Last May I hitchhiked from Athens, GA to San Francisco. I wrote facebook posts about the people I met along the way. I’ve compiled them here.
It’s hard to update facebook while hitching 3,000 miles in 5 days. (I’m in Prosser, Washington). But there’s so much happening. So many long conversations with people so different from me. So much confidence in things that aren’t true. So much Trump support from ride-givers. So much wondering how all these wildly disparate people can ever form a better society together. So much generosity. So many vague statements when I should be giving a detailed, relatable report.
How can so many people be so misogynistic and so sympathetic?
For now, briefly, the story of the first day (last Friday):
1st ride) Ben, drummer of Arbor Labor Union, brought me to Jefferson. I talked mostly, including about my experience in Kaibil Balam in Guatemala, deserving of a read here: https://sowmanyreasons.wordpress.com/2014/…/24/kaibil-balam/. Ben gifted me one of their CDs, which came out that day. He’s a Bernie guy.
2) Richie, a mild-mannered and very friendly guy, brought me to Gainesville. He considers himself lucky to have a steady job vending for Lays, though he wishes he didn’t have to work weekends, which is when he has his kids. He’ll “cringe and vote for Trump”.
3) Edwin’s a young guy who once hitched from West Palm Beach to Charleston. So many of the people who pick me up have hitched themselves. We help people so much more readily when we’ve been in their shoes. He wishes Ron Paul were around and probably won’t vote in November.
4) Phil & Gill are a mixed-race couple of cooks who like to travel and are proud of Dahlonega, where they brought me. They don’t vote.
5) A quick ride with two unnamed high schoolers. One says he’s hitched. One Trump, one Bernie.
6) Patrick is a Corrections Officer at a women’s prison. He’s loud and abrasive and quite sure of several facts that are untrue. He voted for Obama twice and now will go with Trump for the business expertise. He said I was an idiot standing on a soapbox for planning to vote for Jill Stein, and wasn’t interested in the swing state, non-swing state distinction.
7) A couple in their 30s, with progressive habits, going for a picnic hike, brought me to Woody Gap. They’re photographers and like tiny houses/tiny trailers. They don’t vote because the news stresses them out.
8) A libertarianish guy (his term) in his 50s brought me to Suches. He doesn’t like Trump or Hillary but will vote for Trump because Hillary is godless.
9) Two women and a guy. The women are felons, and so thought they couldn’t vote, but both want Trump because “we need a change so bad”. The guy went to Clarke Central and likes Bernie, but will vote for Trump over Hillary because he hates the elitist establishment.
10) Man in 40s does marketing for outdoors magazines. Will vote for Trump cus guns.
11) José, from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, thinks Georgians are nice, North Georgia is better than Atlanta, and that whoever wins will be the best person for the job.
12) Two UNG frat kids working at a 100-mile adventure race. One Gary Johnson, one won’t vote cus he doesn’t like any of them.
13) Dylan and friend, 21, strong, and well-fitted to the stereotype of young rural white Georgians (pick-up, fishing, camo, god), brought me to the border at Copperhill, TN. One Trump, one not voting.
14) Paul, 70s, very kind, with his car covered in Navy stickers, hitchhiked a lot in his day. He brought me to Ducktown, TN and is voting for “the idiot, Trump”.
15) Bemi, a black woman in her early 20s, was my only solo female ride of the day. She goes to Jacksonville State, supports Bernie, loves pot, and brought me to her band’s reggae show. It turns out that the Ocoee river there is the most whitewater-rafted river in the states, and her band plays to large crowds of self-identified “river hippies”, especially the rafting guides, who have a culture I hadn’t previously experienced. Gruff, reggae-y, friendly, Bernie-loving, risk-seeking, and at least in my experience quite misogynistic. A few guides drove home drunk, had me stay over w/a bonfire, I sober-drove to buy beer, and we took turns choosing music so I showed them Nana Grizol and learned of the marvelous Eldren.
While we sat around the fire, we learned that after we left the bar, according to my journal after finding out, “Fuck, tonight’s guitar player’s dog just died on the floor of Dumpy’s [the bar].Chicken bone? Guitar player has bloody knees from 20 minutes of CPR.” I slept on a short couch under a roof without walls.
Day 2 of trip:
Woke up in Ocoee, TN. Almost got to go whitewater rafting on the river stretch used for the ’96 Olympics, but the other guides weren’t feeling up for it so we did an amazing hike. Only 1.7 miles but up to a series of 5 waterfalls in Cherokee National Forest. Ran 4 miles in the woods. Drove around a bit with the rafting folks, they gave me enough meaty beans to last two days (vegetarianism limited to when I get a choice during moneyless or near moneyless travels) , and I was on my way around 4pm.
