Leaving the Citgo station our favorite Nomad resumes walking on the southbound road. He decides that he really just wants to walk for a while. The weight of his rucksack starts digging into his hips, pressing thin, hard metal carabineers into his soft, squishy skin. Bryan knows that this is happening because he refuses to adjust his bags. You see, Einstein thought it might be a brilliant idea to wear a belt under a belt attached to a belt. Huh?
What had happened was… Bryan is a gear junky; he really is. He loves pockets, pouches, holders, containers, clips, carabineers, belts; all that jazz. So when he found himself one day in the camping section of Walmart, he couldn’t resist the temptation to buy 1 inch polypro webbing, a waist pack made by Ozark Trails (can I get a birddog fee for endorsing you?) and a grommet tool. He spent some time in ‘the shop’ creating something reminiscent of the thigh pack he used to see some Marines carry. After a few different designs he got THIS:
It seemed to be working rather well, but to rip a joke from Paublo Francisco, “He went too far.” (I went too far.) “That’s my line.” (That’s his line.) And so Bryan went ALL THE WAY (to a hotel which definitely has cable,) and buying another waist belt, he combined the two and got hiking waist belt that attaches to the hiking waist belt that he straps to his thigh. He was incredibly proud of his design and it seemed to work even better than the previous design… until he put on his rucksack.
You see the Rucksack is heavy, probably 60 LBS, though he dares not weigh it for an actual number ‘cause then he’d know for sure just how over encumbered he is. (Ha, ha… Elder Scrolls terminology.) Due to the weight and the design of the rucksack, it settles on his waist to transfer all the weight to his hips, so his legs are carrying the load and not his back and shoulders. As it settles, the waist bag gets in the way of the rucksack and the heavier rucksack drives the smaller bag down, down, down really digging all his belt accessories into his hip.
This is the current problem our vagabonder faces. As he hikes his ass up this particular hill, the gnawing pain from what he is sure is an open wound on his right waist, makes him wonder if he should readjust his gear. But that would mean admitting his design was flawed, and although Bryan has evolved greatly from his high school and even Navy days, he still has certain reservations about saying those three words that men find so hard to say, “I was wrong.”
Bryan reaches the top of the hill and upon looking down and seeing the next hill; he decides that yeah, he was wrong. He takes the time to readjust his gear, which means taking off the second waist pack he thought was such a great idea and buckling it to the back of his rucksack. ‘Ahh…’ he thinks. ‘That’s better.’ The now confirmed open wound stings a bit still, but at least the pressure has been relieved. Having kept his old belt, he can and does revert to the older design; the simple belt attached to the belt buckled around his thigh. Comforted thus, he sets off again, in a considerably better mood than the last 2 miles.
Stepping over road kill his face wrinkles at the odor of a decaying dog. Bryan can’t help but notice the subtle details of the dogs spilled intestines and mangled face; the unique purple hue of the slowly decomposing colon and the flattened, alien texture where the dog’s nose and teeth should be. A gross and disturbing image, but a reality none the less and Bryan shuddered as he imagined himself being hit by a car. What a way to go…
From there Bryan’s thoughts became a bit darker and he felt that he was going was too deep into the imagery of the dead dog. He does that sometimes; gets lost in his head, caught up in the torrential flow of thoughts and images that whirl about in his mind. It is for this reason that Bryan has found a great calm in the simple art of zazen, Zen meditation; in this case walking zazen. It is difficult to say in few words what meditation actually is. The simplest way of stating it leaves it up to the reader to wrap his mind around the concept:
The wind in the trees
Music of cars passing by
‘In the Air Tonight.’
Bryan found it very calming and yet oddly difficult to keep his mind from gravitating towards different thoughts and ‘getting involved’ in the images he saw. His mind would grab a passing sight like the dog and think about it; wondering about its past, its future, and possible corollaries to his own life. He didn’t fight these thoughts or try to suppress them as they arose, that wouldn’t make his mind calm; that’s about as stupid as trying to smooth a lake with a flat iron, it only creates more ripples. The water will only become still when left alone. He kept his mind stable as he walked letting the thought continue on, but never letting his mind get carried away with it. Eventually, the mind got tired of itself and fell silent. And then, peace.
He walked in this way for quite some time not bothering to keep track of the miles walked or the time spent. He just looked out at the scenery; the open fields of the unknown highway and noticed that he didn’t have to ‘try’ to see, that vision required no effort; he just relaxed and it happened by itself, sight came to him. In a similar way he noticed that he didn’t have to exert himself to hear and that even if he strained the muscles around his ears, it wouldn’t improve his hearing, so he just relaxed and let that happen by itself too.
At length, Bryan forgot his breath and that just happened too, as did his walking, and Bryan began to have the curious feeling that the differences between voluntary and involuntary actions was overlapping; that he was doing it, but that it was doing him. His legs were walking him just as his lungs were breathing him and he was beating his own heart and circulating his own blood.
