More than thirty years have elapsed since I last ‘seriously’ engaged in the art and practice of hitch-hiking. I hitched somewhat regularly for about ten years prior to that. Little would I have imagined forty or so years since my primary reliance upon this mode of transport that I would be custodian of three gas-guzzling vehicles. Attended Republican precinct caucuses, a few county assemblies, one state convention. Had three IRAs. And would be most chagrined and attempt to forbid my children from ever hitch-hiking.
Mayhaps it was a different world then. Perhaps I was a different person. Nevertheless, my experiences ‘on the road’ might be of the rose-colored-glasses variety, in that most everything seemed positive. Or so I remember it.
My personal remembrances invoking the hitchin’ mode of transportation are recollected in six sections. They won’t be in chronological order, but, in chronological order they are:
(a) Startin’ out, Spring 1968.
(b) To (& from) L.A., February 1970.
(c) Aug – Sept 1970, estes park /Oregon /seattle / Vancouver / ft. collins / aspen / LA.
(d) Nov 1972, out to east coast.
(e) Mexico, Jan 1975
(f) 1977/1978, up north CANADA vancouver island.
(c) The destination is in the going. The going is in the destination
— Jack Kerouac (might have said this. So might have Lao Tzu)
Ever have the road call you? Today is the day. I’m going.
I had no concrete plans, but the idea of a kerouacian ‘great amerikin road trip’ had been fomenting (and probably fermenting) in my mind for a while. I hadn’t been on a really long solo trip before. The person that I was in 1970 had a different sense of time than I do now, and a considerably more flexible outlook in regards the definition of “home.” “Home” would be the road, or, at any rate, not as fixed with respect to “place” – and time. Anyway, I moved every 4 or 5 months back then. It SEEMED a ‘long time’.
I DID, however, have a place of my own – and my semi-transient friends would be more than happy to have a base camp while I was gone.
Lighting a stick of incense (such a hippie!), I left my apartment. Focused on the smoke curling up from the smoldering wand, I considered the four cardinal directions. Subconsciously, there were other directions, other dimensions, as well.
I decided to leave boulder to the west. The road that direction was the lightest-traveled and also closest to get to. Yes, west. And up. Straightening up under the backpack, I left my apartment and walked to the edge of town. West prolongs the daylight. I told myself that I’d have a ride before the incense went out. I did.
Up boulder canyon, past nederland, north to estes park I rode.
I was in Estes Park by mid-afternoon. Coney Island West. Being summer, it was heavy-duty tourist season. The sidewalk- and curio-shop-throngs, many many hundreds of them, seemingly content to be in the rocky mountains without really being IN them. I sat, watching. Observing and speculating. After all, I was timeless. My pack was half-full with granola. I could go on indefinitely.
Fellow traveler, long hair, backpack, walks up to me, asks where I’m goin’. “Anywhere. Nowhere in particular. Everywhere.”
“Fine. You’ll go with me to Oregon, then?”
Jeff and I seamlessly circulated to a party. Kerouac would have been proud. Beer, communal ‘herbal’ cigarettes, loud music, chattering people. Each of us was Universal-Life-Church-married, he to a thin blond pretty waif, replete with green mad-hatter derby, me to her chubbier friend. I fantasized about Jeff’s ‘Penny’ for a some time after.
Next morning, saying goodbye to our wives, Jeff flagged down a car with east coast plates and two acolyte fellow travelers. They were en route to the west coast, wherever that was, but were easily convinced “Oregon” was on the way.
We slept that night on the shores of an unseen Great Salt Lake. Purgatorial. Too hot to crawl inside the sleeping bag, too many mosquitoes for exposed skin outside of. Space in the car only for one. They had a regular breakfast. Last night’s leftover wine was fine for me. I felt like I had elektrik-koolaid-assidtest control.
Jeff’s family’s house in suburban Pendleton, Oregon by nightfall. His parents had gone away, his sister took one look at us and disappeared. For dinner I made bulbous soup. Sleeping bag on a carpeted floor. I slept soundly.
Jeff continued to steer the ship. Eugene was where they were going next. Not me, in the back of my mind I had envisioned Seattle.
Reverend Bob answered an ad for a roommate a year or so back. He turned us on to the Universal Life Church, where for only $1, one could become a registered minister. The ULC’s credo: “we believe in whatever’s right.” Shortly thereafter, his lottery number in the single digits, the conscientious objector option unattainable, Bob began migrating to Canada. His last known address was Seattle.
I rowed ashore in Portland. The sails of the frigate faded over the horizon to the south. Big city, big traffic.
I became part of a hitchhiking group of four. Three Canadians – two Quebecois who barely spoke English, and a straight-talking mid-westerner like myself — somehow convinced me not only was there safety in numbers, but a better chance for a ride. A businessman driving a station wagon picked us up. “Where you kids goin’?”
