The half-track ground to a stop.

“Make it quick. We’re back on the road in 20 minutes,” the driver barked from the front cabin. His name was Jared, and the young man looked to have seen some tough times in his 20-odd years. Jared’s face was weathered, a weathering that favored his left side, the mark of a long distance driver. His brown hair was dirty, his white shirt was dirty, but everything was dirty these days. The steel-toed boots he wore made a heavy thud as he hopped out onto the ground.

I slid out of the back seat, through the door, and dropped onto the ground beside him. I followed as he walked out into the field bordering the road upon which we had just been driving.

I don’t know why, but there was something that intrigued me about the driver. He reminded me of a character out of the past, the blue-collar male struggling to survive. Someone Steinbeck might have written about. Someone straight out of Grapes of Wrath. It’s a shame there are no more Steinbecks around, we lost them all 50 years ago when the world shut down.

It was a brisk day and the cold, morning earth crunched beneath our feet. Jared intimidated me, even though he was only 5 or so years older than me. After a handful of long minutes in the field I finally found the nerve to speak.

“How’d you start working for the Trailvyne Company?” I managed. The question came out as a foggy breath in the cold air.

“Been driving Trailvyne lines for years now,” he answered. After a pause he elaborated, “My father was a caravan merchant. When he passed I came here.”

“My dad was a caravan merchant too!” I enthusiastically explained. Jared made no attempt to respond.

I thought of my father. He’s dead now and has been for years. I looked at Jared and imagined my dad at his age. Dad was probably working his way up the trading company ladder, too. Maybe this is what intrigued me about Jared, the fact that he reminded me of my past. I tried to picture dad at a young age, the age he met mom, I guessed, but Jared’s face was all that I saw.

Ebenezer Leitmann was his name before his passing. I guess it’s still his name now. I remember that the other men in the caravan called him Rabbi. He wasn’t a devoutly religious man, but with a name like Ebenezer Leitmann it’s hard to blame whoever came up with the nickname.

Thinking of the dead made me uneasy. I awkwardly shifted the pack on my shoulders. It carried inside the remnants of my family’s belongings. Books mostly. Both of my parents loved books and dad would read to me almost every night. Looking back, it was our escape. For those brief moments we were in the comfortable past, not the dirty present. Sometimes, even, I’d rather be trapped in the dustbowl like the Joad family than stuck here now.

A flock of geese flew overhead. Jared and I both stared up at their perfect formation.

“I wish I was a goose,” I softly mused. Jared let out a small laugh at that.

“I wish you were a goose, too, ‘cause then, maybe, we'd have some goddamn lunch,” he growled. I smiled and looked down at my feet, but it was a depressing statement. He was a cynic, it seems. I wondered, then, if he was always like that. Maybe, when he was 17 like me, he also wanted to be a goose. It’s hard to be young in times like these because everything’s trying to make you old. The driver standing in the middle of a deserted field with the weathered face was proof enough of that.

I turned, once again, to Jared. “Do you ever read?” I ventured.

“Nobody’s got time to read anymore,” he replied. “Everyone’s too busy surviving.”

It was at that moment that it hit me. Jared wasn’t my dad, and he wasn’t Tom Joad.
He was stuck here, same as everyone else. I looked up at the sky where the geese were just a few minutes ago, but it was empty. “That half-track will get us to Madison,” I thought, “but it won’t get us out of here.”

“Let’s get going, kid,” he said as he nodded back towards the truck on the side of the road. “It’s a long road to Madison.” We trudged back over to the half-track. Jared opened the back door up; I threw my pack onto the floor and scampered in. The other passengers were already in their seats. He shut the door with a forceful bang behind me and climbed up into the cab. The engine turned over and the machine began to crawl its way south. I rested my forehead against the cold window and stared out into the fields, my backpack tucked safely beneath my feet. I thought of my father once more, not as a young kid, but as the middle-aged man I knew. My mind wandered through memories of him and his books, until eventually the rhythmic rumbling of the engine was the only thing left in my head.