Woke from deep sleep by rain pounding upon the roof, I stumbled across the motel room into the bathroom. If the chill in the room is indication, it was going to be a miserable day on the campaign trail. All things considered, I was due for stormy weather.
The streets of Pierre were quiet; the steady beat of rain and the occasional passing car splashing puddles the only sign of life. Even the Mom and Pop coffee shop was closed. I thought of the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” If one has ever been in this part of the nation, it is evident why the writers chose it for the climactic scene.
My arrest in Augusta crossed my mind and I headed for the Capital building. I climbed the front steps and stood by myself under the limestone overhang. I peered down the tree-lined sidewalk, only rain danced on the concrete sidewalk. Behind me, the doors of the capital unlatched and a security guard stepped outside.
Unlike Augusta, there was no arrest, no confrontation. He even offered me coffee. We talked twenty minutes before shaking hands and going about our ways. I cinched my hood tighter and walked into the rain.
After a stop at a C-store, I marched down the tracks, over the Missouri River and out onto the prairie. Three hours later a freight came my way. I hopped into an empty boxcar and settled in for the ride to Rapid City. A couple miles from Wall, I decided to ditch the ride and fall into that Americana Tourist Trap, Wall Drug. Being the last day of official Tourist Season, Wall could present a campaign opportunity.
I leapt from the train and made my way across the gravel parking lot. I dropped a couple of Robert ‘100’s’ in the halls of Wall drug as I sipped coffee and munched donuts. Sitting on a bench next to a porcelain dance hall girl, I greeted people as they passed. One little kid pointed to me and said, “That’s the man on the money.” The mother tugged his arm and pulled him along as she made haste.
A couple of conversations were held about the dance hall girl, one with an older gent from Indianapolis and another with a couple from New Mexico, before I decided it was time for a tall blonde. I slipped into Badland’s Bar and campaigned in earnest.
“You’re what?” A man in his mid-fifties asked with a thick Brooklyn accent. His reaction was typical. Usually, it was followed by a cliché in which he wanted to sell a bridge. Thankfully, no cliché’ followed, he was hard of hearing. It was loud in the bar and I talk softly; I repeated myself.
“Running for president, well, let me buy you a drink, you’re gonna need it if you get elected.” The man introduced himself as Doug and explained he was on his way to Montana to visit a sister.
The conversation flowed and nary was a word uttered about politics. He was a likable guy with a good story. I didn’t notice the crutches till he hobbled to the Men’s room.
“What did you do to your leg?” I asked upon his return.
“Nothing, I have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” He said it as he was reciting the alphabet.
Obviously, he wasn’t seeking attention, and he seemed at peace, I said something to the effect that it sucked and picked up our conversation.
“About this campaign thing, you actually are jumping freight trains?
“Listen, I’m in no rush and I’m wanting to see this part of the world, you mind if I play chauffer?”
Twenty minutes late we were in his Jeep Wrangler heading west on I-90. “This,” he said, patting the steering wheel, “is my post midlife crisis. I’ve always wanted to drive one across country.” An hour later we drove through Rapid City and headed into the Black Hills and MT. Rushmore.
Running for president gives you new perspective on the monument. I can’t lie, I chuckled thinking about my face being chiseled next to Abe Lincoln’s. I would be interested in knowing how they would do my beard and hand rolled cigarette.
On the flip side, I always thought the location of the Rushmore monument couldn’t give a bigger F you to the American Indians. The Black Hills are a scared place for the Lakota and for American Presidents to be memorialized here is akin to Muslims building a mosque on the Temple Mount; both sides have their claims to the location’s significance, and both feel slighted by those claims. Being sympathetic to the Lakota cause, I convinced Doug to take the short jaunt to the Crazy Horse memorial. Sixty years into the project, the chief’s head and the top of his pointing arm have been carved from the mountain bearing his name. I remember hearing somewhere that Mt. Rushmore would fit under his arm.
Only when we drove away, did Doug ask serious questions about my campaign. Over many beers in the Gold Pan Saloon in Custer, I gave him the story from January 8th, when I announced my candidacy till today.
We closed the bar and decided to split a room in a local motel.
I could be the only presidential candidate whose driver is adamant that he’s voting for an opponent. Doug is an Obama Supporter. As he drove from the Black Hills into Wyoming he ranted: “The Republicans couldn’t be luckier: A) There’s a hurricane that detracts from the Palin debacle. B) The hurricane spares New Orleans, detracting attention from the administration’s bungling of Katrina. There’s a part of me who would have loved to see New Orleans on the brink and seeing all the Republicans rushing to Louisiana and sticking their fingers in dykes.”
I listened to Doug’s lecture, when he caught his breath; I laid the Dirty Bum’s dirt on my chauffeur. “Outside of all the other controversy around dear Sarah, I have second hand information from an ex-resident of Wasilla alleging that when she was mayor she had a fling with the fire chief. Of course that’s an allegation, but an interesting one at that.”
Doug almost drove off the road. “Did you tell anyone?”
“I’m not into flinging mud. If I can learn about this, I’m sure bigger organizations than mine will find out.”
We continued southward across the high plains, passing occasional churning oil wells on distant hills. Ten miles south of Lusk, we visited the only monument I know of honoring a prostitute. Charlotte Sheppard, nicknamed Mother Featherlegs. Her pink granite monument erected in 1964, is inscribed: “Here lies Mother Featherlegs. So called, as in her ruffled pantalettes she looked like a feather-legged chicken in a high wind. She was roadhouse ma’am. An outlaw confederate, she was murdered by “Dangerous Dick Davis the Terrapin”.
A caveat to the story goes that on the day her monument was erected, there was a reenactment of the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Run. Her pantalettes were on display upon the monument. That day they disappeared. Years later, in 1990 there were found hanging in a Deadwood Saloon. The story goes that a “determined posse of Rusk residents raided the saloon” recovering the treasure.
Cursing, I told Doug, “I forgot to campaign in Deadwood. What would Al Swearengen think?”
I taped a Robert “100” to the tombstone before returning to Doug’s jeep.
With a thirst aided by the arid air of the high plains, we stopped at the Main Street Saloon in Torrington and tipped one back in honor of the prostitute and another for the infamous Deadwood Saloon owner.
Across the North Platte River, we stopped at the Trail bar. I wrote off our first stop, as Doug spread the Palin rumor to the Cowboys and wannabes in Main Street Saloon. I was having regrets for opening my mouth. I didn’t want gossip interfering with my message.
Immediately, I fell into stumping mode, and to his credit, Doug held his tongue, for a while. In the midst of a query about stem cell research, Doug hobbled away and within minutes was arguing with a boisterous rancher with boots, belt buckle and cowboy hat as loud as his voice. I excused myself and separated the two before the Rancher wore one of Doug’s crutches.
“If you can’t be civil, don’t talk politics in a bar,” I scolded my driver. “Why do you care what a redneck thinks? I am trying to get a message out, not tell someone how ignorant they are because they don’t agree with me!”
“Sorry, I get a bit passionate.”
“The Democrats and Republicans get enough attention, this is about my campaign. If you can’t talk about my quest, shut up and let me do the talking.”
Cheyenne: Late afternoon, we rolled into the Tumbleweed Saloon and ponied up to the bar. The happy hour crowd was ramping up and I saw a dozen potential votes. With Tall Blonde in hand, I circulated. With CNN’s coverage of the Republican Convention serving as background, introducing my campaign was simple. An hour later, in the midst of holding court around a buddy bar, an argument started at the bar. I didn’t have to look to know who was involved.
The bartender eighty-sixed Doug. I excused myself and met him at the jeep. With a flurry of drunken curses, he unlocked the Jeep and slipped inside. I opened my door, reached in, retrieved my backpack and bid my hotheaded friend farewell. “Thanks for the ride.” I shut the door and headed back inside. I didn’t want Doug’s distraction.
I stumped into the night and the crowd dwindled. Satisfied that I met success, I left the Tumbleweed behind. Stopping at a C-store, I loaded up on some snacks before making my way to the rail yard. After a little search, I found my ride to Colorado. I hunkered into a boxcar and waited for the train to roll.
The train jerked, waking me. I peered through a crack in the boxcar to see dawn break and I that was still in Cheyenne. With a sigh, I curled back in my sleeping bag and got as comfortable as possible. As with dealing with people, patience is needed in riding the rails. I have a great deal of practice with both; it is my most developed and exercised virtue. It goes without saying, a high-level government official better be patient.
