A lot of people in the US asked me if it wouldn’t have been easier to take a bus than to hitch across the country. The answer is: yes, it would have.
But it’s not about being easy. It’s about being life changing.
Today I’m going to focus on one of the reasons to hitch – people you meet on your way. Here’s the story:
1) Ken (Virginia –> Knoxville, TN)
Ken was an ex-professor of bio-physics or something equally hardcore. Now, working for the government (like the rest 1/3 of American citizens), he would travel a lot between Washington and Chattanooga or even Alabama. He wore a baseball cup, spoke with a thick southern accent, he was telling me about the civil war and we were listening to an audio book about it. Older guy, I’d say around 70? But full of live 😉 He would make as many stops for me as I wanted. I traded with him lunch for a song. After some time he stopped talking at all and I felt a little bit uncomfortable. Next thing he said was when he stopped for a wee: ‘alright, I think I really need to smoke’
‘Well, alright… but I just want to remind you that you haven’t smoked for over 20 years now. It’s not a good idea to go back to it’ I said.
‘Oh, no worries, ma’am. I won’t be smoking cigarettes’
He loaded a full bowl of weed, we smoked and hit the road.
He was restarted – telling stories about him and his friends being attacked by a bear in the Smokey Mountains and how much he loved those lands. This time he wasn’t an A driver though. To be honest I was a little bit afraid, especially when he was putting a map in front of his face and looking for some small cities marked on it.
He dropped me right in front of the house I was going to. I remember the guys told me that when we arrived they panicked; somebody said: ‘quick, it’s an old dude, hide the pipe’. Well, if they only knew…
2) Jesus Freak Lady (Knoxville, TN –> Nashville, TN)
I was leaving Knoxville, the rain was pouring hard. A trucker stopped by me yet I told him to leave, as he was really sketchy. And then out of nowhere that lady arrives, asks where I am going, ‘Nashville’ I say, she considers time and says ‘jump in, I’m gonna take you as far as I can’.
She asked me, after two minutes of ride, if I was a Christian. Something told me I should have rather said ‘yes, I am’ and so I did. She said she picked me up because Jesus told her to drive me as far as possible from here. Alright, if Jesus said so… I won’t complain.
In the end she drove me to Nashville (right to Josh’ house!) – so sweet! Instead of taking 1,5 hour trip to Georgia where she was going to, she took 4,5 hours trip Knoxville–>Nashville–>Atlanta!
On our way she was asking me A LOT of questions of ‘what does the Church in Poland say about…’ kind, we listened to Johnny Cash, as he was a religious man (‘I’m a Jesus Freak, normally I listen only to Christian music, I like it. Yet Johnny Cash was such an amazing man! We saw him here, in Nashville’). She was a teacher (‘I work for the government. I’m a teacher’), so she was also curious about the education system in Poland (or wait, I was interested in education system in the US?). She also told me about racism (or actually the lack of divisions? or maybe the adults attempts of creating them) amongst the kids in kindergarten/primary school age.
At the end of our trip she gave me all sorts of shit she had in her car – scissors, some letters from a Christian community, tissues or paper or something… I’m not sure, the whole sheet of post stamps with the face of Johnny Cash and, wait for it… an audio Bible. Bigger than an actual Bible as a book. Oh my God, did she think I’d carry it all the way to San Francisco in my backpack? It was a sweet gesture, weird too.
I remember that she pointed at a red rock by the road and said ‘see this rock? You find these only in Tennessee and Arizona. Nobody knows why’. Ha, I believed, of course! But soon I realized that it wasn’t entirely true and there was no big mistery in all of it. Just a classic red rock.
3) Horny Grandpa (Nashville, TN –> Dickson, TN)
I needed to check the story in my text messages because apart from that I knew it happened, I wasn’t sure where and when – Tennessee, Mississippi…?
The guy was at least 80. A complete redneck. I texted my friend saying ‘I’ve got my first ride to Dixon [actually it’s Dickson], forgot the plates of course [the plan was I’d send him plates of my rides, just in case] but I’m going with a really funny southern grandpa’
Guess what. He wasn’t that funny. After 5 minutes he started telling me how dangerous it is to travel alone with ‘what a nice pair of hooters [or titties]’. He promised he was too old to hurt me, but it was creepy anyway when he was staring at my boobs and making up nicknames for them.
4) Keith (Dickson, TN –> Memphis, TN)
Keith was a lovely human being. He was protective too.
