We were pulling into a Walmart, nothing special in the course of this trip, when I saw you guys.
The six or seven of you were sitting in a patch of grass on the main turn into the lot. Ratty hair on face and heads, cardboard sign, two dogs, dirt-muted clothes, red plastic gas can on display, the lot. Crusties or railriders, maybe, hard to say from a glance but travelers for sure.
One of you offered a peace sign and I waved back and acknowledgement from the passenger seat.
After we passed Keaton called from the rear, “Hey dad I think those people saw your Grateful Dead stickers on the RV, they were waving and smiling and hollering!” Sharaun parked us clear across the lot from you, way over here in front of the garden center. Because of you, likely. Sometimes it’s easier than lying or saying “no.”
Suddenly I wanted to meet you guys and hear a little of your stories. I decided I’d walk over and give you $20. I separated the bill from the rest and stuck it in my opposite pocket so I didn’t have to thumb through in front of you.
I had to cross the entire lot so you saw me and knew I was coming. At shouting distance I hollered, “What’s up family?,” through a smile. Don’t know what posessed me to say that. A car passed so I couldn’t hear your reaction but a few of you stood to greet me and everything was smiles so I kept coming.
I stood among you and asked how everyone was doing. Up close I could see tattoos that told me even if you weren’t trainhopping currently some of you had before, but regardless of how you identified I quickly decided you weren’t scumfucks.
Your crew was six humans and two pit mixes, bitch and son. I met the dogs first with a sniff and head scratch. Then you. Two from Alabama, the spokesperson and leader & what I thought of as a young protege who you said you’d only recently picked up and was, “turning out to be an excellent traveler.” The mother of the group, though I doubt she’d cotton to my placing her so, and sole woman was from Michigan. Two others, a quiet but funny guy from Minnesota and one dude from Georgia who I didn’t really get to meet because he took the bitch back to the van when she got nasty with me for showing more attention to her pup than her.
You were hoping to get to family somewhere before the rains came. You’d been in California and bought a newer conversion van but you’d abandoned it in Alabama when the state wanted $300+ to renew the registration. We talked about traveling and you shared a little of your ethos, “Never take more than you need. Play it straight.”
I offered the $20 and said I hoped it helped you get where you were going. Hugs were had all around. Real hugs, like humans thanking humans for being humans. As I left and was almost out of earshot I heard Mom say, “See, I told you he was family!”
It’s a good memory. Godspeed, family.