This awareness extended outside ‘himself’ as well. He palpably felt that everything outside his own skin was his doing, but also that he was ‘being done’ by an intelligent Universe. He felt that the existence of himself as an intelligent, self-aware creature implied and was symptomatic of an intelligent, self-aware Universe. This palpable feeling of doing and being done by everything wasn’t new to him. He had felt this way before and although he very much enjoyed this state; his encounters with this state of experience were brief and infrequent, but no less magical each time it occurred.
He continued down the road in this state for quite some time and reaching a stop sign he sat his bag down and started eating an apple. The apple was delicious and while his taste buds were being tantalized by the desert like fruit, he was inspired to stick out the ole’ thumb. Naught but five minutes passed till he had his ride.
Bryan approached the parked vehicle and spied something that should have been alarming: the older gentleman was handling was what obviously a handgun. Convention says to avoid people that you know have guns, but this was TN and everybody had guns and Bryan suspected that the man had stopped out of generosity, but was simply readying himself out of fear. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst; Bryan’s knife was worn in much the same spirit, though a knife has more than the one use.
The 70 year old man told Bryan he could take him as far as a town called Erin. Bryan loaded his pack into the back of the truck and away they went. As the man talked during the drive it became know that Erin was west and that what Bryan really needed to do was get on the 24 east and head to Nashville. The gun toting geriatric was happy to drive Bryan near the 24 E. During that drive the man showed himself to be a very fear based individual, much as Bryan had suspected from the looks of such an obvious weapon. The man spoke of how dangerous the world is and that people are so evil and so fucked up that he needs a gun on his belt, a gun in the truck, a gun in the living room, and a gun on his nightstand next to his bed.
This man lives in perpetual fear and the more he spoke the more Bryan pitied him. He spoke of a laundry list of medical conditions and social obligations that he had; dislocated disks, knee injuries, an invalid wife to take care of, the recent passing away of a dear friend. Bryan’s ears did start to go a little deaf when he began speaking of the most dangerous danger of them all: the possibility of eternal, fiery torment; the impending shoving off of this mortal coil; and the latest and greatest spiritual panacea: Jesus.
No wonder this man shuts himself up with guns and protects his financial future with wise investments! Not only is his entire world view is based upon the very real possibility that death and damnation lies around every corner, just waiting for him to make a mistake, but his religion has engendered in him the idea that life itself is a problem that he needs saving from and that he can’t save himself.
Of course he pressed upon Bryan with what he is sure is the urgency with which he daily presses himself, to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. Bryan tried to skirt around the issue by politely saying that he’s not very religious, but he cornered Bryan by telling him that ‘it doesn’t matter what he believes or doesn’t believe as on the Day of Judgment all souls will be judged and then we’ll see who’s right.’ And then he asked Bryan what he believes… (Oi, Christianity is irritatingly political, which is odd… a political spirituality. No wonder moralists have a field day with it.)
Well, if you ask Bryan a question, he’s gonna give you an answer. So Bryan told him some of his rather odd views and tried to use as much Christian language as he could (God instead of Universe/ Tao, Grace instead of Awakening/ Satori) and Bryan tried to quote Jesus and the Bible as much as he could (because his ideas are in there) as opposed to quoting Eastern texts like the Tao Te Ching or the Buddhist Sutras and without bringing up Zen Koans or the Upanishads.
Needless to say it was very hard trying to convey Eastern philosophies in terms of Western words and images, so he didn’t get it; though the Preacher Man did try to pass it all off as ‘it’s good that you’re seeking spiritual answers, but there is ONLY ONE answer: Jesus. And if you don’t accept the Lord Jesus, then you’re gonna burn in the fiery bowels of hell for all eternity. Jesus can come to be in your heart but you have to invite him in.’ (He’s like a vampire. Hey, the dude’s got rules.)
At last they came upon a BP station where he said that this was as far as he could take Bryan. Bryan secretly suspected that the preacher man would have taken him all the way to the 24, but Bryan’s reluctance to drink the Kool-Aid probably cost him the final 6 miles. Conditional compassion at its best.
Bryan was about to step out of the truck, when Preacher Man wanted to pray for him, which Bryan actually wouldn’t have minded since in Bryan’s weird world view, prayer, in its many, many different forms, has some validity. However, at that exact moment, Preacher Man received a phone call that captured his full attention.
Bryan grabbed his rucksack out of the truck and asked a nearby landscaper the way to the 24 east, hoping that Preacher Man hadn’t fucked him by putting him on the wrong road; kindness that has strings attached sometimes works that way. The landscaper was the Mexican stereotype we all hear about, and although he didn’t speak much English he understood Bryan well enough and directed him just up the road. So Bryan was on the right road after all and as he set off on foot again, the only thing Bryan was thanking God for was the end of the ride and immigrant workers.
