Thursday, November 20, 2008

The story of Pinetree going to Ohio and hitchiking home.

(This story went down a couple weeks ago. I've been meaning to write it all out, and just finally finished now. Its pretty long and I don't expect you to get through the whole thing, but congrats if you do. :) I mostly just wanted to have a record for myself.)

You know how sometimes you need or want to do a thousand things at once, but thinking about all of it prevents you from getting any of it done?

Well, perhaps you don't know. But I know how that feels, and that's precisely how my friend Betty feels most of the time. Betty is a mess, but I see myself in her sometimes and she makes me feel relatively at peace, so we get along alright.

Betty called me last week and asked me if I would help her move to Ohio in a U-Haul. Her family didn't want her to make the long drive across the country alone. She told me she was willing to pay for my flight back home. "Flight" was later downgraded to "bus-ticket," but to me that was somewhat irrelevant because I had been hoping for a chance to get away from Utah, and from school and family and pressure to get a job, and from panicky feelings about a relationship and just how I'm supposed to fit into life.

I told Betty I would go with her, but that I had one request. I asked her to forgo buying a bus ticket and simply pass on to me the money that she was willing to spend. I would make it home on my own. Betty was nervous about the idea (as was her mother) but hesitantly agreed, assuming that I might reconsider later.

The plan was to pick up the U-Haul truck at 1 pm on Thursday, head back to Betty's house, load the truck, attach her car to the back, and leave. The night before all this was supposed to go down, I messaged Betty to ask her if she was ready to go. Her reply was "I am drunk. I don't want to talk about it. I'll be ready to go."

Some people might get mad about that sort of thing, but I couldn't help but laugh. I went to sleep grinning about leaving the next day with crazy Betty, on our way to Ohio.

The next day Betty picked me up in her unregistered, uninsured, messy car and we went to pick up the U-Haul trailer. After that we headed to her apartment to load the truck.

Betty told me on the way over that she didn't want me to get mad when I saw her apartment because it would "look" like she hadn't done any packing, even though she really had worked on it a lot. Turned out Betty had not worked on it nearly as much as she should have, and we ended up calling a guy to come help us get everything packed. We spent the next 4 to 5 hours packing up all Betty's stuff (sectional couch, gas grill, shelves, elliptical machine, tons of clothes and shoes) and loading it onto a truck. The nice part about this was that I got some of the stuff that Betty decided not to take, like a full size bed, (never had one that was bigger than a twin) a giant down feather comforter which is ridiculously comfortable (I could write a blog post about this comforter can get up in the middle of the night, pee, get a drink of water, look out the window pensively for a little while, check your email, and get back into bed and its STILL warm and comfy under this thing...heaven :)....even the cover for it is purple... :/ ) and a bookshelf (my book collection is outgrowing the space in my closet I have for books)

We finally hit the then dark road at around 6 pm Thursday night, and we wouldn't stop driving until we arrived in Ohio, over 30 hours later. You see, Betty was cranked up on adderal the whole time, so she was very much awake and chatty. She also insisted on driving because she has this paranoia about other people driving her vehicles. She told me I was just there so her parents wouldn't freak out.

We took I-70 east from Utah, and that took us through Vail, Colorado, a ritzy skiing resort an hour or two from Denver. When we drove through in the middle of the night, it was snowing...hard. At some points it was a complete white-out. Betty was forced to drive 20 miles per hour just about the whole way. To make matters worse, about a third of the way through the mountains the windshield wiper on the driver's side broke. Betty could hardly see through the snowstorm, so I became the eyes of our operation for a while because she didn't want to stop driving. Eventually, when the snow let up, I fell asleep. I awoke in the still dark hours of the morning to see that we were at a truck stop and Betty was outside with some burly trucker helping her take the windshield wiper blade from the passenger side to put on the driver's side. The trucker seemed disgruntled that I was not awake and outside helping my maiden in distress. He gave me a dirty look, and I just decided to stay in the U-Haul and let him finish the job without making eye contact, and that was that.

