Thanksgiving Storm

The car sat on 12” x 12” blocks in the front of a mechanic’s shop. We didn’t have any money but it didn’t matter — the hostels, shelters and bars were closed by now, it was Thanksgiving. Snow slid off the car doors as we cracked them open on either side. I climbed in front, Lee took the back.

Our walk through the empty streets of the town had helped bend our toes, even if we stopped feeling them hours ago. The storm had caught us by surprise when we reached the highway 30 miles west and across the border into Utah. We’d made the highway too late, the cars dwindling away from the semi trucks before midnight, the trucks falling off after that, until nothing came for what felt like an hour in either direction of where the snow on the road dipped into the blackness.

The steel toes of my Double H cowboy boots conducted the cold like guard rails. Just another dumb choice in a long line that trailed our zigzag path across the state of Colorado. We paced back and forth, jumped up and down on the side of the highway, it was no cure for our lack of winter clothing. We began walking the 30 miles back to Colorado more from a hope to generate body heat than any belief we’d reach the city limits.

Around 2 a.m. it no longer seemed the greater risk to stand in the middle of the highway and try to stop the next car. A lone pair of headlights approached and I tried not to look too crazy with desperation, just somebody out for an evening stroll through the middle of nowhere who had gotten himself turned around a bit, a slower family member left at the last filling station or maybe a motorist battling an overheated radiator whose car had vanished.

The bad road conditions favored us, as the car couldn’t have been traveling much over 45 mph when the headlights illuminated me waving my arms over my head. Once it stopped, once the driver saw how ill-clothed we were for the storm, we both believed he would have to give us a ride.

We began shivering within minutes after settling in the parked car. These are the kind of shivers that edge you into an involuntary muscle-twitching shake, when your body is too cold for you to get to sleep. Liquor helps. But if you don’t have it, you don’t get any kind of deep rest. I pulled out whatever clothes I had left from the Army issue laundry bag I used to carry my belongings in and Lee had taken everything out of his daypack that could be used to keep warm. We fought over the clothes and travel bags for hours.

Whoever inched toward rest and relaxed his grip lost a patch of his makeshift blanket to the other, who later had the same thing happen to him when he relaxed. It was a battle fought with the adrenalin that flows between waking and sleep.

“Fuck you!” Lee said.

“Fuck you, this was your dumb idea.”

Our brilliant plan had been to catch a long ride all the way to Los Angeles, where we would lounge poolside for the holiday weekend at the homes of Lee’s wealthy family, who were, according to him, direct heirs to the Hilton Hotel fortune. Believing in this was easier than contemplating our immediate circumstances. We’d been sleeping at a park  near the river in Durango and in the morning had boiled the last of our black-eyed peas on one of the public barbecues.

Lee and I had been traveling around the state for months, finding jobs here and there. The construction project at the hospital in Durango had long finished and it was time to go. But then, it was shaping up to be such a mild and unseasonably warm November day. Why not scrape up enough for a 12-pack and make the most of it before hitting the road? Wonderful idea.

All the cars that don’t stop to pick you up change their tone as time passes. As the cottony snow falls from the black sky early in the evening, they speak to you in a simple “No thanks” or “Just going up the road.” As your hopes begin to fade, they snarl and hiss as they pass by.

When the sun rose we exited out the same car doors we entered. With the car between us we both looked uneasily down at the ground as we fixed our travel bags over our shoulders. There was a pause before we walked in opposite directions without saying anything. I can’t speak for Lee but I did look back once. The sun lit his breath like steam as he walked.