E5: If I Was in a Hurry…

15 min read

(This is Season 1, Episode 5 of Momentum. The content deals with adult themes.)

Day 40
October 10
Lincoln City, Oregon

1,480 miles to Mexico

Three strange men on a mountaintop

Steve pointed the tip of his hiking pole toward a cluster of buildings tucked into the woods a thousand feet below them. “That’s where I went to summer camp.” He traced the tip of the hiking pole to the right, through the forest, following a trail that emerged on the protected sandy beach. “I had my first kiss there.” He smiled wistfully. “I’ll never forget her. Sarah Jenkinson.”

Steve, Jordan, and a third man, Graham, were sitting in a meadow on top of Cascade Head, a 1,300-foot coastal mountain just north of Lincoln City. The views from the top were stunning: the breakers rushing in upon an empty beach, the seabirds backlit against the sky, the light reflecting off the endless Pacific. To their right, sheer cliffs plummeted toward rocky pocket beaches. Butterflies danced in the wild grasses. When he squinted, Jordan could just make out the boulder where he’d kissed Sam the previous night.

The three men fell into an easy conversation as they sat in the meadow, soaking in the view. Sensing an opportunity, Jordan decided to do something he hadn’t since Jack the Chicken Man. He decided to ask Steve to tell him a love story.

He was delighted—and a little nervous—when Steve agreed.

Bringing out his phone, Jordan expected to hear a cute anecdote about Sarah Jenkinson. He’d only met Steve fifteen minutes ago; he hardly knew anything about the man besides that he lived in Maryland but grew up on the Oregon Coast. But Steve began by sharing something very personal:

“A few years ago,” he said, “I was a paramedic working in Maryland. And while responding to a call, I had a catastrophic crash in my ambulance…”

The Story was remarkably touching.

Here. You can listen to it yourself:

Listen to Steve’s Story.

Steve was in tears by the end of his Story. Real ones—generous and heartfelt. Immediately, the character of their conversation changed. They drew closer together as they found themselves in that rarest of modern situations: three strange straight men on a mountaintop, talking intimately about love.

The setting felt like just what Jordan needed. Secrets were exchanged. So were hugs. Down below, big waves rolled off the Pacific and smashed upon the beach.

Four days after Jack the Chicken Man, Jordan felt like the storm was finally passing.

Steve in his happy place, atop Cascade Head.

The shadows were long by the time they descended from the summit. A footpath ran next to the sheer cliffs before turning east, following the meadows along Cascade Head’s flank. Graham led the way. Jordan had met Graham a few days earlier, on the way into Lincoln City. Graham was a musician from Portland—he’d come to the coast to spend three months as a resident at the Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology, which was tucked into a forested fold of the hillside. Earlier that day, after Jordan woke up with a huge smile, he decided to call Graham and accept his offer to spend the night at the Sitka Center. Graham had driven into Lincoln City, scooped up Jordan at the campground at Devil’s Lake, and then returned to the coast.

After saying goodbye to Steve, Graham and Jordan followed the trail back to the Sitka Center. Graham gave a tour of the property, which ended with his dormitory-style private apartment. They cooked ramen as the sun set. Graham was much more reserved than Steve had been; up on the mountaintop, he’d mostly lay in the grass and listened to the conversation between Steve and Jordan. He seemed a little defensive, a little shy. So, after dinner, it was a surprise when Graham asked if he could tell Jordan one of his love stories, too.

This was novel. It hadn’t occurred to him that people would actually want to tell him their Stories.

Outside, the night was crisp. A thousand stars blazed overhead as they followed the lit path to one of the studio buildings—a handsome room with high ceilings and exposed beams. Graham had brought his guitar. He didn’t say much as he pulled up a chair and tuned his instrument. Finally, he held the guitar on his lap and addressed Jordan, his audience of one.