The freight made its way through Front Range Urban Corridor, a technical name for urban sprawl with a view. Sometime in the late morning, the freight came to a halt in Denver. I slipped out, autographed my ride and set out to win over the hearts and minds of the city.
Coor’s field loomed in front of me, and to my good fortune, the parking lot was coming alive. I learned that the Rockies had an afternoon game, a windfall campaign opportunity. In the mean time, I jaunted to Union Station – Denver’s main passenger train station. Demographically speaking, campaigning at a train station is exposing oneself to a left leaning, lower middle class constituent base. To balance this, I considered traveling to Denver International Airport and stumping at the Red Carpet Club. I decided against it because of the picture of me floating around the internet wearing a turban. I believe the TSA would confuse me with an Islamic Terrorist and detain me. My campaign didn’t need such a challenge.
Again, I was reminded that a terminal is a horrible place to stump; most people were in too much of a rush, and others were too jaded – not once did I ask for money, but every person sitting in the terminal raised their nose at my approach, expecting me to bum change. It is all about time and space, I could take the same person who curses me at Union Station, place them in a bar after work and I could have a two-hour conversation about the direction of our nation. I dropped a few Robert ‘100s’ about the terminal before working my way downtown.
Breaking tradition, I produced my sign and waved it at various intersections, eliciting a corn horn here and there. After a short while, I found myself at the state capital. I don’t know why, but, outside a tall blonde, state capitals seem to be my greatest attraction on this campaign. Like times before, I climbed the marble steps and introduced myself to the cogs of bureaucracy. A snooty lot: one wise guy told me I was a week late, another said given the choice between Obama and myself, he’d vote for Louis Farrakhan: yet another said “bugger off.” At least they didn’t feel the need to summon the capital police. I was glad to see the western spirit alive and well.
Another trait of a leader is knowing when to cut losses. With a cynical grin and a shake of my head, I promptly tucked my tail between my legs and slithered down the capitol steps. The experience was trying my pledge of a dry day. I worked back towards Coor’s field.
Baseball fans were starting to fill the parking lots about the stadium. I produced my sign, waving it at entering vehicles. “Look at this, another bum running for president!” A guy yelled from his BMW. I bit my tongue, thinking that his type was partying in St Paul. My reception with the afternoon baseball crowd wasn’t any warmer than upon the capitol steps.
Denver’s cold response was contrary to today’s warm weather. I walked about the parking lot placing some more ‘100s’ under random windshield wipers. To top off my horrid experience, as I lifted a windshield wiper on a escalade, it’s alarm went off. I almost leapt out of my pants before slowly slithering away. After getting a few rows away, I made haste for the rail yard.
Evening: I rode the rails through Colorado Springs and decided on stopping in Pueblo for my next attempt. A large city to my standards, Pueblo is small to most, and better suited for my campaign than Denver. There are towns better suited than Pueblo, but they didn’t sit upon a railroad junction that I needed to utilize.
After my day, I broke my promise to myself and slipped inside the Quart House Tavern and ordered up burger and a tall blonde. I struck up a conversation with some regulars and like that, my faith in Colorado restored. The evening passed quickly and my eyes grew heavy. A regular recommended a cheap motel and I retired to my room thinking I should write the railroad guide to fleabags, sheesh mahas, and other cheap motels.
Over breakfast, I realized that today marks two months on the campaign trail. Thirty-seven states down, eleven to go. I swished some coffee around my mouth before stepping out in Pueblo sunlight. I paused crossing the Union St Bridge, watching the Arkansas River below. The prospect of heading east again was demoralizing, but the road home goes through Kansas.
I hopped a slow moving eastbound around North Avondale. I slipped on my shades, and rode a flatcar across the plains.
Holcomb KS: Giving in to ghoulish fascination, I ditched the train outside of Holcomb and searched for the old Clutter Farm, the site of the multiple murder of the Clutter family that Truman Capote documented in “In Cold Blood.” I walked around the area for an hour before coming across the long driveway to Valley Farm. Looking at it, I questioned my judgment for ditching a train on the Kansas Prairie, literally in the middle of nowhere. Cursing myself, I trudged down the shoulder of the desolate road towards town. Luckily, the town’s watering hole was open.
The Thirsty Dawg was nothing to write home about but any bar that serves tall blondes is okay with me. The bartender, worn down by years of the same small town stories told by the same small town faces, jumped into conversation with me like a starving dog ripping into a pound of hamburger. “I love when fresh meat walks through the door,” she proclaimed. In her mid-sixties, her face displayed overt hints of the beauty she was in her day. She begrudgingly held onto her youth like an Indian summer day.
I spent way too much time in the Thirsty Dawg, swapping stories, enjoying High Lives, and even campaigning. I looked at clock and knew that I had to move on. I was feeling pressure of the road, the pressure of the campaign, and the pressure to be in Alberton by the 20th.
I wished the barmaid farewell, thanked her for the hospitality and stepped into the bright Kansas sunshine. Not a soul stirred on the street as I made my way eastward. In the heat of late afternoon, I returned to cursing myself for ditching the freight. The road cut through fields like a pencil mark down a blank page. I made Garden City without spotting a car or train.
The locals viewed my entry into town like tumbleweed blowing in the wind. Just another drifter, they thought, if they were inclined to give me a thought. I stopped in a café and ordered up a burger. As I bit into it, an eastbound freight rumbled through. I glared at the passing engines. Full of distain, I mumbled a curse. I managed to get myself into a position that my planning prevented in Nebraska and South Dakota. Luckily, the weather was agreeable. The next town was fifteen miles, I was bound to catch a freight or hitch a ride before I hoofed the distance. If I tired, I planned to set up camp and sleep under the stars.
An hour and a half east of Garden City, I noticed a stationary yellow blob on the horizon. As I worked closer, the blob grew larger till I noticed it was a mini-van parked on the shoulder of the road.
As I approached the driver’s door opened. An overweight woman emerged and nervously greeted me. “I have a flat tire, can you change it?”
“The fat bitch forgot her cell phone.” The voice emanated from inside the mini-van. I leaned down and peered inside. It’s owner, a small bodied adult, with a large head, eyeglasses and baseball cap was buckled into a bucket seat immediately behind the driver’s seat. A motorized wheelchair was secured near the rear door.
I gave a cold stare to the angry midget as I answered the distraught woman, “I’ll change the tire for you.”
“You’re lucky,” the angry passenger snapped at the driver. “It’s your fat ass if we don’t get out of here!”
I silently went about changing the tire as the nervous driver hovered and the passenger complained. Last week, Obama had his Democratic coronation, tonight, in St, Paul, John McCain was ascending to the position of Republican Standard Bearer. Ron Paul, was having his campaign for liberty convention in neighboring Minneapolis. Then there was me, changing a tire for a verbally abused woman and an ingrate midget in the middle of nowhere Kansas, the perfect example of thirteenth party politics.
“She stopped smoking and didn’t put on weight. You see that hole beneath her nose and above her chin; she keeps shoveling shit into it, that’s how she gained that weight.”
I ignored the little fiend.
The woman thanked me and offered me a ride. “Where you going?” she asked.
“Wichita,” I answered.
“Great. My name is Eric,” the midget said. “We won’t burn any extra fuel driving you: the van is already burning enough hauling her fat ass.”
I turned and stared and the miserable little blob as the woman pulled onto the road and headed east.
For an hour, the little demon ranted. . The driver, who introduced herself as Chris, ignored him. I long ago had decided not to say a word.
Ahead, I noticed the distinctive winking red warning light mounted on the last car of a freight. Silently we gained the train and after we passed it, I kept an eye in the side view mirror. When we were about a mile ahead of the train, I asked Chris to pull over.
“What are you doing?” Eric cried.
I motioned for Chris to get out of car. I walked around the backside as Eric ranted in his seat.
“Are you going to lose your job?”
“Probably,” she sighed.
I told her my plan and then asked her to open the back door.
“What the hell are you doing?” Eric demanded.
I climbed inside, liberated Eric’s wheelchair and carried it to the tracks.
“Put that back, what are you doing? I’m going to sue you! I’m gonna have you arrested! Put it back!”
As the freight approached, I set wheelchair next to the tracks. As far as the ingrate knew, it was on the tracks, awaiting its fate. As the engine passed, I walked towards the rear of the freight and hopped onto a flatcar. “Good luck,” I said to Chris as my car passed as she was returning the wheelchair to the van.
Hopefully, the little bastard caught a scare.