The Canadians were going home, planning on attaining the Trans-Canadian highway, then east. My next stop became their next rest stop. “Canterbury Castle. On a hill overlooking Lake Washington,” I said.
“I’m going right by there. Think I could have a tour?”
At dusk we pulled up. A brooding large brick structure, replete with battlements and banners. Kitty Canterbury met us at the door. Reverend Bob had slipped across the border two months before. “A friend of Bob’s is a friend of mine.” She invited us all in. Our driver got his tour. The Canadians found spare bedrooms. I ate dinner and drank prodigiously with the other tenants – Reverend Bob’s former roommates. Jake-the-Smuggler brought me up to date on Bob’s situation. Bob had had a minor run-in with the law (jay-walking!) and his name was entered in the local system. A week later, a couple strange phone calls and a mysterious vehicle parked across the street. Jake took Reverent Robert to the bus-station and the draft-dodging was complete. And I had his new address.
The Canadians told me I would have difficulty getting into Canada looking the way I did, and penniless besides. To ‘remedy’ this, we intended to donate at the local blood bank as someone had said that we’d be paid $10 each.
The blood bank had stopped the practice of paying for donations the week before. “We were getting too many unhealthy transients and winos. Research has shown that normal, healthy people will still donate for free.”
The Canuck majority still loaned me $30 and we got on the bus to Vancouver. At the border I was the only one escorted off the bus for questioning. I fit the profile. However, my $25 (bus tix cost $5) and draft card indicating 1Y –>
(psychological deferment – mentally unfit for military service unless there’s a “national emergency.” Back then, I figured a “national emergency” would really be. A national emergency)
status eased the border-official’s doubt somewhat. Twenty-five dollars. And enough granola for a couple weeks. NOT your ordinary penniless draft-dodging vagrant – such a vagrant whom, no doubt, would be joined lips-locked-to-the-teat of the Canadian dole in a matter of weeks. I joined my travel companions back on the bus.
From downtown Vancouver I headed to an outlying area to the southwest. Only six or so level miles. After walking several blocks on a major north-south arterial, noting the manicured lawns and carefully tended gardens, I stopped abruptly at a major exception to the prevailing yard rule. Uncut grass, patches of barren dirt and trash – THIS was the sort of place Reverend Bob would be at. I pulled out Jake’s scrap of paper… yep, a match on the address. However, for the first time this sojourn, I experienced apprehension and mild panic. Was anybody home?
Knock at the door. After about a minute, a scraggly scowly face peers through the curtain. I’m even more apprehensive. Bob would be around happy people. “Yeah, you mean Wilson? He’s upstairs …”
“Bay-toon-ah-dah!” Bob falls on top of me from mid-way down the stairs. Hearty back-thumping. It’s obvious he appreciated a link to his former life.
For the next week or so, I lived the life of someone on the Canadian dole, indistinguishable (as far as I could tell) from the life of an American draft-dodger. Sleep in late, prolific cannabis availability; work a little, lots of good strong Canadian beer at the pubs every night. “Watch it,” Rev. Bob warned me. “This is NOT what you’re used to in the states. This beer is twice as strong.”
And he was right. Inexpensive entertainment: cheap drunk. Every other morning we’d go to a salvage yard and bang on Volkswagens with sledgehammers. This is what Rev Robert did for work. I could bang away for a couple of hours, if I paced myself.
The day I left, Bob dropped me off near the border tossing out (as he later wrote) “a handful of bills and prolific oaths and curses.” There were two huddled depressed groups of humanity clustered on the side of the highway. An upright thumb or two protruded from each. One group had been there a couple days. Nevertheless, I felt buoyant, upbeat. I was NOT going to hitch sitting down. I think everyone has his or her “hitching rules.” One of mine is DON’T hitch sitting down, or leaning against something. (For an exception to this, see part ‘a’. I was a novice hitcher then, and hadn’t formulated and internalized my rules yet.) You must either be standing or walking backwards, facing oncoming traffic. I stood.
Betsy Elizabeth Richardson was going to Ft. Collins, Colorado in her VW bug. She did not have room for the larger groups. Although I had been contemplating Los Angeles, I was on my way back to Colorado within three hours of being dropped off.
Ft. Collins … no, I did NOT have a viable girlfriend there – it took me about three days to figure that out. I took a bus to Frisco, visited an old friend. His mom took me to Leadville the following day. It was easy to hitch to Aspen, and visit my parents. They were NOT exactly overjoyed to see me.
(A few daze later). Things were closing in on me again. It was time to move on. I perused the community bulletin board downtown, scanning for notes asking for “riders.” There were a few – asking for help driving, money to pay for gas, and preferably some guarantee of redeeming personal qualities. There were requests for rides, also. All of these had specific locations in mind, as well as thinly veiled ‘songs of self praise.’ “I need a ride to Kansas City before August 19. I can help drive, pay for gas, play the guitar well, and am a good conversationalist.”
