Refugee #638

Jungle Blue Morning Twilight, High Desert, California

He’s a rat race refugee. Always moving. Stop for too long and you are back in the game.

The racer goes in circles, hurrying to the finishing line, the same one that was their starting line.

The wanderer isn’t going somewhere and they are where they are. They go down the alley, looking up and around, coming out onto a new road. Going nowhere, they go everywhere.

Some called him an itinerant, a nomad.

He’d been called a wayfarer though he did not travel only by foot. Roadfarer? Transportationfarer is too long a word.

He’d heard traveller used as a synonym for gypsy (a four legged word) on British television in the 90’s. He liked the rebranding because it included those who’d chosen the life.

Growing up, his image of the gypsy was the fortune teller in the travelling show, selling potions and dreams.

In Europe they are seen as tramps and thieves, their arrival marked by the old lady begging near a place where richer travellers congregate. He’d been told, by the man he met while working out which plants the urban gardeners had chosen to grow, that some bands guarded areas where they could be blamed for local mischief.

Knight of the Road: A knight needs a title – Sir Wheel-a-Lot. A Monty Pythonesque name.

Rolling Stone: Moss free but full of contemporary cultural baggage.

Vagabond: The word is so out of fashion that it is romantic.

Bohemian, a.k.a. boho: The mendicant order of artists. It was romantic before it went out of fashion.

He liked wanderer. No goal, no mission, no destination. Aimless travel, never getting attached, always taking pleasure in change, observing what’s happening, enjoying the novelty.

New isn’t always good and there are no intentionally straight paths when wandering. There is no telling if the next step is towards better or worse.

The car dropped him off in front of the hotel with a wrong side of Marseilles discount. The story was that the original owner had bet that the neighbourhood was moving up the social ladder.

The clerk told him they had started appearing on the good value lists and said he should go to the right when leaving the hotel where the clerk thought there were clean rooms available.

The street is wide, well lit by the neon signs of the shuttered stores. The slope tells him he is heading away from the port.

His San Franciscan friend would disapprove. Julius Caesar preferred hill tops because of their strategic advantage, Julio preferred hill bottoms because, when drunk, it is easier to roll down a hill than to climb it.

Up the street a bit,  the light turns to red.

He likes big crossroads. Two large roads are two references for figuring out where you are.

Across the street, just after the light, there is indecipherable lettering on a glass double door. Above the door, gold on black, the word Hotel.

As he gets to the corner, he sees that the glass panel on the lower left-hand side of the door has been replaced by a wooden panel. Its snug fit advertising that it is not a temporary solution. The shadows in the lobby tell of light bulbs that need changing. He heads in the direction of the next urban star.

The sign on the door says to ring the bell after 23:00. After three countdowns, he rings the bell again, holding it for a two second count. A light flickers behind the desk.

The guy that shows up behind the door mimes a key turning in a lock and it being held up to show its chain.

He shakes his head and says he wants a room.

The guy opens his hand next to his ear.

He shouts the word room.

The guy points to another sign on the door.

He faces palms and his hands beg forgiveness from the sleepy man.

The street is getting darker, the brand names don’t come this far. Here they advertise what they sell, not who they are. It’s almost timeless, switch out the shops offering phone unblocking with TV repair shops and you are back in the 70’s.

A new crossroad. The road ahead is residential, lumps of concrete with spots of drying laundry. The sign says to turn right to go to the port and he goes in the direction of the telescoping red lights.

He slows his pace down further, focusing on his feet. First his right foot as he lifts it, and when it is in front of the other, he follows the left foot as it takes the lead. His eyes scan the surroundings, the slower pace giving him more time to look at where he is walking.

There is a coke can at the foot of the lamppost with a stain showing it had not been empty when it arrived there. There was the apartment whose living room was lit by a television, the colour of the light changing, like a two-colour flashing neon sign.

This could be a long night. He corrects himself: A  long walk. Why do people say long summer nights? Nights are short in the summer.

It’s because people are enjoying all those hours where it’s normally cold and dark.

He congratulates himself on the brilliant answer to his own, supposedly rhetorical, question.

A long time ago in Philly, he had saved the cost of a hotel room by joining a late night out and an early bus out of town with a stroll across the city. Kevin has called him crazy, said no one walked through that part of town after dark. He’d replied that the guy who had called him Whitey had said the same thing before breaking out in laughter when he’d said he was on his way to Jersey. He’d felt more uncomfortable in the bus station, putting his bag in a locker so that could allow himself to doze off.

He gets to a square, a sort of park with a dirt lawn. Lights advertise a Hotel Restaurant. He sees he will at least get a beer at this door.

They have a room. His question about the opening hour of the bar earns his a free drink along with the answer that it had officially closed hours ago.

Waking in the late morning, he stands at the window looking out onto the port. Philosophy of the forenoon.

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