Wichita: About midnight, the freight entered the city and I disembarked, and headed for the Anchor – famous for two bars, one for smokers and the other for non-smokers. I caught the late night crowd and managed to stump. Generally, I don’t trust late night campaigning, but taking that into consideration, I know that I earned two votes today. At last call, I slipped from the bar, made my way to Riverside Park, and crashed under the stars.
Since Utica, I’m weary sleeping in urban parks. Sleep is always light and I stir if a breeze rustles the trees. I choose parks from necessity – my budget allows three motel stays a week, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on price. On the eastern seaboard, I used motels more than I plan to out west. The distances between stops are much greater and I plan to make the most of time and rest on freights during transit.
This morning, while leaving Riverside Park, a simple good morning to a woman on an adult tricycle led to a wonderful conversation. Wearing a perma grin as wide as her straw hat, she introduced herself as Carol, that she was a widow, living on her husband’s pension and Social Security. When asked how the economy was treating her, she informed me she that due to rising medical costs and property taxes she had to sell the house in which they raised three children. She now lived in an one-bedroom apartment. Her savings were still dwindling, but not as fast as before. “Sure I can’t travel and visit my children, but, it could be worse,” she paused, as if considering her life. “I have it good.”
The conversation lasted almost an hour, when we parted ways, she called after me, “Robert, keep up the good fight.” I returned the sentiment and walked away with the
realization that sometimes the price we pay is worth our experiences.
Inspired by our conversation, I decided to pay another ex-wife a visit. Since learning of Barbra Ann’s death while campaigning in Chicago, the idea of looking up my past tempered. ((Barbra Ann is an ex-wife of Robert. She died of breast cancer) Added by Campaign HQ.)
Enid, OK: Sitting on the eastern edge of the Great Plains, the city is built on a water hole on the Chisholm Trail. Its name is a source of controversy, the most popular theory being that a prankster turned the Dine sign upside down on a chuck wagon serving cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail. The City is the last known home of wife number seven, Tammy.
I arrived in town shortly after 2:00 PM, and walked to Mickey’s Bar and Grille. Inside, a small crowd nursed their afternoon spirits. Nursing my own Tall Blonde I inquired about a short blonde I once knew. The last time I talked with Tammy, she was bartending at Mickey’s.
“Oh my God,” a female voice proclaimed.
I turned towards the unfamiliar voice.
“You’re the guy running for president, you’re Robert!” a thirtyish brunette said touching my arm lightly. “I saw your website! I’ve been reading your blog thingy. Like, not every day, last I read you were in Cheyenne. I never expected you to come to this dump. I love you, you’re great, I didn’t even know to if you’re campaign was real or not. Fuck, this is incredible!”
I laughed; amazed that someone would be excited to meet me.
It goes without saying that stumping went very well. Phone calls were made, and people filed into the bar to meet ‘the real person candidate.’ I spent more time than I planned, and afternoon turned to night.
“The last I heard, she moved to Wichita Falls, but that was like three years ago,” an old friend of my ex-wife informed me.
“You’re not going to slip away,’ said the brunette, who earlier introduced herself as Texie. “I know you do that a lot.”
“Sometimes I have to, or I’ll get distracted. If that happens, there goes the campaign.”
Texie hung on me a bit, and when she excused herself to go to the restroom, I slipped from bar. A bit buzzed, I found the tracks and hiked southward. Outside of town, between Meadowlake Golf Course and Vance Air Force Base, I rested. A short time later, a southbound freight’s headlights sliced the night. As the engines passed, I stood and hopped onto a flatcar. I typed today’s entry as the train rumbled across the Air Force Base. I’m looking forward to crawling into my sleeping bag and getting some sleep.
Sleep came and went, once I woke, rolled onto my side and watched the lights of Oklahoma City in the distance. They had a hypnotic effect and soon I was asleep. I woke again as the train crawled through Chickasha, I thought about leaping off the train, but thought better of it. The town would be locked tight. I sighed, rolled onto my stomach, and soon was asleep.
I woke sometime after sunrise, as the freight crossed the Red River into Texas. Wichita Falls wasn’t too far beyond. As the city came into view, I wondered if I was chasing ghosts, Tammy was probably long gone. I hopped from the freight and hoofed it into the waking city. The first sip of coffee lifted the fog and I felt like I could talk. I struck a conversation with two barista’s at a locally owned coffee shop, one was liberal, the other conservative; one blue, one red. I kidded that I was the white between them. It is amazing that both parties have taken on my call; we are American’s before we are Democrats, Republicans, or Dirty Bums. Though I have to admit, unlike Democrats and Republicans, dirty bums exist in every culture, though I believe I am the only capitalized one.
The blue barista gave me a complimentary second coffee. I returned the favor by giving her a signed Robert ‘100’. I bid my new friends farewell and partook in Saturday street corner campaigning. I missed the competition with the street corner preachers that I had in Omaha; the absence made for a boring session.
When I finished I crossed town and headed for Brenda’s Bar. Last night in Enid, someone mentioned they thought Tammy was managing there. Inside, the barmaid definitely wasn’t Tammy and said that she never heard of her. The Barmaid must have seen the disappointment on my face and bought me a drink. I ordered a Robertini and told the barmaid our story.
“You probably know us bartenders cover for each other, especially when it comes to exes, but, really, I don’t know her. Even in other bars in town. Sorry, dude.”
I finished my beer and left Brenda’s. Disheartened, I made my way to the tracks. The temperature was already in the high 80’s. For the locals, it probably seemed like the first hint of autumn, for me, recently removed from the cool dampness of the Northern Plains, it seemed oppressive.
I made my way from the City, cut across Lucy Park, crossed a small creek and found the rails. Along old Iowa Park the rails split and I followed the southern track. At the Anchor Rd crossing, I caught a Southbound and parked myself on a flatcar. The beating sun was relentless, but at least the air wasn’t stagnant.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t wear a watch, but I guessed the ride to Abilene was five or so hours. Through towns Holiday, Seymour, Munday, Haskell, Stamford, and Anson I put on a show, yelling a slogan and waving my sign. I relied on the knowledge that when a person steps into their polling place, the bizarre image would arise, and if they were in the least bit disenfranchised, they would write me in. Such antics are one or many pillars that upon every campaign stands. During the freight car campaign I’m employing three, Personal Contact, Indirect Contact – such as waving my sign at rail road crossings and intersections, Advertising – the use of Robert 100’s and the internet, which includes this blog. When I get home, after the Dirty Bum convention, I will employ radio interviews.
Early Evening: Right off the tracks on South 1st Street I found Fastlane. It was a different crowd than I’m used to, in a sense that some people were overdressed. Nevertheless, I ponied up to the bar, ordered up a burger and a blonde. I was approached by a guy in his forties, one who wore his year’s hard, from too much drink and drugs. He introduced himself as Marky Marc and asked if I could buy him a beer.
I know what it’s like to be down on one’s luck, and I have a hard time refusing. The conversation didn’t make much sense, but it was enjoyable. He told me he lost his last big chance, he auditioned for Van Halen to replace Michael Anthony, the bass player. “They hired Eddie’s kid, it’s that Neptune-ism thing. They fucked me over too, when, they hired that guy, what’s his name, to replace Sammy Hagar, that Gary guy.” He paused a moment, his face in utter concentration; eyes squinting, lips turned downward as he bit his lower lip. “Gary Chrome. That’s it, the Gary Chrome guy,” as if convincing himself of the answer.
“Hey man, can I have another beer?”
Marky Marc’s mistake was he asked within earshot of the bartender. “Out, Mark, how many times do I have to tell you, you beg, you’re out!”
Mark gave the bartender an empty stare as his body shook.
“Mark! Out!” The bartender delivered a strong noun, verb combination that a dog would obey. Doing his part, Mark followed instructions, mumbling as he left. “I’m sorry if he annoyed you,” the bartender said throwing me a chip.
After eating, I went into stumping mode. For me, stumping is trickier in Republican zones, and tonight I had a Republican crowd. The reasons for the trickiness could be numerous, but, whatever they are, it is an observation. In the interest of equal time, nothing annoys me more, than a righteous Democrat possessing a healthy sense of social engineering.
I left the Fastlane and found the Not so fast track. Feeling refreshed, possessing a full belly, I decided to march onward. I caught a westbound a mile west of Abilene and settled in. As the train approached Sweetwater, I decided it was time for a good night’s sleep. I leapt off the slow moving freight and found a motel on Broadway, right off the tracks. I contacted HQ, filled in the Campaign Manager on the details and too tired to shower, I planned to sleep soon as I filed this report.
