“America is such a big, big country. It’s absolutely great, and I am not sure that all Americans realize that.” — Bill Alexander
Bill loved being outdoors. He had an affinity with Mother Nature. He loved America, especially the vastness and grandeur of the country. There was nothing like this anymore in Europe. Europe was a tamed continent after some one thousand years of civilization. America was like a big park to Bill. Her mighty snowcapped mountains and miles of solitary desert captivated him. The vast stretches of green land made Bill feel that Mother Nature was always at work.
Bill and Margarete traveled back and forth across America even when they were living in Los Angeles and Canada. Now they had finally set out to discover America after trying to eke out a living in the “big city”. Once again, Bill was an itinerant painter. Once again, he would earn his way as he traveled across the country painting the mountains and fields of America. Once again, Bill and Margarete packed up the Volkswagen and set off for adventure. This time, perhaps, they might find their fortune around the next bend in the road or in the next town.
As they traveled, Bill would park the Volkswagen bus alongside the road to sell his paintings. Bill would position his paintings along the road leading up to his van like mini-billboards. One painting might be a mountain lake, followed by a portrait of an old sea captain. A seascape painted near Big Sur would lead to another painting of the Colorado River. The trail led to their Volkswagen with “The Old Master Painter from the Faraway Hills” painted on the side. Cars slowed and stopped until they lined up one after another along the road. Bill’s paintings created traffic jams. Soon the police arrived and told Bill to move on. Bill gathered his paintings and moved a few miles further down the road or to the next town where he set up shop again.
Each trip was always an adventure. The clutch in the Volkswagen was always giving out or a tire was going flat or the carburetor acted up. Once, on the big grade of White Bird Mountain outside Moscow, Idaho, the clutch failed. In spite of their predicament, Margarete and Bill relaxed and enjoyed the view. They waited for someone to rescue them. From their perch at the top of the mountain, they marveled at the beautiful farms and the rolling pastures below them. The sound of cows lowing in the fields rose to greet them. The flat green meadows below them ascended to the top of the mountain. Across the fields, the scent of wild prickly rose met them with a beautiful fragrance that reminded Bill of his youth. They basked in the beauty and listened to the sounds of Mother Nature.
Out of nowhere, a tow truck appeared. Bill flagged it down.
“I don’t have any money to pay you, but we really need help,” he told the driver, Elmer.
“Aw, that’s all right,” Elmer said. “Come on, I’ll tow you down. It’s just a short ride.” Elmer was a squat guy with a cigar stub in his teeth. Grease covered him all over. He could just see over the steering wheel; but, to Bill, he seemed to know what he was doing.
Elmer hitched Bill’s Volkswagen to the back of his truck and took off. As the truck descended the mountain, Elmer started swerving from one side of the road to the other. Bill and Margarete held on to each other as the Volkswagen bumped along dangling from the rear of the truck. The road was only two lanes but that didn’t make any difference to Elmer. When he wasn’t veering from side to side, he drove right down the middle of the road.
“This guy is crazy,” Bill whispered to Margarete. At first, Bill thought Elmer might have been drunk.
As the truck lurched down the hill, Bill couldn’t talk. He figured this was his and Margarete’s last ride.
Bill finally managed to stammer, “Don’t you think, maybe, you’re going too fast? You are really flying down this hill. Maybe a little slower? What happens if some guy comes up the other way?”
“Aw, I’ll just wipe them out,” Elmer said as he chomped on his cigar butt. “I’ll just put them over the side,” he growled and careened around another curve.
Somehow, they all made it down the grade and back to Moscow. Bill wondered whether Elmer was out to get them or whether he was just giving them a hard time because they were travelers. When they finally got to the garage, there was a line of cars ahead of them awaiting repairs. That was fine because Bill had no money. He needed time to display his paintings and try to sell them on the street. Soon after Bill was set up, Elmer showed up with some townspeople.
“These are pretty nice folks,” Elmer told the people he brought with him. “And they need some help. So maybe there’s some painting you’d like to hang in your rooms and pretty them up?”
Elmer, himself, bought a painting for twenty-five dollars. He came back later and bought another one for his father, and one for his sister. Before long, Bill had no more paintings to sell. Elmer and his friends bought them all. Bill still didn’t have much money, but at least he had enough to pay for the repairs to the Volkswagen.
It seemed that Bill and Margarete’s travels included one adventure after another. Those adventures gave them the opportunity to meet some warm, open, and giving people.