I spend most of my journey to Sapporo in a gomi truck. Gomi-man is gruff, aggressive mumbler. After three attempts to comprehend his name I give up. Surely, Gomi-man has several cars on cinder blocks in front of his decrepit trailer. He smokes Hi Lites. Actually, he smokes my cigarettes and offers nothing. I find him unpleasant but I do respect his frugality. He milks me for hours of English translation before I fall asleep. What else could I do? I'm out of cigarettes and Gomi-man not only refused to stop; he didn't even offer a lousy Hi Lite.


In Takikawa, a provincial town 80 kilometers north of Sapporo, I buy my own cigarettes and coffee (God forbid!). I spend a wonderful afternoon with four Takikawa schoolboys who adopt me at a Seven-Eleven. We watch their classmates, the third-ranked baseball team in Hokkaido, practice. They agree to tell the team that I'm the scout who signed Hideki Arabu. I'm touched as they say goodbye with a Sammy Sosa "finger-kiss-chest-thump."


At the expressway interchange I ponder why most motorists accelerate as they enter the tollbooth. After braking rapidly, many must back up to retrieve the mandatory expressway ticket. It's a formidable task while suffering from whiplash. Outside of the brain dead who leave children in running cars, tollbooth acceleration is the one of the few remaining quirks among Japanese drivers these days. Of my 17 days on the road, I've seen less than a handful of accidents. None of these appeared to involve fatalities. Unlike the myth, Japanese drive pretty damn well.

Kouichi, a traveling engineer, is my final ride of the day. He's also the most apologetic person I have ever encountered. He's sorry for my headache, having only two aspirins, the weather, the Kosovo conflict, basically any malady he had nothing to do with. Since he's married with child, I refuse an invitation to his 12-tatami apartment. He conjures a solution. At 10:00 pm his wife appears at a rest area with my dinner and breakfast. I'm to sleep on the futon in his van. He leaves the keys in case I get cold. He's sorry about all of this.

Kouichi wakes me with coffee, an extra breakfast and a plethora of apologies. I'm quickly off to Sapporo to visit friends for a few days. Speaking fluent English with Julian and Amanda is a relief and we chat about my project. I mention several sightings of blonde women around here.

"They're Russians," Amanda informs me. "A lot of people don't like them here and they're detested up north."

The maniac in the fish factory with the weapon! He thought I was Russian! Perhaps he had a few octopuses and trucks stolen in the past. I relate the story and my conclusions are confirmed.

Good-byes are quick with Julian and Amanda. They're non-mobile English teachers and have schools to attend. Plus, staying with friends is expensive! When a mobile teacher stops, so do the free coffee and cigarettes.

Nakajima and his apprentice Shinya cruise Hokkaido for broken pachinko machines. It's an informative excursion to Hakodate as Nakajima explains the scams players and shop owners use to cheat each other.

Shinya, on the other hand, is more like a pachinko player, the kind that scrapes balls off the floor towards evening's end. He never seems to absorb any of Nakajima's electronic savvy. He was too busy spilling coffee and locking the keys in the car. Thank God I'm adroit with a coat hanger.

I opt for the ferry to Aomori and cringe at the outlay - ¥1360 - but I'm fresh and revamped for my final leg to Myokokogen, the spa town four hours north of Tokyo.

I've urinated about 80 times on this trip and I have thousands of witnesses. That's because the architectural layout of men's rooms in this country must have been sketched by an exhibitionist. I'm sure every woman reading this has seen a urinal, or perhaps 67.

I can not only see the parking lot while pissing, I can focus on the faces in the cars buzzing past on the highway. I'm open for public scrutiny many times on my last full day as the coffee is flowing on the Tohoku Expressway.

Today is also weird gift-day. A couple hands me a pedometer (a gadget that measures walking distance) near Sendai. Then I'm astonished when Hiro, a young salary man, struggles to find a farewell momento and pulls a socket wrench from his glove compartment. I accept it with tears. I'm touched.

I'm only 100 kilometers from Myokokogen on Sunday, June 13 when a couple pays me ¥2000 for "being so patient with our horrible English". I had forgotten about money. I calculate my expenses and realize I have covered this country for less money per day than my trip to Laos. I had originally planned on banking yen but the scheme failed abysmally. I'm more taken with the 85 rides that took me. Trusting single women, a tattoo artist, Obachans, surfers, students, thugs, company presidents, drunks, cops, and of course, salarymen in white cars.

My final ride drops me at the exact same spot I had begun my journey ­ in front of the Myokokogen Seven-Eleven. I enter it and buy my own cigarettes and coffee.






Staff Continued



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