The weirdest day (2/2)
I bent over to look inside the white car. He was a white man, both forearms entirely tattooed, in his 40s I'd say. He didn't look very threatening although he did look a bit odd. Quite normal for Oregon so I decided to accept the ride. If you've read the first part of the story, you know how bored and eager to get away I was feeling. So, I hope you would understand. It's so easy to judge someone's actions when we haven't been through the exact same succession of events. He told me he'd take me to Medford. That's 93 miles South. Not San Fransisco yet. Though, not bad at all.
We took off and I directly noticed two things. One, the gas tank was empty and, two, the rear window on the right side was broken and covered by a piece of cardboard. The first thing I noticed consciously and the second totally unconsciously. "You're out of gas," I said. "Yeah, we're limping here. I hope we'll make it to the next exit."
We did make it. We got into a town and we stopped by an antique shop, right in front of a gas station. Bubba didn't say a thing and I was left wondering why the heck didn't we stop at the gas station. He lit a cigarette and went around the corner to smoke. I understood he was in no rush. Then, he came back, opened the trunk of the car and started to clean an old lamp. There was something strange about the lamp, it was all covered in oil.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's the lady in the garden."
"And why is it full of oil?" I said that out of curiosity not only for the lamp but also to find out more about why we stopped.
"The oil shines when you turn it on and it looks like it's raining."
"And what are you gonna do with it?"
"Oh it's been in the family for years. It was in my grandmother's house."
I couldn't explain why he didn't fill up the tank yet. Instead, he brought the lamp into the antique shop and tried to sell it. He came back with the lamp so I asked him what happened. "They wanted to barter. I'm not one to barter," he said. We drove two blocks away and parked in front of the Seven Feathers casino. He wanted to use the WiFi to look up the market price of the lamp. That's when I understood he had absolutely no money... I thought about it while seating in the car, and soon after, I got an idea. I prepared small bills to amount 15 dollars, stored them in my pocket and walked right to him. "What's the gas mileage on your car?" I asked. 24 miles a gallon. "To Medford, it's like 70 more miles, right?" I said. I quickly figured we only needed 3 gallons which would cost about 9 dollars. I took out the 10$ bill of my pocket and said "I'll give you 10 dollars for the gas so we can continue to Medford and you don't have to pay me back."
"Oh! You have money?!" – his eyes lit with envy.
Earlier, in the car, I had tried to know more about him. He told me he was a faller which was strange because the faller I had met in Canada made a lot of money. Also, he confessed that he cut himself four times with a chainsaw. He had 6 kids, 4 with his ex-wife and 2 with his new girlfriend. He got his first tattoo 28 years ago! His left arm was covered with animals who all eat each other, sort of a food chain tattoo, while the right one was for family-related stuff. Also, he related being charged with dumpster diving, arguing that he was actually looking for his keys. "Then, they tried to charge me for attempted manslaughter," he said, "because I was driving at 120mph on a motorcycle."
Every time we stopped, he would leave the keys in the ignition with the doors and windows open. I asked him if he wasn't afraid someone would steal the car and he said "I have to leave the keys in the car. It's because I forget everything." Another time, while looking for a toolbox, "Fuck! I lent this car to someone and it comes back without the toolbox." And later, trying to find a phone book – don't ask me why – "I wish I had a brain to remember things!"
All the way to the gas station, he was nervously rubbing the 10$ bill between his fingers. At that point, I was already watching every little thing he did. I kept my attention right there. We filled the tank with 10$ worth of gas and as soon as they gave him his receipt, he rubbed it in the exact same way he did with the bill. I held back a sigh of relief. At least, it wasn't because of the money.
We took a right turn to exit the gas station and passed an asian guy standing by the side of the road, his head plunged into his phone, his thumbs hammering the screen. "Should we pick him up?" Bubba said. "Uh... I don't know. Is he hitchhiking?" On these words, he pushed the brake. "Let's pick him up!" he said. Well at least we'll be two in case things turn bad, I thought.
"Hey, you. Need a ride?" Bubba said.
"You need a ride!?"
"Really, you're gonna pick me up?! Oh man you're godsend! I was about to give up."
"Yeah... except if you're Mexican. Are you Mexican?"
"Haha! just kidding."
He was actually Korean. He looked like a hipster with his Ray-Ban, his shaggy black hair and unshaven beard. After Bubba's joke about not picking up Mexicans, anyone with a brain would have kept away from the race subject. But the Korean did not have a brain. He sat in the car and went like "hey, man, thanks for the ride" – and then directly – "you know I think every man is the same no matter his color black, white, yellow. We all come from the same tree." I could tell by his way of talking that he was completely stoned. He added some more peace and love to his speech and insisted:
"We all come from the same tree, you know?"