First ride) Kiwi, Cali, and very intense vulgar guy in their 20s/30s. Lot of asking me and telling me about drugs, jokes(?) about blow jobs, and the guy dominating the conversation and screaming at people in other cars. Two of them are felons disinterested in politics. Kiwi will vote for whom her mom tells her.
2nd) Cat is a woman in her 50s, very sweet, scared of Trump but undecided. Short ride towards the middle of nowhere.
3) Tom Watts is the wealthy president of SanTek Waste Services. He’s well-educated and thoughtful, thinks most Americans are in the middle of the two parties, taught me a bit about business operations, likes single-payer healthcare, thinks $15 minimum wage will kill jobs, will vote for Trump, and brought me well out of his way past Chattanooga.
4) Dan was hauling a trailerful of stuff. He and his wife moved to Florida just a couple years ago, but are now moving back to Kentucky because their daughter just had a kid and needs help. He talked about he and his wife busting ass for 30+ years, living frugally, and now getting ready to relax and travel as they near retirement. He doesn’t regret pouring his life so much into work. He’s clearly a very nice, very compassionate person who genuinely cares about others. He’s voting for Trump.
5) Engelbert Humperdinck’s son-in-law is an asshole. He’s also voting for Trump, and very excitedly. He’s the Trumpest of all. I can’t let the fact that he picked me up influence me in his favor; he just wanted a captive audience to boast at. It was my first ever ride in a Hummer. All of this is in front of his ~13 year old son, who he also clearly wants to impress with his masculinity. He makes vulgar jokes about gay people. He drives like an asshole. When someone else made a poor driving move, he said, “I bet you a million dollars it was a woman. It always is.” As we barreled past, his son looked over. “It was a woman, right?” “Umm, it was old man,” says son. He owns an island in Belize and told us (me and his son) how lazy the “natives” are. His evidence? They’re not doing a good job watering his palm trees.
Having lots of money allows you to control other people’s lives, and that power is allocated extremely undemocratically. The people he employs have to do what he says in order to get a very small part of the wealth Engelbert Humperdinck’s son-in-law doesn’t deserve. Others have to work a whole lot to make the many things he buys, again in order to be able to have a little themselves. This is capitalism. The distribution of resources, labor, and power according to the whims of those who have a lot. I swear we can do better.
He dropped me off just west of Nashville on I-40 and I tented contentedly behind a closed medical center.
The BP station gifted me a coffee before I got to the highway. Overall on this trip, I’m 7 for 7 on asks for free coffee. Everyone should try this, just to see how surprising the world is.
1st ride) Marcus brought me 27 miles to Exit 172. He asked me repeatedly if I had any pills for him. He doesn’t vote. He gifted me curly fries from Arby’s and played rap with really poignant lyrics about depression.
2) Art worked in construction in Sarasota, FL his whole life, but had to move to Tennessee when the work disappeared suddenly in 2007 as the housing market crashed. He and his wife eventually got on their feet, but he works 7 days a week and wishes he had more free time. He unenthusiastically supports Trump, though he had forgotten his name (this has been the case with several Trump supporters, who say, “what’s the businessman’s name?” and things like that). 30 miles west. I spent 9 of my 20 dollars to buy sunscreen, which I’d forgotten.
3) Betsy was an extraordinary ride-giver. She’s a prosecutor with the state of Tennessee and brought me over 100 miles to the suburbs of Memphis. She had remarkable stories. Her mother was abusive in every way, and shot Betsy in the shoulder with a gun when she was young. Her grandfather once told her “I love you more than all the stars” to which she replied “I love you more than all the pieces of dirt”, the most numerous thing on her childhood mind, and the phrase stuck, becoming the standard for expression of affection in her family. A college professor taught her that mini-horses co-existed with dinosaurs, and that they survived because they adapted to changing condition when the dinosaurs did not. She has a plaque in her office that says “I chose to be a horse”. She thinks of family like a muscle. “If you work on it, it grows stronger, and if you don’t, it withers away.” She got off the highway in Milan to buy tons of strawberries to make jam and gifted me 4 pounds. She opposes the death penalty, but at the DA’s office has to pretend that she supports it. She’s voting for Hillary.
4) A guy in his 20s, fresh out of the army after several tours, brought me 5 miles to a less good part of Memphis. Undecided regarding his vote.
5) A guy in his 40s, from Honduras, rode on top of cargo trains across Mexico and avoided the immigration police of both Mexico and the US on his first try (normal success rate is below 20%). He said there were a lot of people on the train in southern Mexico and very few when he reached the north. He’s been here working construction for 10 years and the work’s been consistent except for 2008ish. He likes Memphis and would love to visit his family, but can’t risk not being able to get back to the US successfully. He went out of his way to cross the Mississippi River and drop me in West Memphis, Arkansas. He supports Hillary, but can’t vote.
