It was 103 degrees when we left Kansas City. Jack was squinting over the steering wheel, already miles down the road, as Regina looked sideways and north up the Missouri River, chin on hand, elbow on the open window.
It was cooking hot and the day was just coming on. The car’s tires were sticking to the cement pavement like a three day old bandage.
As we eased onto I-70 towards Denver, heat was refracting in waves off the interstate. Mirages and the last of the hash induced a stupor in me, maybe giving me a last look over my shoulder, blearily reflecting back on the year I had spent in KCMO.
One year exactly, and then I just crawled across the finish line.
The three of us were all a bit lost, hoping that Rand McNally could show us a new way.
For me, it had been a year that had slowly come unraveled, starting as a soldier in the “War on Poverty” and ending as a refuge, somehow both abandoned by and a deserted from that cause.
It was a year that had begun with ambitious hope and eager allies and then had drifted and derailed in the haze that was 1970, and finally and essentially ending in the stark cold-steel-barred realities.
I had been stupid then.
Now all I really had left was the fact that I had made the one year mark, one year in misguided service, and perhaps the thickheaded comfort in knowing that I had kept a promise. That, an army surplus duffel bag stuffed with my life’s belongings, and a couple hundred dollars cash.
We headed west into the glow, poaching in the four-door Rambler American. Jack eased off the exit ramp onto the Kansas state highway, and in a moment we were walking into the tepid waters of a public beach, not bothering to strip-off our cutoff jeans and t-shirts. The indifferent water offered only partial relief from the heat. The local folk, families and kids, stared in shocked disbelief at the sight of three long haired hippies bathing in their waters.
“Well look-a there, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” a maintenance worker howled to his buddy across the parking lot.
We quickly found our way back to the highway.
Somewhere further down the road a thunder-squall doused the road, bringing water across the prairie sky and onto the ground, and then evaporating again almost as quickly as it coated the bending wheat fields.
The rain yielded little satisfaction, vapor rising, water cycling; only offering the soprano songs of four wheels, as they dragged and drew us through the breadbasket and into cattle country.
It was then that I saw my first tumbleweeds, hot-footing their way across the singed Colorado side roads, and heading west and north, seeking the mountains and their mighty swaths of sage and shade.
We will meet again I thought, drifting.