The shadows became longer as we headed out of Seattle in Kevin’s beat-up Hyundai, a mere thirteen hundred silent miles to go. Just shy of Yakima, he pulled over, grabbed his notebook and wrote. He stabbed his finger at the note, “You drive,” it read.
I took the opportunity to have a quick smoke and when I got into the driver’s seat he went absolutely berserk, tearing at his shirt, holding his nose, pointing to the rear and pushing me out of the car, my shirt smelled of smoke and he wanted me to change it. If I were to drive we would definitely have to work something out.. I got back in, slightly perturbed by the feeling that this guy was a bit neurotic.
We had arranged to meet just the day before after I found an offer of a ride to Denver on Craigslist. There had been a strange back and forth of text messages and no phone call was answered.. If I was going to spend two days sitting next to some dude I at least wanted some form of banter. Unbeknownst to me, this guys world lacked something that most of us take for granted.
There was a guy packing his trunk when we pulled into the parking lot on the Key Peninsula, but he completely ignored my attempt to connect, and then disappeared into the store. Calls and texts went unanswered. Finally, I got a message. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
The same guy appeared from the store and casually approached us. Pulling out his notebook and pen we had a written introduction and made a plan. Now it all made sense, Kevin was deaf.
Maybe it was a throwback from my childhood days spent in an old folk’s home where many of the residents were deaf, but I found it relatively easy to communicate without words. For the next twenty-four hours though was another matter.
Dusk fell. It felt good to be behind the wheel again. The constant focus that driving necessitated, the hollow hum of the wheels on the road combined with the oscillating scenery was why I loved to drive. Kevin pulled his tablet out and seemed completely engaged in something that was not a game. I didn’t feel awkward because of the lack of rhetoric as I probably would have done with a hearing person, and I assumed that he could not speak due to the fact that he had only communicated through the written word.
I drove into the night. Every now and then Kevin would turn to me and give a big thumbs up sign accompanied by a huge smile to which I’d reply with the same as best I could. He seemed to have enhanced senses and whenever I would drift over the bumpy line at the edge of the highway he would glare at me like an angry schoolteacher, sometimes even nudging, to which I would just smile and he’d return to his computer with a big frown. I think that maybe he had had some bad experience with someone sleeping at the wheel and I wanted to say, “Just relax,” but he had given no indication of being able to lip read.
The other side of Boise I felt in need of a booster. I pulled into a gas station and got a large coffee and two corn dogs. I offered one to Kevin. He refused and pointed at his tub of peanuts and raisins and water. Great, I had to eat two corndogs. I had a smoke and he would not let me back in without changing all of my clothes. Apparently, the second set smelled just as bad and he gave up, but we continued with all of the windows fully open despite the cold.
A few miles after the Utah State Boundary, Kevin signalled for me to head off into some small town. I looked at him questioningly, and he showed me his computer. During all this time he had been on craigslist looking for people who needed a ride, and he had found some. With GPS, he guided me to a little suburban house.
A young couple emerged,”Hey, how ya doing,” the girl said. “I’m Ellen and this is my husband Mitch.”
“Great to meet you,” I replied stepping out of the car, “I’m Peter and this is Kevin. So what’s up with you guys?”
“Well I know we said Salt Lake City but how far are you guys going?” asked Ellen.
“Denver,” I replied.
“Can we tag along,” Mitch asked.
“You better ask him,” I turned to Kevin as did they, obviously expecting a reply. “Kevin’s deaf,” I signalled to him to get his notebook out.
“Oh,” Mitch looked slightly intimidated as did his wife, but Kevin seemed to know how to put people at their ease and retreated to the front steps with them, his notebook and pen while I waited in the car.
Ten minutes later we were on the road again with more people and stuff than there was space. “Nice little house you got there,” I said.
“Oh, that’s my uncle’s, we’re homeless,” Ellen replied with a hint of pride.
“Why do you want to go to Denver,” I said.
“There’s a festival there,” replied Mitch.
“Oh, that Christian rally,” I had come across some sort of gathering while searching for events in Denver.
“No, we’re not religious, we’re Satanists,” Mitch displayed his 666 tattoo enthusiastically along with his youthful confusion.
The horizon started to take on the deep blue that accompanies impending sunrise and a wave of tiredness came over me. Ellen had already said that she wanted to drive so I joined the luggage store in the back and not thirty minutes later, as she made a dodgy manoeuvre, the blue light and siren told us we had company.
“You have a licence right?” I queried.
