Walterboro . . .
It was late afternoon, early evening to some. The sun had not set, but she was eyeing the covers of earth, and preparing to pull them over her head in a few hours. I arrived on the outskirts of Walterboro. Bigger than Yemassee, but still hardly more than a hamlet. I do remember now being let out by a driver. Some big old car that had stopped along the way and offered a ride. I do not recall any conversation. I think the only reason I accepted the ride was that I had wanted to sit down after hours of walking.
The driver was headed elsewhere. They dropped me off on the outer edge of Walterboro, and then took a turn off in another direction. I walked the last few miles into the small town. What had been nothing but a forested road, now gave way to a house here and there. And then more homes, it taking on the air of a subdivision.
Then almost suddenly, it was a town. A house with a wooded yard, and then bang, the trees disappeared and there were square buildings on squared streets. Nothing higher than two stories, mind you, but civilization had at least knocked on these doors. This presented a blessing, and a problem.
The blessing was a convenience store, where I stopped to get a coke and use a proper restroom, and washed up a little. The problem was, where to sleep? There wasn’t going to be any crawling into the woods. It would take some time to walk out of this town, even as small as it was. It would be quite dark by the time I hit untamed land again.
I began walking around the edge of the town, to see if I could spot a place I could sneak into. Then suddenly – Romulans! The dreaded blue light special. An old, rounded, black and white pulled up beside me, the blue light flashing. A large, biscuit eating, country cop at the wheel. He was probably in his 50’s. He leaned out of his open window and said, “Get in the car, boy.”
I opened the back door, threw in my backpack, and climbed in. He said, “Hang on a minute.” We drove for a block and a half, where he parked, on the street, and then led me inside the police station. Other than the gun that hung boldly at the officer’s hip, Sheriff Taylor would have been proud. I didn’t see a jail, but I half expected there was one in the adjoining room. He sat behind an old wooden desk and asked to see some identification. I pulled out my license.
“So what are you doin’ in town, son?” I explained that I was on a trek, learning about our state by hiking my way back home. “That’s quite a haul. So where were you expectin’ to sleep?” I explained that I had camped in the woods on my first night, and I figured I could find a similar spot somewhere. “Well, ya know, I’ve had my eye on you for a while. I knew the minute you walked into town. This is the country, boy. A long hair with a backpack can’t walk into a place like this and not get noticed. Not that I have anything against your hair.”
“Now, I can’t let you go sleepin’ in someone’s backyard. We don’t know ya. You could be a killer for all we know. Not sayin’ that ya are. But what about your safety? What if something happened to you? Then I’d have a mess on my hands. Do you have any money, son?” “Yes Sir.” “Then why not get a hotel room?” I explained that I had to be sure my funds made the whole trip, and I didn’t know how long of a trip it would be.
“Well, you’ve put me in a spot. You have ID and money. I can’t really hold you on vagrancy. I mean, I could, but that would create a mess, since you aren’t really vagrant. And I can’t let you just go sleepin’ in someone’s yard. Like it or not, you are gonna have ta get a place ta stay.” With that, he picked up the phone and dialed – yes, dialed, as in, turned a big knob with little number holes in it. He spoke to someone for a few moments and then hung up. “Come with me.”
We went outside and climbed back in his squad car. He said, “I’m gonna take ya to a hotel, it is just up the street here. It ain’t much, but it’ll only cost ya five bucks for the night. I suggest ya stay low while you’re in town. With that hair, you stick out like a sore thumb here. Then tomorrow, I would get out of town as quick as you can.”
We turned a corner, and then he pulled over. “Stay out of trouble, and don’t let me see you again.” The building was old plaster, white and peeling. On the corner of the roof of the two story structure was a faded, burned out sign that read, “Lord Carlton Hotel.” My first thought was that it was abandoned. I went inside. Behind the counter was the scraggliest old codger I have ever seen. He looked like a walking, breathing disease.
He asked to see my ‘five.’ I placed it on the counter. He slid a skeleton key across the counter and pointed down the hall. “Number 5,” he coughed. The room had not seen new paint for at least three decades. There was an old metal frame bed, with a rounded metal pipe headboard and foot rail. There was a dresser that was falling apart, and sitting on it was an old porcelain bowl with a chipped porcelain pitcher in it. That is right. No bathroom, no sink. There was a community bathroom in the place. If you wanted to wash up in your room, you had to fill the pitcher, take it back to your room and use the bowl. Once again, I had stepped into the Wayback machine and found myself in the middle of the old south, only there was no Mr. Wizard to snatch me to safety.
I used the facilities, carefully, as they also looked as if they had not been cleaned in decades. The feather mattress was hard and lumpy, but the sheets did smell clean. I laid there all evening, trying to read over the sounds of cheap, low-country hookers and Johns or clandestine lovers who found the place amenable to their needs. It was the first time I had ever heard sex, though I did know what the sounds were. It gave me a strange, ‘I really shouldn’t be here,’ sort of feeling. Eventually, through the squeaking of worn bed springs and the squeals of lovers or fuckers, I found some sleep.