“So my love story has a song with it. I was moving back from Australia to West Virginia when I met a girl at a bar…”

The tone of Graham’s Story was much different than Steve’s. While Steve’s Story had been polished by years of therapy, Jordan sensed that Graham was sharing his for the first time. Graham’s Story was darker, rawer, and Jordan could tell that it was heading towards disaster. At first, he tensed up, thinking about Jack the Chicken Man. But he relaxed as he realized that Graham wasn’t asking for anything besides an attentive ear.

He leaned in, listening deeper.

“I wrote this piece that was about things not turning out the way you expect them to. And it was sort of in a negative fashion, inspired by a negative reason,” Graham said. “So I asked her, Hey, can you help me think of a title for this? And she goes, Well, obviously Genevieve would be a great name. Her name’s Genevieve, right? And then later I got to thinking about it and realized that she named the song about missed expectations after herself.” He laughed ruefully. “I was like, That’s going to suck.”

As Graham’s Story approached the end of Genevieve, Jordan couldn’t help but think about the end of Sally. Everything felt different since what had happened with Sam in his tent last night.

“It was… It’s kind of weird the way it was kind of foretold…” Graham trailed off. “I don’t know if I had actually totally completely realized it or I don’t know how I would have done things differently. You know what I mean? That’s a weird thing to realize and then kind of follow through with and to like… ah, okay… just kind of see it out and wonder how much influence you can really put on it and just kind of how long you can stave it off, I guess. So that’s that. And there’s a song, so I’ll play you the song.”

Graham’s song was chilling, and it was beautiful.

Here. Listen for yourself.

Listen to Graham’s song, Genevieve.

The drifting Buddha

The next afternoon, when he was dropped by Graham back at Devil’s Lake—the same campground where he spent the night with Sam—Jordan was feeling proud of himself. He hadn’t just shaken the hangover of Jack the Chicken Man; he’d actually gone beyond in collecting the pair of heartfelt Stories from Steve and Graham. As he returned to the communal, hiker-biker, campsite, he was thinking about what to do with these Stories. He didn’t yet have a vision beyond learning to be a story collector like his best friend, Paul.

Jordan was so caught up in trying to figure out his creative problem that, at first, he didn’t register the black dog that was bolting towards him.

Suddenly, the barking dog was upon him. The dog had its fangs bared. It was protecting the only other tent that was also occupying the hiker-biker. A tall, slender man was limping in his direction, leaning heavily on a black cane. “Jack, no!” Jordan felt chills until he realized that the tall man was referring to the dog. “Blackjack, get down from there.” When the man reached Blackjack, he grabbed the dog’s collar and shook it fiercely. Then he whacked Blackjack on the maw. “Bad, bad dog.”

Blackjack tucked his tail between his legs. The man got down on one knee and pet it gently. “Sorry,” he said. “Blackjack here’s just a puppy.”

There was something electric in the man’s eyes. They were mossy green and transfixing. “Name’s DJ,” he said, sticking out his hand. “You hunkering-down here in the hiker-biker?”

DJ had a vaguely southern accent, but he just as well could have been from anywhere in America.

Jordan’s eyes lit up. Great, he thought. I’m about to collect another touching Story.

Fortunately for Jordan, DJ was an inveterate storyteller. He was a man on a mission: no silence left behind. He only stopped talking when he took a drag from one of his hand-rolled cigarettes or when he burst out into a coughing fit. His fits were hideous. Jordan’s unprofessional diagnosis was early-stage emphysema. As soon as the coughs passed, DJ was talking again.

Most of DJ’s stories didn’t really start and didn’t ever end. They were simply a stream-of-consciousness flow of places, ideas, people with no real point, no real curatorial connection except that they had suddenly appeared in DJ’s head, and he felt the urge to let them out. Most of the stories were peppered with the first names of cameo characters who showed up once but never again. Jordan felt like turning on a TV show five seasons too late; he kept wanting to elbow someone and ask, Is Davey the guy who taught DJ how to cook pork chops in a beer can? Or was Davey the guy who showed him how to boil water in a styrofoam cup? But already DJ was on to something else.

