My Great Hitchhiking Adventure
In 1979 I hitchhiked from Macon, Georgia, through Indianapolis to Illinois State University, then rode with a friend to a wedding in Rockford then hitchhiked to West Virginia. I had clothes in a backpack, a loaf of raisin bread and ten dollars.
Close to collapsing in the heat when a big convertible full of bald guys stops. What is this? A cult? Taking the ride seemed slightly better than dying by the road so I climbed in. Turns out they were soldiers out on leave. Drank beer, smoked pot, and listened to Meat Loaf as the wind russsssshed by going eighty. Ride ended on the other side of Chattanooga when they exited for their base.
Stoned out of my ever-loving mind. Picked up by a bread delivery truck. Driver lets me stand by the open door to cool down. At sunset, I’m dropped off on the other side of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Hop a fence to set up camp in a field. Get sprayed by a skunk. How am I going to get rides smelling like this?!!! Ate some raisin bread and took a nap in tall pasture grass. Woke up late, walked a few miles back to a Howard Johnsons passed earlier in the bread truck. Snuck into their pool with a bar of soap. Scrubbed myself raw, praying to Sweet Jesus I’ll wouldn’t smell anymore. On my way back to camp, found an empty refrigerator box and dragged it back to the field, placed it under a large tree, climbed inside to sleep. Woke up in the middle of the night hearing a weird tapping every few minutes but was too tired to check it out. Next morning discovered the refrigerator box covered in sap from that tree. Were it not for that cardboard palace, I’d have been covered in sap PLUS smelled a bit skunky.
Caught a ride right away. Some guy in a primer speckled black Dodge Charger had a baseball bat beside him and was on his way to Indianapolis to find a good friend who had seduced his wife. He was not in a good mood. I kept the conversation light. L-I T-E. Wonder how it went in Indianapolis that day.
On the beltway around Indy, nobody would stop. I waited hours, walking the shoulder as the asphalt shimmered with heat mirage and the air was heavy with exhaust. Has word gotten out that I smell a bit skunky? I was out of water. Hungry too. (Man cannot live on bread alone). When a meat delivery truck stopped, I almost declined. The refrigerated cargo space was filled with sides of beef hanging on hooks—but I’d recently gone vegetarian. AND HE WANTED ME TO RIDE BACK THERE. Bad karma to take this ride? Better than death, I decided. He didn’t lock me in at least. The ride was long enough to cool me off but not enough to freeze me. And I didn’t end up on one of those meat hooks. I brifely thought about building a fire and grilling a thick steak.
Arrived at my friend’s dorm at Illinois State (I took her to her senior prom when I was a junior—she’s a successful stained glass artist now). We drove to Rockford the next day. I went to the wedding but sat in the balcony because all I had was hippie clothes.
The next morning, a girl picked me up at Rockford and she was going all the way to Buffalo, New York. (Thank you, Jesus!) We smoked weed, sipped beer, took turns driving and peed in the woods side-y-side. Her name was Diane Cooper. She dropped me off in Wheeling, West Virginia just after dark.
It’s ten at night and some guys I knew in college said that if I ever passed through town I could find them playing basketball in a certain park. Word got out some crusty looking guy was looking for them and these were the Costello brothers in a steel town. The lanky one was called Snake. The Fred Flintstone one was named Jay—I once stuck a dart in Jay’s skull because he was sitting under the board at a keg party. He didn’t flinch when it hit and laughed when we told him it was there. No inclination to remove it either. Anyway, that night in Wheeling they charged into the park ready to fight the crusty stranger but then saw who I was and let me crash at their mom’s house.
The ride “home” to my girlfriend’s house was uneventful except that she had been in Brazil all summer and I had never done well in long distance relationships. In a few days, we broke up and I went back to college more worldly and wiser than when I left.
There were other “thumbing around” adventures before and after but this one was the longest.
My big fat thumb led me to meet people from all walks of life and I learned that middle America is good hearted and generous, not the assholes depicted by elites.
Where we go one, we go all.