In the new year (1976), I left the Rez. It wasn't any one thing... It was a whole buncha things, like the weather. On the Fourth of July, it had been 117. On the fourth of January, it got down to -30. See that was the whole thing: everything was extreme, and all of a sudden I just felt like I could use a good dose of subtlety. It's a rare thing for me, and, when it comes upon me, I try to listen. So I packed up my trusty '75 school bus yellow VW Rabbit and headed east... To Yellow Springs, OH.
My stepbrother, Steve, was going to school there. For a free place to live, he managed some apartments, and was renovating them. He had a little construction company, the Fly By Night Construction Company (it had a little flying angel logo, like a Playboy bunny with wings), and I became an employee. I shared a two-room apartment (living room and kitchen) with two ladies and a baby. I'm not sure where we all slept, but we were young and communes were cool, so we called ourselves the 'Kitchen Kommune.' Spelling things with a 'k' was also very cool. And, boy, howdy, did we think we were kool.
Ok... I was basically drifting. My Aunt Anne, my Dad's sister, was going to the family cabin in Phoenicia, NY, for the summer and invited me to stay with her, so I drove up in late May and spent the summer and early fall there. In June, I got a call from the guy I'd worked for on the Rez, John. How would I like to spend a week in Washinton, DC, helping with the tribe's exhibit on the Mall? It was the Bicentennial, and the government wanted to invite all the tribes, First Nations, Indians or whatever you want to call them, to come show off their cultures... Those very cultures that the government had done so much to destroy and undermine years before. John had a bunch of tapes we'd made of dances and ceremonies and stuff and basically needed someone to babysit the machines with him and another guy so that we could all go visit everyone else's displays. I'd get gas money, a place to crash and a hundred bucks. Such a deal!
Other than that, the only thing I did that summer was to write and produce a cookbook for the little colony of cabins that we belong to. My aunt and my friend, Susie, helped and we did a lot of cooking and eating and general fun stuff.
In the fall, I headed off to Madison, WI, to share a place with my best friend from high school, Michael. Actually, I have two best friends from high school, Michael and Nancy, whom I refer to as my BFFHS(M) and BFFHS(F). So, just in case you need me to connect the dots, Michael is my BFFHS(M). We lived on Williamson St in Madison, in between the old Willy Street Coop and the Crystal Corner Bar. It was a great place, but October is NOT the time of year to move to fucking Wisconsin if you hate cold weather.
I started looking for work, and had applications in all over the place when I got a call from John on the Rez. He had another pick-up job for me... It would pay a couple of hundred bucks. I could come visit his family for Thanksgiving. Sounded cool.
So I got into my '75 school bus yellow Rabbit - notice how I left the word 'trusty' off? That's a CLUE! - which was acting up. The clutch was funky. It wouldn't work when I would first start the car, but by the time I would get to a mechanic, it would be working fine. The mechanics would send me off on my merry way figuring I was just another crazy woman who didn't know shit about cars. Hell, back then, women couldn't even buy cars on their own if they were married, without the husband having his name on the title, too. Wasn't legal, 'cos, you know, women are such twits. I found a couple folks to pay for gas on the way out if I'd drive thru Minneapolis St Paul. Since what they were willing to pay was the cost of the whole drive out to Valentine, I was willing to take a detour. Most of the time, I would have driven US 18 across from Madison into Valentine, but if you're going through Mpls, you have to drive IH 90. Which was just as well, because the first winter blizzard hit as we were leaving...
The clutch was acting really cranky. Essentially, I had two gears, 4th and reverse. When you're driving in the snow and ice, this isn't totally bad; you can't accelerate too fast in 4th gear, so you have a better chance of not spinning your tires. Kinda made it an 'Indian car,' which was what all the held-together-with-gum-and-baling-wire cars on the Rez were called.
I dropped my riders off and continued on, stopping only for gas. It was snowy, but not too bad until I got to US 83 between Mission and Valentine. And, then the road just disappeared.
I guess they were fixing it, but you couldn't tell where you were supposed to drive. It was darkish... And snowing. And the road and the fields looked just about the same. So, I just tried to keep all the earthmoving equipment on my right, and that worked. I was pretty damned glad when I came over the bluff and could see the lights of Valentine on the other side of the Niobrara River. It was probably the last time I was glad about anything for over a week.
The job had evaporated. John, the guy I was visiting, was having family and financial problems. My car was fucked. I thot about going to North Platte, about 100 miles south, to the VW dealers to see if they could fix the clutch. But when I talked to them on the phone, they said they had no clue how to fix a Rabbit. They were terrified of 'em. "Honey, you bring that car down here and you'll see grown men running from a Rabbit," they told me on the phone. Guess not...
I had about $17 to my name, which was enough to get back to Madison and then some... If nothing went wrong... Every day I stayed my money seemed to dwindle, so I decided just to drive... The day after the second blizzard... The one that closed the Interstate. Only I didn't watch TV, so I didn't know about that.
