For a year I had been on the road traveling from Whidbey Island north of Seattle—just traveling, destination uncertain, riding an 80cc Yamaha motorbike I dubbed The Odyssey. Everything I owned in the world I was either wearing or had strapped to my bike—a change of clothing, some clean underwear, a camera, a portable typewriter, a tent, and some books. I had been a journalist in the U.S. Navy for four years and had aspirations of being the next Jack Kerouc. (This was before Vietnam when I enlisted in the Army as a Special Forces soldier.)
I slept in the tent—in the mountains, deserts, rain, snow. . . And every day I hunkered in my tent and wrote, working on a novel, a travelogue, a magazine article. . . Anything that might earn me a few bucks between working odd jobs across the nation. At various times during my odyssey, I was a short-order cook, a car hop, a gardener, a printer, a horse trainer and cowboy, day laborer. . . A few bucks and I was back on the road again, drifting.
I left Washington in the spring. I arrived in Florida the following spring and headed south toward Miami sunshine and the ocean. I arrived in Miami with eight dollars in my jeans, so I must have been nursing a ten dollar bill, probably no more than that, when I topped a hill in central Florida and beheld orchard groves stretching to either side of the road for as far as I could see.
I generally ate but once a day, nursing my resources, so I was almost always hungry. And the oranges were ripe—ripe enough anyhow. I grew up poor, so poor poverty was a step up, but my people never took anything that didn’t belong to them.
I pulled my bike to the side of the road where the limb of an orange tree laden with fruit extended across the fence into No Man’s Land. I contemplated the bounty, wrestling with my conscience, before I made up my mind.
Okay, so I stole an orange. One orange. Best orange I ever ate.
Charles W. Sasser will appear to sign his latest books at the Book Fair in the Public Library in Enid, Oklahoma, on Saturday, March 4. His most recent books include Night Fighter, the story of Navy Captain Bill “Bones” Hamilton, “Father of the Navy SEALs,” Korean fighter pilot, covert CIA agent, advisor to President Reagan, and a founder of U.S. counterterrorism. Also, SIX: Blood Brothers, the first novelization of the History Channel TV series SIX that premiered in February. The following novel of the series, SIX: Retribution, appears on the stands in March. SIX is the drama of a SEAL Team Six mission to rescue a former SEAL and Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in Africa by terrorists. Drop by the library if you’re in the area and, as we say in Oklahoma, bring a big “howdy.”