Sadly, in todays world of smartphones, readers, touchpads, netbooks, laptops and a plethora of media, the smell of the printed word seems to be diminishing. The smell? yes that smell of fresh paper and ink that is as distinctive to a new book as is the smell of must, tobacco, and dust is to an old on. Both are addictive to the avid reader.
Oh how many long hours, stranded on countless highways and byways, have I spent in different worlds, eras and lifetimes? All of these fictional worlds can only be found between the covers of a good book. To be able to transport myself from the harsh reality of homelessness to worlds full of adventure, romance, heroic gunfights, riding across the plains on horseback, probably helped me stay away from the proverbial rubber room.
Now I’m not claiming that I have never been in one however, that’s another story.
My pal Jasper and I found that by reading time passed by with less of a harsh bite if we read while being stranded for hours and at times days, trying to get picked up and driven further towards what ever destination had been agreed upon.. Now we got a system going where we took turns getting up and thumbing any oncoming traffic. A lot of times cars and trucks where as scarce as an honest television preacher. Few and far between! Normally this could frustrate any hitchhiker but by introducing books, frustration seemed to be kept at bay.
Jaz and I discovered a rip roaring, very violent series of cutting edge westerns. One series was called Edge, by George G Gilman and the other was called Adam Steele, also by Mr. Gilman. Both series were action packed, violent, with a tad of humour. Even the caption found in the title page was cool. “Not For The Light Hearted” Hell, we where tough enough to be able to handle whatever Mr. Gilman slung down the pipe. We were hooked!
Jasper enjoyed Edge over Adam Steele and I, visa versa. The thing is we would swap books, thus we got to experience each others collection. We always made sure we had ample reading material to go along with our endless supply of “Spits” sunflower seeds and Lord willing, enough tobacco to enjoy the trip.
Food and the need of it popped up every so often. When it did we went on search for truckstops, Salvation Armys and small towns that had meal vouchers available. After a while the grub line was known by heart and travelling was done in such a way as not to get too hungry.
The visual we must have made to the unsuspecting drivers must have created thought patterns that hovered between, “what the hell is that?” to “look Martha, hippies reading. Isn’t that peculiar?” Whatever was in the mind of the passersby didn’t really matter because we had our books. Eventually we began to identify with the western drifters we were reading of.
This may sound insane to the normal people but Jasper and I slowly took on some of the fictional heroes identities. We began to live vicariously through the fictional lives and personas of Edge and Steele. In reality our lives kind of sucked, if you took at look at them. So we lived through these books.We were not simple vagrants anymore. We saw ourselves as modern day western drifters. It helped!
Two grown men sitting on the side of the road, leaning against packs and sleeping bags. Smokes dangling from terse mouths. Eyes slits, hats pulled low and dusty boots rounding off the picture. Straight from the wild west of our slightly delusional minds.
Well now that I look back and capture this visual I can surely understand why rides were very few and far between. Hell, I wouldn’t pick me and Jasper up! “Hide the women and children the nuts are on the loose!”
So you may be asking what is my point here? Well there are a couple. First off we all need an escape, all of us. Life is hard, not just for the homeless or marginalized but for everyone. Take a break and relax. Get into a good book and let life’s problems take a back seat for a spell. Lean back in your favourite chair or back pack and travel to another time and place. A time and place that is waiting for you between the covers of a book. P.S. THEY SMELL GOOD TOO!