Just keep moving
The cops line the side of the road and tell us to keep moving.
There are hundreds in our group alone, some with babies, some very ill.
We have walked forty miles today over dusty roads and most of us so exhausted we might collapse at any moment.
A few do, and the cops dragged these people up and push them along.
Those who canít get up get arrested.
I envy them the one day jail sentence since they get to stop and rest, even though some donít live out the night or die a day or two later when they start marching again.
Billy, a young punk who joined us in St. Louis Ė eyes me as if he expects me to die soon, too.
He eyes most of the others that way, looking for the weakest of us so he can volunteer to bury us when we do kick off.
Local authorities give you a free meal for the service.
But I simply refused to die, if only to deny him.
I take pride in being one of the longest surviving members of a troop, a New Yorker driven out of my home town when people turned it into a theme park for tourists and a playground for the rich.
The local cops we encounter along the road are no match for the brutal bastards who set our feet onto the George Washington Bridge and said theyíd shoot us if we even glanced back.
This was merciful.
Prior to this, they shut us up in shelters where we got murdered or rape, or generally made to feel useless.
If I could survive being put out an affordable hotel, living on the street and living in a homeless shelter, I can survive anything, even the road.
Walking the road is hard. But Iím always dreaming that I might find a place where people are kind and we donít have to become slaves in order to pay rent and feed our families.
But after so many miles, I havenít found any kind people.
No place wants us.
Each town Ė even the smallest run down places Ė has passed laws to keep us poor from settling there, as if any of us could actually afford the rents or cost of houses, even the most backward community charges.
They have their cops keep us moving, beating up those of us who donít move fast enough, busting those of us who canít move.
I donít blame the cops. Theyíre angry and scared just like us, knowing that if they donít do their job they might well join us on the road, becoming some of the perpetually unemployed.
I thought I was somebody once, a union man who saw my job move south, then out of the country.
I tried to retool and wound up in a non-union job where th3e bosses treated me as if he had recreated slavery just for my benefit.
I put up with it because I had a family to feed, a mortgage to pay and a growing debit in credit cards we used to keep up the front that we were as well-off as our neighbors.
Once the house of cards collapses, we couldnít put the pieces back together.
We stayed with friends and family, and then on the street until the city decided we needed to become productive and told us to get jobs or get out, as if any jobs we could get would let us pay rent, medical builds or meals.
I never stopped being ill.
And now Billy waits for me to collapse so he can collect a bonus off my bones.
And heís not the only one.
I half expect to get ripped to pieces the moment Iím too weak to stand, issuing a leg to this person and an arm to that.
Things do get a little better at night, when by law we get to stop and rest.
State and local authorities have set up official camps along the road where groups like ours stop each night.
We even get fed though the food is the cheapest shit you can imagine.
Mostly broth. We canít get pasta with most of the wheat and corn hogged up by the fuel industry.
Billy is so busy gobbling up his own food and stealing food from the near blind elderly, he sometimes forgets to watch me.
Fed and exhausted, I finally sleep and† dream again of a place where I might find a real job and perhaps start another family.
But in the morning, the police shake us awake and tell us to move, clubbing those of us who moves to slow, hiring people like Billy to bury those who donít move at all.
Sometimes, I am so weary and feel so worthless, I want to remain still and let them bury me alive.
That would make Billy happy, Iím sure.
I dread hearing the count of miles we need to make that day so as to reach the next camp by nightfall.
Then something in me snaps, and I bolt through the net of cops and into a field.
I canít believe how much space there is or how big the sky looks.
There is no human vulture hovering over me waiting for me to die.
No cops telling me when to move and how fast.
The cops, of course, catch up with me as local residents point me out in the brush.
The cops throw me into a jail cell for the night.
No food. No water. Not even much light.
In the dark, I think about suicide, finding no more point in living if I have to go back on the road.
But strangely, I donít do it, partly because Iíd have no Billy to bury me, and for some reason, it seems important that I do.
In the morning, the cops wake up, but they are kinder than usual, as if our night together had created a relationship between us.
I am no longer one of the unwashed masses flowing through their town each day, but a man with a name and a police record.
So when they attach me to the next batch of poor marching through the town, I feel stronger and more capable of making my way through the world.
And perhaps because others in the ground see me as a new comer, none quiet yet stare at me the way Billy has, waiting for my imminent death.
And my life is a simple life. All I have to do is keep moving.