I am not Will Rogers. I have met men I don’t like. Not many. Nearly always middle-aged white guys similar to me in some way, but radically different in others. Or so I hope. I spend a lot of time cogitating over men that rub me wrong. First, because I want to like everyone, Second, because there’s always something for me to learn, about human nature in general and myself in particular, that dislike reveals.
When I arrived at La Loma del Chivo, the cyclist-friendly hostel in Marathon TX, I saw four panniers and a pile of stuff next to a bunk, so I knew there was a guest I had not met. The sun was already set when a pick-up truck dropped off a guy with four bags of groceries from Wal-Mart. Tom had been at La Loma for a few days and hitched a ride to Fort Stockton for supplies. He untwisted a Diet Dr. Pepper, tore open a box of Crunch’n’Munch and offered me some. I declined both. We chatted while he shelved two six packs of soda, a case of Ramen, and a family pack of hot dogs.
Tom was a general practice lawyer in San Diego for 35 years. I imagine he was good at it; he thought like a lawyer. “When I pick a jury I either want smart people or people I can mold. The first thing you want to do is put aside the non-critical issues. Get the distractions out of the way.” He boasted of never losing a domestic violence case. I wondered which side he represented.
Tom lived his whole life in San Diego. “Why leave a place where you can surf in the morning and snow ski in the afternoon? I took advantage of it all.” He retired, took a year to unload his San Diego life, and prepared for a cross-country cycling trip. “I wanted to go on this trip in 1972, bought a top of the line Peugeot, but never did it.” Tom left Encinitas in October 2014. On his second day he climbed the pass to Julian. “When I reached the top I stopped at Julian Pie Company and ate a pie.”
Tom reached Van Horn, TX in February 2015. One night, camping outside of town, he woke to blue fingers: frostbite. It took three weeks for his fingers to regain their feeling. He got to Fort Stockton, but every time he ventured east he hit major storms. He decided to wait out warmer weather. Summer came; the days were hot so he got a job as a cashier in Wal-Mart to be in air conditioning. He planned to get back on the road in the fall so he could reach the South by spring.
“Living with these Bible-Belters is weird. They’re abusive to their women, mean to their animals, and litter all over. I went to the Stockton Museum. Most of the soldiers who fought in the Indian genocide were black. Do we ever see black cowboys in movies? The officers were white, but the soldiers were black. It was after the Civil War and they put savage on the savages. All over this country there are museums and memorials to Native Americans. Do you see any around here? Not one.
“I have no schedule, no problems. Never married, I have no children.” Tom described sleeping in the open in Arizona and waking with two coyotes flanking him. After that, he got a collapsible walking stick, which he now carries. He demonstrated how to use it as a defensive weapon.
I don’t doubt the veracity of Tom’s stories. I doubt the premise. The self-described bicycle tourist has been within one hundred miles of Marathon for almost a year. He states plans to leave in the fall as if unaware the calendar is about to flip over to February. He’s a three hundred pound guy bunking in a hostel and bumming rides to buy bulk hot dogs, judging the locals for being judgmental and narrow minded. Yet he’s an affable, articulate guy and a great storyteller. If my internal calculator didn’t register faulty math, his story might seem coherent, even charming. But something’s off with this guy I cannot dismiss.
“Typical Texan: the problem is we need more guns. The fashion rage of Fort Stockton is camouflage. People believe that ISIS is in Mexico waiting to invade. They believe that Obama is going to send the Army to invade Texas. Ask them why they don’t like Hillary, why they hate Obama, they don’t have an answer. It’s just what they hear on Fox News.”
Once Tom goes there I extricate myself from the conversation. He suggests perhaps he will ride with me to Sanderson tomorrow. I know it won’t happen; there’s all that Diet Dr. Pepper and Ramen to consume. Still, I get up and out before he’s awake just to avoid the possibility.
How will we live tomorrow?