West Memphis is known for being hitchhiker quicksand. In 2013, Jesse Houle and our buddy Mark got stuck there for 60 hours and had to hide under an overpass during a tornado. I walked to the Welcome Center, which was closed, but grabbed a free map of Arkansas. I walked 100 yds to a gas station and unfolded the map to get my bearings. Before I’d even stuck my thumb out, Shannon asked me if I needed a ride.
6) Shannon’s 42 and has put his life on hold for 6 years to take care of his mother and now his aunt. Homecare for family is thankless, payless work. It’s physically and emotionally demanding, and there’s little distinction between the work and non-work part of life. He’s benefited greatly from Arkansas’ “private-option” Medicaid expansion and has generally progressive views, though he’s undecided about the election. He spent all the money he had with him at the casino in West Memphis and I threw in $2 for gas. He drove me to Jonesboro, where he went to college at Arkansas State and now again lives with his aunt. He gave me a little tour of the town and had me set up my tent in the lot nextdoor where his mother’s house burned down. I was very impressed by his good-will and his thoughtfulness about the world and the difficult period of life he’s in. I hope dearly that things look up for him in the coming years.
Through 3 days in the South, hitchhiker picker-upper responses to “who do you like for president?” — 13 Trump, 11 not voting/don’t care, 4 Bernie, 3 undecided, 2 Hillary, 1 Gary Johnson, 1 whoever my mom tells me.
Shannon brought me to a gas station on US Hwy 63 that gifted me more free coffee, and I breakfasted on bacon pizza that had been wasted by a gas station the night before.
1st ride) Nathan brought me ~25 miles to Black Rock, Arkansas. He does quality control on highway construction and picks up lots of hitchers. He’s super nice and is his first child is due in a few months. Things are going really well for him. I told him about the Honduran guy’s harrowing journey to the US as a way to try to engender some sympathy and admiration towards the idea of immigrants. Nathan liked Ted Cruz and is now undecided.
2) David brought me 9 hours to SW Iowa. He’s a trucker, but was driving a pickup up to Omaha to pick up his rig. Last year he was home for only 9 days. He’s retiring at the end of the year and has some tentative plans for what he’d like to do, but is very aware of his age and health limitations. I asked what he’d do differently if he had it all to do over again. “Everything.” He treated me wonderfully, somewhat parentally. He calls himself the cookie monster and loves Subway’s cookies in particular, though I ended up eating 7 of the 12. He’s got quite negative views of women’s abilities and character in general.
(This generalized and casual misogyny is so common and so saddening. If we ever won power, we could legislate a universal basic income to essentially end poverty, but you can’t legislate away people’s prejudice. I do see hope in that these views are at the very least less freely articulated amongst younger people. For the men reading this, please call out this shit when you’re around it. Our silence or polite-seeming consent is what makes it socially acceptable and keeps it being reproduced. As a response to sexism, “I don’t think so, man. There are awesome women and asshole women, just like there are awesome men and asshole men.” or something like that can work alright.)
David knows a lot of things about a lot of things. Some of them are wrong, even though he’s pretty sure about them. He’s voting for Hillary, because he feels that the super rich don’t care about working people and that Trump is an idiot and an asshole.
3) Name redacted picked me up in Iowa. He’s my age exactly, charismatic, reckless, sexist, talkative, confused, friendly, easily-angered. He was driving from a state in the south to southern Washington on a suspended licence and has a warrant out for meth possesion. He grows weed in the hills of northern California to sell in the Atlanta market. He’s been financially successful and broke at different periods, but he’s sure this is going to be a big year because he read The Secret. He was adamant and passionate about teaching me about The Secret, which all great men have known, and the overwhelming evidence for the existence of sasquatch as a species of hyperdimensional being. In Lincoln, Nebraska he bought doughnuts. Some fairly obnoxious teenagers screamed that they wanted one, so he (a former semi-pro pitcher) hucked it at their car, resulting in a screaming match with many arm motions. He got us a motel room in Lexington, NE for the night. I ran 6 miles. There’s a Tyson chicken factory, the main streets are brick, most of the restaurants and stores are Mexican, and the plains filled with car lights like in Field of Dreams when the shift changed.
Name redacted and I drove 21 hours to Washington, taking turns. He gladly bought me food and we listened to the Sublime and Kendrick Lamar stations on Pandora. He regaled me with stories of the girls he sleeps with and the many people he knows who are in jail. I taught him about the Continental Divide and the Lewis & Clark expedition. I heard more about Sasquatch and The Secret. I learned all kinds of slang. A stack = $1,000. Buko stacks is a lot of money, and presumably derived from the French “beaucoup”. Wyoming and Montana were incredibly green and beautiful. Rolling hills covered in cows, studded with cliffs, with pointy snow-covered peaks in the distance, all crossed by curvy rivers shiny in the warm sun. He drove 100 miles an hour, despite the guaranteed jail if he got pulled over and the reduced gas mileage that left him getting the last tank with a jarful of quarters.
