Adam narrates, and describes how he gets directions to Rutterburg, a town seventy miles away, from an old man at a gas station. The man does not think Adam will make it to Rutterburg in one day, and Adam tells him he can stay at a motel in Belton Falls that he once stayed at with his family. The man warns him about the "bad guys" in the world, to be wary of his phone being tapped, and to always ask for identification, which may even be forged. Adam tells the old man that he is visiting his father in a hospital, but fears the man will ask him more about his father and mother. Adam is happy when the man does not question him further. The man gives him a road map before he leaves.
The opening of I Am the Cheese is shrouded in mystery. We do not understand why Adam is traveling to Rutterburg or what the chapter's odd title means. Robert Cormier has expressed an admiration for the mystery novel, which he said gives the reader a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. I Am the Cheese contains these three parts within its narrative structure. Although there is no mention of dates, it is clear that Adam's memories with his parents constitute the beginning of the story, his bike ride seems to be the end, while his conversations with Brint seem to fall somewhere in the middle. Furthermore, all three narratives have their own mysteries. Why did Adam's family leave on the bus that night? Why is Adam disturbed by other discrepancies, such as his father's tobacco smell? What are Amy's "Numbers"? Who is Brint and why is Adam talking to him but withholding certain information? What are the "clues" about which Adam speaks? Lastly, why is Adam visiting his father, and what is in the package?
An air of paranoia also pervades the opening of the novel. The old man at the gas station is paranoid about identity crimes and lack of privacy. Adam does not even share his name with us until later on in the novel. We learn in the third- person narration that Adam is paranoid that Brint can read his mind. Adam's disdain for Brint's medicine implies that Brint is a psychiatrist and Adam is in some kind of hospital.
Additionally, Adam reveals that he harbors serious fears, the most disturbing of which is his fear of both closed and open spaces. His desire is to ride his bike and to control his destiny. Adam's confidence is buttressed by his love of the wind. Adam always feels powerful and fast in the wind, a symbol Cormier will develop in upcoming sections.
I Am the Cheese also fits into the genre of the "orphan quest"—the illicit journey, usually of an adolescent male, to search for his identity away from his home, in the style of Hansel and Gretel or The Catcher in the Rye. Cormier may even have added a direct allusion to The Catcher in the Rye. Adam's father's woolen cap is similar to the red hunting cap Holden took on his journey. In this novel's orphan quest, Adam is seeking his father in an attempt to end his status as an orphan. Adam runs across other father figures early on in his journey—Brint is his fatherly "guide" and the old man talks about his son who died in WWII. Right away, Cormier sets the tone for a darker orphan quest, in that the father figures are shadowy and mysterious.