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  • Monday, May 26, 2014

    Never the Same Hitch Twice

    (Photo: Me trying to get a hitch on horseback,
    ended up getting a ride in the truck)
    Someone recently asked me what type of people pick up hitchhikers. The answer is, every type of person. Each driver on this cross country hitch has been unique in every way. Well, every way except that they are all incredibly kind to us and interesting to talk to for our short time together.

    On the morning of day two, we hopped into the back of a pickup for our first hitch. Other than not getting to talk to the drivers, I love hitching in the back of a pickup. It makes me feel like a kid again. We sat against the back of the bed watching everything zoom away at 70 miles an hour. I thought of my grandpa driving us to his house on their hilly road, speeding up right before the crest of a hill to give us that roller coaster feeling in our stomachs. I'd see his smiling eyes in the rearview watching us laugh. 

    When the driver pulled over to let us out, he handed us a box of donuts, which we gladly scarfed down on the side of the Interstate.

    The next hitch was also in the back of a pickup truck and the driver also offered us food.

    "Hey, you guys want these quail?" he said. "They're still fresh, I just shot them this morning."

    He picked up one of the quails with it's sad lifeless head drooped to one side. 

    Red was considering it. "Ooh, fresh quail?" he said.

    "We won't be able to setup a campfire when stealth camping in town." I said.

    "Yeah, you're right."

    Later that day, a twenty-two year old girl pulled over and rolled her window down a few inches. 

    "I'll give you a ride if you don't stab me." she said. 

    This made me smile. "It's a deal," I said and we got in.

    "I've never seen a hitchhiker before," she said, which made me feel like a relic from a bygone era, like a milkman or something. "I figured if you were crazy, I could just out crazy you," she said and admitted she had a police baton ready at her side to beat me with if necessary. For some reason, this made me like her more. We talked about our lives and our trip. She was a cook who recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Not only did she never need to break my face with a police baton, she actually drove us twice the distance than she was actually going. 

    (Photo: Virginia. Discovered rural areas are better for hitching)
    The last hitch of the day was in the back of another pick up truck with a "Salt Life Surf Shop" sticker on the back window and three guys in the cab. We hopped in the back and leaned against the truck bed toolbox. 

    "It's actually comfortable back here," I said to Red. 

    "Yeah, well," he said. "I'm not sitting on any dead quail."

    The rides on the following days were just as unique. One ride came from a really nice guy who had to blow into a police-issued breathalyzer every 10 minutes to keep his car running, due to DUIs. One from a man who happened to be in both the IT business (what I do for a living) and the restaurant business (what Red does). We crossed into Ohio thanks to a woman and her step son from Kentucky, just heading back home after visiting her husband in prison. Another particularly long hitch came from a couple who reminded me a little of the couple on Natural Born Killers, but in a sweet non-murdery way. He had ADHD, a police record, and a fiance in the passenger seat who adored every little thing about him.

    "I never even got a speeding ticket until I met him," she said in a southern accent, petting a two-month old kitten in her lap. "And now I've been arrested and spent time in jail because of him."

    It was easy to imagine him robbing a bank, just because he never tried before and her yelling "Come on baby, we got to go!" from behind the wheel of a getaway vehicle. "Did you have fun?" she would say as he hopped in.

    I should say, I never felt like I was in any danger. When we got to our destination, he got out of the car to show us a place called Tent City in Huntington, West Virginia, the place the homeless, sleep, drink whiskey, and hang out around a campfire. We considered seeing what it was like to spend a night in Tent City, but by the time a man wandering the streets put his hand on my shoulder and asked if either of us wanted a foot massage, we were figuring out plan B.

    (Photo: Joe and I on his porch)
    Almost miraculously, I got a Facebook message from an old friend from high school who happened to live a mile from where we stood. I hadn't seen him for many years, but he took us in, treated us like family, and saved us from whoever else was lurking in Tent City. (Thank you Joe!)

    Perhaps the most interesting character so far we met on an on-ramp in Virginia. He skidded to a stop in his red Beemer convertible and told us to "hop on in." He was in his early-seventies, leathery skin, long hair, repeatedly told us he doesn't like to play by the rules, and by far the most bigoted racist I have ever met. 

    "What do you think of this car?" he said.

    "It's nice!" I said while finding a place to put my feet on the garbage on the floor. "Seems like a fun little car to drive out here on these windy roads."

    "I paid $600 for this car," he said and pulled away telling me the story of how he bought it, a story that showcased his hatred for anyone not heterosexual and white. Before we even got from the on-ramp and onto the highway, he used the N-word three times.

    Two minutes into the ride, he said, "I got gay-dar!" for no real reason, yelling over the sound of the wind.

    "This should be good," I thought. He told me a story about how he had to go to court recently. I won't go into the full story here, but it basically came down to him threatening a homosexual for being a homosexual. "If they just stayed in the closet, I wouldn't mind them!"

    By minute five, he hadn't even started on Mexicans yet, but they had their turn coming. I don't know how he did it, but he somehow managed to turn "Mexican" into a racial slur. I just smiled and nodded. In all his hate, he seemed like a happy guy. He wore his bigotry with pride.

    (Photo: Otis, our favorite hitching vehicle and
    an amazing and caring human being.)
    Alright so maybe everyone isn't friendly out there, but they have been to us. We've had 28 rides getting from Wilmington, North Carolina to Peru, Indiana. Each one has been unique, so every day has been unique. People talked lovingly about their kids, their jobs, their communities, and their own adventures. We may seem like relics of a bygone era, but it's really a shame. I'm loving every minute of this.