Still on the Trace, I walk past a man sitting in his parked truck on the roadside. He calls me over and I oblige. He exits the vehicle and we give each other a thorough once-over.
On his t-shirt is an image of a guitar and a punny slogan that says, Pick Jesus, I Have. His black leather vest is biker style. On the left chest is an embroidered patch of a white cross. On the right, a name badge that says Road King. His belt belt buckle faces the pavement as it digs into his abdomen. His blue jeans have a starched crease. He laughs. Breaks the ice.
“I used to party with Tom Petty and Mick Jagger,” he says. “Booze it up and do drugs. Lived a rock and roll lifestyle until I found Jesus. I’m Steve, by the way.”
Steve is on his way home from a recording session in Nashville. He asks how far I’m heading today. I don’t have a solid plan, but I say Muscle Shoals.
“I’d offer you a ride but my guess is you won’t take it,” he says.
Steve digs into a bag on the passenger seat. Pulls out a CD.
“This is my most recent record,” he says.
He hands it over. Brown cardboard packaging. A photo of him wearing what he’s wearing today but sitting on a Harley. His name in black caps at the top, Good News in a similar font at the bottom. I read the track list and am amused by track number four, “Find Yourself a Christian Lady.” Track five looks like a typo: “Is Yo God Good?” I thank him and place the CD in Little Buddy’s trunk.
“All the guys were hitting it just right today, you know!” Steve says as he plays a little air guitar. “Session flew by and now I’m coming down off of it. Needed a break from the road. Seems you do too, huh?”
He offers me a soda.
“Got a full cooler in the back,” he says. “What do you say?”
I take a Coke. I sip the sweet syrup too fast and it makes me hiccup.
“Take ‘er easy there, friend,” Steve says.
Then, with his voice in the shape of a secret, he asks me if I know Jesus.
“Is he walking with you?” he says.
I take another sip of the Coke.
“Now, before you say anything,” he says, “know this–I get it. I spent most of my life estranged from God.”
He leans in close.
“I watched so many of my friends die,” he says.
And when he says “die,” I smell his tired breath. Metallic and eggy.
“But once I let him in, boom! Everything changed,” he says. “I was on the road to ruin, man! But Jesus saved me.”
Steve sips his soda.
“So then—what’s your story?” he says like I owe him.
I tell Steve I’m walking across America.
“Oh come on, man,” he says, waving his hand. “You know what I mean.”
I repeat my words.
“But that’s just it,” I say. “That is my story. And all this out here—this sky and those trees and you and I here right now—this is my church. What you get from Jesus, I get from all this. Shoot, it’s all the same thing, anyhow.”
Steve looks at me out the corner of his eye. Softly nods and licks his lips.
“I tell you man, you can be a rock and roller and still give yourself over to God,” he says. “I’m proof of that. And once he’s in your heart, you’ll realize all the time you’ve been wasting without him. I can attest that God is a way better drug than cocaine!”