"Yeah, in theory," Bubba said.
"We all have black blood in us."
"Yeah, just my branches reach a little further."
Despite the topic, the tension was not extreme. One was stoned, the other was impervious. We were finally cruising on the freeway with enough gas to get us to Medford so I relaxed for a bit. I looked through the window to let the landscape unreel and it soothed me. I could barely hear the gibberish of the white and the yellow man. Some fragments of the conversation reached my ears. He lived in Portland... a group of people in the streets... going South... no money... will try to find a job there. No money, nothing to be afraid of, I thought. When you're a broke vagabond, all they can take is your life. And if you don't care about it, could you lose all fear? Is that why the transients I saw never seemed to be afraid of anyone?... I turned my head back in and joined the conversation for a while. I asked the Korean a few questions to learn more about himself. He had no passport, no job, nowhere to live. I don't know where his family was but no one in Portland. He was 30. At some point he must have had money because he was dressed with style, probably earned by selling weed which is legal in Oregon (and because that's what he told me they'd do with his friends in Portland).
I had noticed earlier that the center panel was teared down with red and blue cables hanging down from it. "Hey Bubba, did you steal that car?" I said. "What? No! Look in the glove box there is my name on the papers." "Ah! I'm just joking," I said, "I believe you." I found it amusing, a broken window covered with cardboard and cables hanging down, I didn't care much if he stole it or not. All I cared was that I wanted to get to Medford alive. I wasn't here to judge anyone.
Mister Morgan, I remind you that you are still under oath... I'll rephrase the question "did you or did you not steal that car?"... mmh mmh... That was your sworn testimony... The court is prepared to proceed to sentencing... Do you wish to say anything before sentence is imposed? ... The evidence is overwhelming... The defendant is guilty as charged in the incident... Thank you, Ms Jo White. Thank you, your Honor.
No, I am not a judge. My thoughts judge like sharp swords, as we all do in our conscious and unconscious mind. But, I do not carry out sentences. Having not walked the same path as another man, how could I? Those thirsty for power dream to be the Grand Inquisitor. Not me. I'm thirsty for freedom.
Bubba exited the freeway. We were now driving on a road parallel to it. I could see we exited way before Medford. The road was soon to take us uphill into a forest when I asked: "Hey, why did you exit the freeway?!" "I just need to drop by my uncle's place. He owes me some money," he said. I felt like this shit was gonna drift into some kind of macabre situation I really didn't want to end up in. We were far away from the smallest town, driving through a forest. I took a pause to think about what I should do about it.
"You know I'm asking because I'm trying to be cautious... I'm not willing to die."
"Don't worry, I won't do anything to you. If I would, I wouldn't even tell you my name. Because there is always a chance that they escape."
"Also, I hate anticipation. I really hate anticipation."
I wasn't sure what he meant by that. But it became clear that I was the only one in this goddamn story who anticipated getting to Medford. We finally entered the campground. Bubba parked near a trailer, indicated us the restroom and disappeared inside the trailer without further explanation or agenda. He must have stayed in there for what felt like forty minutes, at least. The Korean was wandering around the campground, at times playing with his phone, at times playing with the cats. As for me, I was trying to figure out an escape plan, in vain. We were in the middle of nowhere alongside the freeway. The closest town was like 20 miles away. At some point, his uncle came out.
Everything was weird about him, in the exact same way that everything was weird about this day since I entered Bubba Morgan's car. He was tall, and wide, he wore a stripped blue shirt with a golden chain hanging from his neck and his smile was wide open showing a range of perfectly aligned teeth. He was stoned too. His size and appearance were somehow intimidating but the conversation we had was quite normal, which added to the weirdness of the situation. It seemed like I was in a movie and these people were actors. Then, another man came out of the trailer and introduced himself to me. He was as strange and as high as the others. He looked Italian with black hair, unshaved, wearing a shirt too but he was much smaller than Bubba's uncle.
I asked the uncle what his job was. He smiled, revealing again all his teeth. He hesitated for a moment and said "currently unemployed." And after a pause, "I used to teach elementary school." His friend was smiling at me and started to talk to me in German. He knew about Switzerland, I don't remember why though, and he said that he could speak a little bit of German. So we exchanged a few things in German and then we talked a bit in Spanish because he knew that one too. Everything was so slow. And my feeling of being in a movie intensified to the point that I started to ask myself if there wasn't a hidden camera somewhere. Or, worse, if this sequence of events had not been all set up by some sick psychopathic mind. That kind of scenario where you get cut into pieces so we can fit the chunks of your body in a garbage bag to be sent to the bottom of the lake with a heavy stone.
