I awoke in Houston in the posh hotel room supplied by an old friend. It was a pretty long way from Houston to New Orleans, about 350 miles, and I wanted to get an early start.
A little way out of Houston I stopped for gas. As I was walking out the door I noticed a Honda Civic that was so full of people that I did a double-take. It contained five people and a dog. I considered going to get my camera to get a shot of it, but that seemed silly, so I headed back to Walden.
“Hey, Mister Live In My Van! Where you headed, darlin’?”
I turned around to see who calleth, and lo! It was one of the people from the Honda Civic Clown Car. Without thinking, I allowed as to how I was headed to New Orleans, thinking as I said it that my hitchhiker rules, as if I had any, would include letting the hitchhiker say first where it was he or she was going.
“Could you take us to Lafayette?” she said, pronouncing the first syllable as “loff” rather than “laff,” as I understand most locals do (this notion is confirmed on Crawdads.net: “You know you’re a Cajun when . . . You pronounce Lafayette as “Laffy-ette” not “La-fy-ette”.”). The driver of the car said they were nice people or some such, as if I had any reason to take her word.
“OK, come on.”
As they unloaded from the Civic it turned out that there were four of them, their packs and not one, but two dogs. I rearranged things in Walden a bit to make room for their packs and they piled in.
“Shotgun!” the woman in the front seat called as she got out of the car. I gave Walden a dose of oil and went inside to wash my hands and get my dose of Diet Coke. As I was headed in, the younger of the women said “You don’t smoke, do you?”
It was confirmed that I don’t smoke and that there would be no smoking in Walden. They all got out of the car and lit up. When I returned, the half-smoked cigarettes were extinguished and tucked away for safe keeping. This was not a crowd that wasted tobacco.
As you can tell from the picture, they are visibly dirty. What you cannot tell from the picture is that there was an overwhelming scent of body odor and urine to match. It was still a little chilly, but I rolled down the window a bit. More than once in the several hours of conversation that followed, the matriarch of the group, the one who called “Shotgun,” apologized for the stench.
As Matriarch started telling me about their life riding the rails I desperately wished that my digital recorder had batteries in it and that I could have found a way to tactfully ask permission to record her story. Had I been a bit more clever I could have very quickly turned on the video recorder on my phone and used just the voice part. Maybe next time. After I dropped them off I opened up my laptop and made notes as quickly as I could.
The four of them had been together for a month or so. The Young Ones, Cat and Code Blue, had been headed west when they met Matriarch and Wild Life, but they became fast friends and banded together.
Matriarch had a lot to say about how to eat on the cheap. One of the best sources of food is dumpsters behind grocery stores. Most grocery stores, she explained, throw food away the day before the expiration date, so there are often good cuts of meat to be had, not to mention packaged stuff like chips. She went on to tell me that in the US over half of the food that starts on store shelves ends up in the trash, which is quite shameful, so by gleaning these victuals from the waste stream they are doing their part for the environment. They use everything they collect. If it is not something that they can eat, they can feed it to the dogs.
There is much more that I learned from them, I’ll have to continue this in another post.