“On The Free And Easy” Part III
(Following is Part III of an unedited excerpt of my recent rants about my travels across America to Chicago via LA as they unfold with more to come every few days. I hope you enjoy.
One thing the train attendant was right about was that everything over here was wrong and boy I loved it. It never fails to amaze me how the same street in the same town can be so night and day. On the touristy side of San Antonio was the Riverwalk filled with tony bars and clubs and swanky restaurants that all charged an arm and a leg for the same crappy food and drink. I mean yes it was nice an all but I had already been here before and after a few hours you’re over it. Conversely on the wrong side of the tracks was a little spot with the best TexMex grub I had in a long time.
The place wasn’t much to look at and neither were the patrons. Hey, I’m no Rudy Valentino but these characters were like something out of an old Louis L’Amour cowboy novel. In fact one guy even had a few more teeth than his girlfriend did if that tells you anything. Fortunately they mad plastic cutlery because I’m not too sure I would have used the silverware in this joint. But again, the food was off the hook. I had pablano peppers stuffed with cheese and chicken with rice and black beans and fresh homemade tortillas and man what a meal! I opted for bottled water just to keep things safe. It only set me back about nine bucks and fifteen with tip. I don’t think people around here tipped much because the waitress seemed super happy with it. After dinner I didn’t stick around for festivities because I’m pretty sure a few guys at the bar made me as a tourist who may have lost their way. So I headed back to the other side of the tracks.
I always liked San Antonio to visit. There are always interesting folks to meet on the train. On my trip headed west the previous summer is where I met Joey Moss when he loaded on a bus in Fort Worth back in September 2010.
Joey Moss is a big, big man and all Texas. They weren’t kidding when they said everything in Texas is big. At 6’2” tall he weighs in at least three hundred pounds. Joey is a stereotypical Texas boy complete with the drawl, ZZ Top beard and trucker hat. Yet for all of his stereotypical southern Texas appearance he is surprisingly anything but.
When I met Joey we were on a bus head from Fort Worth to San Antonio. The Amtrak bridges heading west from Chicago to LA had washed out in the rains and we had to disembark the train and load a bus to get us to San Antonio for our connecting train west. Joey had been dropped off in Fort Worth and was headed to San Diego by way of LA. He was squeezed into a seat behind me on the bus and when I turned around I could see his big ole Texas head looming over the seat. I thought to myself, MY GAWD where did this boy come from. As fate would have it we would end up in the same train car in San Antonio. Once we arrived we had a ten hour layover so I hit the town and was joined by Joey. We had dinner and hit a bar so he could grab a few beers, a few in this case being about eight in an hour and a half. He did everything like a Texas boy. We talked, caroused and I learned quite a bit about the history of Texas from Joey.
He was from a little town called Pleasantville, Texas somewhere outside Abilene and was more moderate left leaning than what I had assumed he would be. Joey had a live and let live attitude. From what he told me although where he was from was pretty much backwoods country Texas in location it was fairly progressive in politics and beliefs and reasonably tolerant of all lifestyles. I was pleasantly surprised about what he had to say about his hometown. That being said he also knew he had nowhere to go but away if he were to have any kind of life. He explained that like most of his buddies Joey had done some prison time down in Texas but as he put it, ‘it’s Texas son, everybody goes to prison’. Another reason I avoid Texas. He explained that there wasn’t much to do and opportunity was severely limited save some factory work, rough necking and farming. It seemed drug smuggling was the biggest employer for Joey and his buddies. But these days he a regular guy just working the factory and had been on the straight and narrow for several years now.