Betty drove and drove through Colorado (it was mostly night through Colorado) Kansas (very flat and monotonous, but also very beautiful in a simple and welcoming kind of way, especially through the morning and early afternoon. Its not like driving though, say, Nevada, where it is flat, monotonous, dry and ugly. Also, everyone in Kansas was friendly and they were doing Extreme Home Makeover in one of the little towns we passed. I love that show, as a side note) Missouri (more porn stores AND Jesus billboards than I've ever seen in one state) and on to Illinois, where it started to rain.

It rained harder and Betty turned on the windshield wipers. The wiper on her side worked well enough, but all that was left on my side was the rod that the wiper used to be attached to, and it started making a horrible screeching noise. It literally sounded like nails on the chalkboard, each time is made its way back and forth across my side of the windshield. I reached out my window to try to turn the rod away from the window with no success. Then I tried to wrap some papers and plastic from the car around the rod, but those soon fell off. I decided we would just have to let it be, but it was driving Betty (still on the aderall) insane.

The next time we stopped for gas, we filled up the tank and I went in to the convenience store to use the bathroom and probably buy a cookie. When I came back outside, Betty was standing over the windshield wiper rod with an extra large, lubricated condom that she dug out of her purse. She was tying it onto the windshield wiper rod. I stood in astonishment at Betty's course of thought and her resourcefulness.

We hopped back into the U-Haul and for the rest of the trip through Illinois/Indiana to Ohio, I watched a lubricated condom swing back and forth on a windshield wiper rod in front of my face.

We got to Betty's place sometime in the middle of the night and went to bed. At least, I went to bed. Betty had trouble sleeping because of all the aderall she was on. She slept for about two hours before I woke up in the afternoon the next day. That day was a little strange, but ended well. Betty's mom made us some delicious casserole and I met and learned about Betty's family. We went shopping to find Betty some bedding and a Bangles jersey for her mom, who attends a black church where they were having "Jeans and Jerseys Day" that Sunday. Then we went back to her place where I made some brownies, we both got under the covers and watched Dead Poets Society, which Josh was kind enough to lend me the weekend prior.

Originally Betty had wanted to take more aderall so she could go out clubbing in Dayton, but the particular boy she wanted to see was not responding to her texts or phone calls, so I came up with the movie and brownies idea as a safer alternative. Betty finally crashed about 20 minutes into the movie. I watched it all the way through and even got through most of the bonus features. I love that movie a lot. I remember seeing it as a kid, but didn't remember much of what it was about. I have this really bad memory with movies....and a lot of things, but I do remember that it was my sister's favorite. Its now one of my favorites too. But, I digress.

Sometime in the middle of the night Betty got a booty call from a guy named Brian. She started putting on make-up and testing different outfit combinations in the mirror and then asked me if it would be alright if she left me at her house alone with her family. I didn't mind, as I would just be sleeping anyways, and I assumed she would be back before morning to drive me to the freeway so I could start hitchiking home.

I awoke the next morning to find that Betty was still out, presumably with Brian. I packed up all of my stuff, made myself a couple of sandwiches, ate some breakfast and checked my email on Betty's computer. Betty was still gone. I texted her:

"About time for me to go. Where are you?"

No response. I called. No answer. I texted again:

"I am taking off. I hope life is good to you in Ohio. Tell your mama thanks for letting me stay :)"

And with that I picked up my pack, walked out the door, and headed toward the freeway. I walked to the Huber Heights exit on I-70 and stuck my thumb out in the direction of westbound traffic.

The first guy to pick me up only took me a few exits down the road. He was on his way to see his mother in a resting home. After he dropped me off, I was surprised to see a trucker pull up abruptly right behing me. He motioned for me to get in.

"I saw you standing there looking for a ride and doubled back at the next exit down so I could come pick you up." he said. "But then you got in that car, so I figured I would just follow him down the road until he dumped you off somewhere. I'm on my way to Kansas City."

I was excited to be so lucky. I told him I appreciated the extra effort on his part and we got on our way.

