wall and being a gambler, he has to the roll the dice to engineer a big bang. Some will think its genius; some will think it’s pandering to the lowest level. She’s an unknown entity and she’ll have her honeymoon, but given her political bent, wait to the dirt on her comes out. McCain’s gambit may blow up in his face.”
Call it six degrees of separation, in this morning’s communication with Campaign HQ, it was told to me that an anonymous tip from an acquaintance of the presumptive Republican VP nominee had allegedly engaged in activities with another Wasilla public official that contradicts her conservative values. I hesitated before telling the regular the details of the gossip.
As the day progressed, the conversation turned towards my campaign. I regretted telling the local the gossip on Palin, its juice factor circumvented my message. I slipped from Carl’s and traveled to another Des Moines favorite of mine, the Locust Tap.
I behaved there, enjoying nothing more scandalous than the fruits of a tall blonde. While stumping my A game returned. During the successful visit, I convinced the happy hour crowd to investigate my positions further.
As the sun dropped, I considered altering my plans and traveling to Mason City in the North East part of the state. Mason City is famous for the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. I considered my time frame and decided against it. I needed to be back in Montana for the Dirty Bum convention on Sept. 20th.
I made my way to the tracks and again headed west. Two hours later, near Clucas, I jumped a westbound freight and rode through the rolling hills of western Iowa on the way to Omaha. In the wee hours, the trained crossed the Missouri River and motored into Nebraska. Debarking and rearmed with spray paint, I autographed the boxcar and found a cheap motel.
Freight hopping is a bit like being in a band; one has to consider composition, rhythm, melody if one wants to capture a desired result. The trick is bringing them all together to serve your needs at the desired time; the performance. For most of this campaign trip, I acted much like a Jazz musician, once you know the rules, one is free to riff away. In Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and parts of Wyoming, one must act more like a classical musician. You have to know the composition, otherwise you end up in the middle of nowhere at the end of a spur route. In my younger years, it happened more than once. To prevent a repeat, I spent the better part of an hour planning my route through the region.
As I perused the newspaper with my coffee, my idea of the day changed. The University of Nebraska was kicking off its football season this evening in Lincoln, a short jaunt, this could be a grand campaign opportunity.
I paraded up S. 13th St, pausing at this corner and that to wave my sign. At 13th and Douglass, a band of evangelicals stood atop their soapboxes, shouting prophecies of damnation, warning all within earshot to repent! I immediately set up shop kitty corner and pronounced that a vote for McCain or Obama would indeed bring the Rapture my religious friends were predicting. The only way to avoid such carnage was to vote Dirty Bum. “VOTE FOR ME AND GET DICK KNIGHTLY!” I shouted during a pause in my friend’s chatter.
With the matter of my eternal soul on their mind, a representative crossed the traffic and confronted me. “Interrupting the Lord’s word with filth is neither appreciated by the good people of this city or The Lord. Please stop.”
I looked at him for long moment, before waving my sign and repeating my campaign slogan.
Turning back to him, I said, “It’s K N I G H T L Y. His name is Richard Knightly. He is my running mate. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
I turned to the traffic, waved my sign and shouted. “Help me from a cardboard box to the Whitehouse!”
“Your soul is filthy as your body! You will spend eternity cleansing yourself in a lake of fire!”
I stashed my sign at my side and turned to him. “That’s patently offensive, you owe me an apology.”
“I will not lay with the serpent.”
“What’s your name?”
“James, I’m a dyslexic atheist, I don’t believe in worshipping your dog, now get off my corner,” I punctuated my quip by spitting at his feet. I thought I heard James mumble a curse as I returned to waving my sign and shouting slogans.
Mid Afternoon: I dive hopped across town before ending up in the Barley Street Tavern. It was there, while enjoying a tall blonde, I struck up a conversation with a Cornhusker fan who went by Red, a boisterous fellow with the knack of repeating every other sentence. During a conversation that drifted between politics and football, he offered me a ride to Lincoln. I didn’t tell him I wasn’t interested in scalping a ticket, why ruin his fun? I purchased some beer and ice for Red’s cooler and I joined a carful of Cornhuskers as we drove westward.
