In 1997 I got a contract job working for Sprint in Kansas City. I’d never done out of town contracting, but this was attractive: good money for work I find easy, in an inexpensive town. I set off for a cross-country drive on Interstate 40 at a leisurely pace, stopping for the night in Flagstaff and again in Tucumcari, NM. After a long day of 80 mph in the rain and mud and cowshit up Highway 54, I arrived in the late evening at my destination.
I’d plotted out an inexpensive motel on the north side of town for the night, since I was moving into an apartment the next day. Of course I got lost. Since KC is surrounded by a ring road I went around the city a couple of times, got off on the south side instead of the north, wandered various neighborhoods, got back on the ring road, and finally stopped for gas and directions late at night in a North Kansas City service station.
The night guy at the gas station was probably no more than 25, but was missing several teeth and had a worn look to him. His skin was at once greasy and dry, and he sat like potatoes in a huge black sweatshirt. He had two knives on his belt and stank of cigarettes. He was delighted to meet me, especially when he found out I was from California. After giving me (accurate) directions to the motel, he explained himself.
“I really want to get out to California. I’m about half saved and then I’m gonna go west.”
“What’re you going to do there?”
“I’m a biker. I got to get into one of those biker gangs out West, the Angels. You know the Angels.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“It’s my dream, man. I want to ride with those guys. And I really like the violence. I want to fight, you know, I wanna stomp someone.” He smiled at me with the innocent toothless mouth of an infant.
“Damn. That’s, uh, kinda hardcore.”
“Damn right. I’m Italian, I got Mafia in my blood. I want to get in it. You know, out West it’s for real, those guys. I gotta get there and prove myself.”
“You know,” I said, “California is a lot more expensive than here unless you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
He pointed to his eyes. “I know, and I’m ready. I can take care of myself. I can do a job here and there, you know. I’ll always survive. I just got to get where the action is.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to the guy. “Well, take care of yourself, man. I hope you do okay.”
He flashed that wonderful grin again. “Hey, no worry! I’m headed there and I’m gonna kick some fuckin’ ASS!”
He shook my hand, welcomed me to Kansas City, and sent me cheerfully on my way. Nicest wannabee murderer I ever met.