There was a little place in Minden, Iowa, where Snowbird and I stopped from time to time on our way out to Denver or on the flip back to Boston. It was just across I-80 from the fuel stop where they had cheap diesel. It offered bad coffee and a stack of Suzy Qs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snowbird didn’t eat Suzy Qs.
We would haul our sorry selves across to this little place and eat and watch the TV above the bar. Nixon was on this night, and he was telling the world he was not a crook, but he was going to resign anyway and do us all a favor.
Snowbird and I ran 80 plenty in those days, and I can still see the long, rolling hills and the road galumphing across them like a run-over snake. Vietnam was the war then, the war the whole country fought and fought about tooth and nail on campuses and in the jungle. There is another war now, another invasion of another country, but from the distance of 30 years, the old war and the new war seem very remote.
In the meantime we live our lives and try to make a living, and time just keeps on making itself up as it goes along, making history and headlines that very seldom affect our daily lives. If you run 3,000 miles a week, you probably don’t have time for much but headlines anyway, and the world can go right by you. You can live your life reading headlines and never get the whole story. Even the headlines of your own life are all you may ever get.
We slept for a few hours. The salted sheep hides we were carrying from Denver didn’t need to be in New Hampshire just yet. We got up about 4 a.m. and headed east across the run-over snake. We got to about Atlantic before we stopped for some decent coffee. And there she was, The Headliner, walking through the place like Marilyn Monroe with her little daughter in tow. Snowbird said what was a girl like her doing in a place like this. She was so beautiful – headliner beautiful.
We drank coffee and lost track of them. I guess we figured the lady got back in her Lincoln, or whatever she might be driving, and headed back to Hollywood. But when we got on the big road, there she was walking east. Snowbird said to stop and see if she needed a ride since she didn’t seem to have a Lincoln, and she was headed east, away from Hollywood.
Her father was dying in Minnesota, the woman told us. They were hitchhiking, hoping to get there before he died. They lived in Vegas. Headliner was a blackjack dealer when she wasn’t taking off her clothes in a show. Her specialty was dripping hot wax on herself to the soulful ballads of Johnny Nash. She didn’t mind it, she said, but she was saving her money to get back home to Detroit Lakes, Minn., so her daughter could grow up in sunflower country and not have to drip anything on herself for a living or deal blackjack, either.
We took her as far as Des Moines then got on the radio asking if any kindhearted truckers would give a lady in distress a ride north. Snowbird and I had gotten protective and weren’t about to let her go with some crazy load jockey. So we kept searching until one driver rose like a beacon, head and shoulders above all the others, a man who sounded like he wanted to do something good for somebody.
He said well, yes, he’d been raised up right and was headed north to boot. We stopped in a rest area and introduced ourselves all around. The man said he would take good care of the lady and her daughter. He said he ran 80 all the time, and he knew the road and never saw a hitchhiker before. He was surprised to see a family out here.
Snowbird said she thought there was history everywhere if you just looked for it. If you ran the road long enough you would get to remembering mile markers where you had seen strange things, and it could get to feel like you knew something about the country and maybe about yourself. You might even get to read a whole story. And if you took the time, you might even meet a headliner.
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