I feel like none of this effectively communicates how nice and generous this guy was to nearly everyone, including me, or how many people he knows are in jail without ever doing anything violent towards anyone.
We got into his hometown at about 3am and went to a trap house. I slept a bit on the pullout couch while people did a variety of drugs. I woke up around 6 and chatted with the people while they smoked weed and meth. I was surprised by how normal the conversation was. I expected much more happiness and insanity, I guess. One of the guys was a Yankees fan, but agreed that A-Rod’s a dick. Our guy supports Bernie, but I don’t think he caucused.
I was in Washington, and still had 5 days to get to San Francisco in time for Laura’s aerial arrival, 10 days for Jamie & Bree’s wedding.
Name redacted brought me to the highway leading out of town. I walked over to a Quality Inn where they allowed me to join in their complimentary breakfast. (If you’re wondering why I’m traveling with only $20 when I have a job and access to some money that goes along with that, (1) spending almost nothing and relying on the kindness of the world and its people while traveling allows me to give away more of the money under my control to super effective charities like givedirectly.org and againstmalaria.com and (2) I think it helps build the solidarity we need to construct a better world, where we distribute resources freely, based on need, rather than in self-interest, only to those who have something to give us in return. Here’s a blog post from 2013 when I was in the middle of the 20-month completely moneyless period of my life: https://sowmanyreasons.wordpress.com/…/money-misdirects-hu…/)
1st ride of day six) Jonathan and the neo-nazi gave me a ride through Washington’s wine country. They’re distinctly lower-class white men in their 30s who have had rough lives, including time in prison. They’re construction workers and one once worked for Mennonites who frame houses without power tools. The first two times he used foul language he was severely warned, and the third time he was fired. They haven’t know each other very long, but Jonathan recently got the neo-nazi a job, and was telling him to keep his racial opinions in check around the boss. The neo-nazi assured him he would not talk about nazism on the job. He’s from Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin was once mayor, and he told me, roughly, “she’s not really from Wasilla, she’s from the poor trailer parks outside of town where the hicks live”. He was in foster care since he was young and once ran away from Michigan to Washington by hitchhiking in the middle of winter. Both currently have warrants. They both enthusiastically support Trump. They dropped me off in the lovely town of Prosser, where I had coffee and wrote a facebook post about the first day of the trip.
2nd) Tommy is 47. He was in jail from 19 to 44, but has made the most of his time out. He’s got a full time job, a fiancée, a 15-month-old child, and just bought a house. It was really exciting and refreshing to hear that something was going so thoroughly well for someone. He drove out of his way to bring me just south of Hermiston, Oregon because if he got back to work right away he’d have to punch out early and he needs the full 40 hours of pay. As a recent ex-felon in Oregon, he thought he can’t vote, though he actually can (people often don’t know this), but wouldn’t anyway, as he doesn’t think ordinary people’s voices matter in politics. He doesn’t believe in handouts, not because he’s greedy about his tax dollars, but because his morality explicitly includes the idea that you have to work for what you have. (How will this morality, so prevalent in our society, deal with large-scale technological unemployment in the future, if there’s not enough useful work to keep everyone busy 40 hours/week?)
3) Robineta and Taylor, mother and son, brought me to Lexington and then Heppner, tiny towns in the rolling hills of eastern Oregon. She’s an RN and he a mental health aid. They’re very, very nice. They raise money to build wells in the developing world and sometimes do mission trips to help build them through their combined Episcopalian-Lutheran church in Lexington, population 200. Her husband runs the agricultural co-op, which gets the region’s wheat and corn to market and also sells farming equipment and operates a general store. They’re undecided about the election but leaning anti-Trump.
4) An older guy gave me a 100 yard ride to his driveway as I walked up the hills leading west from Heppner. Nice smile. Trump.
5) I walked for an hour or so up steep, windy, windy (those two words are spelled the same!), green hills on the 42-mile road toward the next small town of Condon and was then picked up by a guy who brought me 5 miles to the turn-off to his brother’s ranch. He’s not voting, “they all suck”. His car leaned and felt like it would fall off the frequently steep and never guard-railed side of the curvy highway. This left me 9 miles from the nearest town behind me, 33 from that ahead of me, with no food, ~8 oz of water, at 5pm on a road with less than 1 car per hour of traffic.
