UNITED STATES—The red pick-up flew along parallel to the train tracks in hopes of catching up with the train that had left Raveendran and Gloria in the dust.

“I’ve got a plan,” said the man in the red T-shirt intent behind the wheel. Name of Rusty Nails.

“What is it?” Gloria the Gluten-Phobe was able to say in a quieter stretch between Ratón and Las Vegas.

Rusty, a former country lounge singer and current psycho roofer, who had been kicked off the same train for his belligerent attempts to smoke, pointed to the message on his shirt: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

“I’ll stick to the second part of the equation,” said Rusty. “Calm will git you no where.”

On they sped to Las Vegas, New Mexico. It wasn’t any more Las Vegas than Paris, Tennessee is Paris.
“How are you back there, Ravine?” Gloria shouted from the cab after they hit a particularly acute bump.
Raveendran moaned from his place in the back beside Rusty’s toolbox and flame-thrower.

They turned a corner and there was the sleepy station. The pick-up screeched to a halt, Rusty Nails jumped out and peered up and down the empty length of the tracks.

“Where’s the train to Los Angeles?” Rusty asked a man sitting on a suitcase.

“Already left,” said a bear of a man. “I got thrown off of the train.”

Raveendran looked and saw it was Lee, his talkative partner from the observation car.

“I got thrown off the train,” he said again. That was vintage Lee, repeating the same thing in the hope that it would be mistaken for a new thought.

“No kidding,” Raveendran said.

“I decided to smoke some grass, strictly medicinal,” said Lee. “I have a prescription and everything—for my lower back pain. Hey, I got something for you,” Lee winked. From his pocket he pulled a candy bar and a tallboy.

“There isn’t time for that,” said Rusty. “Let’s roll. I’ll get you guys to the train if it’s the last thing I do.”

Before starting back on the road, Rusty went alongside the baking station—he could feel the heat radiated from the hot stucco—and stole two tops from old metal garbage cans. “These will be our shields,” he said, handing them to Gloria and Raveendran. “You hop aboard the payload with Randy there,” he said to Lee.

When Lee slid/rolled his formidable frame into the back of the pickup, the suspension took a big dip.

“We’ve got a righteous cause, gentlemen and lady,” said Rusty. “We’ve been harassed and discriminated against because we’re rebels, because we’re round pegs in a square world, because we smoke and stink up wherever we go and our second-hand smoke shortens lives.”

“We have suffered, too,” Gloria spoke, “the unspeakable torture of glutens.”

“We have suffered,” Raveendran spoke, “because we cannot find the vegetables we seek. I have not been able to hold to my vow to eat nature’s bounty.”

“You both oughta sue Amtrak,” Lee said. “It’ll be good for you, Ravine. Get a lawsuit going and you’ll be more than halfway to becoming American.”

The sun blazed, the wind blew and as the afternoon matured, shadows of the hills flashed against their pickup’s flanks. Soon after a sign announced the onset of Albuquerque, Lee chauffeured them to a smoke shop that sold cartons of cigarettes and at a farmers market near the train station, they stocked up on big sacks stuffed with carrots, celery and tomatoes. The back of the pickup was so full now, Raveendran and Lee had to stand up, propped on the metal frame that squared off the payload. Rusty, looking as stony and determined as one of the faces on Mount Rushmore, drove doggedly on toward their rendezvous with the Southwest Chief.

To be continued…

Humorist Grady Miller is the author “Lighten Up Now,” a diet for the mind and body, available on Amazon. Please reach Grady at grady.miller@canyon-news.com.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)