The way he picked me up – I didn’t even leave the horny pa’s car entirely, my leg was still inside but he stopped and asked: ‘are you going West?’ and I was so he invited me to go with him.
He decided that it’s odd I hadn’t had pancackes in the US yet and that he had to get me some. He didn’t eat himself. He told me the story of his daughter, much younger than me, who got raped and how did they manage the whole thing. That’s why he was an ‘everybody’s dad’ now. I needed a person like that at the time, somebody I could feel comfortable with. On top of that he was a classy guy, super smart, good sense of humor… somebody safe, trustworthy, interesting, intelligent and entertaining. Yaaaay, a break from horny weirdos!
On our way we had to emergency stop once more. An accident. Two bikers lying on the ground, one of them not moving, the other one – a lady – panicking. Keith stopped the car, yelled ‘I used to be in the Navy, I know first aid! Stay in the car!’ and he ran to the guys. I stayed in the car. I wouldn’t help really and if that’s how he prefered it – alright, he’s the savior here. After 5 minutes the ambulance was there, Keith explained as much as he could to them and we left the scene.
I remember he insisted on waiting with me for my host to make sure I get home safe (though he’s already said ‘Oh my God, that’s South Memphis, pretty nasty’).
5) The Druid (Memphis, TN –> Clarksdale, MS)
He was a part of this story of mine.
Quickly: big, scary, scars and burns all around his body, neck and face more similar to pigs than humans, he had a silver scull at the car’s hood. He believed himself to be a druid. And he laughed at satanists who don’t know the Black Bible enough. He did.
He said that in his live he had been hit by a thunder three times (to be honest, he looked as if it was the truth), several times by the bus (also probable), he was shot and etc… because somebody cursed him. But he cannot die because as a druid he is immortal.
6) The creepy trucker (Vicksburg, MS –> somewhere south from Vicksburg)
Part of this story. (there’s also no 3. horny grandpa in there, as I was pretty sure it had been the same day. It wasn’t, now I know)
The guy didn’t have any super interesting story for me. But the way he was saying ‘yo giiiiiiirl, show me your white leeeeegs!’ (every two minutes the least often!) was really funny.
Also he asked weird questions – I left earlier.
7) Bob (I-12/I-55 intersection, LA –> Hammond, LA)
This guy looking like Danny DeVito, driving an expensive sport car, stops by me so as to save me off the highway (it was a shit place, the shoulder wasn’t too wide, it was 100% illegal to be there but I wasn’t worried about the police – I was scared of the trucks passing me by so close that they would just do whatever they wanted with me – the air would lift me, move me, stop me, push me back, push me sides… scary!). His name was Bob and he looked like a Bobby. Name and car matched him perfectly. He was really nice but I just drove with him about 10 minutes and he went different ways.
8) Tim the policeman (Hammond, LA –> NOLA)
Really creepy dude. It felt safe to drive with a policeman and he was really funny etc… But after he dropped me he tried giving me a kiss (nope.). Then he was texting me for a while. I didn’t answer too much.
Still he told me an interesting story about a 14 years old girl from LA who run away from her home, hitch hiked, having sex with old dudes for accomodation. She was hitch-hiking and he picked her up. When she started offering what she had to offer he said something like in a movie (‘well, you’re lucky, cause you’re getting your accomodation now!’ or ‘I’d love to but I can’t lock myself up’) and… put her into the jail. Sure, why would you send this baby to it’s parents… they put her in prison for prostitution. It seems rough.
9) Adam and Gary (Houston, TX –> Austin, TX)
The best lift ever.
Adam noticed this doughnut place giving away freshly fried doughnuts as samples when the neon sign is on – it was on so we tried, got amazing (and free) doughnuts and left through the other door so as to escape the awkward situation of just hanging out after eating a bunch of samples and not actually purchasing anything… But hey, we were on our way to dinner at that place where they had paper tablecloths and a lot of crayons. Sooooo much fuuuun!!! (and some gossip about Adam with his dad 😉 )
10) Rescued by the law enforcement (Lampas, TX –> Lubbock, TX)
On my way from Austin I’ve got picked up by this really weird looking person in a pick up truck. Something told me I have to double check if I want to travel with this person. I asked, if could send his plates to ‘my mom’. He wasn’t happy but said OK. I was really slow with this one. I sent his plates to Josh (actually today I saw I’d never sent the message!) and just when I closed his car’s door, he said ‘oh, wait, the police’s here’.