6) John works and lives at a ranch right near where I was stationed, is very nice, and had nothing to do, so he decided to bring me to Condon, a road right near his house, but that he hadn’t driven for years for lack of reason to go to Condon. His sporty car was much surer on the hairpin turns. He’s a highly-trained chef who spent most of his life in high-pressure management positions in big cities, overseeing hotel/casino kitchen operations and the like. He discovered the solitude and beauty of eastern Oregon and decided to stay, so he largely oversees the operation of taking rich people out to hunt a variety of animals on their huge ranch. He’s insightful and clearly lives a well-examined life. Lately things have been rough as it seems his wife might leave him, and he feels disconnected from the people around him. He’s also the executor of wills for two relatives this year. He took me out to the little restaurant in Condon and we talked broadly and candidly. It was one of the snapshot-style close friendships that I always remember long after these hitchhiking trips that drag me briefly and deeply in and then out of someone’s life. He’d love to open his own restaurant, but doesn’t want to hurt the few existing local restaurants in an area whose population can’t sustain the competition. He’s undecided, but leaning toward Trump.
7) As I walked south out of Condon, seeking a place to camp after exploring pretty much the entirety of the town, I was picked up by another John. I rode in the back of his pickup, as he had his baby with him in the cab. I watched one of those gorgeous sunsets when it’s been overcast and only in the last 15 minutes of day does the sun come out gloriously as it slips below the clouds on the horizon. In that pink and orange world, nestled in a large spare tire and whipped by the rushing cold air, I fell asleep from exhaustion, having barely slept at the meth house the night before. He let me out in Fossil, where he was turning east, and I camped next to the overgrown Little League field. He’s not voting.
1st ride) Tom (40s) is a rancher who brought me from the town of Fossil to the actual fossils at the Clarno site. He’s been to Argentina to study animal griculture and he liked it a lot. He had his four-year old with him and was fascinated by my stories of hitchhiking. He’s a conservative and he’s voting for Trump, though he says he’s “got to stop talking about bullshit”. Though he was continuing to his hometown of Madras, I had him drop me off at the fossil beds, where I saw some 54 million year old leaf and log fossils and went for a 7.5 mile run on some crazy hills.
2) After my run I met Shannon & Rick, who wouldn’t have picked me up if I hadn’t talked to them first. I hoped in the back with their two soft and placid brother dogs. They’re both recently retired professionals from Portland and are getting into traveling. They, like I, were impressed by this corner of northcentral Oregon, though they were much more scared by the curvy road. They’re voting for Hillary, citing the fact that she’ll scare Putin a lot more than Obama does. Dropped me in Madras.
3) Beth is 32 and looks white but identifies more with the native community to which she also belongs. She teaches on the reservation, loves outdoor sports, grows and sells weed, used to travel, both following bands and hopping trains, voted for Bernie, and took me to Redmond.
4) Jeremy (40s) also smoked weed in the car (weed’s legal in Oregon, and driving with it isn’t but no one seemed to care) and also grows. He talked about how hard drugs have ruined some of his friends’ lives and how he functions despite his alcoholism. He talked about the liberal/conservative cultural divide in Bend, and seems to consider himself neither. He said Bend has grown way too fast, and related to me the principles that are very important to him when using guns, which he likes to do. Also voted for Bernie.
I was gifted vegetarian nachos by a very friendly bartender and chatted with locals about Oregon Ducks football. I tented on soft pine needles among a very stereotypically and awesomely Oregonian grove of gorgeous dark green conifers. I was very happy.
Day 8 (May 20):
I awoke very cold and within a few miles of snow,just south of Bend, Oregon.
1st ride) A 22-year old guy who’s had a hard life in which he was basically abandoned by his parents got me out of the cold and into his pickup truck. He started his own painting business which is going quite well, as he’s been able to buy his own double-wide trailer and buy a lot of equipment for the coming societal collapse. He describes himself as a “prepper”, listens to Alex Jones, and owns a great many guns and food rations. He’s sure the US dollar will be worthless by 2020. He loves hunting, preps and eats the much meat he obtains, and loathes the hunters who don’t. Trump makes him ashamed to be a Republican, he thinks Hillary should be in jail, and he’ll be writing in his own name on election day.
2) John, 38, brought me all the way from Crescent to Grants Pass. He teaches architecture, design, and US gov’t at an alternative/second chance public high school in Bend. He takes pride in his ability to really impact 5-10% of his students, but he’s very disenchanted with the education system, which he describes as “fat” and unchangeable. So he’s taking a leave of absence and moving to the Dominican Republic for 8 months with his wife and 4 kids. He spoke about wanting his kids to grow up poor, but that he feels uncomfortable telling that to anyone and the coming move is kind of the start of putting it into practice. He talked about wanting to reverse the birthday tradition, so that his kids give away their favorite toy instead of getting stuff. I editorialize that it’s a combination of realizing how empty consumerist suburbanism can be without realizing how much it sucks to have to worry about bills and buy unhealthy food when you don’t want to. I lean a lot more toward wanting to raise my kids in material simplicity, which is quite different from the material pressure of true want. I suggested it’s not very utilitarian to give away a toy to which you have particular sentimental attachment, but agreed we should give away good things other kids might actually want, not just the stuff that we don’t want at all.