If I didn’t feel pressed, I would have spent all day sitting watching football. Since time is of the essence, I’ll consider sleeping in a day off. The maid’s knock stirred me. I stumbled to the door, looked through the peephole and saw an irritated Mexican woman standing before a cleaning cart. I opened the door, gathered my pack and stepped from the room without saying a word.
At a nearby lunch counter, I perused my maps as I sipped coffee. “What’ch ya doing?” an old timer asked through missing front teeth.
My first inclination was to tell the man to bugger off, but that’s not becoming of a presidential candidate. It is a double standard, one losses the right to privacy if one wants to be recognized. “I’m planning the next leg of my campaign.” I gave him the bait, if he bites, we’ll have a conversation, if not, I’ll tell him to bugger off in so many words. If I do it right, he will thank me.
He bit and I lost my chance to tell him to buzz off. I’m glad that I didn’t. “What do you think of wind energy?” he asked. After telling him I thought it was vital, he continued: “You’re sitting in the wind turbine capital of Texas. You see, Nolan County would rank as the seventh largest ‘nation’ in the world in terms of wind energy production.”
I admired the pride the gentleman took in the facts; I was willing to bet he had a financial stake in the activity. Such participation is paramount in a sound energy policy. On my out of town, the giant turbines, turning with the wind, dwarfed the setup I visited in Bowling Green, Ohio. The scene redefined windswept plains.
Before I hitched my ride, I found an old lawn chair. I carried the chair a mile down the tracks before a freight approached. I threw the chair upon a flatcar before hoisting myself. Greetings to the people of Snyder, Justiceburg, Post, and Slaton who witnessed me lounging in a lawn chair atop the flatcar. Wearing my knit hat and sunglasses, I waved my sign at the occupied crossings
Lubbock: I arrived in the city with the realization that I most likely would lose my lawn chair and thus my comfortable ride. Despite the probability, I stashed the chair and set about a rapid campaign swing across town. The down side to a rapid swing is the potential loss of in depth, personal element that produces votes. Lubbock, being an extremely conversation town, actually it ranks as the second most conservative city behind Provo, Utah, and just ahead of recently visited Abilene. The upside? Greater exposure.
I started at Chances R on 34th near the tracks and worked my way across town to Skooners on University Ave. Being the first full day of the NFL season, campaigning was a bit more complicated. I was thankful that the Cowboy and Texan games were over, otherwise it would have been impossible. I managed two fruitful conversations from which I’m reasonably sure I earned votes. I’m always worried hearing, “you aren’t any worse than who is running;” which I heard numerous times.
The conversation of the evening was with a coed who queried me on Woman’s rights, abortion, the ever present glass ceiling and the question that caught me by surprise, The delisting of Grizzly Bears from the endangered species list.
“You’re from Texas, why do you care about the status of Grizzly Bears?” I asked.
“I worked a summer in Glacier. I fell in love with them,” she answered.
After a long conversation about the National Park, I answered her questions. “It is a mistake to delist the Bears; I would support any means to keep them listed. In regards to your other questions, I think there’s already 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling, or so we’ve been told over the last two weeks. I think two pay scales for the same job is immoral, unethical and I think, in certain cases, unlawful, but I don’t believe a new version of the ERA is the right move. Employing other acts of recourse is more effective than legislation. Metaphorically speaking, locking CEO’s of offending companies into stocks and tossing tomatoes is much more effective. I’d never underestimate the power of public humiliation.
Abortion rights? It’s your body, baby. It ain’t no one’s business! I chuckled, thinking of the old George Carlin joke, “You ever notice women who are against abortion you wouldn’t want to fuck in the first place.”
I slipped away from this last stop and contemplated hunkering down in one of Lubbock’s parks, but decided to get back to the tracks. On a whim, I returned to where I stashed the chair. It was still there. With a smile, I retrieved it and made my way along the tracks. An idling freight sat along a siding just north of the city. I took my position in my chair atop a flatcar and waited.
Through the night, the train crossed the Llano Estacado, one of the largest Mesas in North America. I wasn’t sure where the train was headed, except that it would take me to New Mexico. Under my sleeping bag, I lay back in my lawn chair, drifting in and out of sleep. When awake, the starlit sky would mesmerize me and lure me back to sleep. During one of my waking periods, the freight rolled past a ghost town whose name I’d later learn was Kermit.
Roswell: I hate to report that the only aliens seen this morning were a van full of Mexicans driving down Main St. I don’t know for sure if they were aliens, but if they walk like ducks and quack like ducks, they’re probably not Martian.
I stopped in McDonalds and scarfed my first Egg McMuffin of the campaign. Spreading my maps over the table, I racked my memory of my younger days. I was at a crossroads without an intersecting road. In regards to desolation and dead end spurs, the situation is a lot like being on the northern plains. After almost an hour, the best route I could map was roughly from Flagstaff through the Mojave and back into Las Vegas. I swished the last of the coffee around my mouth and slipped out into an increasingly cloudy day.
After two hours of street campaigning, I stumbled into Pepper’s just in time to beat a downpour. After a couple of Tall Blondes, I struck up a conversation with Ron. A self-proclaimed scientist, investigator of things alien, and a ‘card carrying member of SETI.’
Fascinated about my quest, he offered to give me a ride to Socorro, where I could pick up a north bound and get to Albuquerque. “I’m headed to VLA west of Magdelena, it wouldn’t be a problem to give you a lift.”
Clouds obstructed the view of the Sacramento Mountains as we headed westward. Ron carried the bulk of conversation and I learned more than I care to know about radio telemetry. The man was passionate about his calling. As we dropped out of the mountains, the weather broke. Skirting the White Sands Missile Range Ron explained the origins of Joranda Del Muerto, The Journey of the Dead Man, referring to the desert basin we were entering. “It’s also where the first A-bomb was tested.”
Ron reminded me a bit of Dick Knightly, full of knowledge. I asked him for a business card and shook his hand. He laughed when I told him someday his country might call upon him. He gave me his business card; we shook hands and parted ways.
. I stumped in three bars along California St. The bartender in one said I was sitting in the exact stool Jodie Foster sat in when she filmed Contact. I nodded and silently passed gas. I knew Janis Joplin, celebrity doesn’t impress me, we’re all people dealing with the human condition – celebrity is simply another condition.
In another bar, and human condition, I signed the restroom stall: “On my journey from a cardboard box to the Whitehouse, I pondered here. Elect ROBERT president! Vote Dirty Bum!”
Stomach rumbling, I treated myself to a steak and watched a new era begin in Green Bay. Though I am a Chicago Bear fan, I rooted for the kid Aaron Rodgers and admonished the absurd commentary by the TV announcers comparing the quarterback to Brett Favre.
I shook hands with the other football fans, they wished me luck and I found the tracks. I sidestepped a southbound freight and hiked another hour before hopping a northbound. Near Belen, I decided to avoid Albuquerque, and commit myself to a westward trek.
It is amazing, how quickly one acclimates to comfort, even the most modest forms; I missed the lawn chair. I pondered stopping at the next Wal-mart and buying one. In the mean time, I returned to waving my sign at every crossing. Near Gallup, I leapt from my ride and called it a night. Noticing my own stink, I got a room, showered, contacted Alberton, and set about getting a good night’s rest.
The red numbers of the digital clock paraded relentlessly. For ten minutes, I watched the numbers change. Nausea swirled in the pit of my stomach. Sweat beaded on my forehead and a slight chill coursed through me. I clutched my blanket and rolled over, hiding from the march of time. Thousands of benign pinpricks rippled over damp skin. Amidst shallow, rapid breaths, I took a deep breath, forcing air deep into tight lungs. If I could, I would crawl into the depths of the mattress and wrap myself tighter in the blanket. Focusing on my breathing, I closed my eyes tighter, watching millions of rippling points of lights on my eyelids. From force of will, I gained control of my breath.
I rolled over and noticed the clock was still marching onward. My respirations slowing, my breaths deepened, the chill dissipating, I sighed and forced myself to sit on the edge of the bed. Forcing myself to stand, I shuffled to the bathroom, knowing I weathered a panic attack.
Five minutes later, the fear a faint memory, I stepped from my motel room into Gallup, and resumed my campaign. When I spend a night in a town, I try to learn something about it; over my coffee, Sabrina, the barista at the coffee shot, told me that during WWII, Gallup, successfully fought to keep around eight hundred Japanese American residents from internment. After a second cup of coffee, I handed Sabrina a Robert ‘100’, asked her for her support and thanked her for the hospitality.