I learned a lot about this guy driving with him for several hours, though ironically I can't remember his name. It was something like Gary, so I'll call him Gary. In a nut shell, Gary had a very screwed up life. He was abused in every way imaginable by multiple sets of parents, relatives, foster parents and institutions as a kid. He had attempted suicide three times in his life, once when he was very young. He had been through two rough marriages. One of his sons had commited suicide when he was about my age, and I guess that was part of the reason why Gary picked me up. I won't go into too much of his story, but I will say that he was the kind of person that makes just about anyone remember how blessed they are.

Gary offered me a Diet Mountain Dew (I don't really like soda, or carbonation for that matter, but I accepted and drank it because I didn't want to seem like a prick) and after having to stop a couple of times to use the bathroom (Mountain Dew went straight through me) Gary put on some Evangelical Christian tapes that we listened to for the rest of my ride with him. Gary was a saved man. Gary is a saved man. I believe that. You could tell from interacting with him that he had at some point in his life been washed by that higher power that takes men from a state of hopelessness and despair to a place where they can get through life in some measure of peace, and maybe even start dreaming again. He was a genuinely good person. A few lines from his Christian tapes struck a cord with me. I remember feeling good and smiling when the man on the tape talked about God having a proud picture of me, His son, in His wallet.

Now, Gary was headed all the way to Kansas City, but on the way to Ohio I had gotten a glimpse of something that I didn't want to just pass up on the way back...

I asked my driver if I could stop in St. Louis, Missouri. He agreed to drop me off close to St. Louis, though not in the city proper as he wanted to bypass what is known as the "St. Louis Spaghetti Bowl," a complicated network of on and off ramps that constitutes I-70 through St. Louis.

He ended up dropping me off in Troy, Illinois, a small town at the intersection of I-70 and I-270. It was late at night and the bus that goes from Troy to St. Louis was no longer running. For a few moments, I stood outside the truck stop in Troy wondering what to do. A short, grubby kid approached me to ask if I had any cigarettes. I replied that I didn't, but I would be willing to buy him some if he had a car and could drive me into St. Louis. Unfortunately he had no such car. He claimed to be the only homeless person in Troy, and he followed me around for a while trying to make conversation and figure out who I was and what I was doing in Troy. He introduced himself as "Insecticide."

Insecticide was the first of three "Rainbow People" I would meet on my way home to Utah. Until last week, I had never heard of Rainbow People, but I learned a lot about them. Essentially what I learned is that they are somewhat anarchic, spontaneous communities of people in the woods who share with each other, smoke pot, jump trains and/or hitchike, and tend to run around with dogs for companionship. Insecticide, however, was the least interesting and most obnoxious of the Rainbow kids I would meet.

After wandering around town for a while, I finally lost Insecticide and decided to just walk a couple of towns down I-40 to Collinsville, Illinois, where I was told I could catch public transportation in the morning to downtown St. Louis.

It was around midnight or 1 am when I got to Collinsville, some 8 miles or so down the road. I stopped in at the Walmart (the only thing open at that hour) to ask around about getting to St. Louis in the morning. I found out that there was a shuttle that stopped right in front of the Walmart early in the morning and that it could take me to a bus station where I could get a ride to a metrolink station (Think "Trax" for St. Louis) where I could take a train into downtown. Satisfied with that information, I went off into the woods on the edge of Collinsville to camp for the night.

I arrived at the arch the next day around 8 AM. I was frustrated to find out that the arch doesn't officially open until 9:20 am, so I walked around, took some pictures, and chatted with a few other visitors until we could finally get inside the arch. I got hassled a little bit for carrying around a giant backpack, but when I told the park rangers I was hitchiking home to Utah and just wanted to see the arch before I passed up St. Louis, their disapproval turned into a sort of admiration, which was nice.

After checking out the spectacular view from the top of the arch with a geriatric tourist group, I descended and hopped on the MetroLink again. I took it as far west as I could, which placed me at the St. Louis airport on I-70.

It took me FOREVER to get out of St. Louis, and then ultimately Missouri. By the time I finally left that state, I was just starting to understand how the pioneers felt about it. I kept getting rides from all kinds of people just leaving work or whatever in St. Louis who would take me 10 to 20 miles down the road. When you're hitchiking over 1600 miles, getting a 10 mile ride down the road is like winning a quarter in the lottery.