Anyway, he stopped to fish for salmon (he’s never caught one) and I walked over to the fish hatchery, where they breed salmon and trout to put back into the rivers for commercial fishing, sport fishing, and species preservation. This is necessary because the salmon’s natural courses have been almost entirely blocked by dams.
Back in the car, we got to politics. He jokes with his students that he’s “Pumped for fill in the blank”, but he’s voting for Gary Johnson. He said his difference with me is probably that he doesn’t begrudge the rich their success. So I practiced the framing strategies I’ve been reading about and argued that it’s not their wealth that’s the problem, but the power that wealth grants them over other people and especially over the political system, which violates our shared values of freedom and democracy and distorts the system further in their favor. For more on framing, my buddy Carter just wrote this: https://medium.com/@hal_walker/against-debate-7d59e859a4a4…
He bought me a huge Mexican lunch and told me about an amazing trip he and his wife took, by car, from Ulaanbataar, Mongolia to Europe, which included a crazy ferry across the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan to Baku, Azerbaijan when they couldn’t re-enter Russia because of the war in Georgia.
3) A guy in his 20s who grows weed legally and then ships it East via the USPS (very illegally) for $1800/pound. He told me about shooting bullets in the air to scare off a couple of guys who were trying to steal his plants. When he fishes for salmon he uses an illegal dragging maneuver that allows him to catch huge quantities. He supports Bernie, would choose Trump over Hillary, but won’t vote in November. He also gave me Mexican food he had in his car.
4) Tony, 60s, used to hitch 15 miles in and out of Medford every day. Once picked up a hitchhiker in Denver who was going to Ashland, Oregon, just 15 miles south of Medford, and gave him a ride the whole way. He’s voting for Hillary, “not for Hillary, but against Trump”.
5) Patty is a nurse in her 50s. Much like me she had her faith in and impression of humanity increased during her travels. (My best explanation for this is that people generally act more compassionately when placed in novel contexts rather than in repeated habitual structures largely determined by capitalism and the seeking of self-interest. Also, most people jump at the opportunity to be kind when they’re confident that they’re not being taken advantage of.) She voted for Hillary and loves Bernie but says “it’s not his time yet”.
6) For the third ride in a row I was picked up in less than 2 minutes. I jumped in the back of the pickup because the passenger dog was nervous. I noticed many cauliflowers and deduced (correctly) that he’d been dumpster diving. No one buys 7 cauliflowers. The friendly driver’s name is Paul (20s), he works on a farm, and voted for Bernie. After a stop for a walk at a rest area, the 13-yr old dog had trouble jumping back into the truck’s cab, but made it with help.
7) The next guy (40s) picked me up in Ashland and brought me all the way to Reading, CA. He got out of jail in Oregon a couple years ago, and met his girlfriend, who lives in Reading, online. He’s moving in with her as soon as he’s off probation and allowed to. He lost a lot of his life to drugs, but is clean now and working in construction. He bought a motorcycle last fall and is excited for his first summer with it. We rocked out to Offspring’s Americana while we rolled past golden fields of black cattle, impressive conifered mountains revealing grounds lightly covered in recent snow, and the startling blue-green of the huge Shasta Lake on northern California’s I-5. He’s not voting and “not into politics”. After I got out, I waited out some rain, wrote in my journal, and made some phone calls to loved ones.
8) Ron, in his 60s, recently moved back to the Reading area after many years in different places. He had Elvis on loud and was singing along. Who’s he voting for? “What’s the businessman’s name?” 😦 He dropped me in Andersen.
I walked into a neighborhood and found an overgrown softball field. I set up the tent and went for a run. When I got back, there was a truck on with its lights on in the dark pointing at the tent. Jim informed me that the field was private property and that the owners were scared by my presence and had called the sheriff. When I told him that I was hitching from Georgia to San Francisco for the wedding of friends (thanks Jamie and Bree Elle!), he called the owners and the sheriff to explain and showed me a spot on his own property where I could camp. I ate delicious Mexican leftovers without being able to tell what was what in the dark and slept soundly until 7:30am, which had become a routine time of awakening.
