I am gassing up my Jeep in Truckee when she approaches. She is short and round-faced and dressed in full gypsy hippie regalia, complete with bare feet and peace medallion necklace, and ridiculously young. Maybe seventeen years old. She is carrying a plastic five-gallon gas can and feeds me a story about a cross-country trip and she just needs a little gas because she’s almost home. I look at her acne skin and how she’s biting her lip and how she is hiding herself in that regalia and think: bullshit. This girl isn’t going home. She’s running. From something, to something, maybe she doesn’t even know, but she isn’t going home.
So I say “Sure, just put the gas can right there” pointing to the rear of my Jeep, and when I finish filling up my Jeep I fill it up. She says “thanks”, and her boyfriend flounces from around the corner of the filling station. When I say flounces, I’m not joking. He is dressed like a punk rocker with spiky hair and colorful tattoos and piercings, but he is young and thin and unformed and flounces, and when he starts saying something to his girl it is in a whiny petulant childish voice. I think to myself, girl, you can do a lot better than that, but then I think maybe she doesn’t feel good enough about herself to know that. He takes the gas can and flounces back around the corner of the gas station.
As I walk into the store to get a cup of coffee, the girl walks over to the area at the side of the store with the air pump, and looks out at Donner Lake. She takes her jacket off and lets the sun shine on her bare shoulders, closes her eyes and feels the sun shining on her face, feels the wind blowing on her face. For a moment, she looks almost at peace. When I get back out she is begging more gas from someone else. I get into my Jeep and buckle the seat belt and slowly wend my way through heavy gas station traffic to get to the parking lot entry that I want, and as I drive past that corner of the gas station I see the flouncy boy pick up the gas can and start putting fuel into a tired old RV, one of those converted van with a boxy body things. Then I turn left, merge onto the Interstate highway, and am gone.
Tonight I am in my bedroom, with the air conditioner humming and my laptop computer sitting on my lap, typing words into my computer that maybe a few dozen people will ever read. And somewhere out there, somewhere out on the road, a girl is sleeping curled up on a thin bed in an old motor home, running from something, running to something, maybe even she doesn’t know.