Tick, tick, tick

I was having a beer in the Beatty Club, in the heart of that little gas stop of a town, enjoying the hospitality of the owner, a pleasant local with the interesting name of Alphius, when in walked none other than the dark, angry underbelly of present-day unemployed America. Smiley faces would be wise to duck under a table.

This Underbelly had a name—Ziggy. As soon as he walked in the door, I could sense something big city about the dude. Not just the volume in his voice, but the hint of a dialect that was major urban. Turned out to be Chicago. He was about six feet, solid, with crew cut hair. He asked Alphius if there was any work he could do for food and drink. That wasn’t happening, but we included Ziggy in our chat and found out that he was trying to get north, to Sacramento, where he hoped to hook up with a pal. Ziggy’s rap was all about how he had been walking throughout America, from the Keys to California, engaged in a so-far futile search for a decent job but hopeful for a break once he got to Sacto. Well, here was my cue. I stepped up and told him I was driving up to Reno in the morning, and he was welcome to come along. I had in my mind’s eye a vision of traveling with a guy loaded with stories about all the cool people he’s encountered on his search for employment, all the interesting anecdotes, great adventures, colorful places, etc. For those of you who remember our own Ed the Waver, I was thinking that Ziggy would maybe even turn out to be a working class version of Ed. Mellow, funny, maybe even neo-spiritual.

By the time we had driven from Beatty to Goldfield, I realized I had a full-on time bomb riding shotgun.This was a man who is by now feeling so pulverized by frustration in not finding a job (he’s a handyman, experienced in shipyards), so beat down after wandering America for three years that he’s now pretty much in perpetual seethe mode. I was not hearing much about the good people who had taken him in, fed him homemade apple pie, given him stuff, sheltered him, and all that cool “what a great country” jazz. I was hearing about the guys who stomped him for a laugh in Florida, who robbed him at gunpoint in New Orleans; about cops who give rides to the county line in the middle of the night, drop you off, and say Don’t Come Back; the missions and shelters that made him want to sleep in another culvert. I wasn’t giving a ride to a new version of Ed the Waver. This dude was Ed the Strangler, who liked to talk about how it’s really a good day to die, and how many people he should take with him on the way out, a favorite topic of the Zigster.

We made it to Reno, and I took Ziggy to the bus station, bought a $26 dollar ticket to Sacramento, and wished him well. I drove home thinking this country really needs to make some headway on this unemployment thing. Pronto.