DJ didn’t ask any questions of Jordan. Instead, he seemed content to simply have the audience.

The sun set dramatically. DJ made a fire and warmed a can of beans on the grill. Jordan gathered the courage to ask DJ to record a Story. But DJ refused. “I ain’t talkin’ to no journalist,” he griped. “If you want one of my stories, you best be remembering them with your own head.”

DJ* and Blackjack at Devil’s Lake

Jordan wanted to respect DJ’s boundary. But he also really, really wanted one of DJ’s Stories. So he decided to do what Paul would do: listen attentively, kill him with kindness, wear him down until he said yes. He put his hand in his right pants pocket for the crystal.

“So DJ. What’s your intent… I mean, where are you coming from and where you going?”

DJ was sitting on a log in front of the fire, rolling another cigarette. “Coming from Tallahassee, Florida. Heading to Coos Bay, Oregon.” Coos Bay was a hundred and twenty miles south of the campground at Devil’s Lake.

He lit the cigarette and shook his head. “Shoulda been here last month,” he groused. “Me and Jack, we woulda been here last month if we hadn’t been kidnapped.”

“You were kidnapped?”

“Damn right. In New Mexico. By a buncha hippies in a school bus.”

Jordan smirked. But the look on DJ’s face told him this wasn’t a joke. “A bunch of hippies in a school bus kidnapped you in New Mexico?”

Right?” DJ snarled. This wasn’t a question. “Me and Jack, we caught the I-10 west outta Tallahassee. Ended up on the I-40 heading through Dallas, Texas. We made it a hundred miles east of Albuquerque before we was kidnapped.” He reached down to scratch Blackjack under the ear. “Took us all the way to Pennsylvania.”

“But I thought you were going to Coos Bay?”

“Right?”

“Pennsylvania’s, like, two thousand miles in the wrong direction. So why’d you go with them?”

DJ glared at Jordan. “Don’t your ears work? I said, we was kidnapped.

Jordan looked at the fire. “Rightimsorry.”

DJ took a long drag on his cigarette. “Wasn’t so bad, though. The hippies took us to the Rainbow Gathering.”

“What’s the Rainbow Gathering?”

DJ looked surprised. “You ain’t Rainbow? Man, Rainbow’s like family. How many days you been on the road?”

“Today’s Day Forty-One.”

“Aw, you’re just a puppy. Listen, let ol’ DJ tell you something. The road’s a lonely place. Everyone needs good company on the road. That’s why I got myself Blackjack. You’re gonna get a friend too.” He shook his head. “Forty One days. Man, you don’t know nothing. Let ol’ DJ help you out. If you’re in a rainstorm, the place you want to hunker down is under a bridge. You think, why a bridge? It’s just like my friend Timmy told me. If you’re under a bridge, the highway noise keeps the animals away. Only thing you’ve got to watch out for are the spiders. Right?” DJ guffawed. “But if you’ve got a buddy, you can sleep in shifts. One of you can always have your eye out for the spiders. Now, the alligators… they’re another problem entirely. My friend Johnny says…”

“How long were you in Pennsylvania for, DJ?”

DJ flicked the cigarette into the fire. “A month. Me and Jack, we went two thousand miles in the wrong direction. But we caught a good ride out of Chicago, didn’t we, boy? Found a trucker with a comfy rig and some good weed. Drove us all the way clear to Spokane, Washington. Me and Jack should be in Coos Bay no time flat.”

DJ reached into his pocket and pulled out a glass pipe. He loaded it with weed and took a hit. Then, as he exhaled, he offered the pipe to Jordan.

“No, thanks. I’m sober.”

DJ grinned gruesomely. “I was sober once too.” He put the pipe back into his pocket.

For the briefest instant, DJ fell silent.

