Tales from the Road – Cloudy Decisions

By Mark Kneeskern

Sometimes, when I am torn to select between two paths, I allow external conditions to choose for me. After waiting for a while on an entrance ramp in the blazing heat for a ride, I feel like it’s about time to try the smaller highway … yet I might hook a long distance lift if I keep to the interstate. I’m stuck between wanting to quickly escape Eastern Colorado’s smelly cattle trucks and prisons, and wanting to get back to the peaceful little highways. I decide that if the sun goes behind a big cloud, I’ll try hitching towards Ft. Morgan on Highway 34.

The sun goes behind a cloud. I’m throwing the pack on and walking to Highway 34. It was good timing. A Mexican guy, Federico, with his two little daughters, gives me a ride in the back of his pickup which is hauling a trailer. He says he can take me to the other side of Ft. Morgan if I don’t mind him running an errand on the way. No problem. Federico goes to his workplace and picks up his paycheck. He drives around town in an ambiguous fashion and ends up in a depressing little neighborhood with 1970s ranch-style houses which are crammed together, looking sad. These houses were built to last about twenty years …it’s been forty. Scabby lawns with one scrawny tree in sight. The smell of cheap cigarettes. Color scheme: dirty white, faded beige, and brown.

This is Federico’s home. He’s dropping off the trailer. We’ll be going in their minivan to the edge of the next town, he says. As I help him detach the trailer, I notice the tattoo on his shoulder … the head of a long-haired pussycat has fancy scrolled text below it. “Ambrosia.” His tired-looking wife comes out momentarily with more kids to load in the minivan. She says hello (instead of, “Hello, strange hitchhiker who is going to ride somewhere with my children.”) before she and Federico head back inside, leaving me completely alone with their little girls. She had no questions about who I am or what I’m doing, just a blank stare. I don’t think her name is Ambrosia.

While I’m waiting for Federico to come back out of his house, I notice that one of the little girls has become fascinated with me. Her stare makes me blush and I make faces at her. She giggles. She kills me with cuteness. Using my peripheral vision, I’m observing another interaction nearby. A skinny shirtless man with tan arms, shoulders, and neck, but bright white skin in the shape of a wifebeater, is looking under the hood of his truck. A frail woman is standing there with a couple of small children. They aren’t talking much. He looks weary and begins walking in a listless manner towards his house. I hear her say “So I guess I’ll call you later?” He does not acknowledge her but instead keeps on dragging his ass towards the house. She stands, staring at him, then limps away, one kid under her arm and one holding onto the hem of her dress. I suddenly wish I was anywhere but here. Take me back to the interstate entrance ramp, please. I’ll live out the rest of my years there … just don’t leave me here in this place.

On the way to the city limits, I learn more about my chauffeur. Federico used to work in prisons and hopes to do so again one day, which would mean moving the family to Cañon City, Colorado … prison central. He used to hitchhike and knows what it’s like. Responsibilities guide his life now … the kids, the mortgage, the car payment. So he has to live vicariously by hearing stories from the people he picks up on the road. Federico hands me a plastic bag. It has cans of food in it. They have pop-tops. Mixed fruit in light syrup and two cans of Chunky soup. There’s also a bottle of water in there. People often give me things when I’m hitching, and at first I think “I don’t need to take their charity, a ride is enough,” but I never refuse. It would amount to an insult. Saying goodbye to the little girls in the back of the mini-van, I’m out on the side of the road again. Now I’m away from the interstate, away from depressing flatland suburbs, away from wife-beaters, and I feel relaxed.


Mark Kneeskern is about six feet tall, 170 pounds. He has blonde hair and a beard, and always looks you in the eye. If you see this man, please pick him up!