I accepted all the rides and was still grateful for most of them. One exception to that was getting picked up by a drunk who worked the night shift at a laundry soap plant in St. Louis. He worked from 12 am to 8 am, and then went to the bar and drank until around noon when he picked me up. I didn't initially realize that the guy was wasted, but quickly after he started driving he started talking to me in slurred words and swerving all over the road, nearly running into other cars or things several times. He also had a budweiser clenched between his knees. He yelled and cursed the "damn St. Louis traffic!" while explaining to he "used to pick up hitchikers until this one time I picked up a faggot." I guess there was some kind of bad experience there. At one point he asked me in a slurred stagger if I could "reach in the back and grab another refreshment." I glanced at the back seat and found a cooler full of Budweiser. Unsure of what to do exactly, I grabbed the guy another beer and just prayed I would make it out of this guy's car alive. I'm still not sure what I should have done just then. Luckily he was only taking me 20 or 30 miles down the road.

When I finally got out of that situation, I was picked up about three more times. Once by a younger guy wearing a beanie in a truck. He didn't talk a whole lot. He worked in construction or something and had some letters from Focus on the Family lodged between the two front seats. Next I got picked up by an ex-Mormon Dad who smoked and talked to me about the church and his family and stuff. He took me to another truck stop where I asked for a ride with an uncle/nephew trucker duo headed to Kansas City. They let me ride with them, but we didn't make it to Kansas city. Their truck kept on leaking water and coolant, so they decided to stop for the night in Concordia, Missouri. (I lost my beloved black beanie, the one you see in some of my pictures, in these guys' truck...very sad)

So here I was, trapped at a truck stop in Concordia, Missouri, at night. I forgot to mention the reason I walked from Troy to Collinsville in Illinois. It is very near impossible to hitch a ride at night. I'm not sure exactly why, maybe because its dark and people can't see you; maybe because people are tired; maybe because people just get scared at night. Who knows? But NO ONE picks you up at night.

It was at the truck stop in Concordia that I met two more Rainbow kids, a couple, boyfriend and girlfriend. They seemed friendly, and I asked them if they were headed west on I-70. They weren't going west; they were headed east to...well, I can't remember... but they didn't have a vehicle. They had just jumped a train to Kansas City and then got a ride with someone to Concordia. The girl introduced herself as "Bitchface." I conjectured that it wasn't her Christian name. She shrugged and told me that was just what everyone calls her. She was tall and very pretty with a nose ring and and dreadlocks that had all sorts of jewelry and ornaments in them. Her boyfriend's name was James and he was about the same height as Bitchface, with messy brown hair. They both had long tattered winter coats and boots and they traveled with a dog that was tied up outside.

I wish I had a picture of James and Bitchface to show here, but we were sort of bonding for a while and I didn't want to just ask them for a picture because it would have seemed condescending.

James and Bitchface got a sandwich at subway and shared some hot chocolate and cookies with me at the truck stop. If you know me well, you probably know that all it takes to make me like you is sharing cookies, so I liked James and Bitchface. They told me about Rainbow Gatherings and hopping trains and even offered to let me take their switchmap (they had maps of all the train switches in the U.S.) so that I could hop a train from Kansas City to Salt Lake if I wanted to. Kansas City has a massive train station that you can see driving by it on I-70. If one was going to jump a train, one would probably want to start somewhere like Kansas City.

I told them I didn't want to take their map, but I was glad I met them and thanks for the cookies and hot chocolate, but I'd better start trying to get a ride again. They said they'd better get going too, and we shook hands and parted ways.

After trying to get a ride at the truck stop for a while, some punk kid that worked in the convenience store called the cops to have me kicked off the premises. It was private property, so I guess they were allowed to have me removed for whatever they wanted, but I really wasn't making a scene or harrassing anyone. I was just asking which way truckers were headed, mostly.

I left the truck stop in Concordia, a little annoyed, and tried hitching at a rest stop (public property and outside of Concordia city limits) about a half mile down the road after that, but with no success. At night everyone suddenly turns hostile to hitchikers.