“You must be happy to finally get to Oregon.”

DJ shrugged. “Happy? No use gettin’ happy on the road. No use gettin’ sad either. Take it from ol’ DJ. Don’t get too high or too low. Always shoot for the middle.”

Wow, thought Jordan, I’ve met the drifting Buddha.

DJ reached into the pocket of his camo cargo pants for the satchel of tobacco. He turned reflective as he started to roll another cigarette. “Yeah, me and Jack, we shoulda been here last month, if we hadn’t been kidnapped. But it’s like I always say: if I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be travelin’. Right?”

Jordan smiled. “Right.” Now there was a philosophy that he could get down with.


Kidnapped

Jordan was anxious to get moving the next morning and take advantage of another clear day. Between Sam, Graham, and the self-help books in the library, he’d ended up spending four nights hanging around Lincoln City. He didn’t have that much time to spare. He knew the rains were coming soon. But as he packed up his camp, he glanced over and noticed that DJ was also rolling up his tent. Jordan didn’t think much of it—at first. He simply assumed that DJ was anxious to get to Coos Bay himself; last night, DJ had told Jordan that he had a brother there who had invited him and Blackjack to stay for the winter.

But then, just as Jordan was turning to say goodbye, DJ said, “Slow down. We ain’t ready yet.” Suddenly, Jordan realized that he was being kidnapped.

Still, he sat at the nearby picnic table and waited for DJ, while fidgeting with Paul’s crystal.

The draw was one of DJ’s Stories. As they left Devil’s Lake together, following a path that led to the sidewalk on the coastal highway, heading out of town, Jordan asked DJ why he was limping. DJ pointed to one knee with his cane. “This one, I did when I was hit on my bicycle.” He pointed to the other one. “This one I did when I was in the joint.”

“Why were you in jail?”

“Failure to return a rental vehicle.” DJ spat on the sidewalk. “Judge called it Grand Theft Auto. But I didn’t steal the car,” he whined. “I left it in front of a U-Haul with the keys under the floorboard.” Then, suddenly, he stabbed his cane into the gutter, pinning a plastic sandwich bag against the asphalt. He bent over and inspected the bag, then tossed it away. “Sometimes, people leave a roach behind in there.” Then, he turned away, ending the conversation.

It took forever to get out of Lincoln City. First, DJ had to stop at the grocery store. “State of Alabama just put a welfare check in my bank account,” he explained. “Price N’ Pride’s the only grocer on the coast that takes out-of-state food stamps at par. The street rate’s fifty cents on the dollar. He handed over Blackjack’s leash and disappeared inside. Jordan sat on a bench next to a pile of pumpkins and looked searchingly into the sky. What the hell am I doing? I need to get moving!

When DJ re-emerged a half-hour later, he announced that he needed to stop at the smoke shop. Then he stopped to roll a cigarette. Then he stopped to put on his longjohns. Then he stopped to take off his longjohns. Then he stopped to fill up Blackjack’s water bottle.

The sun was directly overhead by the time they finally made it down to the beach.

Leaving Lincoln City—with DJ and Blackjack.

Once Blackjack was let off-leash, he immediately took off, terrorizing the other dogs out for a walk. An elderly woman with a Yorkie gave DJ a dressing down. DJ looked at his feet. “Sorrymaam, yesmaam, sorrymaam.” After she stormed off, DJ sat on his backpack and rolled another cigarette.

Jordan was exasperated. It was almost lunchtime, and they’d barely made it three miles.

Continuing down the beach, they passed the boulder where he’d first kissed Sam the other night. Checking his phone, he was delighted to see a text message: Thanks again for the other night. Keep your eyes open for dancing leaves. The rush of good feeling made DJ suddenly bearable. Jordan listened attentively to his rambling stories as they continued south. Finally, they reached the entrance to the calm water of Siletz Bay. Across the short channel, the beach continued down the Salishan Spit—a long, narrow finger of sand that separated the bay from the ocean. But the channel was too broad and deep to consider crossing, and following the highway inland would have been a major detour.

