I spent New Year’s Eve in an apartment with friends, their shedding dog crawling across me. We sipped a bit but mostly it was a night of bullshitting. We played pop music off stolen internet and caught up on life as they puffed vape juice. I’d barely seen these two since we took a summer trip down the Oregon coast together. Now we were in wintry North Dakota, its new year a bitter night. I finally left at five AM, walking through the cold and empty alleys to my car. I made way to the deserted streets and bar lined walkways so raucous just hours earlier. Remnants of the night erupted from capacity trash cans: beer bottles, silly glasses, and cardboard hats emblazoned with 2017. A splotch of yellow puke sat frozen to cement. I stepped gingerly across it.
I took the river road home rather than the interstate. It’s a gravel path to my parents’ farm that’s great in summer but iffy come winter. I was home for the holidays because my grandma was on her death bed. She finally passed between Christmas and the new year. I hadn’t expected to be here, to see this North Dakota winter. I’d been living in the trunk of my car in Texas until I was called home to witness her end. It was her time and I was there to say goodbye. But now she was gone and I was itching to zip. The accommodations of home are better than a car trunk but I wanted to make way south. North Dakota was cold. Texas the opposite. I was supposed to be hiking the deserts of our southern border at this exact time. Instead I found myself in the cold driving over a road drifted in snow.
All was fine ’til I approached a turn. I took it short and hit a drift. This crust of snow blurred the line between road and a descent to the ditch. It filled the bend as the gravel turned from west to north. Beyond the road sat nothing but flatlands of frozen fields. I spun my tires but the car wasn’t even rocking. I grew up in North Dakota and have slipped in the ditch many times. Once it took a tractor to pull me out. This was different. I was so close to coming unstuck. If a cripple was there they could’ve chained their chair to my axle and motored me out. But there was no cripple. I was solo and stuck.
I got out of the car and stepped to the snow bunched around it. It was only six inches or so but that was enough. I knew I should’ve bought new tires, cursing my cheapness. I got on hands and knees to dig out my wheels in the black of night. The sun hid below the horizon, the hour too early for its yawn across the frozen prairie. Still, snow and sky coalesced to create luminescence. This let me see my impossible task. Snow everywhere. I dug in hopes of a New Year’s miracle.
Bitter wind bit at my uncovered skin. The tips of my fingers numbed when I used them as shovels. The knees of my jeans turned wet then icy as I swept my arms across the snow to clear it. I dug out the tires but still there was plenty beneath the car and beside it. I looked in the trunk for cardboard to use as traction. I found a collection of hobo signs I’d picked off the streets of Austin. Papyrus sheets of the people. Scrawled on these placards were cries for help. I believed they’d free me. The cardboard under tires trick has unstuck me many times. I crawled to each wheel and jammed down a sign declaring desperation. “Jesus Loves You.” “Too Ugly To Prostitute.” “Hungery.”
Back in the driver’s seat I eased the car to first. I spun my wheels across the hopes and dreams of the down and out in Austin. It didn’t take. The cardboard rubbed against rubber but couldn’t propel it. The sky was still black but dawn was near. It was too early to call my parents. I’d have to sleep in the car. I still had most of my trunk bed assembled from my time in Texas so pulled out a sleeping bag and pillow. I put on leather choppers and my bomber hat made from the fur of Chinese rabbits. I curled my legs and bedded down in the backseat. Once more a hobo. These were the first few hours of the new year. Welcome to 2017.