Day 9 (May 21):
I packed up the tent and walked to the truck stop at the side of I-5. I ate the last of the previous day’s feast and a trucker came over, excited by my backpack. He’s a survivalist, which at present means that he spends most of his non-driving time in the truck watching shows and youtube videos about how to survive in the woods with just a knife. Apparently a lot of the videos are made by amateurs who often fail in their attempts, but their undeterredness and lack of shame about their mistakes is part of a kind of mutually supportive sub-culture that this friendly trucker has really embraced. He spoke vaguely about wanting to try some of it out himself, possibly with his grandchildren, when he retires in a couple years, but it seems like the imagined scenarios and the feeling of kinship with unmet fellow enthusiasts are more than enough to brighten his long days behind the wheel and multi-day waits in truck stop parking lots.
It felt kind of sad, that the most exciting thing he’s gotten out of the modern world is a kind of secondhand escape from it, but it reminds me now of the nights in 2012 when I would run empty suburban streets imagining the details of an impossible imminent general assembly-based anarchist revolution. How that store will be repurposed as a dispensary of free healthy food and how those people can keep that giant house, but they can’t use the police to enforce their extortion of rent in the second one. The trucker and I are both just imagining more exciting lives, full of rapidly evolving conditions, where our agency matters, escapes from the banal responsibility of our stable society. Like the guys voting for Trump because our society bores them.
1st ride) Tim is a “Republican at heart”, but he can’t stand Trump and he’s voting for Hillary. With the way the Republicans are behaving, “they need an ass-kicking”.
2nd) Joe’s been homeless for four years, and gave me a ride in one of his two vans. He was very friendly, bubbling with energy, excited to shock me with the stories of his life’s travails. He spent 11 years in jail. He works part-time as a mechanic and receives disability for his bipolar disorder. He has 6 kids, some of whom he sees regularly, and told me stories about the horribleness of his babymamas. He has a blog about what it’s like to be treated horribly by women. He was voting for Bernie because “Bernie’s the only one for us poor people”.
In Orland, I had the longest wait of the trip, about 2.5 hours, with a break to go to a restaurant that gifted me two large bowls of soup.
3) Best ride of the trip. Evan and Nicole, in their VW van, were the first kindred spirits of the trip, according to my journal. They’re both super nice. They fed me richly and we talked of our travel experiences. They love hiking and folk-punk, especially Days N Daze (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0dUnoecoZ0). They work on his mom’s pot farm, but they don’t smoke. They made a persuasive case for psychadelics, carefully and in the right context. Neither votes. She considers herself ill-informed and he’s an anarchist, though he’s worked on some local issue campaigns. He’s the most well-read of the people I met on the trip (though he leans a bit toward conspiracy theories I find unconvincing), and he listened actively to my argument that the most likely path to a non-capitalist, non-hierarchical society goes through representative democracy and democratic socialism. In response to her questions, I laid out a fairly thorough version of what I think a plausible anarchist society could look like for the first time in a while. They’re excellent conversationalists and I was pretty inspired by their descriptions of the personal transformations that led them to be the very chill, thoughtful, and positive people they are today.
We stopped at a gas station in Williams. As we were about to leave, a guy about my age walked up to me. “Were you in Uruguay a while back?” I told him I had been. His name is Robert. It turns out Jesse, Jess, and I met him in La Pedrera, Uruguay in Jan 2015, where he was working (I believe) as a cook at a restaurant that gave us sandwiches and where we played music and chatted with the owners. He was excited by our adventures and decided to do his own hitching trip from there to Colombia. He said it was great. It’s pretty awesome that recognized me. Now he’s living in Northern California and driving a motorcycle. He offered us weed, but none of us smoke. I hope I see him again.
Evan and Nicole gave me food for supper and breakfast and showed me a good place to camp on the shore of Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. We hugged goodbye. I ran and slept well in my sweat.
Day 10 (May 22):
1st ride) David, 50s, has a strong New York accent and his dog Duke does lick. He confidently asserts untrue things about hitching and also confidently claims that Clear Lake is the largest lake in the US, bigger than any Great Lake. (It’s not.) He’s grown pot for years and claims to have made millions. He gives specific stats about pot’s relevance to California’s economy, but I do not trust them. He opposes legalization because it would hurt his profits. Supports Bernie, which doesn’t make me proud. He left me in Ukiah, where I stopped into a McDonald’s to write.
2) Joni has the straight gray hair of progressive women over 55. She was voting for Bernie in the primary, but definitely ready to support Hillary in November. She comes from a strongly Republican family, and talked about the strife their political differences have caused. Earlier in life she went through a strongly religious, borderline cultish phase until a friend urged her to think for herself. She’s strived to do so ever since. Now she owns her own successful embroidery business, which she loves. She reads Mother Jones and Salon and thinks our politics are underlain by more basic disagreements, so that we’re usually talking past each other when we disagree on the surface. I talked about Lakoff’s point that conservative and progressive politics are underlain by distinct moral viewpoints, which he calls the “strict father model” and the “nurturant parent model”.