Bryan continued on the road again hiking what he suspects was about 5 miles. Eventually, he sighted a greater expanse of civilization and upon spotting a Wendy’s, decided to fill his empty belly. He called his mother and let her know he wasn’t in a ditch somewhere and planned his next jaunt down what was going to be a long stretch of highway 41 alternate. He briefly thought about buying a bicycle and cycling down to Florida, but he decided that it might be a lot more fun, faster, and cheaper to hitch. Plus, what would he do with the bike (and all the cash he’d invested in it) once he’d reached the coast and hooked up with a sailboat?
Finished with his meal, Bryan set off on foot again. He was getting pretty lost in thought again when a truck pulled up beside him. The driver asked Bryan if he was walking for the fun of it, or if he wanted a ride down the road. Bryan wanted a ride and so he threw his stuff once again in the back of truck and headed down the road.
The man’s name was Richard and he introduced himself as a contractor. He and Bryan shot the shit about many things, all in all a very normal down to Earth conversation. They talked about many things and as so often happens; Bryan’s naval service came up, and like so many situations once Bryan’s Naval Nobility becomes known, doors open. Richard was extremely appreciative of the military and decided to do whatever he could to help our young hero on his quest for Florida; even going so far as taking what some would consider a huge risk by taking our favorite hitchhiker to his home and giving Bryan and updated map, more pizza and ice tea than he could possibly consume and sent him off with Ziploc bagged leftovers. Score!
Richard decided that it would be a pain in the ass if Bryan had to hike the 15 miles to Pleasantville (yeah, I’m serious), so he agreed to get back in the truck and run Bryan to the outskirts of Pleasantville while advising Bryan to stay on the 41 Alternate. Bryan could take the 24 east, but it was still a good hike away from where he was and the 24 east and the 41 alternate go to the same place: Nashville.
Following Richard’s advice, Bryan continued down 41 alternate picking up a fallen tree branch to use as a hiking stick. He continued for quite some time, walking just for the fun of walking, until he came to the long drive way of a ranch. There under a great tree at the entrance, Bryan decided to hitch and out went the thumb.
A long time passed by Bryan’s impatient standards, and he noticed that a lot of these vehicles were full of soccer moms with kids and old ladies, neither of which were very likely to pick him up. With a sigh and a ‘it figures,’ Bryan switch tactics to ‘the walk ‘n hitch.’ This is the method most often used in a place where one doesn’t reasonably expect a lift, but hey, it might happen. It is employed by walking in your chosen direction while occasionally sticking out the thumb, usually when one hears the sounds of vehicles behind you, or when you get to a great physical location for hitching I.E. wide shoulders, a long stretch of road with no vehicular blind spots, or popular intersections following gas stations in your preferred direction.
The walk ‘n hitch wasn’t yielding the results Bryan had hoped for, but hey, remember the conditions of the walk ‘n hitch. It didn’t look like a ride was going to stop and it was only about 14:30, but Bryan was tired from his hiking and wanted to set up camp early. He began to look around for a campsite… fences, fences, fences everywhere. What is the deal with all the fences? Bryan looks out and sees great expanses of land going completely unused; they’d be great for camping if they didn’t have annoying wire fences surrounding them. What are they fencing off anyway? Somebody presumably owns this land, but is doing nothing with it and has it cut off so no one else can do anything with it either. What a waste.
Bryan throws out the thumb again, hell it’s only 2:30 PM and ‘lo an’ behold a red truck stops. The driver says his name is Jeff and he’s headed to Nashville and wouldn’t mind giving Bryan a ride. Once again, Bryan throws his gear into the back of another truck and hops in. Jeff is a real estate lawyer in Nashville and takes great pride in rehabbing his own properties. During the conversation, Jeff speaks highly of the Ft. Lauderdale Everglades area and his time as a scuba diver.
Upon arrival at their destination Bryan expresses concern as to where to camp in the Nashville area. It’s only 15:45, but he’d really like to call it a day. Jeff doesn’t know of any place one can camp, but he does have a rehab project, a house he’s fixing up on 17th Ave south near the heart of downtown that Bryan can stay in if he wants to. Hell, that’s the best news Bryan’s heard all day. He gladly accepts the offer.
Before Bryan posts up inside this house, Jeff of course has to give him the grand tour of Nashville. Jeff seem to take great pleasure in playing host and tour guide, showing Bryan the cities hot spots, local bars, and myriad forms of musical entertainment. After the tour is over Bryan is shown to the property he’ll be staying at. It’s what you might call a bit of a fixer upper; dry wall dust covers the first and second floors and the basement is an obvious storage facility for the contractor. It ain’t luxury that’s true, hell it ain’t even clean technically, but it sure beats the hell outta trying to find a place to camp in the middle of downtown Nashville at sunset. Bryan was happy to have it you can be sure.
