Earl Middleton, the story's protagonist, is pretty down on his luck. He's only ever driven "Chevy junkers" and has lived in several trailer parks in mobile homes with very few possessions. He's committed more than a few crimes: writing bad checks, stealing tires and cars, and the like. He's a nice guy, though—not violent—and he tries to be a good father to his daughter, Cheryl. He longs for a new life, free from crime and having to look over his shoulder, and he idealizes Florida as a haven where his new life can begin. His girlfriend, Edna, is less hopeful than he, despite their similarities. Of the two of them, Earl says,
I don't know what was between Edna and me, just beached by the same tides when you got down to it.
Earl wants to leave behind his old life and begin again, but with so few opportunities for people like him and Edna, it seems difficult if not impossible. They are of the working class, and they do not have the privilege of status or education, it seems, to get a leg up. He has to steal a car just to get away from that old life, and he plans to ride that stolen car right into Florida and into his new life. Earl, of course, does not realize how much this fact seems to doom his endeavor. He has stolen a Mercedes, hopeful that the car's luxuriousness will prove to be a good omen. He says,
It felt like a whole new beginning for us, bad memories left behind and a new horizon to build on. I got so worked up, I had a tattoo done on my arm that said FAMOUS TIMES, and Edna bought a Bailey hat with an Indian feather band and a little turquoise-and-silver bracelet for Cheryl . . . and everything seemed then like the end of the rainbow.
Earl cannot see that it isn't truly a new beginning for him, for them, because he stole a car—a habit and necessity of his old life—in order to get away. Then, in his enthusiasm, he keeps the car longer than he should, and it breaks down. It breaks down near a giant gold mine, a mine that seems close enough to walk right up to but which is actually much more distant than it seems. Earl's optimism that the gold mine must be a good omen for his new life is negated by Edna's hopelessness and her assertion that it isn't for them because it's not their gold mine—it's not for people like them. She says to him,
In a pig's eye, Earl . . . You and me see it in a pig's eye.
This is a curious expression that typically expresses disbelief and even derision of an idea or statement. Earl thinks that seeing the gold mine "may mean [they're] getting closer" to the life they want because "some people never see it at all," he says. However, Edna realizes that their life will never be any different; it can't be. The odds are stacked against them. If the gold mine represents the American Dream, then Edna realizes that such a dream is not really available to people like her and Earl; in his apparently misguided hope for the future, Earl does not understand this.