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Manuscript Monday: Freddie Espinoza

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Minivans roll slowly into the parking lot, engines hum and radiator fans spin. Kids pour from sliding doors. Most are barefoot and violently tip-toe across the sweltering pavement, gambling with each step, and quietly whimpering until finally reaching the haven of shade under the bathroom over-hang.

Louis wakes twenty minutes after Michael looking equally as dazed.

“I thought the bike-tent was supposed to keep the heat out,” he says, annoyed. “I think we better eat and drink as much as we can.”

Michael nods.

He gathers empty water bottles while Louis begins making peanut butter sandwiches.

Better rested now, Michael is more aware of the men’s restroom. It is surprisingly cooler than he remembers it being an hour earlier when they’d just rolled in. A stench looms in the air, but the cool temperature residing deeply in the cinder-block walls easily trumps it. He would choose cool and smelly over hot and fresh any day—especially today.

The faucet is calcifying at its base and head, and is smeared with fingerprinted dirt. There is an explosion of water at a quarter-turn. He drops the water bottles and laughs. It is a geyser. He pulls his bandana from his pocket and runs it under the faucet. He slaps it across his face and lets the cool water run down his nose and chin. Salt scurries down his cheeks and into his mouth and he spits.

The water bottles are too tall to fit under the faucet so he collects two-thirds of their capacity each. Two bottles under each arm, one in either hand, and a bandana dripping down his neck. He walks back.

 

“We won’t make it the last twenty miles if there aren’t other places to get water.”

“Yeah.”

“So we better not.”

“Yeah,” Michael says. “I figured.”

“Better to suffer here than out there.”

“Yeah.”

“You okay?”

“I am. I guess I just had a vision in mind for this adventure, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“Like something romantic, the kind of thing you only see in movies and read in books. Just two guys out on the road figuring things out.”

“I hear that. I hear that completely.”

“But here we are in the dessert, out of water, energy, and the will to keep pushing on.”

“We’re burning water just sitting here,” Louis says reflectively.

“Right.”

“Right. Well, I have an idea, and it might, no it will sound crazy at first. But see it as an extension of the adventure.”

“Alright.”

“I’m reading ‘On the Road.’”

“No man. Hitchhiking? Isn’t that cheating?”

“Cheating to whom? I don’t need to ride a bike across the country.” Louis is smearing sunscreen on his cheeks, his eyes are fixed on Michael.

“But we’re on a bike trip, which means we have to ride our bikes.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“I mean, why do we have to ride our bikes across the country this summer?”

“We don’t.”

“Exactly. So let’s just hitchhike. I am alright with it.”

“Really?”

“Why not?” He stops smearing and reaches for his towel to wipe his hands, his eyes still fixed.

Michael shrugs.

 

After a third trip to the bathroom to refill water bottles they decide to move their gear right outside the cool stonewalls. The eastern side is more shaded and there are fewer steps to refill the bottles. More importantly, there is more exposure to eastbound travelers.

They nod at construction workers, truckers, travelers, gas station attendants—any and all who pass wanting simply to piss and keep moving. It is not hard to gather attention either. They are like kids trying to sell chocolate bars outside of a grocery store, except they look like two worn out white guys in cycling shorts with wet bandanas across their faces. Their bags, shoes, and food are strewn across the pavement to give credence their story. Curious children ask why they are sitting on the ground, and they get good at replying loudly, so their parents can hear, that they need a ride somewhere.

Louis takes the lead. He makes conversation with a man with a pickup truck, a woman with an empty van, and an old man with a station wagon.

An hour of wet bandanas, smiles, nods, and twenty explanations of their story later and still nothing.

It is close to four o’clock. Worry drifts in with the easterly breeze. Maybe it was a bad idea. Who hitchhikes anymore anyway? This isn’t Kerouac. This is real life.

“Dude,” Michael says.

“It’s looking bleak.”

“Every time they just walk by I feel my belief in this slide further and further away.”

“It’ll work.”

Michael is finished with the desert. He is ready for Arizona. A cool and cozy hitchhike to the border was no longer a possibility but a necessity.

Louis is far from giving up hope. His wet bandana is over the extent of his face and he is prostrate on the cement in front of the women’s restroom.

A few steps behind a dad and his son comes a man in khaki shorts and a t-shirt. He is clean-shaven, average height, and looks about forty-five. His jogging sneakers squeak the pavement and his hands are lumps in his pockets. As he passes he gives the same curious look everyone had given as they meandered into the restroom. A smile, a nod, but nothing more.

Michael smiles back.

Minutes later the man exits and walks over.

“Where you headed?“Blythe, or the state line,” Louis says quickly, “or anywhere in Arizona really. We aren’t picky.” 

The man laughs, his wet hands in his pockets again. He is in no hurry to get back to his commercial-sized van. Instead, he stands there. He asks another question, and then another. Soon he is sharing about his own adventures. He leans against the bathroom entrance and stares into the desert. He is an easygoing man.

The concrete has a numbing effect. Sitting on it for a more than a few minutes brings a fuzzy, debilitating feeling. Michael is conscious of how many times he shifts his weight since the man has walked up. Five times. So, about fifteen minutes.

The man is talking about being a high school teacher when he suddenly stops. He turns from the concrete wall in front of him and stares Michael in the eyes. He slowly steps forward, his expression blank. His right hand is moving slowly out of his pocket and extends outward.

Having heard so much about his life already Michael begins to feel he knows him. He would tell his friends of a reserved and reflective man in jogging sneakers who talked about taking runs for days on end in Arizona. We were becoming friends, he would say. He feels his blood beginning to race. He is aware of everything. He dares not take his eyes off the man for fear of anything. His palm is worn and padded by years of building scaffolding. It is out. Extended and at Michael’s eye-level. It lingers, motionless.

“Freddie.”  He says.

“Wait what?” Michael says.

“I’m Freddie. Espinoza.”

“Oh!”

His face is a lit up tree.

“I’m Aaron. This, this is Louis.” Michael shakes his hand.

Freddie smiles and then shakes Louis’.

“Where again did you say you are going?”

“New York,” Michael says.

“I mean where…”

“Oh, to the border,” Louis interrupts. “Or wherever.”

Freddie looks at the cement and holds his chin in his left hand.

Michael slowly turns to Louis.

Freddie looks out at his van and says, “Well hey, you guys want a ride?” 

Containing their excitement is impossible. They try, but fail. They both laugh.

“Sure, we’d love it!” Louis says, almost yelling.

Freddie motions toward his van and they pull their gear into their arms, taking no time to secure panniers and sleeping bags to their racks.

Michael guides his bike with one hand, buries his helmet under his free arm with a water bottle, and clenches down on a bag of bread with his teeth.

There are three large scaffold sets stacked nearly to the roof.

Freddie pauses as if he doesn’t know whose scaffolding had made its way into his van. He looks at their bags and bikes, and then he looks at them.

“Guys, I’m not so sure.”

Louis has already begun disassembling his bike. He is hard at work, and without looking up he says, “Oh no, it’s fine. We can do it.”

Freddie shrugs and laughs, returning to his story about being a teacher.

Michael and Louis work magic, stuffing mats, sleeping bags, bike wheels, frames, panniers, cans of food, and water bottles somewhere within every nook available.

Michael sprawls across a piece of scaffolding in the back and Louis takes the front passenger seat.

Scaffold piping seats will do, he thinks and grins. They will have to.

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