My first trip started in Santa Cruz.
The plan was to meet M in Eugene. Then we would attend the Rainbow Gathering. It was in Eastern Oregon.
After the gathering I got sick. I think it was food I ate. Hitch-hiking back we stopped in Willits California. I sat on the curb. And threw up in the gutter. It was cold and wet. And I didn’t feel good.
We got back to Santa Cruz the next day. After a short while we got a ride Seattle with James. In Seattle we stayed with her friends. But we didn’t stay long. We hitch-hiked east from the city. We wanted to go to Lewiston/Clarkston. Two towns across from each other on the Idaho/Washington border.
We headed across the desert heat. M wanted to stay on the interstate. But my idea was a more direct route. Almost right away I could see I was wrong. We got dropped off on a road with little traffic. Washington is the Evergreen State. But not the eastern half.
There were a couple small towns. We made it to one about nightfall. I’m not sure where we camped. The next day we were making little progress. Sometimes on the road, under the sun you can find shade. Even a post can help. A sign creates shade. In the dry landscape out there I thought I was going to die. There was no shade. No moisture.
I remember wondering around feeling out of my mind. Thinking there might be shade in a ditch, or under a leaf. One of the towns was Othello. And we decided to never go to a place with the word “hell” in the name. The highway was number 26. And I still don’t like the number.
At last we got a ride. All the way to our destination. The first day in town we went to a food bank. M went to talk to them and I waited. When they came out he asked us if we were homeless. A question which in most cases results in no food at a food bank. This is because Food Banks don’t stock the foods homeless people need. And homeless people tend to not be able to use the foods they provide.
So a bit nervous, I confirmed we were homeless. To our surprise he put us up in a hotel for three nights. We didn’t have plans to stay, or look for work. We made it clear. But he wanted to help us anyway. It was a good three days. The town itself felt friendly. It had the same feel of a lot of middle American towns.
We did look for work. I still had my ID. But after three days we hitched a ride east. Next stop Missoula. We got a ride from a good guy. But we were hungry. And when we stopped for him to get lunch we ate the whole basket of free crackers. We had no money.
In Missoula I lost my ID. It was rough. We spanged at a store for a while. A woman invited us over for breakfast. And we ate at the shelter. The shelter there felt like ones I have been to in Roseville, California or Santa Cruz, or anywhere. Missoula is a neat town. One place I could see myself living.
We headed out after a few days. Feeling a little more lost. But headed east. It had started to rain, so we left. We went through Wyoming. In Casper someone stopped and offered us a ride to the shelter. When we tried to hitch-hike in town the police stopped. They were friendly. Asked us not to hitch-hike in town. And also offered us a ride to the shelter. The next stop was Boulder, Colorado.
We were there for a while. Took all our things out and dried them in the sun. This became a ritual on our trip. Rain, sun, dry, wet. We spanged on Pearl Street. Slept in a corner by the library. We were happy. Once we asked a cop for money on accident. When we apologized, he replied, “what I’m human too.” He gave us some change. But the rains came and our trip moved along east.
We developed a motto. “Tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”
Across the great plains was a straight shot. We got at least one ride from a trucker out of Limon, Colorado. There really isn’t anything else in Limon.
We stopped next in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Another friendly town. But not one we stayed at long. This is where our brief shoplifting career started. We went to the store and then slipped things under the garden fence. Outside we retrieved the items. It was an easy scam. And it fooled me into thinking we could get away with stealing.
Ann Arbor is a college town. It had the same feel as Berkeley and Santa Cruz – and Arcata. I recall going to Food Not Bombs. This organization sets up in a couple different cities. It is like the socialist answer to the Christian soup kitchen. They give food and provide political materials.
From Ann Arbor we continued east. We stopped along the freeway in Ohio. It was a spot where the I-80 and I-90 ran close and paralell. M couldn’t sleep, but she managed to sneak us into a hotel room in the morning. She had found a hotel with a key drop for departing guests. When someone exited she grabbed key and we went into the room. She was good at these things.
When we were going through Portland we slept on Jantzen Beach. She went to a hotel and found left-overs from room service. Then brought them back for us.
After Ohio went passed through Pennsylvania and stopped in Ithaca, New York. We tried our tricks at K-Mart, but they were wise to us. Then I was bold enough to think I could walk out with the bag. It didn’t work. I’m not sure what we were trying to steal. But I store security took me to the office.
The police came and put me in handcuffs. I was upset. Worried about M. I remember crying. They took me to the jail. And fingerprinted me. A judge was going to come and talk to me. The judge wanted to know about M. Did we know anyone? Would anyone be taking care of her? She could see we were alone. And she made me a deal. If I promised to stay until Monday, and then report to court I could spend the weekend with M. And not go to jail.
We thought about running. But the wiser choice was to stay. We knew we would be at a bigger risk if we got stopped again. And homeless people get stopped by the police often.
The weekend was good. Another town. They were beginning to feel the same. Like the Simon and Garfunkel song: “every town is the same to me, with their movies and their factories.”
At court on Monday the prosecution pressed charges for disorderly conduct. I wasn’t charged with stealing. The judge released me on a conditional discharge. And it was one of the smartest moves I’ve seen in my life. I could go, but if at any point in the next year I got a ticket for anything – jaywalking – I would spend 15 days in jail. M and I made our way to the city limits as fast as we could go.