“HEY!” Jordan hollered out to one of the fishing boats that were trolling in the calm water.

DJ’s eyes went wide. “What are you doing? No, don’t…”

“DJ, it’s fine. HEY THERE! WE’RE HIKERS. COULD YOU GIVE US A RIDE ACROSS THE CHANNEL?”

A fishing boat ran aground on the sandy shore. Inside were a pair of retirees from Idaho. DJ made a point of avoiding their eyes, staring out to sea while Jordan made small talk. It took less than a minute to cross the channel, and then fifteen minutes to trudge through the few hundred yards of soft sand and return to the coast.

They sat on a driftwood log and ate lunch. Jordan had hummus and dense rye bread. DJ had summer sausage and canned tuna. They shared the almond butter as Blackjack napped in the shade.

“Ain’t this beautiful?” DJ said. “Ain’t this freedom?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his glass pipe.

Jordan’s eyes lit up. But when DJ offered the pipe to him again, he hung his shoulder and shook his head. He could feel things getting away from him. The weather was turning. He couldn’t wait any longer. But he couldn’t get away, either.



The Salishan Spit

The tide was high. They had to walk through the deep sand dune—as soft as a snowdrift. DJ was struggling beneath the weight of his pack. His cane was useless, and he kept complaining about the pain in his knees.

“Ow! My fucking knee. Hey… slow down. Me and Jack, we can’t walk as fast as you.”

In the distance, there was a single column of expensive-looking homes that were squeezed between the bay and the beach. These were part of the Salishan Golf & Country Club—one of the few gated communities along the entire Oregon Coast. DJ complained all the way until they reached the column of homes, dodging between them to get to the paved access road on the other side.

There, the walking was easier. Ducks swam among the reeds and a hawk zipped by overhead. The day was nearly done. Jordan hadn’t yet walked five miles. He felt the urgency and he knew that he needed to leave DJ behind. He was already tired of him; he’d already heard him tell the Story about the kidnapping three separate times. But he also felt responsible for DJ, and he didn’t want to leave him inside a Golf & Country Club.

Still, he couldn’t help thinking about what he’d read in the self-help books:

Codependency is a circular relationship in which one person needs the other person, who in turn, needs to be needed. The codependent person, known as ‘the giver,’ feels worthless unless they are needed by—and making sacrifices for—the taker.

Jordan squeezed Paul’s crystal even tighter.

Deep inside the Salishan Golf & Country Club gated community.

It was a slog to make it through the golf course. When the hills got steep, DJ forced a leashed Blackjack to pull him up the hill. Jordan was relieved when they finally made it through the gatehouse, returning to the coastal highway. It was nearly four o’clock. If DJ was lucky, he could catch a ride that would get him to Coos Bay by dinner. If Jordan was lucky, he could push on to the campground at Beverly Beach, but Depoe Bay seemed like a more reasonable option—the town was still more than six miles away. But there was no campground there. Where am I going to stay?

As soon as they crossed the gatehouse, DJ dropped his backpack and started rolling a cigarette.

Fuck, I hate goodbyes. “Well, DJ. It was really nice to get to…”

DJ’s face melted like he’d just learned the truth about Santa Claus. “You’re leavin’ us?”

“Wellnobut…” Jordan squeezed the crystal and took a breath. “Yeah, DJ. I gotta go. The weather is going to change soon. There’s rain on the way. I really have to hurry if I’m going to…”

DJ turned his back. “It’s like I always say,” he pouted. “If I was in a hurry, I wouldn’t be traveling.”

Jordan looked at his feet. “imreallysorry,djmaybeillseeyoudowntheroadsomewhere.”

DJ refused to look at him. “Go on. You leave ol’ DJ. Me and Jack, we don’t need you anyhow.”