It was freezing; about 20 degrees outside. I thought of camping for the night again, but didnt even want to think about finding a place and taking my sleeping bag out since I didn't have a tent. I went into the bathroom at the rest stop to think over my options and get warm. By 10 or 11 at night I finally caved and found the cheapest motel in Concordia, Missouri to stay at: The Budget Inn, for 30 bucks a night. I did, after all, have all that bus ticket money from Betty, so I figured I might as well not freeze that night.

Then I decided that as long as I was pampering myself, I would go all out. I paid the little Indian (dot not feather) man at the motel, and then bought a sub sandwich thing and some soft bake cookies at the closest convenience store. I took a warm bath and then microwaved my soft bake cookies for a few seconds so they were warm, and I watched British Parliament on C-Span (cuz I'm sort of a political geek like that and because British Parliament makes for really entertaining television) until I fell asleep.

Then the morning came and I was back on the road. I got a ride from an old man headed a few towns down to see his son. Nice guy. I may have gotten another ride before or after that...can't remember.

Then I was stuck at this spot on the freeway for a while. I was starting to get tired of holding my thumb out, and started thinking to myself that if I could just get to Kansas City that day, I would try hopping a train to Salt Lake City. I had to be back in time to start a job, and I had missed enough school and tutoring hours with Jonny already. Also, as badly as I just wanted to go leave everything, it really wouldn't have been fair to my boyfriend, who really is amazing.

I stood and though until my brain was interruped by the spectacle of a long procession of school buses, maybe 10 or 15, coming down the left lane of the freeway. They were a nuisance for all the other cars, just trying to get home. People were either driving patiently behind the procession, or trying urgently to pass it on the right hand side, or stuck somewhere in between. I turned my head to follow the spectacle and after a minute or two I saw a car pull to the side of the road way off in the distance, maybe a little less than a quarter mile from me. I couldn't be sure if the car was just waiting for all of the buses to pass, or if it was waiting for me to get in. I threw on my pack and started to run toward the car just in case it was there to pick me up.

Turns out, it was. Man, was I ready for a ride.

The guy inside the car looked sort of like Rivers Cuomo, the frontman for Weezer, except that he was just a little pudgier. He seemed really excited and happy with himself for having picked me up.
He talked like this:

"Hey man! Oh dude, my name is Shay, man, nice to meet you! Dude, doesn't it feel good to get picked up!? Dude, I've been hitchiking for like the last 7 months, so I totally know how good it feels to finally be going somewhere again! Where you headed?"

"Yeah, thanks dude, I appreciate it." I responded, realizing that I was mimicing the way he talked a little. "I'm actually headed all the way to Utah, but you can just take me as far west on 70 as you're going"

Shay turned to look at me with a beaming smile and paused for a moment. "Dude, its your f#@king lucky day, man! I'm going to California, so you just got hooked up with a ride all the way to Salt Lake City! Oh man, what are the odds that I picked you up, haha! Dude, thats so perfect. I couldn't help but stop and give you a ride after hitchiking myself for so long! But dude, here's the deal, I gotta get gas soon and I've only got two bucks on me. But as soon as we get to Kansas City, we're good. I'm picking up a girl there and she has stacks of money." He looked at me sort of searchingly.

I told him I could buy a tank of gas to get us to Kansas, a little over 50 miles ahead. I figured I might as well even if the money only got me to Kansas City. We stopped at the next gas station and I put twenty bucks in the tank.

On the way to Kansas City, Shay started telling me about this girl he was going to pick up, Kalumi, and then went on to tell me about his life and what he was doing picking up a stranger in who knows where, Missouri.

Shay and Kalumi were drug dealers. Shay had been hitchiking for 7 months making drug deals around the country until he could afford to buy his own car, in Ohio, where his parents live. He was on his way to pick up Kalumi in Kansas, and then head out with her to a pot farm in Humboldt County, California. (Shay and Kalumi actually met working on the pot farm a couple years earlier) They would pick up a load of pot and hash (not sure if the farm knew this was going on or not...) and who knows what else, and then deliver back east to make anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 dollars.