I sat down and crafted my note. “HELP! RIDE WANTED. ANYWHERE.” (That should expand the possibilities, eh?) “lousy conversationalist. no money.” More derogatory items fleshed out the card. I walked back to my parents’ house and the phone was ringing as I walked in. It was Richard. “How soon can you leave? I’m going to L.A.” He was by 20 minutes later. My parents looked up as I walked out, backpack on, asked where I was going.
We drove to santa fe where I had some friends at edge of town. I smoakt hoobyjooby with Bob – (old friend? of a friend of mine — Cliff Athey) and had either a panic attack or my kundalini really was rising… next day, as we drove nonstop I became tremendously ill. Richard had to stop every 10 or 20 miles so I could diarrhea! Pleasant, eh? We finally made it to “Kip’s” house somewhere due east of encino. Kip, a modern day sorcerer/healer, gave me some concoction, which made me well almost immediately. Next morning I called Slum (Kevin J) and walked away from Kip’s – down some “main road” which I presumed k.j. would know – he (and bruthur Donald) came driving up what seemed to be a few minutes later. His parents (mom, especially) sensed that Kevin was due to “leave the nest” — on his (long overdue?) trip away from home. Mom talked to me about “looking out after him.” We flew out of l.a. – back in those heady days of “youth fare” – I think it was $20 each.
BEFORE i had ever heard of Jack Kerouac, i participated in my first hitchhike. On a Friday afternoon during our first year of college, Roy H and i decided to take the less-expensive and probably more-adventurous method back home to the Evergreen/Conifer area. Just beyond the edge of Gunnison we got our first ride. “How far ya’ goin’?” i ventured. The driver remarked that THAT was NOT an appropriate thing to ask. Having never hitch-hiked before, i believed him. Now, i know that THAT is a very appropriate question to ask.
I believe that that first ride took us 60 miles, to Salida. I don’t remember anything else, so the rest of the trip must have been somewhat quick and uneventful. I also don’t remember how we got BACK to college later that weekend.
I hitched by myself a couple times, and with Roy H more than once. The most memorable aspect of one solo mid-winter hitch from Gunnison to Aspen – where my friend Larry Plume was a projector-operator for the movie-house there – was spending the night in a blizzard in a VW abandoned by the side of the road.
Roy and i took a “hitching vacation” in the summer of 1968. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled, but somehow acquiesced. I presume Roy’s parents felt the same. A constipated State Patrolman, Officer Grimes (i hope to encounter him in the afterlife) was on our case immediately. He expected us to walk, on the left side of the road, all the way to wherever we were going. If he caught us with our thumbs out again, well, we didn’t want to have that happen.
We walked 17 miles. No kidding. Most the way from Conifer to Grant. Officer Grimes had nothing better to do that day, a Sunday, and he would drive by every 5 minutes or so. We walked and walked. Once, Roy quickly thumbed at a car going by just after the patrolman passed and was out of sight. We got a ride for about five miles. When Ossipher Grimey drove by us again, he was fuming. The drive-bys were reduced to about three minutes. Finally, we must have reached the edge of his territory, or possibly another crime-in-progress demanded his attention and we got some “serious rides.”
Two hippies, guy and girlfriend, in a big old sedan took us half the remaining way to gunnison. His driving rules were simple. Go fast. When you catch up to somebody, pass them, regardless. If i had my life to live over again, there are at least 20,000 things i’d do differently, and high on the list is that i’d beg and plead and shout if necessary for him to let us off.
Roy and i arrived at Dan and Ray’s place in Gunnison. They were our compadres from the previous (freshman) collegiate year. We spent a few days doing what we all did best: lots of talking, coffee and some beer drinking, cigarette-smoking (all but me). Collectively, we were MASTER philosophers and there was no problem that we could not solve.
Roy and i left after a few days with Aspen in mind. Two hispanic fellows in a pick-up truck took us through the Grand Mesa National Forest pretty much from the Gunnison area to what is now I-70. We rode in the back of the truck. It was my first time along much of that route – through peach- and apple-orchards (Paonia?), over the backside of the Grand Mesa, and down to the Colorado River. They handed a bag of cherries back to us. We went through Crawford – i thought of the only person i knew from there. Arlian (last name) on the college track team. Many miles later, somewhere on the Grand Mesa our two benefactors stopped to meet another person in his truck. It was Arlian.
A carload of gregarious hispanics picked us up next. They squeezed us into their already-mostly-full car. In the back seat, a fellow played a portable record player. They seemed concerned about every vehicle stopped for problems – flat tire needed changing, overheated radiator. They would stop at each and every and ask what they could do.
Roy and I walked through Glenwood. We made it to Aspen and ended up at a sort of ‘hippie / head / trinket’ store for the night. We both were offered jobs clearing brush and whatever from the ski slopes the following day. Roy decided that he’d stay and work. He moved into a laborer’s/workers dorm. I left.