She’s felt uncomfortable in the traditional relationship model, which she finds restrictive, so I recommended she check out the polyamory community in her central coast town and she seemed intrigued. She’s estranged from her daughter, who’s in college, which weighs on her heavily. She was meeting her babydaddy, still a friend, for lunch in San Francisco, on her way back from a weekend of drugs with intellectuals, which she had attended for the first time and about which she was effusive in her praise of its healing and stimulating powers. I didn’t have a place to stay in the city until the next night, and Laura wasn’t arriving by plane until the next morning, so I had her drop me off on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where the Marin Headlands offer ample space to camp.
I spent an hour or so admiring one of the world’s most gorgeous views, taking group pictures for people and chatting with a broad array of the world’s upper classes – Argentines, Germans, Mexicans, Malaysians, and Minnesotans.
Then I hiked up into the golden hills, ate peaches and an old hamburger, stashed my backpack in the bushes, and went for a run. 8 miles round-trip through gold and green to the shiny, cold, blue waters of Rodeo Beach and the Pacific Ocean. I dunked myself ritually 3 times to complete the cross-country journey. The attractive, fast runner far ahead of me had me pushing the pace up and down and up the hills on the way back. An exploring detour revealed an ideal camping spot out of view of any unnecessarily diligent park rangers.
As the sun fell into the western ocean and the gold clung to smaller and smaller pieces at the tops of the hills, I sat and wrote in my journal with a kind of tranquil euphoria I can’t recreate with coffee or Tropicalia. I felt connected to humanity again, optimistic about the possibility of a life with love and happiness, “nothing to hate myself over”, says my journal. “The people I meet, man, they’re the whole thing, good, bad, wrong, right on. Sad, content, timidly passionate. They want things and sometimes they get them and sometimes they don’t.”
“When the sun’s down but the sky’s still blue like the daytime and it’s dark where ya are in the shadow of the mountain. Pink over the ocean, the end of the continent, the fucking rolling tires brought you here, the steps of precise positioning the body for grabbing the beasts of headlights and headcases. Hopes minorly dashed by passing cars and raised to high air by pick-ups. The thanks, the introductions, they’re telling a story or asking a question. I’m going for the influence or taking the lesson. I’m trying to build frames, a bigger brain. I’m justifying myself to all of us and feeling better and worse when I see that they too… Have problems, fuck up, stop short. I am nervous but I am happy. The airport, the aclaration await. The city streets, maybe giggles?, oh wow, she’s smiles, there’s chat, I show off and receive praise, I give heartfelt compliments. All of this is San Francisco. It’s in front of me. 7 days or 8. Trip turn 30 with hope phase 2. One mission a total success.”
I woke to my alarm at 5:00 am, with 6 hours to get to the airport to greet Laura’s arrival. I walked down the hill, breakfasted on tourist food waste, turned the corner toward the rising sun, and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge hollering San Francisco-themed songs in the windy morning’s private soundscape. One bus driver said no money, no ride. The second brought me downtown. I walked a bit to an on-ramp for the 101 and stuck my thumb out in the morning traffic.
Final ride) Ricardo lives in an apartment whose price sounds like a joke about high rent. A one bedroom for $3,400. He’s a caregiver, and it’s his boyfriend’s salary that makes the apartment possible. He’s from Baja California, Mexico, but he loves San Francisco and can’t imagine living anywhere else. He was undecided between Bernie and Hillary, with a week to go for the CA primary. He brought me right to the airport with enough time for a nap and a coffee before Laura’s plane.
Honestly, this 10-day cross-country solo hitch was one of the best short segments of my life. Freedom, stimulation, new people, incredible landscapes, they broke the bark that grows on me when routine sets in, ripped away the cobwebs and had me thinking, writing, hoping. I should probably do a little bit of this every year. I love the West for good reason, but also irrationally. The world feels bigger, newer, more mine, there. It was just the right amount of time to spend away from my people, too, and to have me excited and curious to see them again. And the world is interesting when there’s contradiction, tension to be resolved, or to work toward resolving. And here it was as I was moneyless, and yet not hungry. As I covered masses of miles, but felt so unhurried. And in the people who can be wonderful, who I can connect with and see myself in, and yet who will vote for something so reprehensible and so dangerous to so many other wonderful, contradictory people.
Final results of the hitch-ride poll: Trump 18, Not Voting 17, Bernie 12, Hillary 8, Undecided 7, Gary Johnson 2, Writing in own name 1, Undecided between Bernie and Hillary 1, “whoever my mom tells me” 1.