Friday, June 19, 2009

I left Sylvania yesterday. I'd slept in the basement, and when I woke up and came upstairs, no one was home. Just a note:

That basically solidified an easy day. I did as the note said and left a thank-you note.

The roads in western Ohio are on a grid. Every block is a mile by a mile. East-west roads have letters, north-south roads have numbers. Today I was able to spoil myself and stop regularly for snacks. My first was at the intersection of roads 4 and M.

Since they were rapidly getting beaten up in the backpack—not to mention it was 80 degrees out—I immediately ate all three of the apples I'd packed. I tossed the seeds into a ditch by the intersection. Perhaps there will someday be an apple tree in Fulton County at the intersection of 4 and M.

I followed M for miles. Ten miles down, at 14 and M, which looked absolutely identical to 4 and M, I ate some more granola bars. Then M ended, rather unceremoniously, at its intersection with 17.

No problem. I jogged over to L and continued westward along the grid. Eventually I got onto a state highway and took it to an actual city: Bryan.

I had heard of Bryan because it has an Amtrak station. All the trains pass through in the middle of the night, so I'd never actually been awake for it. When I pulled in, it looked decently nice, much like other small Ohio cities I'd passed.

I met Joel here, and brought my bike into the apartment where he lives with his brother Nick and his friend Harley (short for Harlan). I rolled my bike into the small, dingy apartment and let myself collapse on the couch. One of its sides had fallen off, and the sitting area on it was significantly tilted.

We just sat and talked for a bit. Then a door I hadn't even noticed opened up, and Harley came out, in a stupor as if he had just woken up. It was 7 PM.

"I'm gonna sit down next to you."

I shrugged. "Go for it."

"Harley, this guy's biking across the country, he's from Massachusetts."

"Oh, dude," said Harley, slowly, still in a stupor. "I know someone in Massachusetts."

"Oh, yeah? Where?"

"I don't know. You want to know his name?"

"Well, sure, I guess."

"Caravan. It was Caravan."

"Don't know him."

"No, wait, it was Corovan. We just called him Caravan because he was an ass." Harley's voice trailed off. He lit a pipe. "You smoke?"

I shook my head. "No pot, just occasional tobacco."

The room filled with uproarious laughter. "No one here has the money for pot, dude. This is tobacco. You want to smell?"

I wasn't going to be a snot about it and tell them I only buy tobacco at Leavitt & Pierce in Cambridge and can't stand anything cheaper. "Sure, I'll smell it," I said.

He shoved a container in my face and I actually sniffed it before realizing it was filled with old cigarette butts. Harley took a butt out, unwrapped it, and shook the tobacco into his pipe.

"I wish I could afford new cigarettes."


Later in the night, he came by again.

"You want some food? I got some burgers and bacon."

"Burgers would be awesome, but skip the bacon."

He paused. "You allergic....or a Jew?"

I paused too, wondering if it's really a wise idea to tell him, but the pause had already given it away. "Jew."

He thought for a little while. Then he said "Oh, huh. Well, if anyone makes fun of ya, you know what you say? Say 'Oh, yeah? Well, I killed your God. And he ain't coming back!' Funny, huh?"

I shrugged. "Why would anyone make fun of me about it? I've got plenty of easier targets."

"That's cool, dude, that's cool." He looked at me approvingly, and slapped my shoulder, as if giving a compliment. "You don't look Jewish, anyway."

I grinned. "Neither do you."

"You want to talk religion, dude, I'm all up. I can talk about religion or politics all night. I took theology."

"Oh, yeah? How much of it?"

"Just our prison class. I took a cooking class too. I'm a certified chef."


"I been tryin' to get as much out of life as I can. I have lymphoma, man. I know I'm gonna die. So I get the most out of everything. Get locked up all the time. Got 15 kids. Another on the way."

I couldn't contain my curiosity. "Are any two of your kids from the same mom?"



"So what did you go to jail for?"

"Which time?"

"How many times did you go?"

"Been locked up 43 times. Only been to prison twice."

"Then how about the first time you went to prison?"

"Armed robbery."

"What did you hit up?"

His face fell. He gave me a fine, judge me look. Then he turned away and quietly muttered "A school."

"Just needed the money that badly?"

"I guess. I didn't even remember I done it until they told me the next day."