Later that summer i hitched from Las Vegas back home to Evergreen. I hadn’t planned on thumbin’, but the situation called for it. Roy A (not to be confused with Roy ‘H’) asked me to help him move his mom from Evergreen to Lost Wages. He rented a U-Haul truck into which we transferred the household goods. R A was out to make some money, but probably also saved his mom half of what a regular, professional, moving company would have cost. I still think i should have been paid – a modest stipend, something symbolic. But Roy knew i’d go along “for the adventure.” Sucker me. If it weren’t for the mortgage and “the ranch,” i probably would be tempted to do something similar tomorrow.
My high-school friends share a few discrete (concrete) character traits. We all would have vehemently denied it at the time, but with the clarity of historical 20-20 hindsight, ANAL RETENTIVENESS (AR) was endemic among us. Probably still is. One person’s AR rarely was compatible with another’s. R A’s AR, once it got stewing … well, i’d put money on RA’s AR up against everybody else’s AR for ‘best of show’ among all the AR’s i’ve had the occasion to have experienced.
After the drive to Vague Ass, the un-packing, a few daze in the area, then a spur-of-the-moment drive (he/we had his mom’s car for this) to Los Angeles,
– I saw the ocean for the first time, at age 19. A few days there, in which we lived in my uncle’s garage and in the car. “Stop by any time,” Uncle Ed had told me a few months earlier. “No advance warning necessary.” My uncle and family had left on vacation and were not home when we unexpectedly arrived. The combination of the garage, R’s mom’s car, and breakfast at the nearby IHOP was far cheaper than the Holiday Inn. Then the drive back to Vague Ass –
I couldn’t tolerate R A’s AR any longer. I asked, no, i INSISTED he let me out on the north part of the strip.
Since i didn’t think anyone knew about ‘evergreen’, i scribbled “DENVER” on a piece of cardboard. Contrary to what i proclaimed earlier – i wasn’t standing, i was sitting on my suitcase. After all, i was only nineteen. Shorthaired, black plastic-rimmed glasses, collared long-sleeved shirt. And surly. Well, trying to look surly.
Mid-august. It wasn’t that hot. I watched northbound traffic on the strip for two or three hours. Entertainment at its finest. “Sorry, i’m not going that far,” joked a cyclist riding by. I didn’t mind. I was free, not at the mercy of anyone else’s AR, and i was wide open to any future plans.
A dirty black cadillac with california plates cruised by three lanes out. I saw the passenger turn and say something to the driver. I was not surprised when, a couple minutes later, the same car (after having circled the block) pulled over. I got in. The car pulled back onto the strip and continued north.
Two fellas, long black hair and beards. “Are you headin’ to Denver?” I asked.
After several more minutes, i attempted another conversational prod: “you guys headin’ beyond Denver?”
We drove on in silence for perhaps a half hour more. I wasn’t apprehensive – oh, maybe a little. Remember, this was 1968 – and ‘long-hairs’ were almost universally considered peaceful ‘searchers.’ These guys were stony silent.
Gradually my benefactors became more talkative. Within a few hours i was part of a small tribe of nomads, kindred spirits. They were heading back to work at a university in Ohio, where they were philosophy professors. I was at home in my space in the back seat. I still remember a dream or semi-sleep where a woman’s voice said my name several times. Clearly. Convincingly. They dropped me off at the US 40 exit about ten miles from my house.
This story didn’t end with my arrival home. A few days later R A showed up at our house, having (allegedly) hitched from Las Vegas.
(b) One doesn’t merely hitchhike along a highway. Lose track of a train of thought and if you locate it again, it’s two or three rides down the road.
— Huzzel Jon Ruzzel
John “Huzz” Russell was inspired by Jack Kerouac more than anyone i knew. I didn’t know WHO J K was when, one day – in 1969, Huzz was very very sad. “Why?” we asked. “Jack Kerouac died yesterday.” he replied. The rest of us had very little idea, really, who J K was.
Partly due to Kerouac’s legacy (of THE GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIP) and also due to another great Amerikan road trip: that being Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus trip “FURTHUR” as chronicled in the ‘Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’ – Huzz and i decided in February, 1970, to hitch-hike out to L.A. to visit our friend Kevin “Slum” Justice. In keeping with Kesey’s cinematographic record of his trip, Huzz acquired a super-8-mm camera and lots of film. We also talked an acquaintance, Bob Crosson (nicknamed “Smerdyakov” from ‘the Brothers Karamazov’) into accompanying us.
Huzz has said that the movie is no longer. But I’ll always remember its world-premiere. We knew four girls attending CU a couple blocks from our place. Their living room was much larger than ours so we showed it there. It was great fun.
THE MOVIE would show us driving (in Huzz’ car) to Gunnison. Shot of Huzz driving, ’gripping’ the steering wheel with his teeth; with Crosson’s long hair as a screen (Huzz and i weren’t “really good in the back” for a few months yet). The requisite night at McMillen and RayRod’s.