I walked along the old Route 66, till I found the tracks. A freight came my way, but I was disappointed when it was all tanker cars. An hour later, my luck changed, and I caught another train near Twin Buttes. I settled onto a flatcar and enjoyed the ride. Sometime later, I crossed into Arizona and into the desolate high desert. I considered abandoning the westbound near Holbrook, but decided I had enough water to get me to Flagstaff. A few miles east of Winona the freight entered a pine forest which accompanied me to my destination.
Flagstaff could easily be the sister city of Missoula, to me, the similarities were evident, if only for the forested mountains surrounding the cities and the relative temperatures. I leapt from the iron horse and strolled downtown.
I made three campaign stops in the densely bar packed downtown before ending in San Felipe’s Cantina. Like the others, I had decent success stumping, unlike the others, I felt comfortable. An mid thirtyish male struck up a conversation with me. “Running for president, huh?”
I sipped my beer and took a long drag from my hand rolled cigarette, exhaled a plume of smoke and turned to him. “Yep. My name’s Robert.”
“What happens if the press finds out your getting drunk when you should be campaigning?”
I snuffed my cigarette out and laughed. “I am campaigning. I believe in making personal contact. It leaves a stronger impact than an orchestrated stop.
“I met the smarter George Bush, the older one, in ’92. You’re right, it was canned.”
That’s how the conversation began and how my anxiety of returning home in time for the Dirty Bum convention was alleviated. My newfound friend, Casey, was on his way to Salt Lake City and asked if I would like to tag along. Paraphrasing a major party opponent, I answered, “Can you put lipstick on a pig?” Twenty minutes later, we headed northbound on US 89. Paying homage to my campaign, Casey stopped in Gray Mountain, Cedar Ridge and Page so I could stump.
“Don’t worry man, I live in Arizona. You got my vote,” he told me before our first stop.
Evening: We pulled into Page around dusk. I learned that Page was built in the late ‘50’s during the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. When the project was finished, the town didn’t wither, it took advantage of its location as a gateway to the Grand Canyon. Being a bit thirsty, we frequented the Dam Bar. By the second beer I was bringing my A game. Casey told me that he was going to find a camping spot and would be back to pick me up.
I wasn’t looking forward to being stranded in the middle of nowhere without access to the rails or a ride, and the though must have translated to my expression. Casey laughed. “Don’t worry man, I’m not going to strand you. I want to set up the tent.”
Expect the worst… I assumed I was screwed and returned to stumping. There’s nothing I could do about being stranded now. That is tomorrow’s problem.
In the middle of a debate about the Iraqi situation, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Casey. “I told you I wasn’t going to screw you.” I bought Casey a beer before returning to my debate.
“You have the skills,” Casey said as he drove to the campsite.
“Practice… and beer,” I said with a yawn.
At the campsite, I paused, looking skyward, I admired the vastness of space. For me it’s the great equalizer; whatever plagues one’s mind is always put in perspective experiencing the sublime.
The campfire crackled as steam from my coffee drifted into the brisk morning. Mesas stood guard across the high dessert. I sipped my cowboy coffee, savoring its bitterness. I turned my attention to my note pad and jotted thoughts.
“You are dedicated,” Casey said.
Without looking up I answered, “It ain’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
“Seems like an extended vacation, barhopping across the states.”
“Things aren’t what they seem.”
After a silence, in which I refilled my cup I asked, “When do you have to be in Salt Lake?”
“Got time to swing through Colorado City?”
“Looking to tip tea with Warren Jeff’s family?”
“And maybe find wife number nine, ten and eleven,” I answered.
“Been there, nothing to see, ‘cept some houses and Mormons walking around. It’s really a creepy place. You get the feeling bad things happen behind closed doors.”
I took an interest in the FLDS after reading John Krakuaer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Krakuaer documented the ways of Warren Jeffs before Jeffs became a household name last year. The idea of plural marriage posed an interesting challenge to the law of the land in regards to religious freedom. Don’t get me wrong, Jeffs and anyone who would abuse minors deserves the legal trouble, but, does the government have a say between consenting adults?
“I bet you can’t get a Tall Blonde there,” I quipped regarding Colorado City.
“You ain’t getting any blonde there.”
We closed camp and crossed the bridge over the Colorado River. Soon we were in Utah and passing the Vermillion Cliffs. Casey took a right in Kanab and headed north. “I don’t like that town,” Casey said as we drove past the city limits.
“Why’s that? “Just don’t,” Casey answered. “The best view of that place is in the rearview mirror.”
Conversation was sparse and when we did speak it was short. The difference between the drinking and non-drinking Casey was evident. The silence didn’t bother me, I was more focused on enjoying the spectacular scenery.
I should have known that southern Utah is much like the Deep South in regard to dry towns and counties, at least along US 89. We made our first campaign stop in Richfield. The Detour is a private club that $5 will get you a two-week membership. Lonney, the bartender, explained Utah has strict liquor laws. The only places you can get a fully ‘stocked’ bar is a private club. Restaurants can serve liquor, but a meal must be purchased, in taverns and bars, only beer and wine is served. To honor Utah’s arcane laws, I ordered up a shot of Stoli to go along with our beer.
With a Robertini on board, my A game surfaced and I had the crowd in my pocket. I hit a cord articulating my believe that “the difference between my stance and the major parties is that my administration recognizes an individual’s right to make choices unencumbered by social engineering and/or moral/religious meddlers. It’s the government’s job to protect its people, regulate interstate commerce, and to provide and maintain our nation’s infrastructure. Otherwise, leave us the hell alone, man.”
“I’m amazed you aren’t asking for campaign contributions,” Casey said as we hit the road. “You sound like a snake oil salesman. You could pay for this trip and the next.”
Salt Lake City: We arrived in the city and Casey drove down Broadway and stopped at Junior’s Tavern. “This place is a local legend, you’ll enjoy it. I have to go, nice meeting you man.” We shook hands and I climbed out of Casey’s truck and watched as he drove away.
Casey was right. It was a city version of Campaign HQ. The bartender was friendly, the crowd was delightful, there is jazz on the jukebox and the beer was cheap. My game was still in place, the crowd was receptive and I took advantage. McCain and Obama would never share a beer with the electorate.
I slipped from Junior’s and headed west on Broadway. Flashing red and blue lights of cop cars dominated the street. As I neared Pioneer Park, I noticed police spotlights shining on Casey’s truck. I silently shuffled by, catching glimpse of Casey in the back seat of a cop car as three cops swarmed over his truck. We locked eyes for a second, and I understood why he acted as he did today. I continued walking till I came to the rail yard. I poked around until I found an open boxcar and saw that the cargo was bound for Elko, NV. I hunkered in and waited.
Sometime during the early morning hours, the train crossed into northern Nevada. I woke with a start, sitting up, it took a moment for my eyes to focus and remember where I was. Replaying last night’s events, I was sure Casey went out of his way to insulate me from whatever he was up to; he easily could have included me in his shenanigans. My speculation, he was running drugs; it would explain his temperament change from the previous day and his compulsion to check his rearview mirror.
Sitting back against the wall, I pulled my sleeping bag around me and closed my eyes, contemplating my way to the next stop. Compared to Ultra-Conservative Utah, Nevada is a roaring Saturday Night to its neighbor’s Sunday Morning. Bringing it rough and tumble past into the twenty-first century, the state permits state-wide gambling and legalized brothels in any county with a population less than four-hundred thousand. The rest of the state needs a competitive advantage on Las Vegas.
Elko NV: I stopped in town primarily to look up some old friends that moved from Montana. Many Montanans relocate to Elko, at least temporarily, to earn money in the mines. I stumbled into the Stray Dog Pub and ordered up a tall blonde. Being in Nevada, I should clarify that by I mean the beer, not a brothel worker, though the thought of enjoying that type of blonde seemed a pleasant distraction from the rigors of this campaign.
Surprisingly, 9-11 wasn’t a huge topic of conversation, the only mentions were that it has been seven years and where were you when you found out. I was living in Belgrade, Montana, working in a small brewery when I learned of the attacks. I had stepped into work and everyone was surrounding the TVs. When the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, I turned to a coworker and said, “Bush has his excuse to finish Family Business.”
Obviously, our two wars were the topic of conversation. One gentleman humored me, asking what my administration would do. His patronizing tone wasn’t lost upon me, but I focused on his question and laid out the Dirty Bum Platform’s Plank on Iraq and Afghanistan.
I stumped in numerous bars in town. When someone noted that even McCain and Obama ceased campaigning for the day, I smiled. “Do you believe it is heartfelt or a political maneuver?”
“It’s a sign of respect.”
“Sitting in a bar is a sign of respect?” I countered.
Disappointed in not locating my friends, I walked westward into waves of heat rising off the high desert floor. A few miles west of Elko, I hopped upon a flatcar and rode the freight towards Winnemucca.
Nine hours later, I jumped from the freight into the town of Fernley. It wasn’t long before I found Mackay’s Bar. When I enter a town, I quiz the locals about the area and then pass it on to you, dear reader. Tonight, I learned that Fernley is “an Amazon.com shipping source.”
Like my adopted hometown, the area is in the throes of change. Since 2006, Fernley is the fastest growing city in Nevada, fueled primarily from investments from Seattle.
In the course of conversation, the person will tire of talking about their hometown and ask what brings you here. With the door wide open, I step into stumping and win at least the person’s ear if not their vote. If I do my job well, the person will spread the word and more times than not, a small crowd will form. Tonight, like most nights, I did my job well. At this stage of the campaign, the stumping muscle is well exercised and my part goes almost without effort, so unlike the early days in North Dakota and Minnesota.
As the night wound down, I signed a couple Robert ‘100s’, bid everyone farewell, and found myself a cheap motel room. Despite my fatigue, I showered before composing my report and sending it to Alberton.
Aging sucks, at least some of the time. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I used to be able to ride the rails for days on end. In my younger days, the rails were my home. Now, riding them wears me out. Every second or third day I need the comforts of a room. Although, the last time I stayed in a room, I awoke with a panic attack – the thought of riding the rails through desolate desert thousands of miles from home weighed on me like an impending IRS audit.
Today, I just didn’t want to move. It was time for a day off. I told myself I deserved it; my campaign was turning the last corner and heading down the home stretch towards the convention next Saturday. Guilt alleviated. I convinced myself that it’s time for a little Robert time.
An Alberton girl is a receptionist at a Carson City brothel. I would take her recommendation for talent and judge her kindly for her tastes. Decision made, I jumped into the shower. With hair washed, I even took time to run a comb through my gray mane. Who knows, I may even earn a vote or two on my day off.
Night: For posterity sake, let the record show that I hitched a ride to Carson City with a deacon from a local catholic church. Also a mortician, I joked with him that if I wore myself out, please see to it that the world knows that in tight situations, the only presidential candidate who publically discloses answers to his biological urges, gave it his all and was willing to die trying.
After meeting with Kat, taking her recommendation, I treated her to dinner and accepted her offer for ride back to Reno. After catching up on Alberton gossip, we hugged and bid each other farewell. Two hours later, I was on a westbound freight chugging its way through the Sierras.
The idea of passing through Sacramento and getting to San Francisco was enticing, but I owed the California capital a visit, if for no other reason than a couple of dives that needed to see my shadow once more.
I stepped out of the boxcar with an idea that would save taxpayers copiously. I autographed the Union Pacific as I would any other, in addition, I assigned this one: “Boxcar 1” In my administration, I will eliminate unnecessary travel in Air Force 1. All regional travel will be in a retrofitted boxcar which will be dubbed, Boxcar 1. The savings in jet fuel should be enough to fund the construction of a couple/three schools. I do not want to be chauffeured about like an elected monarch.
I stepped into one of my favorite dives of all time, Old Tavern Bar. When I use to linger in Cali, I often would frequent this place. The smell of piss, mold and vinegar immediately attacked me. With a smile, I ponied up to the bar, ordered a Tall Blonde and watched a Tomcat trudge across the bar top with a mouse clenched in its mouth.
The late morning over fifty crowd dominated the scene. I sat back, sipped my blonde, feeling my taste buds come alive with the feel of pilsner. I closed my eyes for a moment, recalling memories of the OT.
“Robert?” a gravelly voice mumbled.
I spun on the bar stool and looked up into a bearded face. The bags under the eyes and the gray in his hair and beard more pronounced than I remember. I greeted my old friend: “Hey, hey, it’s Mr. Freeze!” His grip, still viselike, engulfed and crushed my hand, the strength of a steelworker still present. I caught the bartender’s attention and ordered up two shots.
“No shit,” Mr. Freeze laughed when I told him of my quest. “I always knew you were your own man, but ain’t this a bit extreme?”
“Can’t do any worse than what’s running against me.” I winced as I repeated the comment I despise the most.
We slammed the shots and reminisced. “You still chasing the ghost of Janice?” he asked.
“She was a good lady.”
About then, a tall brunette with tired eyes and an energetic stride stormed into the bar, ponied up next to us, threw a fifty on the bar, ordered a double vodka and grapefruit for herself and a round for the bar. “Kip, my pants back there?” As he handed a pair of black leather pants over the bar, the brunette turned to us and said, “I left ‘em here last night.” She slammed her drink down, left a twenty-dollar tip on the bar and stormed out the door.
I turned to Mr. Freeze and said, “In another time, I would have married that lady.”
“And be divorced a week later.”
“But what a week it would be.”
Twenty minutes later, I was riding on the back of Mr. Freeze’s Harley on the way to Lodi. It is rumored that even though CCR sang about her, John Foggerty never stepped foot within the city. If you ask me, creating such an image without firsthand knowledge is a sign of a great artist. On Sacramento Street, Mr. Freeze pulled the bike to a rest in front of Jack’s Back. We stepped inside and I bought my old friend a drink and used his connections to stump. During lulls in conversation, I turned my attention to the TV and the scenes of Hurricane Ike’s wrath and the train wreck outside of Los Angles.
The tone of the day was set. With visits to Rio Vista, Fairfield, Cordelia, Benica, and Berkeley, I took advantage of Mr. Freeze’s continued popularity and scored numerous pledged votes. I even ran into a couple of long, lost acquaintances. Even though our faces and bodies have aged, we still relate to each other with the spirit of irresponsible young adults, more bent on raising hell and having a good time than conforming. As always, our age betrays us and life experience kicks in and the conversation turns to politics.
Time is a wonderful thing, in the sense of seeing the evolution of an individual whose main concern once was scoring a dime bag who now fretted about the leanings of the Supreme Court. In the Festoon Saloon, an old friend of Mr. Freeze’s, Teresa, known by many as Mother Teresa, the patron saint of drunken bikers, instructed us that we would be crashing at her house or on the freeway, and the freeway isn’t an option. Being under the influence of stumping juice, I wasn’t one to argue, I was tickled to have a place to crash.
Upon Mother Teresa’s couch, I attended to my responsibilities and sent my dispatch to Alberton before resting for my return to the city by the bay.
Mother Teresa’s first miracle of canonization is the countless drunks she saved from being scrapped off the freeway. Her second miracle is lifting the sloppiest amongst us from her couch with the smell of bacon from her Sunday morning kitchen. No matter how drunk the drunk, she sees we’re fed, that our fog is lifted with freshly ground coffee and that we’re promptly shown the door after the dishes are washed.
“Sunday is Teresa’s day boys; I love you, but don’t let the door hit you on the ass.” With our thanks unacknowledged, she slammed and locked the door behind us; Mr. Freeze and I looked at each other and shrugged before making our way to his bike, across the bay bridge and into San Francisco. Much like the campaign’s early days when I was traveling with Glenda, I advertised my campaign from the bike, only this time, I secured my sign to my back.
Back in the sixties, Mr. Freeze and I were not the best of friends, but knew each other well enough. He knew of my infatuation with Janis and was with us in my apartment the night we dropped acid. With this in mind, he drove us to Haight-Ashbury and parked in front of my old apartment building. We crossed the street, sat on a bench facing my old pad and continued yesterday’s reminiscence.
A long silence eventually fell over us. “She was a good lady,” Mr. Freeze said as he patted my knee. He stood and crossed the street. “You coming?”
I gazed at the second story window. My imagination took me through it and back four decades, sitting on the tattered couch, looking deeply into her eyes before she smiled and turned her gaze.
Shaking my head, I stood and shuffled across the street. The Harley’s pipes roared; Mr. Freeze chauffeured us to Russian Hill. He guided the bike down the switchbacks of Lombard St. before stopping at 2211 Polk Street. Drinking a day after one like yesterday is dangerous business; it brings me to the doorsteps of a bender. But, the risk is necessary today, because one cannot pass up enjoying a Tall Blonde at Cresta’s. Cresta’s was Jack Kerouac’s bar when he lived at nearby 29 Russell Alley.
Inside, I was glad to see the goldfish still swim in their bowls! We pulled up stools and I fell into conversation with a silver haired eighty-year old queen to the backdrop of the 49er-Seahawk game.
