I wonder what we looked like then, that day we drove over into California. My mother could probably still tell you what we wore. We were driving to California from Bay City, Wisconsin, just the two of us, so I could be a television star. We'd taken Ted's Mobile Credit Card and stayed in motels, charging gasoline and Cokes on the bills. We dug up to our shoulders in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch.
We'd stolen vegetables all across America, anything we could eat without cooking. My mother spotted the trucks.
"Oh, Ann. Look. Peas," she'd say. The trucks of peas were open-backed, the vines clumped in bundles. We followed those trucks anywhere, turning off into towns we'd never heard of and then waiting till the first stoplight, when my mother sent me out with a five dollar bill to the driver. The windows of the cabs were high and I had to jump to knock. The drivers never touched our money. They shrugged and smiled and said, You go on ahead, take what you want, then. And we loaded up the whole back seat of the car, from the floor to the roof, with the sweet, heavy-scented vines.
Sometimes on the highway loads of peas would drop off the truckbeds and bounce right off the concrete like tumbleweed. We pulled onto the gravel shoulder and ran out and chased them, laughing on the hot empty road, the flat country still on all sides of us.
That last morning in Nevada we'd bought nine melons, big melons, each too heavy for one hand. We'd tasted samples from toothpicks on ragged, wet paper plates. We'd never imagined how many kinds of melons there could be. And they were all sweet.
But when we crossed the Nevada border some men made us stop. We couldn't take our melons into California. It was still not noon and already hot. We had pulled onto the shoulder of the road. When the man told us we couldn't bring our melons in, my mother stood outside of the car and cried. She talked to him, saying the same things again and again, while he shook his head no. He seemed to have all the time in the world. A green fly landed on his forehead and it took him forty seconds to lift up his hand and shoo it. I backed the car onto the grass and started hauling out melons. My mother screamed. I was twelve years old. I wasn't supposed to know how to drive.
We didn't have a knife or anything. We split the melons open, smashing them on the legs of the sign that said "WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA" and we stood on the concrete platform eating them, the juice spilling down our arms.