Next morning we start walking west from Gunny. (Huzz’ car left at RayRod and Dan’s.) Seemingly seamlessly and surprisingly we are outside of Fruita (125 miles away) before we know it. We get a ride from a Minnesota couple. He is on the lam from the law, so he sez. She is quietly proud to be with her outlaw. They are going to L.A. He has a large supply of falsified checks (“rubber checks,” he describes it. We all laugh).
They have some of the latest 8-track tapes. I remember the one of the Stones breaking the glass — the 8-sided album — sort of thing I could listen to 40 or 50 times before it got old. They don’t play that. I’m looking forward to good rock and roll but he and she also have Leslie Gore’s greatest hits. There were three songs in a row, which he plays over and over. And over. Huzz’ movie film shows the looks on our faces – gradually becoming numbed and numb-er. “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”
“She’s a fool (she has his love and treats him cruel).”
“My Johnny’s come back” – my Johnny’s come back my Johnny’s come back My Johnny’s come back, to me – ee – ee – ee – eee” Those three songs are ingrained into my tormented psyche for the rest of this life, and I might know the words in future incarnations. No sooner would Leslie gloat about Johnny being back, then mr. outlaw would punch the 8-track player three times quickly so we could begin all over again with “It’s my party…”
Though mr. and mrs. outlaw offered to rent us the room next to theirs in Lost Vague Ass, we were only too glad to escape. We thanked them for their generosity and the ride and started walking.
We didn’t walk far. A flashing neon sign proclaiming “MIDNIGHT CHAMPAGNE BREAKFAST BUFFET” at the last small casino before the edge of town was very tempting. “All you can eat. $2.99.” We had slightly more than enough between us.
The wait staff had to have been really bored. I guess they were so used to the usual retinue of late-night gamblers that three borderline-vagrants right off the street replete with backpacks was a novelty. Waitresses, busboys, champagne-glass-fillers hovered about our table. Our tales and bantering apparently were NOT of the usual fare reciprocated from customer-to-wait staff at that locale. We ate. We drank (a sip out a glass was quickly replenished). Good vibes all around.
Out into the edge-of-las-vegas late winter / early spring past midnight. We walked, bantering/chattering about stuff. High on life. We walked for many miles before we stuck our thumbs back out.
Huzz and smerdyakov were wily. No sooner than the just-released marine blazing back to l.a. after blowing his last paycheck picked us up, they were burrowed into the back seat sound asleep. My job was to help keep him awake, and all of us alive, for the remainder of the ride. He dropped us off mid-morning in the middle of Barstow. The movie shows us wading, shoes in hand, pant-legs rolled up, across shallow canals to get to a more-appropriate on-ramp. We could have been trapped a long time but, relatively quickly, a pretty girl in her VW bug picks us up. She, too, must have been really bored. She’ll take us to wherever we wish to go. The movie shows her chattering away, long hair flying out the window in the wind.
We arrive at Justice’s. No-one home. Our chauffeur asks if we want to go to the beach. Smerdyakov (and possibly huzz?) had never seen the ocean before. She drives us to a nearby beach – zuma, i think. Remember, it’s mid-February, and, for the locals, it is cold. Not for us. Pausing only to remove our shoes and wallets we charge right in. Groups of locals wearing jackets stop to watch us frolicking. Our lady-friend calls out to us that she is illegally parked and has to move her car to another location. All our stuff is still in her car. The thought briefly intrudes that this is the big moment she has been waiting for – it would be easy to drive away, later to leisurely catalogue our backpacks and other valuables. Well, maybe sorta valuables. I wasn’t too worried. She had been a saint so far, and things in general had just been too excitingly weird. She waits 45 minutes until we’re borderline-hypothermic and splash back to shore.
The movie shows Mr. Justice coming to the door, looking mildly perturbed. “Are you guys planning … on … staying … the night?” he asks.
We stayed almost a week. The movie shows us hanging out at Slum’s junior college, “bulbing” about and along with seemingly everybody. Bob smerdyakov crosson meets a young lady doing Tarot readings and other esoterica. The stars were aligned just so, and he leaves us to go live with her. I heard later that they lasted (as a couple) about two weeks.
Time for huzz and i to go back home. Kevin slum justice drives us in his parent’s big white continental up over the mountains to the north and drops us off at victorville. The movie shows him speeding away, raising a cloud of dust, middle finger extended high out the window and laughing maniacally.
Hours pass. We can’t go onto the highway – serious-looking signs warn of the consequences to pedestrians who go past the on-ramp. Huzz draws a large increasingly complex mandala in the sand. He sits in the middle of it. Just another exciting short scene from the movie. I don’t remember if it’s the first or second ride but a single fellow is going to Albuquerque. Serendipity. On through the chilly desert night.
We should have accompanied him to Al-be-cue. We ended up doing that later. We thought that we could get off at Gallup, and hitch straight up infamous ol’ Route 666 (we had been on 66 most the way) into the Four-Corners area. Shortest distance to Gunnison. It was about 3 in the morning. Whatever traffic roaring by seemed occupied by drunks. After several hours, with dawn approaching, we switched back to the highway to Albuquerque.