"Were you in prison here in Ohio?"

"You wanna see where I was in prison?"


He handed me his wallet and opened it. All it had was a Florida driver's license. Pensacola.

"Wanna see where I was born?"


He handed me an Alabama birth certificate. 1989. Some rural town I'd never heard of. Father aged 30, driver for a wrecking service. Mother aged 22, unemployed.

"And that's my life."


"Let's go to the jubilee, man," said Harley. "It's so much fun. You got any money? Maybe you could get us tickets for the berry-go-round?"

"It's been rough with work, dude," I said to him.

"Yeah, dude, I know, I'm joking. We'll just walk around. Hey, you mind if I stop by my friend's house? He's got my knife."

This was no good. Last thing I wanted was to be arrested in Bryan, OH.

"Dude, let's just go to the jubilee, you can get the knife later, what are you going to use it for there?"

"Fine, but we're stopping by my brother's, OK?"

"OK, cool."

Harley's brother had seven or so earrings in each ear and some very impressive tattoos on his arms.

"You're from Massachusetts, man? That's awesome. I've been there. Cape Cod and stuff. I partied in Hyannis. Once I was lying around, totally f___ed up on the beach, and these girls come over and start tugging on me and are like 'you wanna party?' and I'm like 'hell's YEAH!'"

Harley interrupted. "Hey, man, you got cigarettes?"

"Yeah, just got a pack."

"Can I have one?"


Harley got his cigarette and we were off.


At the jubilee, he went straight over to a girl he knew.

"You've got to meet this guy. He's biking across the country."

The girl didn't blink. "What the f__k was up with that s__t you were up to yesterday?"

Drama ensued. I looked around at the other people, but didn't want to wander too far, since I couldn't get back into the apartment by myself.

"Hey, Greg. Come here, lemme introduce you. We've got a weird relationship. My name's Harley, her name's Harley, an' I have a daughter named Harley. But no kids from her. She's my ex, but I still consider her kids my nephews." She had three kids. She'll be 18 in August.


"Hey, Greg, you don't mind if I bring Harley home?"

"Dude, I don't care."

"You have good hearing? If you do, make sure you cover your ears."

"Dude, I biked all day and now it's midnight and I'm out here with you. I'm going to pass out and not hear anything."


I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder, lightning and hail. So much for leaving in the morning.


"Hey, do you guys know a good barber?"

Harley and Harley argued for a while (Harley the guy claimed he'd learned to cut hair professionally in prison school), and then we went with Harley the girl's suggestion and I got a cheap haircut. I really needed it already. Harley and Harley came with me. Harley the guy got dressed up for the occasion.

"So," I asked Harley the guy, "what are we going to do about food?"

He just shook his head. "Ain't got no food at home. I'll just wait until I find some somewhere."

"You plan to find any today?"


"Well, I can't just not eat for a day if I plan to bike later. Come on, we're going to Wal-Mart."


"You need to earn your keep though, if I'm buying you food. What do you know how to make?"

"I'm a certified chef from prison school, dude. I make awesome burgers."

"Good, take me to the aisle with the cheapest meat."

"OK. See here? That's the processed meat. This here is how much meat to how much other stuff. This is 80/20, you can see the price on that. This is 73/27, you can see it's much cheaper."

"73/27 it is, grab the big $5 thing. What else do we need?"


Harley the girl chimed in. "They had white for $1.18."

We went to the bread aisle. Sure enough. We got some.

"Anything else?"

"A bit of stir-fry would be good to go along with it."

"Just noodles?"

"Well, yeah, and some spices and cayenne peppers would be good. And some soy sauce."

I looked at him. "Dude, if you're starving, why are you thinking about spices? This entire trip I've been so hungry, I haven't given a s__t about taste."

He shrugged. "That's how they taught us to think in prison school."

We skipped the spices and got plain stir fry.

"Please," pleaded Harley. "Could you afford to toss in a bag of these for 89 cents? It'll taste totally different."

"What have you got at home?"

"Just some ketchup."

"OK, I'll toss that in, but we're also using your ketchup."


We went home. Harley had forgotten to take a key, so he had to break in by pushing in his air conditioner. It drained all over his bed, which he didn't care about because he had no sheets.

He just flipped the mattress over. Then he made burgers.

1 comment: