Migrants flee hardship along Highway 66, which winds across the country’s diverse territory, from Arkansas, through the mountains of Arizona, to the fertile valleys of California.
Highway 66 unifies the diverse landscape of the U.S., just as it gives the fleeing migrants some solidarity in their hardship.
The narrator speaks from the perspective of traveling farmers, who worry about their malfunctioning cars and improvise solutions in order to continue their journey to California. A greedy car-parts salesman has little sympathy for a poor family in need of a new tire, and tells the family that California isn’t big enough to accommodate all the country’s needy citizens. The salesman threatens that the border patrol will deny the migrants entry into California and rip up their driver’s licenses.
Along the highway, uncaring opportunists are eager to take advantage of the desperate migrants. Worse still, these greedy individuals are fearful of—and openly hostile to—the migrants. The salesman, for one, seems to perceive the farmers’ differences as a threat to him and his part of the country.
The salesman tries to sell the migrant family a faulty tire for an unfair price. The farmer, indignant at being taken for a fool, insults the car salesman and drives away in anger, still relying on the broken tire.
The salesman’s lies incite righteous fury in the farmer. The farmer is so enraged that he risks a breakdown to keep the salesman from profiting.
Some migrant families rely on the charity of others after being kicked off their land. They build a makeshift trailer and wait with it along the 66. A sedan picks them up and feeds them, and they manage to reach California. The narrator marvels at the way the family manages to survive simply through their faith in humankind. On the road, “bitterly cruel” events like the tire salesman’s extortion and “beautiful” things like the carless family’s faith happen side by side.
The unscrupulous behavior of many individuals towards the Oklahomans does not represent a complete condemnation of the human race. The sedan-driver’s generosity indicates that some people do possess the sense of brotherhood that forms the base of Casy’s newfound faith.