“Yes but I lost it,” the cop walked over to the window.
“May I see your licence, ma’am.”
“I got one, but I can’t find it,”
“I see,” said the cop looking at Kevin, “How about you Sir.”
“He’s deaf,” Ellen said, handing the officer the notebook while Mitch and I tried to hide behind all the stuff.
“NO,” Kevin barked, with that distinctive impediment that comes from not being able to hear oneself, “No, I don’t have a licence.”
I was flabbergasted. Kevin could obviously read lips and speak, and he offered rides on Craigslist without a licence. This was all becoming very strange.
“How about you Sir, do you have a licence,” the officer aimed the question at me.
He pointed his chin at Mitch. Mitch shook his head.
“I see, so nobody in this car has a licence, who does it belong to.”
“It’s mine,” shouted Kevin, as he shuffled through a ream of paperwork.
The officer took Ellen’s details and the registration from Kevin and retreated to his car. Fifteen minutes later he returned. Ellen had lost her licence to a court a few months back on a DUI. The cop told her to face charges in SLC. Kevin did have a licence, and despite having screamed the way he did, he could go, but had to drive. Ellen and Mitch were all stressed out and decided to stay with an uncle in Salt Lake City.
We dropped them off, and while I drove, Kevin tapped away on his computer. He signalled directions to me which led us to two people standing on a street corner. In that short time, he had found some more riders whom he obviously knew because he gave the girl a big hug.
Gina and Takeshi had been with Kevin on a previous trip, and now wanted to go down to southern Utah. Gina drove while I slumbered in the back, chatting with Takeshi. The landscape became more and more surreal with every mile. Huge rock arches punctuated with moon-like craters and shimmering mountains. An eagle soared high before diving to catch a rabbit.
“We need gas,” Gina nudged Kevin and pointed at the gauge. Kevin got on his computer to find the cheapest place for gas.
“Not far,” he bellowed, seemingly having given up the façade of muteness but forgetting that we could hear. “You pay,” he said to me.
“Hey, I paid the last one, half and half, yeah?” I turned to Takeshi, “Aren’t you guys gonna chip in.
“We’ve only got food stamps,” Gina said.
Kevin paid. A few miles further, driving through the most amazing lunar landscape, we reached Moab. We dropped them off then went to what was obviously one of Kevin’s favourite health food stores and stocked up on leafy spinach salad and other essential goodness. Kevin bought a huge tub of organic ice cream which wasn’t going to last long in the sweltering Utah sun, but he managed to wolf it down in time.
Driving had always been one of my passions. For me, it was an artform. The synchronising of gear, clutch, throttle and brake, combined with the complete focus of the senses was exhilarating and in this landscape even more so. The extraterrestrial scenery of Utah turned into the majestic rolling mountains of Colorado as the daylight turned to dusk and the dusk to darkness. Long tunnels with their fluorescent lights punctuated the night.
“Where you gonna stay,” said Kevin.
“I dunno, I’ll find somewhere, maybe in the bus station,” it seemed he could still read my lips sideways.
“You can come to Boulder with me and stay with my friend.”
“Ok thanks,” I replied. “In the morning how can I get to Denver.”
“Many buses,” he said, “many people go to Denver to work.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
He checked the times of the greyhound from Denver to Santa Fe, which was my destination, and found one that I could catch if we got up early.
The stars began to disappear as the glow of the city enveloped us. We passed through Denver and carried on to Boulder. He directed me to stop in front of a hotel and pointed, “You can stay here.”
“Hey,” I said, “You said I could stay with you.”
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“Back there. I can’t afford to stay in a hotel. I would’ve stayed in Denver.”
“Ok, down there,” he signalled left.
We pulled up outside a house and he told me to wait. Ten minutes later he came out, told me to grab my stuff and ushered me silently inside. The house was quiet but definitely had the air of being lived in. “You sleep here,” he pointed to a divan with sheets in the living room, “I sleep in the kitchen.” He turned off the light and closed the door.
“Come on, let’s go,” a bright light disturbed my dream and I woke to find Kevin standing over me. It was 5am.
“Ok, ok,” I said, as he closed the door. I dressed, grabbed my stuff and jumped in the car leaving the mystery house behind. I did not get the chance to discover whether Kevin actually knew the owner
When he dropped me at the bus station, I watched him until the end of the street. I had developed an understanding and appreciation for this man. We had shared more than just a ride. He turned left, giving his customary thumbs up and huge toothy smile.