I thought i’d died and gone to heaven – a DONUT TRUCK picks us up. Alas, no donuts, but plenty of coffee. The movie shows me waving goodbye to Mr. Donut outside of Al-be-cue and turning north. Brief shot of an ordinary-looking businessman in his suit. Not shown are other rides, less well remembered. We hook up with a solitary hermit, hiking back home with an axe handle he has ventured to town to purchase. A semi-truck slows – room in the front only for one. Mr. hermit sits in the daylight while huzz and i spend yet another weird interlude in the 99.5% totally dark interior of the back. He tries to film it. The movie would show entire books of matches ignited, in a vain attempt to illuminate our situation. I still remember huzz laughing like a banshee.
The residual cargo bounces around, onto, and by us. I finally nab one rubbery object, feel it, smell it, and try to psychically commune with it. It’s a potato. The movie shows the truck driving away, we’re in the middull of the san luis valley.
Another ride and we’re outside of salida (poncha junction) and it’s late evening, late winter, high country colorado. Seems a blizzard is approaching. Huzz thumbs the next vehicle approaching, and the greyhound bus quickly stops. The driver chortles that we’re all lucky that he could see us in the dark. Still, we had to pay the fare to gunnison …
(d) We didn’t intend to hitchhike back to the east coast during the first big blizzard of the winter of 1972. Jeff Timms was on his way to re-unite with the love of his life in Boston; and I thought I was going to Europe and possibly ‘points beyond.’ It seemed logical to join forces for his trip and the first part of mine.
I thought we had arranged a ride with a chance acquaintance. This mutual venture possibly was coalesced thru’ the Univ. of Colo. ride board, or something similar. Anyway, Jeff and I slumped, large backpacks with sleeping bags and etc. on the floor in front of the ride board at the mutually agreed-upon time. Our ride didn’t show up. Hours passed. Jeff was anxious to get back to his girl friend, and, basically, I just wanted to “go”. My plan was to go on the furthest trip I’d ever been. Getting to the east coast would be a step in the right direction.
After maybe half a day of waiting, a guy best described as sort of sleazy, more than slightly unsavory-looking, and past the five-o’clock shadow of furtiveness materialized. He asked us what our plans were. “Maybe he didn’t show up because you didn’t have money to help pay for the trip,” he suggested.
We assured him that THAT was NOT the case. Furtive-guy became very interested. In what seemed a quick couple of hours later, we were on the road, VW-bug-sailing off into the blizzard enveloping the middle half of the country. We had helped what’s-his-name pay to get his car out of a parking lot, purchase some minor parts, and buy road food to get us started. The snow fell heavier and heavier but we had just begun. As pitch dark enveloped us, we slowly drove up to a “highway closed” sign on Interstate 76 northeast of Brush. We went around it. Snow came up past the middle of the hubcaps as we churned northeastward. There were no other vehicles on the highway. Occasional drifts up to the top of the hood. Just into Nebraska the highway officially opened and there were other vehicles on the road.
This was, remember, the early 1970’s, when the national gulf between the hippie-long-hairs and the ‘straights’ was, generally, a deep chasm. Having been sheltered in Boulder and in resort towns, running the gauntlet of Middull Amerika meant experiencing a culture clash. Ol’ what’s-his-name was impervious to this. He was a foul-mouthed, loud, angry redneck at heart. Jeff and I ventured somewhat timorously into a roadside cafe in eastern Iowa. Every bib-over-all’d baseball-capped crew-cut head swiveled to stare. Seconds later, what’s-his-name stomps in through the door. “Holy FUCK! Shitty weather! Driving sucks! How you all doin’! I’m frozen! Screw this snow!”
The cafe regulars sensed a kindred spirit, regardless of physical appearances to the contrary. In unison, nodding their heads in agreement with our companion, complacency took the place of scorn. It was like a window shade drawn down over each face. We ate our breakfast in a nonhostile environment.
In the exact middull of Ohio his VW finally and totally died. We pushed it onto a service station parking lot. Redneck-hippie-head claimed he’d come back and rescue it later. We hitched. Three of us, lugging as much stuff so as to make it seem like six. Jeff had his guitar, which helped get the first ride. The driver was very eager to learn new guitar songs. Periodically we’d stop so Jeff and the driver could get out and play.
During the third night, I think, we got a ride most the rest of the way. We hadn’t slept much, and Jeff and furtive sleazoid dove into the back seat and immediately crashed. My job, of course, was to help keep the driver awake. It turned out to be very easy. Kelley was his last name… let’s say Mike – went to the high school which was nearest mine at about the same time. We had several mutual acquaintances. A Navy guy, he was on his way to his nuclear submarine in Connecticut. The time passed quickly. We let grumpy furtoid out just north of New York. Furtoid-now-beggoid asked me, “the money of the trip,” for a final $5 or so loan.
