by Michael C. Keith
If you were color blind, you’d be a better person.
It seemed to me that we’d been standing on the blazing stretch of Route 1 south of Savannah half of my 12 years on the planet.
“My legs are getting rubbery from being here so long, Dad. Georgia drivers just don’t like hitchhikers,” I griped.
“Only been here a couple hours . . . at the most, Mick,” said my dad.
“Well, I bet we’ve been trying to get a ride twice that long.”
“Look . . . 2 hours and 8 minutes, to be exact,” replied my dad, showing me his watch.
“Are you going to sell it when we get to Jacksonville?” I asked, as my dad wiped the crystal of his Bulova with a crumpled napkin from his back pocket.
“Not if it gets any more dusty looking. Nobody will take it. But, yeah, guess I’ll have to try to hock it so I can feed us and get us a place to lay our heads tonight.
“Why can’t we just eat and hit the road to Miami? It’s not that far. We’ll already be in Florida.”
“It’s over 300 miles south of Jacksonville, and the way things are going at the moment, it’ll be hard enough just to get across the Florida state line by dark, Mick. But don’t worry about it. It’s my problem.”
When my mom and dad divorced I went with my dad. I wanted to be with him, because I knew things wouldn’t be dull. My two younger sisters stayed behind with my mom. My dad swore he would take care of me and try to give her a few dollars a week to help her with the girls, as he called them. But the very next day we took off for Florida.
We covered the first leg of our trip on a Greyhound bus. It got us to Raleigh, North Carolina, and from there we had to hitch rides, because we ran out of money for more tickets. It took us only two to get to Savannah, where my dad found an AA meeting and a guy that let us stay with him in his trailer overnight. He gave us some breakfast and drove us to the town line. There he handed my dad a fistful of Camels as we climbed from his pickup. That made Dad really happy because he loved to smoke more than anything.
It was on that steaming stretch of road where we were dropped off that we stood for what felt like half my lifetime. Cars drove by us like we weren’t even there. The more we waited the more impatient I got and the more irritated dad got.
“Damn, it’s 1959! You’d think the human race would have developed enough compassion by now to give a decent appearing man and his kid a ride.”
* * *
It was well into our third hour of waiting for someone to stop that a dusty old pickup truck pulled over. It wasn’t until we opened its rusty door that we realized the driver was colored.
“Hop in, folks. Going down the road a piece, and I’ll be happy to take you with me. Get you out of the sun for a while anyways.”
My father hesitated slightly before climbing aboard, and I thought it was because the driver wasn’t white. Then I figured it was because he thought the ride would be too local to bother with. He’d told me he didn’t want to take any short hops because they use up so much time and leave you stranded in the sticks.
“Every little mile closer to where we’re going helps. Thanks,” he said, reaching over me and closing the door. “Where you headed?”
“Brunswick. What about you, fellas?”
“Trying to get to Jacksonville today, unless someone gives us a ride straight through to Miami, our final destination.”
“Miami, huh? That’s a good stretch of miles from here. Well, I’m only goin’ as far as Brunswick, but I imagine you won’t have no trouble catching a ride to Jacksonville from there. Only an hour more south, if you be keeping to speed.”
“Appreciate the lift. We were standing back there quite a while. I was starting to think we weren’t going to get a ride.”
“What your names, gentlemen?”
“I’m Curt and the squirt here is Mick,” answered my dad.
“Well, hello, Curt and Mick. Mine is Foster.”
“Good to meet you, Foster,” said my dad, extending his hand.
“Likewise, . . . and you, too, Mick,” said Foster, shaking my hand.
“Where you comin’ from?”
“Baltimore. No jobs there so had to leave to find work to support the family. You live in Brunswick?” asked my dad.
“Oh, no. Live right back here in Savannah. Have all my life. Just taking some stuff to my aunt there. The basket of apples and some canned greens and tomatoes my wife did up. My Aunt Lucy can’t do as much any more, so we help when we can.”
“That’s real good of you. We’re trying to get to Miami, so I can get a hotel job. When I do, I’ll send for his mom and sisters to join us.”
“Oh, so you a hotel man, huh?”
“Yeah, been in the racket most of my life.”
“Hey, sonny, you care for an apple? Thems real tasty ones back there. Reach through the window and grab you one.”
As he suggested, I reached through the back window and grabbed the largest apple I could get my hand around. My dad took it from me and wiped it with his soiled napkin.
“Just getting the dust off,” he said to Foster, and I was embarrassed thinking my dad cleaning it might insult him.
“Get yourself one, too, Curt, if you want.”
“Oh, no thanks, I’m fine, but the boy is always hungry.”
“Kids always be that. It natural. Got to fill their bellies to grow.”
* * *
Around noon we reached Brunswick, and Foster drove past his aunt’s house to the south end of the city to give us the best chance for catching a ride to Jacksonville.
“Thanks for going out of your way for us,” said my dad, as the pickup came to a stop.
“You fellas be good now. Been nice having you along for the ride.”
Foster reached into his pocket and pulled out a crinkled dollar bill and offered it to my dad.
“Ain’t much, but maybe get you something to drink so the sun don’t dry you men out.”
My father seemed surprised by Foster’s generosity and thanked him as we climbed from the truck. We waved as it made a U-turn and drove away.
“Now that was one of the good coloreds,” said my dad, sticking out his thumb at an approaching vehicle.
“Yeah,” I responded. “He seemed real nice.”
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. www.michaelckeith.com
Category: Fiction, Short Story