(Shay ALSO happened to know a lot about Rainbow People and their Gatherings, and had even been to one. When I told him I had met a few along the way, he described their basic appearance and guessed that they owned dogs and had hopped a train before I even told him! This was astounding to me as I had never heard of Rainbow People until a day earlier...)

Kalumi's house was sort of on the outskirts of town. There was a creek running through the backyard. It was actually a nice setting, though the house itself was a little run-down. We parked outside and Shay ran in the house (It was obvious from that point on that he had a thing for this girl) and after about 15 minutes came out with Kalumi. She was a pretty girl. She had jeans and a hoodie on. Her hair was a little messy, but she kept it all back in a pony tail. At some point in the recent past she had her hair in dreads. I later found out that both of them had dreads until recently, when Shay decided he needed to look like a "good Jesus kid" so the could make drug runs easier. They noted that two things will attract the eye of a cop: 1. being black, and 2. boys with long hair. So off came Shay's hair.

To make a long story short (because I'm getting tired of writing this thing up...quality of writing may or may not decrease beyond this point...) Kalumi drove for about 6 hours through Kansas and then I drove through part of the day and the night until we got back to Salt Lake. Kalumi and Shay were getting baked the whole time. Kalumi's purse was full of rolled up pot and various other drugs (they used these eye-drop things at one point? I don't even know what those were...) as well as a huge stack of 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills. Kalumi functioned pretty normally after smoking TONS of pot, but Shay, who had not smoked any pot himself in a month or two, got really stoned. He stared off into space most of the time and every once in a while would say something sort of philosophical or just strange. The car was full of pot smoke. We all ate a lot. I had a lot of cookies, maybe because the smoke was getting to me, or maybe just because I like cookies...I didn't feel high at all, and Shay said that even when someone is actually smoking pot it usually takes them a few tries to feel stoned.

We got pulled over in Colorado, just outside of Denver. I forgot to mention that the car we were driving was damaged in the back, (though all lights were still functioning properly) and so maybe that, along with the Ohio license plate, looked suspicious to a cop.

He initially stopped us on a bridge. I pulled over and rolled down my window, but then he told me to keep driving until we were off the bridge. That was good because it gave us a couple hundred yards to try to air the pot smell out of the car. Somehow though, incredibly, the cop did not detect it. Or at leastl, he didn't say anything.

I still have no idea why he pulled us over. I thought maybe it could have been because we were speeding. I never knew how fast we were going because the speedometer on the car was broken so that engine cutoff would not occur if a certain speed was reached. Shay had told me to just keep my eye on the RPM's and the relative speed of the other cars, and I had been doing my best to make sure we weren't going over the speed limit, but I was never sure exactly.

At any rate, the cop asked for my license and Shay got him the registration for the car. We waited anxiously for about 500 years until the cop came back, handed me all our stuff, and cheerily sent us on our way after telling us he just wanted to make sure "everything checked out alright." Luckily, it did, and I didn't hesitate to drive out of that unsettling situation.

And then I drove and drove and drove sleepily up to Wyoming, on to I-80, and back to Utah. I stopped once for about 30 minutes to take a power nap at a rest stop, and then just kept going and going until around 8 or 9 am when we arrived at the U of U. I got all my stuff together, bid Shay and Kalumi farewell, and then headed over to Josh's place. He was home from work that day because he had just gotten his wisdome teeth out. We hung out and got sandwiches at Subway, and then I took Trax down to Sandy, the bus back to UVU, and finally walked the few blocks home.


Robb said...

Missouri and the Born-Again signs plus the road-side porn shops: yeah - what's up with that? I've been to some seedy parts of the world, but nothing is more bizarre than the freeway through Missouri.

That aside, what an adventure!

Silus Grok said...


Ditto on Missouri.

I picked-up a Rainbow kid hitching in Green River. Glad he didn't have a dog.

: )

Hedge T. Hog said...

I will NEVER get tired of this story. Just reading it makes me smile ear to ear...

Well done, Glader, well done.

And also, if they ever perfect the technology that lets you tap into someone's memories then I want to play this video.

Cadence said...

dude I want to go hitch hiking now...