A Southern Snowfall-part 3

In good weather that last leg of the bus trip usually takes about four and a half hours. It took almost eight that night. After the other passengers had left the bus the driver—who actually looked like he had aged during the trip—shook my hand and thanked me for the assistance and said something about my being “God-sent.” I’d been called a number of things before that—some had the word “God” in them—but never “God-sent.”

I pulled my baggage out from under the bus and walked out of the bus station into late night, downtown Asheville.

Trees, cars, phone wires, sidewalks were becoming coated with ice. Looking down the street, streetlights were reflected from hundreds of ice-coated surfaces, overhead the wires between utility poles were sagging under the weight—icicles hung from car bumpers. Dragging a foot locker behind me and my old army duffel bag over my shoulder I walked down the deserted slippery street toward some businesses that were open—colored lights shining into the icy urban darkness. I had an idea.

I usually hitch-hiked the last part of the trip to the college but it was the middle of the night and nobody was on the roads—I was told even the state police were staying off the highways.

Several bars were open late and I dragged my footlocker into the first one I came to—The Paradise Bar & Grill. There were probably 12 or 15 customers—mostly men—a few women. Patsy Cline was on the juke box, the floor was bare concrete—most of the stools at the bar had scruffy, blue-collar types sitting on them, hunched over staring into their beers. Almost everybody was smoking.

As I parked my foot locker and bag in a corner out of the way of the door the bartender looked me over carefully—I was a stranger. A couple guys at the bar looked at me suspiciously. I learned in the Army, in joints like this if you’re new, there’s a protocol—a way you carry yourself. On the one hand you don’t stand there looking uncomfortable—that says weakness. But on the other hand you don’t walk around talking bullshit—that says “asshole.”

I went over to the bar and with my best GI bar-hopping, laid-back but confidant attitude I tell the bartender I need to get to Brevard tonight and I’m looking to hire a guy with a jeep or other four-wheel drive vehicle to take me.

The guy looks at me for a second then decides I’m either an OK kid or harmless or both and nods at two guys sitting in a booth behind me. I later learn they went by Huck and Dinger.

They’re both sitting there drinking beer and pretending to not be watching me. I go over and introduce myself.

I say, “You guys like beer?–take me to Brevard I’ll give you 20 bucks and you can buy a couple cases—a case apiece. I need a guy with a four wheel drive vehicle. Course it’s a pretty bad night out there—a guy would have to be a little crazy to go out on the road like it is…”

They look me up & down for a second.

“We might be crazy enough,” Huck says. He glances at Dinger who looks back at him. “We can take you—twenty bucks cash?”

“Cash,” I say. (Back in those days 20 dollars bought a lot more than it does now—today it would be about eighty dollars purchasing power—not bad for a few hours easy work).

They get up, put on their coats. We walk out—Huck picks up my bag, Dinger grabs one of the handles on the foot locker—I get the other.

The sidewalks are icy and slushy by now—we walk carefully down the dark, empty street about half a block back toward the bus station to a gas station-garage. Both these guys are buzzing pretty good—almost drunk. Dinger takes some keys out of his pocket, unlocks the front door and goes in. A minute later one of the overhead doors rolls up and he drives out a jeep with chains on all four wheels. We throw my stuff in the back and head out of town.

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