I grew up on these stories. Stories of journeys. Now I’ve made my own. 1,800 miles by my own muscles: I’m nowhere near the final step, but it sure is a start.
So with one brave heart at my side I had made the final 80 miles to the end of the river and the end of the world. Here were were, with the Great River Road vanishing into a heap of gravel before us, and the entire length of the Mississippi behind us. The “southernmost point of Louisiana,” and nothing around but marsh, backwater and the lonely towers of industry.
It’s a spooky world, southern Louisiana, because everything is alive and no one’s home. You can go hours and see nobody, stand at refinery gates at see nobody at all.
And I thought, this being the final little stretch of road, the least important length of asphalt in the whole state, that maybe we’d see no one here, either.
I was mistook.
That one man was there, one man smoking his cigarette, sitting on a stack of logs. A truck was nearby, also a boat: he was in no hurry to go.
Now here is what I thought as I approached him:
What is he doing here?
I wonder if we’re disturbing him. I wonder if he’s going to disturb us.
Well, we came all this way and we’re not stopping now.
He probably thinks it’s pretty stupid, two kids coming here on bikes. He must work around here. Here we are, doing nothing but acting like tourists, and he has a real job.
Must seem like a pretty strange vacation.
“How’s it going?” I asked. He nodded his head.
In Chrono Trigger, when you reach the End of Time there is nothing but a few cobble stones, a lamp post and one old man.
That man says very little but he is Gaspar, an ancient sage.
I didn’t realize till days after I left the End of the World.
The purpose of my quest is to meet the gods. Reaching the end of the Mississippi was a milestone—and in that apocalyptic place, it seemed we truly were at a nexus beyond the universe itself.
What if the gods were waiting for me? Do they ever take human form? I always presume, learned philosopher that I am, that such things are metaphors: they speak in the heart, but they do not appear in the flesh.
Why am I so sure?
I had to admit that it seemed strange for a worker to be taking his smoke break in the middle of a bayou; that he seemed awfully stoic and that I completely ignored him.
Whom had I just ignored?
I have no particular reason to believe that the smoking man was a deity, nor a 12,000 year old magus.
But a thought occurs.
Out of all the workers on all the refineries, how many go out to lonely wild places of an evening?
How many go not home, not to the bar, but to a dead end road in perfect silence?
I wonder if he comes to the End of the World daily, or only once in a while. I wonder what he thinks about. What in that rugged, buzzing, croaking backwater calls to him—and how does he answer the call?
The thought occurs, days too late, that although he was perhaps mortal flesh-and-blood he was also different, thoughtful, unique. I talk to so many strangers, and I forget most of them. This man was memorable. I barely said hello.
I no longer remember if he was white or black. By the time we left Jess says he was in the truck, but I remember him still on the logs.
I know nothing about him, but I wished I had stopped to ask.