You remember a lot of things about a trip across America. You remember the sandstone rocks reared above red and brown plains, the twisted, fiercely shaped arroyos. You remember the way the Ford thrusts you back in your seat when you kick it in for passing, and you recall the squat and stately way the Cadillac moves even at 100 m.p.h. And the monstrous trucks you remember, sweeping from behind you with a rush and rattle, pulling around in and front, taillights growing dimmer, dimmer, and gone. And the Ozarks, they were beautiful.
Jefferson City was our first overnight stop and we put up at a loathsome, crawling Negro hotel, just at the foot of Lincoln University. We woke exhausted the next morning; we'd been fighting crawling and flying things all night.
Then we tried to get breakfast in a white restaurant, but they wouldn't serve us. We almost didn't leave Jefferson City because Andy, shouting something about a quarter of a pound of lead in his ass from the war, started over the counter and I had to pull him back. When we got to Wichita, we hunted until we found the Negro neighborhood and wound up at an elderly woman's home for fried chicken, bacon, eggs and a smattering of the Gospel according to St. John.
Finally, Andy and I grinned with relief across the table in a Massilon, Ohio, diner where we ate well for only the second time in two thousand miles of traveling. Then we were on the chain of thruways, Ohio and Pennsylvania. On the Pennsy, we kept pace with a car in which two girls sat nude. They were very friendly, but they didn't stop. They only waved and smiled and taunted us by slowing, if they got ahead, or speeding up if we caught them. We got off on the Philadelphia approaches and Andy dropped me at the "Y." He went on to Washington.
So I stood on the curb sweating. It was damned hot. The shower I'd taken fifteen minutes before wasn't going to be effective for long. The cab came and I lugged my stuff into it. We shot through Philly making it for the uptown bus station. The bus drove up as I got out of the cab and I ran inside to get a ticket. The clerk saw me and yelled over the loudspeaker to the driver, "One for New York--hold it!"
I ran back outside. The typewriter case came open as I climbed into the bus and I said a prayer: "Gad damn it!" I closed the case and stumbled up the aisle and took a seat. The bus started. After I caught my breath in the stifling heat, I hoisted the bag up on the rack and placed the typewriter in my lap. I opened my window, then looked around at the passengers.
There was a pleasant-faced salesman who looked ready to break into a pink, confident smile. A student, neat in his chinos and fresh shirt, was reading Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon; I could see this by the cover of his book. A stylishly dressed, middle-aged woman announced to her companion that she was tired of traveling by train and plane, and thought a bus trip would be nice for a change. A young woman tried to silence her loudly questioning child while a has-been sharpie wearing an outdated, wide-brimmed hat looked indulgently on. There were two soldiers and a sailor who got together and talked their particular language of barracks, leaves, liberties, sergeants, officers, women and ports of call. They drank while they talked.
A couple of carefully made up young women were figuring the best way to get from the 34th Street Station up to Times Square, and an expert driver, I gathered from his conversation, sat right behind the driver and talked about traffic and speed and the most gruesome accidents he'd seen on the road.
I shut out the sound of the voices and began to think of myself. One more hour and I'd be back in it, the peculiar American ratrace, plus. I had that flash of fear which comes when I think of what I might be in another ten years. I wondered how many of the years gone by I'd wasted; I'd always been conscious of time and how fast it could go. It seemed I'd done everything I should have, but I was still running, feeling that oblique hunger for a thing I didn't even know.
I had had it all planned. My dreams, the things I'd been working for, were to pay off in another five years. They were not elaborate dreams; I'd have a job I liked, and I'd grow in it, have security in it and be able to do other things when I had time. It was in essence quite a simple dream. There are in America many people for whom work they desire is achieved as a matter of course. They don't have to dream about it. But I had some doubt my dreams would come off. Still, dreams can be either the best or worst things in the world to have. You're walking around dead if you don't dream.
I shifted in my seat. As the sports announcers say when the score is tied, "It's a new ball game," and it was. Starting time: twenty minutes. Twenty minutes--and if I didn't get a job in New York? I tried not to think of it. Don't think JOB, don't think it. Avoid it as an evil omen. Say it! I turned to look out the window. Say it! my mind shouted, JOB, J-O-B, Job. All right, Job. I'll get a job. Funny, other questions, didn't bother me once I handled that one.