After finishing my tall blonde, I ordered up a 7-up for myself and a round for the bar, all five of us. The bartender, fascinated with my quest, hung a Robert ‘100’ on the back bar. A two-hour stump ensued.
I could tell Mr. Freeze was getting antsy, my friend was A-political and the novelty of my campaign was wearing thin. Nipping his impatience in the bud, I suggested moving on. After shaking hands with all, we vacated Cresta’s and headed out of town.
As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I glanced to my left, enjoying my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean on this campaign.
Knowing Mr. Freeze had the bug to ride, and knowing that my tolerance of riding was approaching its limit, I kept my eyes open for a freight. As we neared Fairfield, my opportunity arrived and I tapped his shoulder. “I gotta piss, man.”
We stopped at an Applebee’s knowing as I stepped away, Mr. Freeze would be gone when I emerged, free spirits as ourselves understand this dance, it isn’t anything personal. Maybe, we just suck at goodbyes. Inside, I heard him ride off and I turned around and returned to the parking lot. I cinched my pack and trudged to a C-store, bought supplies and headed for the tracks. Within an hour, I was on a freight headed for Davis. I jumped from the spur line and walked the north-south tracks until I heard a northbound rumble behind me.
As I settled into an open boxcar, I had the feeling that I was on my way home.
The straining engines whined as the freight struggled up a grade. The chill of mountain air nipped at my sleeping bag as I pulled my hat lower. A shiver coursed through my being. This morning’s temperature was the coolest of my journey, and a reason why I kicked off this swing on July 4th. I would hate to traverse the passes in Washington, Idaho and Montana in November. The eastern sky hinted at morning as the freight worked through the Trinity Mountains. Soon, nearby Mt. Shasta would be aglow in morning light. Hunkering down, I waited for Mt. Shasta City, and a fresh cup of coffee.
The weekend’s campaigning went well. I ran into little skepticism let alone opposition. I’m sure if I campaigned at Country clubs, county seats, and state capitol buildings I would have a different story. With the weekend’s success, I was positive of attaining my campaign’s goal in California. I visited the local coffee shop as a citizen and didn’t mention my campaign. The feeling was surreal, so accustomed I have become to gaining another’s ear.
With warm food in my belly, a hot coffee in hand, and the sun rising in the sky, I marched northward on the tracks, ready for a long ride into the heart of Oregon. I whispered to myself, “Forty-five states down, three to go.”
Oregon: On long solitary rides, one has to entertain oneself; the ride to Eugene presented the opportunity. Catching rush hour in Medford provided the opportunity to create a spectacle from the top of my flatcar. Waving my sign, I jumped up and down at every crossing and where the tracks paralleled roads. The endless expressions of the observant were priceless, some laughed, others pointed, yet others telegraphed disgust. With one, who for whatever reason struck me as particularly elitist, I shot the presidential moon.
The scenery of Oregon always appealed to me, and if it wasn’t for my little slice of Montana, I could make my home someplace west of the Cascades. A few miles north of Roseburg, I had my second bear sighting of the campaign. A hundred and fifty feet west of the tracks a sow and two cubs frolicked in a small meadow. I craned my neck as the train rumbled past and the family fell from view.
As we approached Eugene, I need the company of a tall blonde. I ditched my ride and found my way to another favorite watering hole. I didn’t know it as New Max’s in its day, but, it still maintains its old charm despite the upgrades. I’ve heard on occasion that this is supposed to be the model for Moe’s Tavern from the Simpsons; I rarely watch the show so I don’t have a clue. The other thing I love about this place, at least in the old days, was the propensity for the crowd to break out in a spontaneous rendition of Sweet Caroline. This afternoon’s crowd I wouldn’t want to hear sing, but, it did offer great stumping fodder. For the first time, I extended invites for this weekend’s convention.
Being near Sacred Heart Medical Center, I took the opportunity to stump for health care reform. On a bench outside the hospital, I wrote various catch phrases calling for universal health care on half my remaining Robert “100”s before walking inside and taping them upon vacant wheelchairs. In the elevator, I broke the silence, introduced myself, and extended my hand to befuddled riders. Enjoying the experience, I visited other elevators and rode them up and down, stumping in the confined quarters until escorted from the hospital by security. Outside, I shook the security guard’s hand, wished him good day and asked him for his vote. I cursed myself for not employing a similar tactic in the Sear’s Tower and Empire State Building. Satisfied that I left an impression in Eugene, I sauntered towards the tracks, caught the next northbound and rode the freight into the night. The full moon rose over the Cascades as my ride approached Salem. Leaping from the freight, I found a secluded corner Salem Golf Club and hunkered down for the night.
Since waxing poetically about my relationship with Janis Joplin my campaign manager is pushing me to reveal my identity. I knew that being pushed for just this is an inherent risk of the entire campaign. I’m unsure if I will honor his request; I feel it is unimportant and will detract from my message. In this morning’s conversation, he said he understood, but, that if I revealed my identity, it would give my message further listening. I understand his point of view; he is fighting to gain the greatest exposure for my campaign. Greater exposure versus an erosion of privacy? Like all non life-threatening decisions, I’m willing to chew this one over like this morning’s sausage.
I finished my breakfast and coffee and stepped into the awakening state capitol. Today, I am planning a whirlwind tour: besides Salem, Portland, and Seattle awaits.
Instead of standing on the capitol steps, I held my sign at the passing traffic on the corner of State and Capitol. Occasionally, I would peer at Mt. Hood looming in the distance. My sign must have been effective, for all the wrong reasons. A suite came along and slipped me a twenty, telling me mine was the most ingenious panhandling scheme he’d seen.
Taking the cue, I headed for the rail yard and a ride to Portland.
Portland: You’ve heard the expression, it’s a small world; the northwest is a smaller world. In December of 2007, a street musician on his way to Seattle found himself stranded in Alberton. In true Montana fashion, some of us adopted the motorist until he sorted out everything. This morning, at Ladd Circle, Jack stood playing his sax.
“Holy Shit,” Jack said in his cynical New York draw. We shook hands and found the nearest watering hole. “You’re running for president?” Jack enjoyed a belly laugh. “Well why not, if I can be a Street Santa Clause, you could be president. Damn it, I wish I’d know sooner, we could make a great team.”
“Get a load of this guy,” Jack said of the bartender. “He has a story to tell.”
“Hey Rennie, tell the president about deer hunting.”
In animate fashion, the bartender told the story of camping with a buddy and seeing a deer near camp. Having a sudden craving for venison, and not having a firearm, our unique bartender snuck behind a grazing doe in order to slit its throat with a hunting knife. To his credit, he succeeded. Unfortunately, for Rennie, he suffered numerous broken ribs, a broken nose and collarbone from the doe’s thrashing hind legs.
During our three hours on the bar stools, Rennie introduced me to every person who strolled through the door. If every bartender shared his enthusiasm, my endeavor would be much simpler.
“Where you headed?” Jack asked.
“Alberton via Seattle.”
“Can’t give you a ride to Montana, but I haven’t worked Seattle for a while. Wanna lift?”
Within an hour, Jack’s old Chevy van spewed a trail of exhaust over the Columbia River and up I-5 as we commiserated about ex-wives. Peering out the window, I was fascinated to see three active volcanoes in relative proximity. Seeing my gaze, Jack quipped, “They remind me of my ex-wife, beautiful to look at, but in an angry moment she could blind you with ash, burn you with lava and walk away with your wallet.”
Seattle: When I pick up any tool, it establishes a circuit in my brain which profanities flow from my mouth like spring runoff. Traffic has the same effect for Jack. After an hour and a half stream of curses and hand gestures, Jack slid from Seattle traffic and brought the van to rest.
We trudged in Ballard Smoke Shop like a post-modern odd couple. Ballard’s isn’t a smoke shop, it is a delightful dive that despite its name, survives Seattle’s smoking ban. With the head of his putter, which Jack constantly carries, acting like a judge’s gavel, he pounded the bar top. Gaining the bar’s attention, Jack ordered up a round.
The barmaid, with a top cutting as low as she stood tall, retorted without missing a beat. “I told you the next time you brought the club in here I would score an asshole in one with it.” She turned to me and said, “Jack has wanted me to scratch his hemorrhoids since we met.” She continued around the bar and gave my friend a hug, lucky guy was short enough to bury his face a little below sternum level. “How are you, sweetheart?”
“One of these days I’m gonna marry you,” he told her.
She brought a finger to her lips, “Don’t tell my boyfriend.”