After Jeff left, Bryan set up shop. While getting his bedding ready, he decided that he’d like to go out for a drink at a bar called Paradise Park on lower Broadway. He’d been there a few times back in the day when he was working in Nashville for the Music City Hostel. Wow, that seemed like a life time ago for him, but if he remembered correctly Paradise Park had pool tables and 6 dollar pitchers of beer. Bryan wasn’t much of a beer man, but hey, ya can’t beat a cheap night out and if he played his cards right, instead of stumbling home to a construction site he could be stumbling his way into a woman’s bed.
His temporary home established, Bryan headed off for lower Broadway. Bryan saw all the usual sights as he began the entering the touristy downtown. He saw Legends and Tootsies; The Wheel and the Broadway Brewhouse. These were all fine establishments and very much part of ‘The Nashville Experience,” But this wasn’t Bryan’s first time in The Music City, and many of the more touristy joints just didn’t appeal to him. He wanted a place that was somewhat quiet and at about 6 PM on a weekday, that place was Paradise Park.
Upon entering, Bryan found Paradise Park to be almost dead; exactly as he planned. Music played from the bartender’s choice of CD and was considerably less noisy than the music played by the live bands which Bryan might be in the mood for later. Bryan stepped up to the bar to order a drink and upon seeing the trashy, big breasted bartender, Bryan, like most men, had the immediate urge to fuck her.
Being a decent guy, he didn’t let on to this, but in that instance he knew that he needed to get laid. It had been too long, the sexual frustration was on overload and for a moment Bryan pitied the poor woman who went to bed with him. He couldn’t be held responsible for what he was going to do to her and he genuinely felt sorry if the girl happened to have the same fragile, porcelain doll features as the brunette behind the bar; he would break her in half.
Sadly, there weren’t any fish in this particular pond. There was the bartender herself, but that had only worked the one time in Australia. The lack of opportunity persuaded Bryan to put young, nubile 20 year olds out of mind for a moment, and he wondered what pool game cost. Only a dollar. Well worth the money, a suitable distraction that went well with a pitcher of Natty and who knows, maybe when the place starts filling in, the alcohol will have him loosened up enough to not be such a spaz in front of the girls. Bryan was bad around women, always had been, but the problem was that Bryan was really just an uptight individual, he took himself waaay too seriously even though he swore up and down that he didn’t really give a damn.
As Bryan took his pitcher and approached the pool table, he tried, as he always does, to come up with some cute little ditty, his own comical way of kicking things off. Being funny is a lot more work than you might think, you’ve always got to be thinking of jokes and amusing things to say to be prepared in advance. Then it came to him, “In the words of Billy Idol, “Let’s sink another drink.”” Bryan downed the first glass of beer pretty quick as he racked up a game of pool.
Pool had caught his interest since his father had told him stories of his time playing pool in California. Mr. English, his Dad had been called and Bryan’s Mother could well recount the stories of bar room pool games with decent stakes on the outcome, and legend has it Bryan’s Dad made quite a living playing pool alone.
Bryan had already started his second drink as he chalked his queue stick. Breaking the game, he wondered idly about just where he was going and maybe what he’d got himself into. ‘Nashville TN,’ he thought to himself as he sunk a striped ball into the side pocket. ‘I suppose the interstate will take me to Chattanooga.’ He took a clean shot at the five ball nearing a corner pocket; it should have been an easy straight shot, but he missed and scratched; perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come?
The game continued on till he got down to four balls and the end of his pitcher. Ordering another round, he decided to play a new game. He was going to shoot the queue ball around and try not to hit anything. He staged the balls in a specific pattern and did his best to bring the queue ball to different, specific places on the felt without so much as grazing a single ball. Not hitting anything sounds like it’d be pretty easy, but you’d be surprised.
He carried on in this way for a while before realizing about 8:30 PM that no one was going to come out to the bars tonight and that meant no women for tonight’s entertainment. Half way through the second pitcher, he began to realize just how tired he was. The day’s hike had certainly taken its toll on him and with the calming effect of the alcohol, he knew he’d be about useless in bed and that’s what really made him pack it in.
Luckily, it was only a 2 mile walk to his temporary, humble abode. He ought to be able to walk that far in his inebriated condition. He began his journey home, trying not to think too much. He’d had enough excitement for the day, and as tired as was, he really just wanted to get horizontal and pass the fuck out.
It wasn’t long before he rounded the corner on to 14th Ave, crossing the weird junction at Division, and continuing down 17th Ave South. Reaching his fortuitous shelter, he was glad to be at a place that he could rest. Climbing into his sleeping bag, he drifted off to sleep, carried gently into that good night by the alcohol flowing through his veins.