Divorced, he explained he lived for his ten year old daughter, Maggie who was his life. She was the reason for his life transformation from wild Texas roughneck, drinking, fighting, drug smuggler to regular Joe, working man. He was on good terms with his ex-wife and though their relationship was strictly based on his daughter, he had nothing negative to say about his ex even offering that she was the best mother a man could ask for his child. As well he was even quite fond of her new husband, stepfather to his daughter. Joey lived for his little girl Maggie. They spoke at least daily and often several times a day. He had recently purchased her a new cell phone so they could text and picture message back and forth. They lived only an hour apart which in back road Texas driving translates into about ten minutes. He carried several photos of her in his wallet and on his phone, he saved dozens of the voice messages she had left him. Maggie was his everything and his reason for living then one day that all changed.
Joey was jolted from bed by a middle of the night call from his ex-father in law Floyd whom had been called by the local fire department. They notified him that there had been a fire at the double wide trailer in which his daughter lived with her husband and his grandchildren. He didn’t say much just that he needed Joey to get down there right away. The aching pain in the pit in Joey’s stomach was born not of what Floyd said but instead of what he did not say. Joey jumped out of bed and raced through the back roads in the pitch black of night to get to his daughters side. When he arrived his worst nightmare had been realized.
The fire had been electrical and had spread through the trailer so quickly all there was time for was to gather the children and run out the door. Within seconds of getting the family out the door to safety Tim, Maggie’s stepfather immediately noticed she was not among their four children. He rushed into the trailer only to be forced back by smoke and falling debris. Running back outside he rushed to the rear of the trailer where Maggie’s room was located and proceeded to jump up six feet wrapping his arms around the sweltering metal air conditioner in an attempt to yank it out of the window to get to Maggie. The scars on his charred arms and chest from tearing the wall unit out were testament to his desperation to get to her. After crawling through the window and tearing her from her bed he fell back out the window with Maggie. It was already too late.
Joey’s little girl Maggie, the love of his life, his reason for living and breathing was gone, overcome by smoke inhalation. She never even knew what happened. By the time Joey got there the ambulance was taking her away. In the days immediately after the fire and Maggie’s death Joey was completely devastated and went on a drunken bender. It wasn’t until after he was visited by Maggie in a dream that Joey was able to muster up the courage to put down the bottle and pipe and face his life without his daughter. It would never be the same and he knew that but he also knew that Maggie would have wanted only the best for her daddy. He realized the reason she was brought into his life was to straighten his out and show him the true potential of who he could be. Maggie’s short time on this earth was to show Joey how great life could truly be. He promised himself, his ex-wife and his family he would not let her death ruin him but instead breathe new life into his. The way Joey saw it God gave him gift in Maggie and she did what she was put on this earth to do, save her daddy from a bad life. He would shame that gift.
He knew his daughters mother was a good mother and knew her stepfather Tim did all he could to save his little girl. He knew the pain he must be feeling thinking he failed her and Joey made sure the best he could Tim didn’t languish in the pain of loss and self loathing. It says a lot about the character of a man who has experienced such great life changing loss to be able to step up and use his pain to help others he could easily lay blame on for his own loss. That isn’t the kind of man Joey Moss is. That isn’t the kind of man Maggie knew as a father. Joey did his best to ease the pain of others when the pain of losing his best friend could have consumed him. He sought out clergy, counselors and family to help him ease the ache in his heart if even just a little. He also made some hard and deliberate decisions on the direction of his own life. He would do as he thought his daughter and best friend would want him to do, keep on living.
Joey quit his job, packed his house and kissed his family, ex-wife and life in Texas goodbye and headed west to hook up with a lifelong buddy who had a fishing business in San Diego. He wasn’t even sure if he would stay there but it was a fresh start to a new life. He figured he may even make his way up to the Big Apple and see the rest of the country. He had never really been in a major city and figured it was time. All the while he would have his daughter by his side and in his heart. Joey Moss left me with a lot to think about on the importance of life and who we are. He taught me about the strength of a man who could lose it all and still come back. The irony of having recently last summer been re-united with my daughter after fifteen years and having only been able to see her a few times in her twenty year life was not lost on me. Joey lost his daughter while I gained mine. There was a twinge of guilt, but the importance of the gift I had been given will never be taken for granted.
(To be continued)