I drove north on 83 and stopped at Murdo for gas and a cup of coffee. It had taken me about three hours to go 77 miles. I definitely needed a cup of coffee and I had ten cents. I went in to the truck stop and ordered my coffee. As I sat drinking it, staring into the blackness of my cup (free refills), the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up. Someone was watching me. Now, I'm NOT dumb (really) (foolhardy, yes; guilty of wishful thinking, yes; but dumb, no) (although I can see why you might have your doubts) so I didn't just turn around and scan the room. No, I've been to the movies; I looked in the mirror behind the counter. And there he was, staring at me. Did I panic? Yes, but very, very quietly. He was just your average youngish white guy dressed in winter clothes. Nothing remarkable about him, except he was making my hair stand on end. So I got up off my stool, left a nickle tip, and went to the restroom. Although some of my best thinking is done in the rest room, (hey, guys, it's where we women communicate with the mother ship) no great ideas came to me. Maybe he'll be gone, I thot.
Fat chance. When I came out, he was still there. Damn. I thot about going into the gas station part and, umm, like reporting him to someone, but it seemed much more likely that he would know the people in the truck stop than I would. So I didn't. I just got into my school bus yellow 1975 VW Rabbit and drove off... Very, very slowly in 4th gear. And the guy got into a blue-ish pick up truck and drove off behind me.
The interstate was closed. There was a BIG sign saying 'CLOSED,' but people were driving on it, anyway, in the one lane that was ice-rutted but driveable. I guess they put those 'CLOSED' signs up just to let you know that if anything happens, well, it's your own damn fault. They told you the road was closed, but, no, you drove on it anyway. And there I was driving on it, with the asshole who scared the shit out of me tailgating me. Then, he passed me, which was no easy feat. I thot he was trying to run me off of the road. So, the minute he got beside me, I took my foot off the gas and then he was in front of me. I slowed down. He slowed down. We came to an exit and he started signaling. Hope grew in my heart! He was leaving the interstate! But, no, he was just trying to let me know that I, we, whatever, should pull over.
Honey, the thot didn't even cross my mind. I had managed to write down his license plate number on a couple of pieces of paper. I stuck them under the seat, in the glove compartment, shit, anyplace I could think. If the motherfucker got me, I wanted his ass caught!
We drove along that way for about 200 miles... At 30 mph. That's right, for seven fucking hours I drove with this fucking asshole. Sometimes he'd pull in front and do the signal thing. Sometimes he'd drive behind me and tailgate. It was grey. It was well below freezing. It was getting late.
And then, miraculously, as I neared the state border, he went away. I kept driving, but he wasn't behind me. I thot he might have taken another route to come upon me unawares in the night, so I went north about 60 miles to drive east on US 14 for awhile. I thot I had enough gas to make it in to New Ulm, but I didn't. I ran out just inside the city limits. I could see a fucking gas station, an open fucking gas station, but I was going to have to walk to it. I got out of my car for the first time in hours. It was cold and black with little stars shining very far away. And then a car pulled up behind me.
It was an older, brownish station wagon. "What now," I thot, as a man got out. "Hi," he said, "You look like you might need some help!" Truer words were never spoken. He didn't come up close to me but stood back at his car. He looked ok. My hair was not standing on end. I exhaled and said "I've run out of gas."
"No problem," he says, "I can drive you to that gas station over there and we'll get ya going in no time! Get on in!" I thot of the girl I'd picked up between St Francis and Kilgore about a year before; the girl who'd sat in the back seat of my car with a small, metal nail file clutched in her hands. Shit. I didn't even have a nail file... But I got in the car. Amazingly, the man drove me to the gas station. And that was where my next troubles began.
They wanted a $10 deposit for the gas can. I had a bit less than that, and, if I gave them everything I had in my wallet, I wouldn't have any money to put any gas in the gas can. I explained this very calmly to the attendant. "Gas can's $10," he said.
It had been a really long day... A really hard day... I was emotionally a bit on edge, and in a bind, and this motherfucker was not going to let me give him all the money I had on me, plus my drivers license and walk out with a gas can. I couldn't help it. I started to cry. He was totally and completely unmoved. "Gas can's $10," he repeated.
The guy who'd picked me up came in. He said "What's the problem?" The attendant told him the gas can was $10. The guy who'd picked me up handed him a $20. "That should take care of it," he said, "Give the young lady the gas can." So I got the gas can. It was a big one. I was just going to put a gallon in it, but my guy said to fill it up, so I did. We got back into his car and drove to my car. On the way I told him a little bit about my day. "Wow," he said.
When we got to my car he helped me fill it. "I guess I'll see you back at the gas station," I said, as I got in my car. He said he wasn't going back to the gas station. "But you have to get your $20 deposit," I said.
"That's your money," he told me. "You take the can back and fill up your car and go on to Madison. You get something to eat if you need it... And make sure he gives you the change!" (Those were the days!)
I asked him for his card so I could send him the money back. "I have a daughter about your age; if something like this ever happened to her, I'd want someone to help her out," he told me. He was a nice man. He was an insurance agent from New Ulm, MN. He saved my life.
It's not just that he bought me gas on a cold and starry night. On that cold and starry night he gave me my belief back. It's probably a belief I shouldn't have: you know, that the universe is a nice place. 'Cos it isn't... But I'm not sure you're better off if you go around believing that it isn't a nice place.
I don't know where evil comes from, but when it's here on earth, it's manifested by men. Or women. But I do know this. The good on this earth, that's manifested by men and women too. And that's why I carry a gas can... And jumper cables. And why I'll buy you a gallon of gas, if you need it.
You betcha. Small price to pay.