It's hot. It's been hot for a long time. Mid-nineties every day for the past month. No rain. No clouds. Just heat.
I pick up a hitchhiker on the way up to Cedar Rapids. Seven in the morning, and he's already sweating like crazy. He's a short, thick-set guy with a hook nose. He says he broke his ribs. That's the first thing he says to me. "Broke my ribs. Yeah. That's why I'm here. Had to see a doctor. Get some meds for the pain."
"How'd you break your ribs?" I say.
"Wrong hooker," he says. "Wrong alley. This guy come after me. I ran. I was stupid. All I had was twenty bucks. That's what he got. I shouldn't have ran."
I turn off the radio so I can hear him better.
"Yeah," he says, "I travel all over. Work with the carnivals."
"What do you do there?"
"Two things. Mainly, I do the basket. Where you throw the balls? And then I do the balloons. With the darts?"
"Everyone's a winner," I say.
He smiles. "Yep. Everyone's a winner with that one. Yeah. They pay me more than I could get anywhere else. I make my nut in the summer, and then I just do temp stuff in the winter."
"That's not bad," I say.
"Yeah. You make a lot of money. The basket's about eighty-five percent. The balloons are a little bit lower. But not much. I worked the weekend of the fourth. Walked away with nine hundred. Yeah. It's a thing. But...but you see these young girls all day. And then you've got nine hundred. And you say, 'I'm going to get me some of that,' so you go buy some. That's what gets you in trouble."
"So you travel all over," I say.
"Yeah. I might be up Monticello this weekend."
"They've got a good fair," I say.
"Yeah," he says. "Monticello's always busy. It's either that or Hiawatha. I'm just getting so I can work again. With the ribs."
"Where do you want me to drop you off?" I say.
"Just at a downtown exit. That'll be good. I got to get inside. Out of this heat. All the places are full in Iowa City. They got places up in Cedar Rapids."
"You live in Cedar Rapids?"
"No. I'll just go to a shelter. I got to call some guys I know. I got to get up to Monticello. Yeah, it sucks without a license. I used to have a license. I was like, 'yeah.' Had my camper. My truck. Then you lose it, and it's like, 'this sucks!' You know? It's like, 'I'm screwed. No license. I'm broke. I'm alone.'"
He says this with perfectly good nature. He's quiet for a moment. I know there are days and days and days for this man.
"You get used to it," he says.
I drop him off at the downtown exit. He opens the truck door. It's hot outside. He throws his bags out onto the street. He thanks me for the ride. I tell him maybe I'll see him up in Monticello. He says yeah. He slams the truck door, picks up his bags, throws them over the Jersey barriers, climbs over, picks up his bags again, looks around, and starts walking.
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
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Joe Blair graduated with an MFA from the nonfiction department at the U of I. He runs his own HVAC business in Iowa City. He has a wife and four kids.
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