Wandering through the streets of your town, you feel very conspicuous carrying your bag, as if everyone you see knows you're a runaway. Are you a runaway? How smart was this? None of your friends had the guts to go along with you. Were they the smart ones?

Half of your problems, you realize, have to do with this stupid town you live in and the idiot people who you are forced to see every day. In another town, you would be able to choose your crowd. In another town, you won't be trapped by what people think you're like. People won't know you at all. They'll only know what you show them. You can be anything you like. You can pretend to be from any country you like. You can change the way you dress. You can be completely silent, and everyone will wonder what's up with you. You can rock all night and sleep all day. You can be anything you want. You can be free.

As you walk past the highway on-ramp, you get the definite feeling that hitching a ride to someplace else is exactly the right thing to do. You need to get out of here. You can stand by this road and put your thumb out right now and free yourself from everything.

So you do. One minute later a red pickup with a pile of furniture and boxes in the back pulls over. As you run up to the cab, some guy about 10 years older than you leans across the bench seat and pops your door open. As you sit in his truck and he pulls back into the driving lane, you don't feel so nervous. This must be what God wants me to do, you think, because I got a ride so fast.

"I'm Bob," he says, extending his hand. He's tall and muscular, with short dark hair, and he wears a red plaid shirt. He looks to you like somebody who builds buildings for a living.

It occurs to you that you can make up any name you want for yourself now. "I'm Oak," you lie. "Thanks for the ride."

Is he going to ask me what I'm doing? You sit beside him in uncomfortable silence. He must have a dog because there's dog hair in everything -- not a lot, but enough to know that it's got white and brown fur. The cab smells a little doggish, too. But what do you care? You're grateful for the ride.

"I'm sure glad I saw you," he says. "I need the company. I've been driving for six hours already, goin' just about crazy listening to the radio and talking to myself. I'm goin' to Hollywood. I'll take you as far as you need to go if it's along the way."

"Hollywood for me, too," you say, and settle down in your seat. You put your bag on the floor between your legs and look out the window at your town fading away behind you.
Yes! You smile.

"So, you have a dog?" you ask.

He laughs. "You can tell, huh? Yeah, I
had a dog. But my girlfriend and me broke up, and she got to keep it. We got the dog together. You know, diving down this road hour after hour, I keep thinking I ought to have fought harder to keep the dog. But I just wanted to get out of there. I thought about turning around and driving back, but I've come too far, now. Besides, she'll take good care of him. She always liked the dog better'n she liked me."

You laugh, and Bob smiles. This guy is okay, you think. He's a runaway, too, in his own way. You're going to like driving to Hollywood with him. Hollywood seems like the place for runaways of all ages. Later in the ride you'll ask where he's planning to stay when he gets there. If you two get along, you might be able to crash with him for a few days until you figure out your next step.

"I wish I could pitch in for gas and stuff," you apologize, "but I don't have any money. But if you need any help unloading the truck when you get there or something, I'd be happy to return the favor somehow."

"Return the favor? Thanks. I'll keep that in mind," Bob says with a mischievous grin.
What's behind that smile? He yawns a big sleepy yawn and looks at his gas gauge. "Couple more hours 'till we're empty again," he says. "Looks like it's time for my medicine."

He takes a small white pill from a brown pill bottle. "Does it make you drowsy?" you ask, more out of conversation than concern.

Bob grins. "Drowsy?" He puts the bottle back into his shirt pocket. "The last thing this stuff does is put you to sleep."

Soon, you wish you had something to keep you up, too. Bob explains the story of his life, without asking you for a word of yours, which is okay because you don't know what you'd tell him, anyway. But your body, especially your butt, has settled numbly into your seat in the rhythm of the steady clump, clump, clump of the road. You close your eyes and yawn ? and you're out.

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