“Flying the sign,” Confessions of a Lone Wolf

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After panhandling, “Lone Wolf” seeks a place out of sight to drink a beer in Moriarity, New Mexico.

“Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.”
Dale Carnegie

It’s about 4 a.m. at a Love’s truck stop in eastern Tennessee off Interstate 40.

Diners seem to whisper this time of night. Shoppers in the truck stop quietly shuffle. Love’s cartoon heart logos light up the gasoline ports.

Staying up all night saves me money and from sleeping outside in a cheap, freezing sleeping bag.

I eat too much and fall asleep while typing, waking up to gibberish on the laptop.

Still, I love writing in a truck stop in the dead of night.

Carpe diem

I’m reflecting on how hitchhikers from Arizona to Arkansas this week found their own shelter.

“Lone Wolf” wears a Vietnam Veteran hat and says he was in the Navy, or the Marines, “they were the same branch.”

In the small town of Moriarity, New Mexico, next to Interstate 20 east or Albuquerque, Lone Wolf sits by the AT Travel Center parking lot with a cardboard sign saying, “Old Homeless Veteran.”

His veteran status helps him, he thinks.

Saturday night he panhandled $40 and paid $30 for a hotel room. On Sunday, he got $70 in two hours, he said. With the cigarettes, beer, food and rooms, he’ll be broke by morning.

In three conversations, he makes it clear this is his life, he’s not saving for a future off the road. He’s not worried about being broke tomorrow. Today is the day.

When flying the sign, he depends on the sympathy of strangers but when you speak to him, he sounds proud.

β€œIt’s the freedom. The freedom. Feeling free and no landlords breathing down your neck and turning off the heat or the lights. I’ve had that.”

A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, he has been married three times and has three kids he hasn’t seen in years. He’s not sure where they are, he says. He has one grandchild but “may have another by now.”

I asked him directly on a couple occasions what propelled him out of his home and wrenched him away from his family.

“I’m sure it was something,” he said.

At 62-years old, the sun has aged and lined his face. His clothes are tattered and dusty. He is thinking of shaving his beard for the summer, but not all of it.

Getting hotel rooms is okay but he loves waking up outside too.

“Mornings are my favorite part. You see the sun come up. The air is cleaner. You get in touch with nature.”

Lone Wolf says he has been roaming town to town, on and off for 30 years. It’s clear, too, that when he catches a ride his plans change with the driver’s plans.

His best ride, he said, was from Tipton, GA. to Albert Lea, Minnesota. He had no idea where he was going when he got on that 18-wheeler or what he would do when he got there. After the driver bought food and clothes for him during the two-day drive, he gave Lone Wolf $140 out of his pocket.

Lone Wolf says he doesn’t want to change his life. Yesterday and tomorrow, he insists, aren’t in his sights. He’s seizing the day.

“I’m happy,” he says smiling, with several teeth missing. “Of course, there are good days and bad days. But it’s all what you make it.”

–30–

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