The Korean didn't seem to share any of my worries. He was trying to pet the dog when this one stepped backwards and barked. Instead of backing off, the intrepid kept trying to pet the poor dog. "Es porque es chino," whispered the Italian-looking guy, "that's why he doesn't like him... You know there are no blacks in Oregon." I kept my mouth shut. To be honest, I thought the dog would bite, but it didn't. And I wished the dogs would bite these racists morons instead. And I wished I could teleport myself out of here. Why did Bubba even pick up the Korean in the first place if they're all so racists?
Then, they lit a joint. We were standing in a circle and everyone took a drag. "Afghan Kush," the Korean said. And when it got to my turn, I did too, mechanically. I was so caught up in trying to figure out what was happening that I didn't realize what I was doing. Fuck! Why am I smoking in such a situation. It's not gonna help anything. Come on, relax man, you just need to let it go for today, you're not getting anywhere and you know that. I don't think they'll kill you, they're just weirder than anyone you ever met. That's OK. And what if we never get going... I don't want to sleep here tonight, with them!
I only had smoked two puffs so I should be more than fine. I let them finish the joint and then, slowly, Bubba and the Italian-looking guy started to wash the car. First, Bubba washed it using a hose and the water would run along the body of the car and it looked cleaned to me. It wasn't even dirty at first. But then he brought a bucket of brownish water and a sponge and started to rub the car which made it even more dirty than it was at the beginning. Meanwhile, his uncle's friend was spraying the rims to make them shine. Everything was so slow. "Why are you cleaning the car?" I asked. "It's my girlfriend's car," he replied, as if it was a reason enough. Wasn't it yours a few an hour ago when I asked if you stole it?!?
A young man came out of nowhere and slowly walked by us, he looked high too, and he walked towards Bubba to greet him. Everything is so slow. Everything is staged. It cannot be real. That's when I felt it, the wave. It slowly raises from your chest up and up until the head where it hits. Your whole body feels like it's wrapped in coton, it's numb, and any movement becomes hard to perform. I had not felt that since we smoked the bong in the basement when I was fifteen. A joint never does that to me and surely not two puffs. But it was more than just feeling high, I started to feel lethargic, a drowsiness engulfed me. It became hard to move and even think. Everything became slow, even slower than it already was.
There was something in the weed! They're trying to poison us. I looked around me and the Korean was lost in the campground, walking around without purpose as he was drugged. This whole thing is staged, that's it, in a minute I'll fall on the ground, my eyes will close and darkness will fall on me.
I didn't panic but I felt like there were all the reasons to. I almost never panic, anyway – I mean get hysterical and lose control of myself. The way I react to danger usually translates in the arousal of my survival instinct. And that's what happened there. I was done with the puppet show. I slowly walked to the car and opened the rear door. Bubba heard the sound, looked at me and said, with a smile, "sorry to put a dent in your schedule". "Ah don't worry" I said. I took my knife out of my backpack and carefully slid it into my pocket, put my backpack on, grabbed my camera bag, my dry-bag and carefully closed the door. I turned around and started to walk slowly, and with great difficulty, towards the exit of the campground. The Korean was still roaming around, purposeless. I decided to leave him to his fate. Meanwhile, Bubba, his uncle and the Italian-looking guy were still busy around the car. It's only after I had walked about ten meters that I decided to look over my shoulder and I saw them slowly turn their three heads toward me, displaying their stunned faces which painted one more unreal picture. So, I turned around and walked as fast as I could in a direct line towards the freeway, I didn't care much about using the entrance, I jumped the fence and crossed the small field that separated me from freedom, ran across the freeway and walked away as fast as I could. I was free.
The adrenaline was still rushing. I was worried they would come for me. So I walked along the freeway to get away from this sick place. Soon, I bumped into an old woman gathering things on the ground, not far away was a trailer parked on the shoulder of the freeway, an old man standing by it. I thought they must have stopped here to take a break. The fear pushed me to seek support from a normal person, I had to find someone sane to reassure me I wasn't crazy. So I told her what happened, that I was hitchhiking and got picked up by weird people, and that I had to ran away from a really weird situation. She stared blankly at me and said:
"I hope God will hear your prayers."
Where the fuck did I land? What's going on in here?!
I gave up the idea of looking for a sane soul and tried to hitch a ride – there was no one else around anyway. I was still 20 miles before Grants Pass. My face was still showing obvious signs of fear, anyone could see that I was in trouble. I mean I was in the middle of nowhere, the sun was burning hot, it felt like 100° F and there was absolutely no way for anyone to end up hitchhiking in that place. Despite that, nobody stopped for an hour, all the cars passed before me, one by one. So I had all the time to calm down until someone finally stopped and took me out of there. He was an Air Force suits designer. I told him my story and slowly I started to feel better...
"I decided to run away. I didn't feel safe anymore."
"Yeah, it was probably a wise decision," he said.