Jordan hesitated. He tried to think about what Paul would have said, tried to conjure something that would soften the situation. But he couldn’t think of anything, so he turned and left. As soon as he did, he felt like a Ferrari that had spent all day in gridlock. Finally, he could open up his engine. He walked as fast as he could for about a quarter-mile before he let himself peek over his shoulder.

There were DJ and Blackjack. They were following him on the highway shoulder.


Even Blackjack wouldn’t look at Jordan.

A three-mile-an-hour footrace

Traffic was speeding by at sixty miles an hour. Jordan was barely pushing three. But he was trying to get to four, so he could widen the gap between him and DJ and Blackjack. Already, in the past twenty minutes, he’d separated himself by a few hundred yards. DJ and Blackjack were getting smaller as they receded into the distance. But they were still moving, still pushing forward even despite DJ’s cane and heavy backpack.

A part of Jordan kind of felt proud of DJ.

Another part of Jordan was telling him to

RUUUUUUUUUUN!

“Come on, Jordan” he yelled out loud, over the sound of engine noise. “Walk faster! Pain is in your head. Stop being such a fucking weakling. You momma’s boy. You pussy. Don’t think of the pain and fucking go.

Jordan fucking went. He went so quickly that, after another twenty minutes, he could no longer see DJ. But he knew that they were back there somewhere. It wasn’t like he had many places to hide. There were only a handful of campgrounds on the coast. And there was only one route leading toward Coos Bay.

If DJ really wanted to find me… Jordan suddenly got chills. If Jack the Chicken Man really wanted to find me… I’m exposed. I’m vulnerable. I’m fucked. There’s no other way to put it. I’m fucked.

What was he going to do? He knew he wasn’t going to make it to Beverly Beach. And there was no marked campsite in Depoe Bay.

What was he going to do? Was he going to keep running from his problems forever? What more would it take for him to learn his lesson?

“FUCK YOU, SALLY!” he screamed over the traffic noise. “FUCK YOU FOR BEING A TAKER. FUCK YOU FOR MAKING ME LOVE YOU TOO MUCH. FUCK YOU FOR TURNING ME INTO A CODEPENDENT. FUUUUUUUUUUCK. WHY IS THIS SO FUCKING HAAAAAARD!”

No one could hear him. They were racing by too quickly.

Suddenly, he had an idea—an idea that made him laugh out loud. It wasn’t actually his idea. It was an idea he’d seen Tom Cruise pull in the movie, Top Gun.

Passing an antique shop along the roadside, Jordan peeked over his shoulder to make sure that DJ wasn’t in sight. Then he turned into the parking lot quickly. Inside the shop, he made small talk with the owner for fifteen minutes until he finally saw DJ’s head passing by the window. He froze, but DJ didn’t look in.

Jordan spent another ten minutes lingering in the parking lot until he finally got the courage to return to the highway shoulder. But there was no sign of DJ and Blackjack anywhere.

All at once, he realized that he’d made a mistake. Before he had known where DJ was, but now DJ could be anywhere. And up ahead, the highway was narrowing as it entered into a thick forest just beyond Fogarty Creek.

The tall trees blocked out the light of the setting sun. Jordan walked quickly, knowing that DJ could be hiding. Was that him behind that tree? Was that black flash in the corner of his eye Blackjack on the attack? As he hurried down the highway shoulder, Jordan suddenly remembered Sam’s provocative question: What’s the intention in this step?

The intention in this step is calm.

The intention in this step is relaxation.

The intention in this step is ending codependency.

The intention in this step is freedom.

The intention in this step is to get away from DJ and never, ever see him again.

Jordan was lucky. The section through the forest was less than a mile. After fifteen minutes, the highway emerged on the State Wayside at Boiler Bay, where big waves exploded against the stunning coastal cliffs.

Jordan let out a long, exasperated sigh. He was pretty sure he’d finally lost them.


Boiler Bay.