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The train slowed to a walk as it pulled in to Odessa, Texas. Dixie thought it
might be a good idea to drop off now no telling if it might speed up again. He
could see the lights of Odessa up ahead. Less than a mile he thought.
He looked at the stone ballast below the boxcar door. It was smooth, no hardware
to trip over if he dropped off now. "Well, hello Odessa, Dixie just blew in." He
let himself slip off the sill of the open door, jogged a few steps and slowed
down to a walk. The long freight speeded up a little and then went on for what
seemed like fifty cars before the caboose put an end to it. Then it was still.
The sky was on fire with stars, so many the constellations were lost in them.
"The air is cleaner down here warmer too," he luxuriated in the warmth of the
night. "Back in the midwest I would be huddled in a doorway, but here it would
be comfortable sleeping in the open air."
As he walked on he heard voices from the other side of the tracks. He stopped
and listened. They were young voices ... "A family," he thought. Dixie knew what
families were. Homeless teenagers from broken families, living together like the
Manson bunch. Nobody was safe from them. They'd get booted out of one town and
move on to another. Were they headed for Odessa or coming from it? They were a
sizable group from the sound of them he could hear dogs too. They always had
dogs, dogs warned them.
Like most drifters, Dixie kept clear of families. They were high on dope when
they had the money or drunk on beer if they didn't. They couldn't work so the
girls hustled the men sponged, and if the police hassled them they moved on to
the next town. Because of the dogs more than anything, Dixie decided to give
this family a wide berth. He walked away from the tracks and in the dark he
picked his way out to a dirt road. It ran parallel to the tracks and he figured
it would lead him into town.
"Yes," Dixie reminded himself. "... and they were dangerous." If they caught you
alone, like Dixie was, they'd take you for every cent you had and bury you some
place where no one would ever think of looking.
He hoped they were coming from Odessa, not going to it. For the next few nights
Dixie would probably be on the street. Vulnerable. After that, he'd be settled
in. By then he'd have a job somewhere he always found work. A car wash ... a
chicken factory ... raking leaves in a city park. He'd take anything to begin
with and if something better came along, he'd take that. Moving up a little at a
time. He'd sleep at a mission house until he had the money for a room; he was no
vagrant, he was a hobo a vagabond.
He had only a vague idea of the time. He seemed to remember standing at the open
freight car door and passing a gas station with a large revolving digital clock
that said two something. Was that a hour ago or more? He could never keep track
of time when he was on the freights. He settled for four a.m., Odessa wouldn't
be awake yet. He needed a place to wash up; the train station would be the best.
Where would Odessa put their passenger train station? If it was in the center of
town it meant he'd be seen walking the streets before dawn; he'd be a target
both for the 'families' and the police.
It would be best to hit the town just as the sun came up. He could mix with the
commuters, if this town had commuters. He would mingle with them, walk at their
pace not too fast not too slow. He'd keep his eye peeled all the time for a
place to wash up, shave and put on the one clean shirt he still had in his bag.
He'd listen to the people, too get the hang of their speech so he wouldn't
sound like an out-of-towner when he looked for work.
He passed a FedEx shipping dock at the edge of town. That was a good sign. A
siding led to it from the main line of the railroad lights were just coming on
there. He marked that down as a good place to look for work, he still had his
union card. Then he walked past a nursery ... he didn't think he'd find a
nursery in Odessa. He knew a lot about plants, lawns and fertilizers. He grew
optimistic, he might spend the spring and summer here in Odessa.
He passed a hardware store, still shut up tight. He looked at his image in the
window and saw a man of medium height, somewhat down at the heels, carrying a
small pack on his back that looked as though it had seen better days. Yet all in
all he felt his appearance was in keeping with his immediate goals. They were
basic, he wanted to earn a living. A living to him was a necessity he had
nothing to fall back on. He didn't ask for much beyond that, hobos can't be
greedy something to eat a place to sleep a woman when you need one ... and
enough money to pay for it all. Nothing more.
The sleepy town was coming to life now. Traffic was picking up, he saw newspaper
delivery trucks, airport taxis and a bus marked 'Collegetown'. As he walked, he
had the impression of floating down a river. It was an old vision, one he had
often. So long as he stayed on the river and moved with the crowd, he had no
sense of movement. He floated downstream with the crowd. It was not until he
looked out at the shoreline that he had any sense of movement at all. Then he
knew he was moving he and the river. Yet time was the same. Time passed for
the people on the shore and the folks who lived on the river. After it passed he
would be some place else, far away, but the people on the shore would still be
here. They would spend their lives where they were.
What was he doing here?
He knew his name wasn't Dixie, even though that was the name written in magic
marker on his shoulder bag. He knew he had been married how long ago? He
couldn't remember. The years don't go by when it's summertime all year, when
you're where the weather suits your clothes, He remembered what his wife looked
like his daughter too. Two peas in a pod. When he left he couldn't tell one
from thee other. He didn't like either of them.
His wife was a news face on the TV. Made ten times what he did. She kept him
hidden hidden like a mad relative stashed away in the attic. They had a house
in East Hills and she wanted to move to Greenwich, Connecticut where all the TV
people lived, where her daughter could meet the right people. All that was clear
to him as he strolled the streets of Odessa. But he couldn't remember how long
ago that was.
