On one especially hot day in July of last summer, I found myself walking through Big Spring, Texas. My plan of attack was to walk down to Highway 20, and from there hitch a ride up to Odessa. I was in the midst of trudging down the city´s main street, in the trancelike state I tend to adopt when walking long distances when I heard someone shouting.
“Hey guy,” the shout came from across the street.
Being the only person dim enough to be walking around outside in the heart of the Texas summer, I knew the shouting was directed at me. I looked over and a tattooed gentleman standing atop a roof signaled me over.
As I got closer I noticed that the tattooed man was not alone atop of his roof. Four or five other shirtless individuals, no less tattooed than he, were nonchalantly performing tasks with hammers and shingles.
“What are you doing?” asked an especially inked fellow, evidently the one who had initially called me over.
“I´m walking to the highway” I responded.
This caught the attention of a few of the other workers. I could tell because they had suddenly stopped attending to their tasks, and were evidently trying to decide if what they had just heard was worth any further attention.
“Why?” he asked, a tad befuddled.
I began to think about how I was going to answer when he interrupted again.
“You want a job?”
Recession my ass.
“No, thank you though, but I really need to be making my way up to Odessa,” I responded
“How are you getting to Odessa?” came out as “How you gittin’ ta Dessah?”
“Oh I´ll just try and hitch a ride somewhere near the highway” I exclaimed.
This caught the full attention of the entire work crew.
“What?” asked the gentleman.
I frantically began searching for a way to tell my new friends that I wasn’t, in fact, crazy, and that I had been relying on hitchhiking for the last six months to get around. Suddenly I became very conscious of the five men staring down at me – literally and figuratively – when one of the workers positioned on the roof’s crest piped up.
“I´ll take ya” he proclaimed.
“What?” I croaked out.
“Yeah, I got a meeting with my parole officer in Midland so I´ll drop you off”
Before I could comprehend the significance of what was just said to me the initial gentleman interjected.
“Perfect, you can work half the day, make a little money, and ride up with Keith.”
And so I found myself atop a roof, in Big Spring Texas, pulling shingles, where, at the day’s end, I would depart for Odessa with “Keith.”
I began contemplating if this was, in fact, an intelligent decision. I knew I´d be taking a chance, with Keith. Who, let me just say was “All-American” in the sketchy department. But then again, I was sketchy and Keith would be taking a chance on me. Despite not having a mirror, I knew I looked and smelled like someone that Jeffrey Dahmer might associate with. Besides, hitchhiking had proved to be rather difficult in Texas, who knew if someone would pick me up. So I said “to hell with it” and decided to take the ride.
As it turned out, the roofers were all quite friendly. The work was hard and the fiberglass from the shingles was forever penetrating into our skin, but it felt good to be earning some money. I felt like a productive member of society once again. It was also painstakingly hot. The black tar paper appeared to crave the sun´s attention, and the sun seemed more than willing to satisfy. We cooked like the contents of a stir fry until our fleshy pink backs had been seared to a nice candy-apple red.
At one point I inquired about the weather in Texas and to my surprise, the group became rather confounded. They acted as if I had inquired about the conditions in Honolulu. This I didn’t understand because one of the guys had told me that he had never left Texas, hadn’t even seen the ocean. This guy, who was similar in age to me, then answered.
“We don´t really know, we´ve all been in jail for the last few years.”
Eventually, the conversation turned to me, and I was asked where I was coming from. I told them that I had spent the last six months backpacking around South America, but instead of getting the standard “Oh cool, which countries?” response, I was greeted with a very genuine “Why?” His tone suggested that I had just confessed to voluntarily peeling my eyelids back with a can opener.
“I guess I wanted to see the world” I responded.
Group consensus was that this wasn’t a viable motive, and the topic was then directed back to something more interesting.
Eventually, the time came for me to depart with Keith. I entered the front seat of his truck and we drove off. He turned on the radio to a country music station and we listened in silence for a few minutes before he turned to me and asked.
“You like country music?”
I did, but even if I didn’t I wasn´t going to tell him otherwise.
We rode in silence for a while until we arrived at a house, where we stopped, and were joined by Keith´s girlfriend Misty. All of a sudden Keith wouldn’t shut up. It was like he was a battery-powered toy and his girlfriend had turned the switch on. He was animated, he was witty, he was everything the previous Keith wasn’t, and it made me rather anxious. It appeared that Keith was rather excited to tell his girlfriend all about his new friend in the front seat.
“He was just walking down Simler and decided to work with us for the day. He´s from Kansas!”
“Canada” I interjected.
“Right, Canada, and he has a backpack with a tent and everything.” He rambled on.
Misty wasn’t listening, I wasn’t listening, but I don’t think Keith noticed, or he simply didn’t care.
And so, the ride dragged on just as the summer days in Texas do. The gregarious Keith continued his soliloquy, as Misty and I sat in silence, waiting – unsuccessfully – for an opportunity to enter the conversation. Unfortunately, Keith´s mouth was a faucet and his dialect held a steady stream absent of interlude. He also shifted between topics so rapidly that if finally, an opportunity did arise in the conversation to speak, your point was about three topics passed its prime, and was thus irrelevant.
Eventually, we reached Odessa, which Keith had called “The Murder Capital of Texas.” I really wished he withheld that remark though because I was to be camping there that night. I said my goodbyes and thanked Keith again for the ride. He really was a nice guy, despite what his file at the Texas State Police Department might say. He didn’t tell me much about his time in jail or his crime. All I found out was that he had tried to smuggle a copious amount of marijuana across the US-Mexico border. He told me that, had the border patrol officer not looked in the bed of his truck, he would be rich.
Had Keith looked in a mirror, he would’ve seen the type person who you distinctively do not trust, looking back at him. So it didn´t really come as a big shock to me a that the border patrol asked him to pull over to the inspection area. Furthermore, Keith was quite loquacious. I´m sure after being asked if he had anything to declare he stated that he did, taking a long and convoluted story that touched on a few topics before mentioning that he was, in fact, trafficking some narcotics, but to keep it on the low on account that it wasn’t exactly legal.
I´m not too sure what the logistics were, but either way, Keith ended up in a State prison and I ended up in the front seat of his car. Even more so, I´m glad that he didn’t feel it necessary to add first-degree murder of a Canadian hitchhiker to his sentence. And because of that, Keith is going down as an alright dude, maybe not in the books of the law, but in mine, he´s doing okay.
So by the off chance that you´re reading this Keith, maybe you´re doing alright for yourself, or maybe you´re back in the slammer. Either way, if you ever need someone to speak on your behalf, whether it be a reference for a job or a parole hearing, I would be more than happy to vouch for you. Texas forever.