Hoey the old man never stopped driving.
He'd tell us kids that he was on a trip or something.
He'd say, "Hey kid, whatcha doin?"
And the kid would say, "Hey, Hoey. I'm just sittin' here."
He'd say, "What? You ain't doin' anythin'? Surely you gotta be doin somethin'."
"Sure, I'm doing something. I'm talking to you."
"What else you doin'?"
"Uh... I guess I'm watchin' the cherry blossoms across the street at the library."
"That's better. Ain't it?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Mmm." Then Hoey would take a drink from the root beer he always kept near him in the car.
"What about you, Hoey?"
"Yeah. I was watching the cherry blossoms, what are you doin'?
"Huh," he'd say, like he'd never been asked that question before. "Oh. I'm on a trip."
"Yeah. Yeah, I've been on one for awhile now."
"You never left this town."
Hoey was silent.
"Are you loony, Hoey?"
Hoey laughed and drank his root beer. "No. I've been traveling a while now."
Then Hoey would kick his old rusty truck into third gear from neutral and splutter off down the street. The kid would watch him for a little bit, shake his head, and turn his head back to the cherry blossoms swaying in the wind across the street. He'd lay his head back on the bench and stare at those little bundles of pink dancing in tune to the growl of Hoey's pickup down the street.
Hoey would always start conversations that way. Sometimes he'd hand a kid a dollar bill and say, "Hey, kid, run in and buy me a root beer, huh?"
And the kid would go do it and hand it to him through the window of his truck. Sometimes he'd ask, "Do you ever get out of your truck, Hoey?"
"Naw. I like it in here. I got the radio, my root beer, what else you need?"
"You ever eat? You ever need-- " A whisper, "the bathroom?"
Hoey'd laugh and only ever say, "I don't eat much, but I don't do much."
"What do you do?"
"I'm on a road trip."
"Huh. But you never go anywhere. You were born here and you'll die here, right?"
"I was born here, sure. I don't ever go anywhere, though."
"Where do you go?"
"Places," he'd say mysteriously.
Then he'd point upward at a bird on the telephone wire above and say, "Watch that."
Then he'd kick it into third gear from neutral and zoom off down the street. The kid would watch him go, and then notice how the telephone wire jounced-- so little, so lightly-- after the bird lifted off.
When I was ten I asked him why he was on a trip.
He did not reply.
My brother would see him once a week. Coley was usually the one who'd run in with Hoey's dollar and buy a cold root beer at the general store on the corner. Coley would boast, in the back alleys to an audience of neighborhood kids, that he knew Hoey best, that he asked him the most questions and got the most answers.
Coley said that Hoey'd told him that he had a wife once, that Mrs. Hoey ran off with a street musician one time. That their son ran away at eleven and then Hoey was alone. That Hoey had started this trip ten years ago when our parents were still young, and had still gone nowhere. That Hoey was insane 'cause he ate nothing but root beer and regret, and because he went stir-crazy after sitting in a car for a decade.
Coley'd say to all those kids that Hoey was nothing but a lunatic, a nice lunatic, but a lunatic nonetheless. Us kids had never met a lunatic before, unless you counted Homeless Ramses, the one who dug through dumpsters all day and refused to eat anything except popcorn and the residue in old jam jars.
I can't remember what happened to Homeless Ramses. I think they carted him off to the state penitentiary 'cause he stole a half-empty jam jar from the mayor's wife as she was making jam pie, when I was five. All I remember thinking was, Wow, can my mommy make jam pie?
Other than Homeless Ramses we'd never seen a crazy person before. Coley insisted that Hoey was insane.
When I was fifteen, I asked Hoey, "Why are you on a road trip?"
He looked sad and shook his head.
My younger sister-- I called her Toots because that's all she did when she was a baby-- told me that one time Hoey had called her over and asked her to buy him a root beer with his dollar.
She said when she gave it to him he looked like he might cry taking it from her. She said to me, "Sparky, I asked him what was the matter, and he said, 'Oh, Toots, nothing. You just look like my wife.' I said something, I don't remember what. But Sparky, he looked so terribly tragic that I felt like crawling into a hole and crying."
I was only able to tell her that I didn't know, that no one knew, that Hoey kept his secrets close to his chest and let no one know. That the only person who might make Hoey happy was God Himself.
One time Hoey disappeared for awhile. He was gone maybe six months, and when he got back he was as normal as ever. Coley said he'd asked where he'd been, and Hoey'd only replied, "On a road trip."
The day before I left for college, the first of our tiny little town to go there, I stopped Hoey in the street. He was older, thinner, greyer. His teeth were browner. His root beer, ever clutched in his hand, had changed its logo.
"Why are you on a road trip?"
I was startled when the slowest tear, like a snail, slid down Hoey's brown crevassed cheek.
"I'm on a trip," he croaked, "To find myself. And my family."
I was moved to tears, and could only touch his arm gently, weeping.