Mike Kelley drops us off near Boston – as his exit to his base has come up. I can’t remember how we arrived at Holly’s (Jeff’s heart-throb) place in Cambridge. I think I slept for about 18 hours, straight. I met the girl who was to become my wife in a burger joint in Harvard Square the following day.
(e) Deb and i took a bus from San Carlos, Mexico, to Mexico City. It was an open-ended trip. We didn’t know if we would go further, or for how long. Having my wallet fall out of the back pocket while on the Mexico City subway shortened our trip considerably. We had enough money to go back north. Even if it wasn’t ‘enough,’ it had to be anyway.
This time, we took the train. I’m glad we did. It was slower, often stopping for hours for apparently no reason in the middle of steaming jungles, or on a mountainside, sometimes in a town. Such times we could get out and walk a little, barter for goods from vendors – who would also just come onto the train at almost every stop. We made friends, good friends all, for most portions of the trip.
The train station in the Guaymas area was far out of town, and we arrived at about midnight. As far as we could tell, there was not any public transit. Shuffling to the road from the station, then onto a highway, we put our thumbs out.
My/our Mexico hitchhiking experiences entail only two rides. We didn’t wait long until a semi-long-haul trucker pulled over. Young, long-haired (I had been hassled in some towns for looking that way!), soft-spoken. He dropped us off at the intersection to San Carlos. A cold January night, even for Northern Mexico. With little likelihood of a ride, and ten miles to walk, we bedded down in a field. A couple hours later I thought the banditos were kicking us. A herd of burros was grazing through, and over us. Back to a fitful sleep. At daybreak we trundled over to the highway where the first vehicle by picked us up. The proprietor of the San Carlos gas station and his noisy VW –a familiar face. Our place was a few blocks from his place of business, and our south-of-the-border hitchhiking experiences were over.
(f) The destination is in the going. The going is in the destination.
— Jack Kerouac, maybe, or Lao Tzu …
I had just finished the winter semester of college, with just one year remaining. Additionally, my seasonal “Christmas rush” job as a Post Office clerk had also ended a little early. Apparently not as many people as in prior years were in the spirit of burgeoning the USPS with excessive cheer. There was about a month before classes started up again. My wife was working to put her husband through college. What was I going to do – stay home and study?
All the people who could afford it, and many who could not, went south for the holiday – to the beach somewhere. Always (well, maybe ‘frequently’) of a mindset to consider the not so obvious, the path not taken, the pasture far from the madding crowd, I decided to go north – to Vancouver Island to visit an old friend, Reverend Bob (see “c”). I had had some luck with the college Ride Board in the student center (usually acquiring passengers, instead of being one). I started to fill out a card for a ride to Seattle – which, I assumed, would be a good and safe bet towards getting me most the way to my destination. A fellow I knew was also there filling out a card. I looked at his, he looked at mine. We tore up our respective cards and he and his girlfriend picked me up two days later en route to Banff, Canada.
They dropped me off at the edge of Calgary. They were going into town for supplies or whatever. If, on their way back, I was still there, they would take me to Banff.
It was late afternoon, a few days before new year’s eve. I stood in my down parka wearing a backpack on the trans-canadian highway west of calgary. Just as the sun fell, I could see the icy-glistening peaks of the canadian rockies all along the western horizon. It was probably a few degrees below zero (Fahrenheit).
Sometimes (often?) there is a bit of pride in hitchhiking, and I didn’t want to experience the chagrin, or slight sense of ‘failure’ should my former companions drive by again. After about an hour, a pickup truck with two younger fellows stopped. They were dressed in western garb, hats and all. I remember their articulate and type-writer-like style of talking. Each word crisply pronounced, no slurring, nothing sloppy. Very polite. We drove up the foothills, into the valleys amongst the peaks. There was a slight nervous pause – I think they muttered something not really intended for me to hear. The one sitting next to me turned and said, “Would you mind if we pulled off the road and smoked some marijuana?”
They drove up some switchbacks and over a ridge. We stopped on a treeless, wind-swept tundra in the moonlight overlooking a large ice-covered lake. I probably became quite under the influence. Back on the highway, a few miles later, my benefactors pulled off at their intersection.
Two or three short rides later; Dwayne and Maureen careened to a stop. Dwayne was allergic to coffee, and drinking beer (and, I suspect, the resultant inner hydraulic pressure) kept him awake. “You ever been to Pagosa Springs, down at the foot of Wolf Creek Pass?” I was temporarily impressed that he knew my state so well. Maureen laughed. “That’s a line from a song – same guy who wrote ‘Convoy’”.
Up, up, and over the Canadian Continental Divide. We stopped in Revelstoke, so Dwayne and company could ingest more “stay awake medicine.” Reveling with the revelers in Revelstoke.
