We are in Kansas. It is twilight. The golden hour. Soft light
filters into the rest stop picnic area. It hits it so softly that the
concrete slab and plastic wood grain look, well, pretty. We are
trying out a two burner camp stove for the first time. We are moving
on up, people.
The stove is so insanely hard to assemble that even my advanced degrees in
robotics and mechanical engineering are of no help (I don’t actually
have these degrees. Sometimes I am the only one laughing. Usually
when this happens the laughter is high and shrill and I have a crazed
look in my eyes.) Rather than resorting to cussing, I go back to the
trusty backpacking stove. Ok I cuss, then resort. Truth in
advertising and all that.
We are having bean dogs. This consists of baked beans in a hot dog
bun. Why? Because it is delicious. Ambrosia has nothing on this
I forgot the mustard. I walk to the truck to search for the mustard.
Clearly. Bean dogs with no mustard? NO!
A trucker approaches me quickly on foot. An old plastic mesh baseball hat
covers his greasy hair. The rest is as you might expect. Dirty clothes,
missing teeth, shirt straining against the enlarged belly. He is
almost my height and at least 100 pounds heavier. His stubble is days
old and the remnants of food gone by decorate his t-shirt.
He begins to ask me questions.
“I see you are from Utah.” He reads our plates.
“No, but we were passing through there when we renewed our
registration.” I explain, not knowing why.
“Oh, where are you from.”
“Nowhere really. We move around a lot.”
“Oh, what do you do?”
“Oh we just move around for work.” I say, not wanting to advertise to
this big scary looking man that I have thousands of dollars of photo
equipment in the truck.
“Oh, with the kids?”
“And your wife, too?”
“Yes.” The hackles on my back begin to raise. What kind of sick line
of questioning is this? I mumble something about getting the mustard
and he walks back towards his truck.
After dinner, I stop by the restroom. As I exit, (nothing exciting to
report about the aftermath of the bean dogs, sorry) the trucker jogs
toward me. I ignore him and walk toward the truck.
I ball my fist up and get ready to punch him in the face as he rushes
toward me. I have not punched someone in the face since I was a boy,
so I am not sure I am going to do it right, but I am going to give it
the old college try if needed (if nothing else in advanced robotics and
engineering, I learned to try. See, there I go laughing by myself
He stops. “Wait.” he mumbles, “I don’t have a lot of cash, but I
have some extra. I hope that you will let me help you and your
beautiful family out.”
I stare at him. I review my vague answers about not living anywhere
and couple it with eating dinner on a camp stove at a rest area. I
realize that he thinks we are homeless.
I am both ashamed and amazed. I give him my sincere shaky voiced
thanks and a hug. Yes, I go from punch to hug quickly.
As he walked away I shake my head for being such a poor judge. He was
closer to the truth at thinking me homeless than I was at thinking him
Photos from Kansas.