An hour later we found a parking spot, set up the grill, mingled with our neighbors and started the party. I slipped from huddle to huddle, giving my spiel, handing out Robert ‘100’s’ and fielding questions.
“Do you really think you can win?” a co-ed asked.
“Of course not, Ross Perot couldn’t win and he assembled the best third party machine money could buy. For someone like me, it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about participating; it’s about getting my word out.” As I spoke, feeling detached, I listened to my words. As my voice rambled, I felt a burst of foolishness; I felt the insanity of tilting windmills. I paused, fighting the urge to walk away. If not for the girl’s idealistic expression, her eyes full of possibility that she could tilt her own windmills, I would have turned away. She’ll never know that, not only did she keep my campaign alive, she fortified my spirit, her eyes telling me that in a cause and effect world, I was being cause for cause.
As the crowds filed into Memorial Stadium, I headed towards the train yard. I stopped at a nearby C-store, bought bottled water and a bag of chips before finding a train that take me to Sioux City via California Jct.
After settling in, I powered up my blackberry, quickly typed today’s entry, and submitted it to Alberton. I reminded myself that I had to switch trains in Sioux City, which means tonight, sleep would be fleeting.
I woke with a start, interrupting a dream in which I was back in the twin cities, campaigning outside of the Republican Convention. The shift in the train’s momentum woke me, its pace slowing. I knew Sioux City, Iowa was near. Twenty minutes later I was on foot, following the tracks through the city. As dawn cracked, I stumbled into an all night diner for an early breakfast.
The server, a woman my age, struggled behind the counter with a severe limp. I took time to hear her story. A lifelong caregiver with no health insurance, substantial medical bills, and is a paycheck away from living on the street. In the twilight of her life, when she should be enjoying her retirement, she is forced to work a graveyard shift job in a position that obviously causes a great deal of physical discomfort. Yesterday, I was cause in being cause, today, the favor returned; how could one not be motivated to do something about our greatest nation disgrace!
In the relative silence of the diner, my mind switched gears and I reminisced about my days at nearby Yankton College in South Dakota. I graduated from Yankton long before it closed in the mid-eighties. I heard the old campus was now a federal prison.
I bid the waitress farewell and wished her luck before again following the tracks. In North Sioux City, I jumped a flatcar of a BNSF freight and rode a flatcar to through Vermillion to Yankton.
I decided not to tour Yankton. Sunday Morning would find all but church and café sidewalks rolled up. I considered entering a church or two to campaign, but I chose against the idea. It would be inappropriate to interrupt services to serve my own means.
. The train rolled across the open prairie, the vast desolation of America’s breadbasket sublime. I looked forward to the next crossing so I could at least wave my sign.
Mitchell: As the train approached the hometown of George McGovern, the 1972 democratic nominee for president, I jumped from the flatcar and gained my sea legs.
I strolled into town, dropping a Robert ‘100’ inside a newspaper machine, before slipping inside Luckys Bar and Grille. Under a hanging American flag, I pulled up a corner stool, ordered a tall blond and watched the weather channel’s coverage of Hurricane Gustave. I was surprised to hear the RNC was cutting back Monday’s Convention activities in deference to pending situation. Barely a week removed from the region, my thoughts and attention with the people of the Gulf Coast.
I poured over my map, figuring my next week’s itinerary. If all went well, I would be in Texas by Friday. I would stay clear of the fallout of the Hurricane, the last thing the affected need is a stumping politician.
I stumped for a bit in Luckys, trying to convince the cowboys and Indians of Mitchell to consider my positions before slipping out of town. Ignoring the famous Corn Palace, I found the rails. An hour later, I caught a freight bound for Pierre.
Late Afternoon: BNSF still honors hobo culture by keeping an empty boxcar or two towards the rear of long haul freights. It was in one of these cars, with its cargo doors open that I rolled into the South Dakota Capitol. Missing a night of solid sleep was wearing on me and my catnaps did little to alleviate heavy eyes. I hopped from the slow moving train near Farm Island Park. I considered sleeping in the park but a storm front loomed on the western horizon. I checked into a cheap motel, took care of personal business and took the rest of the night off.