We drove for another hour and they turned south. “You NEVER heard of the Okanagan Valley?!” exclaimed Maureen. I have now.
I had a ride every hour, for about sixty miles each until I reached the ocean, or the Strait of Georgia. Each ride was pleasant, each with a single male companion. And every one told me about the upcoming revolution. “No – not Quebec. Western Canada has had it with Ottawa. Alberta and British Columbia will secede and become it’s own country.”
“No, I’m not talking about Quebec. The Maritimes are tired of supporting the rest of the country, and will become a separate country. And, screw Quebec.”
The originally least-gregarious driver had an entirely different revolution in mind. After about ten minutes of general commentary, he stared straight ahead, both hands gripping the wheel. Then he turned to me and said, “Do you know what I do for work?” I said that I had no idea. “I work for God.”
Generally, I do not do well talking to God’s employees. I feel like I’m on the defensive, and usually become agitated. Not so with this guy. Somehow, I felt at ease. I could ask him questions. No strings attached. He told me of the upcoming revolution between those aligned with the deity and those who were not. This revolution would start in, of course, Canada, and then spread to the rest of the world. He said that he sensed that I was on the same side as he. We talked as casually and pleasantly as I had with my other rides. He dropped me off outside of Vancouver.
On the ferry to V Island I acquired my next ride, one that would take me up V Island to the departure point for the Hornby Island ferry. A pleasant couple. Everyone I met was a part of the introduction to the area in which I was to be a resident for the next couple weeks. And, on the next, smaller ferry I acquired the requisite (an)other ride to get across whatever island (Denman?) to the actual Hornby Island ferry. Whew. I arrived at my destination just before dark; two daze before New Year’s, 1976/1977.
Reverend Bob was not home. He lived in a small cabin, one of about a half-dozen clustered together. Within minutes, residents of another cabin invited me to move into Bob’s. Bob was visiting friends down in Victoria for New Year’s. And, breakfast the following morning for everyone in the immediate area was at Nadine and Marco’s whenever the collective was ready.
I’m having too much fun to bother calling Bob. Another cabin resident (Derek, I think) shows me where, when, and how to catch the wily oyster. After a couple days, I’m getting up early when the tide’s out and bringing more back each day. I break every blade on Derek’s Swiss-army knife. Every morning, more and more people show up for breaded-and-fried oysters at Nadine’s.
Two nights after my arrival, it’s New Year’s. Everyone on Hornby Island is going to the Hornby Island pub, where the local band, “Garden” is playing. I’m a friend with everybody. Midnight arrives – and I’ve been saving three intertwined (really “crooked”) cigars. I’m at a table with two women over 50 years of age. (I’m only 27). Do I offer them the cigars? I do, and they both grab one. We puff away.
I call Bob the next day and he returns the following. I stay about a week – pleasant time, not as hectic as the previous sojourn. Everyone, it seems, is “on the dole.” I witness Reverent Robert in his “bi-weekly exercise in mindfulness.” He is filling out his UIC (Canadian unemployment) form. The requisite answers are “Yes yes no yes.” There is even a yacht in the vicinity with that name. EVERYONE knows what that means. (“Were you ready and available to go to work? Did you approach at least three potential employers? Did you turn down or refuse any offer of employment?” I cannot remember the fourth question, but the answer is “yes.”)
Bob takes me to the ferry and the sequence back to Vancouver is almost like rewinding the tape of how I got there. I’m on the U.S. side of V and it is night. A trucker “pulling a set of doubles” stops. He wants to know if I’m carrying any “stay awake medicine” (speed, dexedrine, whatever). No, I’m not. He picks me up anyway.
“How can you be sure I’m not a homicidal maniac?” he poses, in a somewhat angry voice. I’m slightly taken aback. A few years back I would have steadfastly promulgated my “faith in the intrinsic goodness of mankind” philosophy – but I’ve become a little jaded. So I try to expostulate my basic faith in the presumed goodness of most of mankind … philosophy? Probably more like a theory, or hypothesis. (In retrospect, I assume that he was hoping for ‘speed’ and disappointed; but lots of coffee and conversation will have to do.)
Wade and I become best friends for the rest of the trip. He takes me to Portland – all the way through Washington. Shortly before dawn I’m on the final stretch. I had planned on visiting Dan McMillen (see ‘a’ and ‘b’), who now lives near Eugene. After a few days at Dan’s (and Meriam’s) I would take a bus back home. I would elaborate on the bus trip but it wasn’t “hitching” per se, though the trip DID INVOLVE red, red wine and the hike to acquire it almost resulting in missing the bus mid-trip. Grape soda cans — which we quickly emptied so as to replenish from the large paper sack, and compadres…
Moon River, wider than a mile; I’m crossing you in style, some day —
Oh dream maker, you heart breaker; Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way –
Two drifters, off to see the world; There’s such a lot of world, to see –
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, Waiting ‘round the bend;
My huckleberry friend, and I.
— H. Mancini & Johnny Mercer