So began a long evening of stumping. The barmaid, Steph, was a bouncing ball of kinetic fury, serving up the happy hour crowd while belting down Vodka like water. I seen the type before and I’m not about to reveal their secret to holding alcohol. With a wink and a nod, I informed the barmaid I wouldn’t reveal the time honored secret; I would guard it like a matter of national security. In return, like Rennie, Steph introduced me to her following of regulars.
The subject of Sarah Palin again rose. I have to hand it to McCain; in the guise of Palin, he brought the cult of personality to the campaign while managing to dodge the serious issues. Especially as the news of Lehman Brothers and another Wall Street meltdown broke. I invoked Dick Knightly and said that in a debate, Joe Biden would give Dick a run for his money, but ultimately Dick would have Biden plagiarizing him by Election Day.
Towards the end of the evening, a short, leather clad gentleman with a long beard sat next to Jack and I. Steph batted her eyelashes at the new arrival, served him a Bud bottle, and introduced her boyfriend Nate.
“Nate’s on his way to Spokane,” Steph announced. “You could hitch a ride.”
I bid Jack farewell by shaking his hand and wishing him well. I thanked Steph for her hospitality and help in introducing me to night crowd.
Unlike many with an outgoing girlfriend in the bar business, Nate understood the dynamics of the business. He realized that Steph’s act, was just that, an act to enhance the till and tips. He spoke in the soft voice of self-confidence as he drove out of Seattle and over Snoqualmie Pass. The conversation went everywhere expect politics for what I was grateful.
Acting on impulse, I asked Nate to drop me off at the exit for Roslyn. He looked at me bemused, but complied. I shook his hand, thanking him for the ride, and told him the next time his passes Alberton, to stop in Campaign HQ and I’d buy him a beer.
Exhausted, I found a campsite, unrolled my sleeping bag and prepared for a night’s rest.
Northern Exposure is not only a condition that plagues me, but it also is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. An aforementioned ex-wife and I were diehard fans and before our divorce, we contemplated visiting Roslyn, the nearby town where the quirky series was filmed. Tammy always held it against me that we never took time to visit.
So explains last night’s impulse to have Nate drop me at the freeway exit. In my own bit of quirkiness, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to campaign in Cicely, Alaska by proxy of Roslyn, Washington.
I trudged the two or so miles from my campsite to Roslyn. A true dork, I stood before KBHR and peered through the window, imagining Chris in the morning spieling away. I spent an hour walking about town, enjoying the sites. I was surprised to see Roslyn Café had reopened. The café is famous for the mural on the building’s side. I slipped inside and ordered breakfast.
It is said that truth is stranger than fiction in as much as fiction has to fight the battle of plausibility. Reality could care less about plausibility; reality just is, if there ever were any doubt about this concept, what happened next would serve testament. I stepped inside The Brick and felt my jaw hit the floor. The little blonde fireball to whom I once was married stood rag in hand, wiping the bar top. “Tammy?”
She looked up and had much the same reaction. She looked as if she saw a ghost; in a sense, she did. She rolled around the bar and slipped into my open arms. We embraced for a long moment. “Holy Shit,” she said stepping back. “What are… how are you doing Bobby?”
We sat down at the empty bar and caught up on our recent histories. “I looked you up in Oklahoma. They said you moved on to Wichita Falls; there, I gave up.”
Tammy said she remarried and they wanted a change of pace. “Since I couldn’t live in Alaska, I thought this would be the next best thing. Well, Montana is, but my husband was afraid of the winters. Southern boys.”
We reminisced the afternoon away. When she excused herself to visit the Ladies Room, I took a long sip from my tall blonde, left her a large tip and a Robert ‘100’ and slipped out of The Brick. I was never good at goodbyes, and I left before having to face a difficult one. With glassy eyes, I walked down 1st Street till I found the tracks.
Somewhere between Cle Elum and Teanaway I hitched a ride on a BNSF freight. Breaking habit, I e-mailed Alberton via my blackberry and asked them to contact Chuck, the BNSF engineer I made acquaintance with in Minnesota. I was interested in seeing if he was this far west so I could hitch a ride in an engine.
I rode all day. In Spokane, I left this ride, autographed the boxcar, and found a car destined for Sandpoint. I climbed inside and waited. I must have fell asleep, because I bolted up when the car lurched and started moving. My mind was occupied with my ex-wives, I still love them all. Each one of them is a good lady. But, marriage always altered the relationship. Something always happened. No longer, could I enjoy them for who they were and vice versa. Expectations always altered reality. In the political realm, I have no expectations; the reality I see isn’t distorted.
Sandpoint: I autographed my second car of the day before finding a motel. I checked in, showered and found a quiet bar that was about to close. I enjoyed a quiet blonde before retiring for the night. Regarding the Campaign manager’s request, I made my decision.
The seventy-seventh day on the trail, barring unusual circumstances, it will be my last. The night before my odyssey, I recalled staring at the night sky, wondering what the journey would bring. Once revealed, reality rarely seems as daunting as imagination. Of course, unforeseen events always blindside plans, but I was told this is called life.
Physically, I’m exhausted. The reflection staring back at me in the bathroom mirror is haggard and pale. I looked forward to hibernating in my own bed. I think I will slip into Alberton unannounced, avoid any fanfare and become reacquainted with my bed.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still campaigning to do. In the birthplace of the political rock star Sarah Palin, it was time to leave my mark.
Indian summer revealed its splendor in the Northern Rockies. Morning sunlight rippled over Lake Pend Oreille chasing nighttime’s chill. I paused a moment, standing on the lake’s sandy shoreline savoring the looming Cabinet mountains. I was the returning traveler pausing and enjoying the sight of their front door before stepping inside.
Suppressing the urge to catch a ride home, I turned my attention to stumping. Inside Buck and Edna’s, I taped one of my last Robert ‘100s’ on the men’s room wall. Returning to my blonde, I started a conversation with a vacationing couple from Michigan. When I mentioned my Chief of Staff is from Ishpeming, Dave quipped, “never trust a You-per.” In Michigan parlance, a ‘You-per’ is a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“Interesting,” I countered. “I hear it’s unwise to trust a troll.” a troll is Michigan speak for anyone who lives under the Mackinaw Bridge. The state has its own language.
“They’re all a bunch of cheese heads, if you’re elected, give the UP to Wisconsin.”
In the midst of stumping, Dave’s wife Cindy, a retired schoolteacher, mentioned even though fascinated by the campaign, she was intrigued with the idea of riding the rails.
“You afraid of skinning your knees?” I asked. “You’re going to have to jump from a moving freight.” Adventure twinkled in her eyes.
My gut told me it was a bad idea. In my mind’s eye, I could see her dislocating her patella or worse. I deflected the conversation to politics and involved all the early afternoon patrons. I bought my newfound friends a round before slipping from the bar and walking the tracks out of town.
I just crossed the trestle across the northeastern finger of the lake as an eastbound freight neared. Standing aside, I waved to the engineer as engines rumbled past. I leapt upon a flatcar and rode it like a chariot into Montana and through the towns of Trout Creek and Thompson Falls. I jumped from the freight east of Paradise to catch the St. Regis cutoff.
You know you’re in Montana when the person who picks you up is has a longer beard than you and goes by the nickname Whiskers. An elbow flexing acquaintance of mine, Whiskers drove me the twenty odd miles to St. Regis where he insisted on buying me a beer at the Talking Bird. Whiskers kindly offered to drive me the remaining forty-odd miles to Alberton, but that would require the pomp of stopping by Campaign HQ, telling stories and forcing revelry. I begged my pardon and declined his offer. I told him next time in Alberton, I’d have the Campaign Manager buy him a beer. That will infuriate the self-proclaimed hooked nose Jew. He often says: “Robert, you make me see red.” He’s speaking of debt, not anger.
I stepped from my last bar of the campaign trail, found the tracks, and hiked eastward, smiling hearing a distant freight rumble behind me. Twenty minutes later, I rode the last flatcar.
The freight slowed as it passed through Cyr tunnel before coming to a stop on the siding in Lothrop, just across the Clark Fork River from Alberton. I jumped from the train and waved to the engineer as I passed the idling engine. Pausing atop the Petty Creek Road Bridge, I watched fly-fishermen ply their art from a raft. A passing pickup honked and its driver cried, “Welcome home, Robert.”
I returned the driver’s wave and hoofed it the two miles into Alberton. Railroad Ave was motionless as I entered town. Crossing Guido’s yard, I climbed the short, steep hill and stepped into my house. Locking the door behind me, I dropped my backpack on the floor and fell into my bed.