فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter two

Halfway across America

In July 1947, I was ready to go to the West Coast. I had written half my book, and had about fifty dollars, when my friend Remi Boncoeur wrote me a letter from San Francisco. He wanted me to come out and go with him on a round-the-world trip, working on a ship. He was living with a girl called Lee Ann, and he said she was a wonderful cook and “everything will be great!”

“The trip West will be good for you,” my aunt said. “Just come back in one piece!”

It was an ordinary bus trip to Chicago, with crying babies and hot sun, and country people getting on at one Pennsylvania town after another. I arrived in Chicago early in the morning, got a room, and went to sleep all day.

That night I went to a club and listened to jazz music till dawn. Then the following afternoon, I got a bus to Joliet, Illinois, then started walking West. I had already spent half my money. It was a warm and beautiful day for hitch-hiking and my first ride was with a truck along Route 6, thirty miles into great green Illinois. About three in the afternoon, a woman stopped for me in a little car. She wanted somebody to help her drive to Iowa, and I was happy to help. She drove for the first few hours, then I did. I’m not a very good driver, but I drove through the rest of Illinois to Davenport, Iowa, through Rock Island, where for the first time in my life I saw the Mississippi River. I got out at Davenport. Here the lady was going to her Iowa home town by another route.

The sun was going down. I had a few cold beers and walked to the edge of town. All the men were driving home from work, and one gave me a ride up the hill and left me at a lonely crossroads. A few cars went by, but no trucks. Soon it was dark, and there were no lights in the Iowa countryside. In a minute, nobody would be able to see me. Then a man going back into Davenport took me back where I started from.

I went to sit in the bus station, and ate apple pie and ice cream; that’s almost all I ate all the way across the country. I decided to get a bus to the edge of the town, but this time near the gas stations. And after two minutes, a big truck stopped for me. The driver was a big guy who paid hardly any attention to me, so I could rest quietly without talking. We stopped later and he slept for a few hours in the driving seat. I slept too. Then, at dawn, we were off again, and an hour later the smoke of Des Moines appeared over the fields. He had to eat his breakfast now and wanted to rest, so I went right on into Des Moines, about four miles. I got a ride with two boys from the University of Iowa, and it was strange sitting in their new, comfortable car as we drove smoothly into town.

I spent all day sleeping in a room at a small, gloomy old hotel near the railroad line. The bed was big and clean and hard. I woke up as the sun was getting red - and for about fifteen seconds I didn’t know who I was! I was far away from home, tired from traveling, and in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my early life and the West of my future. And maybe that’s why I truly forgot who I was, on that strange red afternoon.

But I had to get moving, so I picked up my bag and went to eat. I ate apple pie and ice cream again. There were beautiful girls everywhere I looked in Des Moines that afternoon, but I had no time now for thoughts like that. But I promised myself a good time in Denver. Carlo Marx was already in Denver; Dean was there; Chad King and Tim Gray were there; and there was mention of Ray Rawlins and his beautiful blond sister, Babe Rawlins; and two waitresses Dean knew, the Bettencourt sisters; and even Roland Major, my old college writing friend was there. So I rushed past the pretty girls - and the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.

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