The policeman asked us what’s going on and took our papers (his driver’s license, my passport and ID). He was definately checking if I’m not a prostitute (some rednecks checked it before him the other day, offering me ‘nice’ deals, so the guy definately knew the neighborhood). He spent a lot of time in his car which gave me a chance to talk a bit longer with the driver before we start rolling. The policeman came back and asked me to come with him. I was soooo nervous following him, thinking ‘oh my, something’s wrong with my passport. Or my visa. I want to continue this trip!’. He held my papers in his hand and spoke:
‘What makes you trust this man?’
‘I don’t trust him’ I responded immediately ‘I don’t know him. But I have to hit the road, I’m already late’.
‘I will tell you something about this man and you will decide if you want to go with him or not – it’s your choice’. The rest of his words seemed to be coming out of his mouth incredibly slowly: ‘This man… spent 5 years… in jail… for sexual herassment… on a 6-years-old… boy’
Oh my God!
‘He doesn’t seem to be able or willing to hurt me’ I said ‘yet, as a woman traveling alone, I should probably watch out, not risk. Oh no, I have to go…’ looked at the policeman feeling that he wanted to give me a ride ‘Alright, I won’t go with him, I need to be careful’
He said he’d sort me out. He took my backpack and my baby guitar out of the guy’s car, he said I wouldn’t go with him and that we’re sorry. He gave me a lift to the end of the county. Then he called the cop on duty in the next county – his dad. He gave me a lift to the end of their county saying this city was amazingly beautiful and I should have stayed if I hadn’t caught any ride. He gave me some lunch money and a hug, then he left. Love his lift! (and the universe for saving my risky ass!)
11) Lady death (7 miles south from Las Vegas, NM –> Santa Fe, NM)
Right before Santa Fe, this lady stopped by me and said ‘I won’t give you a lift, I’m going to Vegas’ [Vegas, NM!] ‘But tell me, do you play the guitar?’ so we had a little chat. After our chat the lady decided to drive me to Santa Fe.
She looked like Phoebe from ‘The Friends’, if she ended up working at a funeral home for her old years. She was beautiful by the way. But old and weird. And spiritual, just like Phoebe. She never mentioned anybody dying but she had a few funeral wreaths in her car. In the end she turned out a bit frustrating but still she helped me out (and she was one of only three women who gave me lifts for those 3 months, rest of them was afraid).
12) A mexican bus (Santa Fe, NM –> Denver, CO)
My destination was Boulder, CO. I stopped a Mexican coach (almost empty) going directly to Denver. Happy me! I slept all the way!
[Maybe it’s not ‘the people I met on my way’ but it’s ‘The most interesting rides’]
In this case: he’s not any ride, but he’s a person I wouldn’t have met, if it hadn’t been for hitching.
King of the hobos. An intelligent type, so what that crazy? His heart was in the right place. He taught me how to recognize and ex KGB agent and gave me a REALLY NICE knife.
The entire story is here.
14) The psychologist
Ron wasn’t a psychologist. But he was there for me and I was his patient, that’s why I call him this way. He seriously fixed me during our ride. I cried, I laughed, I cheered, I yelled. He said ‘special occasion’, opened a pack of Marlboro and decided ‘we’ll both need a smoke’.
Thank you, road, for a doctor like this!
15) Pablo, the porn producer on a wheelchair, who turned out to kind of kidnap me
(Albuquerque, NM –> Flagstaff, AZ –> Las Vegas, NV)
The entire story is here.
16) Japanease energy stealer (Santa Cruz, CA –> San Francisco, CA)
He wasn’t even Japanease. He looked like Daryl Sabara of Spy Kids.
He was very spiritual; very spiritual. I liked it – that’s the way I am. We spoke about live and karma driving on Route 1, beautiful views, relaxing ocean, and my Californian eyes.
That’s where the trouble began.
He took me for some kind of Japanease healing therapy and they stole all my good energy. I don’t know how but I feel like these people took away from me something precious, something I’d been working since I’d started my travels. They stole a piece of my soul.
No lawsuit will bring it back to me. I think that may have been my biggest lose ever.
Also after this one… a whole serious came by. They still stick to me, honestly. It’s like my spirit was… dirty, not as clean as it used to be. Or maybe it’s just San Francisco?