But what a smart move. If I had gone to jail the city would have been paying the bill. And M would have been alone on the street. I believe she knew given the conditions we would leave town. So she saved the city money, and encouraged us to leave with one step.
From there we continued east. The goal was Cambridge, Massachusetts. But along the way we had trouble. Just outside the city is a beltway freeway. All the roads were tollways. We got dropped off at a tollbooth between one freeway and another. And we couldn’t get a ride.
We tried to walk off the freeway, but got stopped. The police drove up behind us and yelled, “get the fuck off the freeway.” We told him we were lost and asked for help. We told him we wanted to get off the freeway, but didn’t know how. He told us to go back to where we were at the tollbooth. Which we did.
In the end we got a ride. But it was the wrong direction. And it was raining again. The ride dropped us in Worcester. We tried to sleep under some trees but we got wet. We sat under the roof of a gas station.
In the morning the lady who opened it was friendly. She gave us some food and hot chocolate. Our things were piled by the door. Once someone looked at them strange. “Their mine, got a problem?” the lady said. She let us sleep in her car for a couple hours. We needed the sleep. Then before we left she gave us some donuts.
M had no sweatshirt because it had gotten soaked. I took mine off and gave it to her. We started to walk to a smaller highway to catch a ride. Someone offered us a ride but M didn’t trust them. Then a guy driving by stopped and gave me a jacket. Later we made it to the on-ramp, the same car stopped again. And M said she didn’t trust them again. So we had to spend the night in Worcester again. It was still raining.
There was a garage or shop of some kind near the road. We walked around back where there were a couple old cars. One truck had the door unlocked. So M and I slipped in and slept on the seat. I felt more in love with her than ever. She was on the side closest to the seat. She was so warm and soft. And I had the stick from the clutch in my back half the night. But we slept and stayed dry. It was a bit of a risky move.
The next day we saw the car from the previous day. We just let it drive past us. In the end we got a ride to where we wanted to go. Cambridge is a cool area. We hung out in the park. And Harvard Square of course. And read at the bookstore. I have M roses. She put them under the shelf and left them. I guess we couldn’t have taken them with us.
In the park we met some odd people. One guy said he once blew a blood alcohol level higher than .50. This means he added, his blood was more than half alcohol. I don’t know if it could even be true. But I did see them mixing ingredients in a bottle to leave in a hole. They were making their own alcohol.
We slept at a park with a fountain. I recall it waking me up when it sprung to life every morning. We went to a Catholic service. It was a good time. We even ventured into Boston. Walking along the street we saw an amazing church. A sign mentioned tours. So we asked for one, and got one. It was so grand and large. We walked around the sanctuary. Then when it was time to leave, the door out seemed so small.
We dried out things here, well mostly. Then it rained and we started for home. In Rhone Island I recall checking one of my notebooks. It had been damp the whole trip. It was so upsetting I just pitched it into a tree.
“There are important things in there,” M told me. At the time I didn’t believe it was true. But now I wish I still had the notebook.
We hadn’t made it far before we stopped to get food. We stashed our things in the bushes and went to a restaurant. We kept a small bag with us. When we returned everything we had left was gone. This meant we now had no blankets. And it was starting to get colder. We wondered for a while confused about what to do next.
Then we met some odd junkies who said they were going to Utah. The woman was friendly. The guy wasn’t so open. They gave us a ride through New York City. We hopped it would be a ride all the way. But they guy kicked us out in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t easy four people in one car.
So we were out again. No blankets. We tried to sleep. When you get so cold you want to stay close. But also to roll up tight. And you can’t do both at the same time. I know I slept little.
The next day a lady gave us a ride. It was a good long ride all the way to Ohio. I was in the front, and M was in the back. This is normally a safer situation for M. But this case was odd. I was talking to the lady. Then trying to talk to M. But at one point she sat back and I knew she was upset. I figured we could discuss it later.
The lady gave us some blankets. She dropped us off at a gas station. As we got out she came and gave me a big deep hug. And turned and just patted M’s back. I knew I was in trouble.
“Fuck me or buy me a hamburger,” she told me. Turns out I hadn’t noticed what was going on in the car. Every time M tried to talk the lady turned up the music. I was flirting with the lady. Not in the hopes of scoring with her, I was with and loved M. But in a more natural relaxed way.
While still in Ohio the police came while we were hitch-hiking at a tollbooth. He suggested a path to another exit, with more traffic. But it wasn’t passable, so he gave us a ride. We told him about the cop in Massachusetts. “No wonder they get shot all the time,” was his reply.
Crossing Ohio we actually got a short ride from another friendly officer.
In Indiana we stopped in Gary. The truckers got us scared to go outside. They said we would get shot and killed. The road had left us with little energy. So we believed the hype. Instead of going out we curled in the bottom of a phone booth in the building. It has a lock. I locked the door and we slept there. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds.
The next day we got a ride from a trucker. All the way to Reno, Nevada.
It was the first time I crossed the salt flats. Waking up in the middle of them is odd. You know it is summer. And it is warm. But it looks like the ground is covered in snow.
From Reno, to Sacramento, to Berkeley. I believe M took the bus home from Berkeley. And I went home to Santa Cruz alone. More alone than ever.
This trip may be the highlight of my life. I learned so much about the country. Some places were smaller than I imagined. And some places were bigger. We live in an amazing country. And it is full of amazing people. Every where we stopped people were friendly and helpful.
This trip emboldened me to take on risks later in life. And it still does.