He remembered being in the way ... of both of them. Being put up with left
out. What would happen when she grew old and ugly? Would she live on in her
daughter? His thoughts rambled on as he walked. Twice he asked for directions to
the train station and got vague waving advice, "You ain't walkin' it man, it's
miles ..." That seemed to be the gist of it. He started walking back to the
FedEx depot and across the street he saw the Sunrise Diner.
He would have passed it by except for the picture of a cat drawn in magic marker
on the wall next to the front door. That was hobo sign talk for a place friendly
to drifters, a good sign to Dixie. He looked both ways, walked quickly across
the street and opened the screen door.
A radio was playing. The weather would be warm and clear with gathering clouds
and showers late in the afternoon. A woman's dismembered body was found in a
matching set of luggage at Jackson International Airport and Donald Trump's
application for a 5-star casino bordering Odessa's circumferential highway was
turned down. A woman, dyed blonde and slightly overweight was emptying a bag of
coffee into stainless steel urn.
"You're early, soldier. We ain't open for another half hour."
"Door was open."
"Airin' the place out." She put the cover on the urn and walked into the
kitchen. "Sit yourself down, no sense standin' there." She pushed a swinging
door open with her hip. "How'r y'comin' in there, Earl? About ready for a hungry
Earl, a beefy man in white pants and an undershirt came to the door wiping his
hands on his pants ... "Nobody leaves the Sunrise Diner hungry ..." his voice
trailed off when he saw Dixie. "Just get in, did'ja?"
"Half hour ago."
"Bummin' are ya?"
"No, followin/ the weather is all."
Earl turned to the waitress. "King of the road, Edna," he turned back to Dixie.
"Why dont'cha freshen up first. there's a men's over there, around the end of
the counter. I'll wrestle somethin' up for ya."
"Kind of you, I won't be a minute." Dixie started off, then turned back to Earl.
"I can pay, you know ... I'm not askin' for a hand-out."
As he walked off, Earl nudged Edna and said, "Got his pride, that one. You can
always tell the good ones from the bad ones by their pride. It may be all he's
got, but it's a good sign. Get him a cup of coffee, Edna, I'll scramble him up
an egg and some hash browns."
Dixie came out of the men's room looking like a ten-year old on his way to
school. Hair slicked back and fresh shaved. Edna couldn't help commenting. "Looka
you," she said, "all you need 's a haircut. Is that a fresh shirt?"
"Sure is. Never been wore after bein' washed. I remember washin' it in a
laundramat in Kansas."
Edna put a cup on the counter and filled it with the blackest coffee Dixie had
seen in weeks.
"Boy that looks good," he said. "that fer me?"
"Yeah. Sit down. Earl's makin' somethin' t'eat." She looked at him as he held
the cup in two hands with his elbows on the counter. "You talk funny, you been
"Yeah, I been lotta good it did."
"I never been. Wish I did I missed a lot by not goin' t'college. This is a
college town, y'know?"
"Yeah. I noticed that when I got here." Dixie finished his coffee and put the
cup on the saucer upside down. "Good coffee, Edna. Okay if I call you Edna?"
"Don't feel that way about missing college. It's no guarantee of anything,
"I always thought I could'a been a somebody."
"Look at me. A tramp with a college education."
"Why y'trampin', why don'tcha settle down?"
So he told her the story. He didn't leave out the bad parts, he took the blame.
Emma listened carefully and when he finally expelled a long sigh and looked at
her, he shrugged and said, "That's it."
"She must'a been a bitch," Emma said.
"Not in the beginning. We was two of a kind kinda like on the fast track, you
know. Then little by little the distance between us got bigger and bigger. I
couldn't keep up with her and she went on without me."
He looked down at his plate and played his fork around the few uneaten home
fries. "Your cook in there; he makes great scrambles. He own the place?"
"Earl, yeah ... he's a pro. Nice guy. His wife works here too, she's cashier.
Y'didn't answer my question."
"I know." Dixie looked up at the daily menu chalked on the blackboard that
leaned against the kitchen wall. "We had a kid. A girl. The kid was the reason
we got married. I think maybe that was the trouble in the first place. I don't
think we'd a married otherwise ... and then ... I wouldn't be here. It woulda
been a different story all around, y'know?"
"You should go back."
"Can't. Can't ever go back. They don't know what's happened to me. I'm not the
"Then you should stay here."
"What's here? I'm here as long as it's my kinda weather."
Edna shrugged and cleared his dishes away. "You don't hafta pay for this, y'know.
It's a present from the Sunrise Diner," she said. "Earl's got a big heart. Until
he settled down here, he was just like you."
But Dixie insisted. Even though there was no one at the register and Edna hadn't
given him a check, he stood up and reached for his worn leather wallet. "I don't
wanna owe nobody," he said.
He could feel the river running within him. These people in the Sunrise Diner
were trying to keep him here this Earl and this Edna. He could see them
standing on the shore; trying to keep him from passing by. He was a drifter and
to stay in one place was to die. "How's about two bucks? Two bucks okay?"
"Will it make you short?"
"No, I'll be fine. Thanks for the use of the facilities. I'll be movin' along."
He fished two tightly rolled dollar bills out of the top of his sock and put
them next to his plate.
©Harry Buschman 2007
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