The Wanderlust Misfit

Don't Run From Anything, Run Towards Everything

Archive for the tag “wandering”

Heavenly Hitchhiking

It was dark when they let me out at an exit about fifteen miles north of Louisville. There was a gas station in sight just up the road. There were many cars going by but the area did not look much populated: the road was long and straight with stretches of bare lots, dilapidated woods and an abandoned auto-garage; an old house here and there with dirt on the faded wood sidings. The gas station was on the left, the same side as the on-ramp, and just before the station was a road that dropped down and wound off into a wooded neighborhood. The moon was out, full and bright so that all was dappled with silver-bluish moonlight and was peaceful. There was a Salvation Army depot on the road to the left and would have been a good place to sleep behind, but as I neared the gas station I could see a cell-tower next to it pushed back a little, and after the cell-tower were fields, soccer fields with low fences and goal nets set out. The fields rolled, running up to the highschool that was behind the gas station and to the right, opposite the cell tower. I stood at the top of the road next to the gas station and looked down it – there was a field to the right behind the cell tower that ran uphill to the soccer fields, and farther down the road was a church, closed and dark save for a light out front. The church was surrounded by tall dark trees. I didn’t feel like sleeping yet and I walked to the gas station.

The station was well-kept, bright and clean. A roof with fluorescent lights above the pumps. Through the front window was the old cashier, packs of cigarettes above his head and the clear cases with the rolls of lottery tickets in them. It was a large store for a gas station and a couple of people were picking items from the low shelves, Pepto Bismol and toilet paper, a person looking for the two-percent milk. I didn’t walk inside, instead dropped my knapsack on the sidewalk on the side of the station and sat down next to it against the wall. I dug from my pack the cigarettes I’d been given and watched the people coming in and out. I watched the cars that drove by and the way the station’s lights gleamed off the roofs and hoods and side panels as the cars past.

I felt easy about the day. I had wanted to get as far as Nashville, if possible, but I was glad how far I’d come. I imagined the very real possibility that I could have spent the entire day at that first on-ramp outside of Columbus, how pathetic and disappointed I would have felt standing there watching night come, having wasted a whole day going nowhere. I would’ve felt helpless and I knew I would’ve turned back. Instead I was pleased in my heart, could feel the gentle pressure of the corners of my lips curving up. I hadn’t come far but I’d made it to Louisville in a day and tomorrow I’d be in Nashville. I put my head back against the wall and exhaled a cloud of blue smoke. The cigarette felt good in my lungs. I hadn’t smoked one since Cincinnati.

I’d yet to come far but I was anxious for the morning knowing this was just the beginning. Tomorrow I’d be in Nashville. I’d get on Route 40 and take that Endless Highway straight west across green plain and barren desert, over mountain and right into beautiful shining Los Angeles. I hoped it wouldn’t take more than two weeks. I hadn’t come far but I felt I could go anywhere. And I had lied this morning – I had been scared. I was throwing myself into the wild without a clue what would happen, if I would get anywhere or if hitchhiking was even still possible. I hadn’t come far but I felt now a reassurance, a reassurance that yes, this would work, I would make it and I saw unrolling before me the long highway and the landscapes I was soon to cross. Tomorrow I’d be in Nashville, onto Memphis and across the Mississippi into Arkansas and Texas and across the desert and the Rockies to the Pacific.

Being out in the world in such a way, when I had nothing to go by but wit and luck and whatever was on my back, this excited my heart and filled me with an eagerness that would not subside. I felt I could go anywhere by the trick of my thumb, could cross states and countries and continents and entire hemispheres without plane or car or even money. Such was the majesty of hitchhiking: the realization that I was not tied down, that I needn’t possessions and bank accounts and financial security. To throw myself to the wild, to the chaos – I forced myself to find and create order in that chaos (this is how one vagabonds) and for that there is no greater analogy than for life, for freedom. This is the only feeling I knew could settle my restless soul, the wanderlust and the vague aching in my chest because I could not find it in me to settle down and submit to the soul-shriveling consistencies of a steady job for forty years living in the same place surrounded by the same people and ideas and conversations.

Finally glad to be alive. But it wasn’t even that, it was more than that, because here I finally understood that all there is is to be alive, that this is life: the myriad of experiences and flavors of emotion all rolled into the very impulse that sent me out there in the first place. Tomorrow I was on to Nashville and I would keep going from there and I wouldn’t stop because I knew now that I could go where ever I pleased and that where ever I went I would be fine and okay because this here is my home, here, at the gas station, and when I got farther down the road that too would be my home, in Bowling Green and Oklahoma City and Albuquerque New Mexico, along the Mississippi and the dried river banks of Texas towns – these too are my home, and the realization burned a blissful excitement in my chest, put freedom and love for the world in my heart because I knew then that all of this is I, is for I and because of I and God would frown if I did not take upon myself the saintly imperative to experience all of it, to take into my heart all that I could with gentle loving hands and declare: This is my home! not an address or a building or a territory or a nation, but this! the Earth! This is where I live and with every ounce of me I am here to enjoy it!

*          *          *

            I got up then and found the cardboard dumpster behind the station. The boxes were already collapsed and I tucked a few beneath my arm. The ground would be cold tonight and it’d be nice having something to separate me from the cold of the earth. I walked down the road and found I could access the fields from behind the church where no one would see me. There was a long hill here and at the top was a warehouse, so that looking from the gas station the warehouse was far behind the highschool. The field was cornered at the bottom along two sides by woods. Here in the corner of the field was a round outcropping of tall shrubs. I knew I’d be fine even in the middle of the field, but I felt safer behind the outcropping; in case someone bothered to look down the field they still wouldn’t see me. I laid out the cardboard and placed my sleeping bag right on top. It was chilly but I had a good sleeping bag and with a hat on my head and my coat as a blanket I’d stay warm. I sat down in the grass and ate a peanutbutter sandwich and a few handfuls of trailmix. When you haven’t much food it’s nice to sleep with a lot of fats in your stomach. It was a clear night and I could see the stars except for around the moon because it was too bright. There was much rustling in the woods and I imagined it to be deer. A train passed in the distance, its whistle announcing its passing. I got in my sleeping bag and pulled it tight around me. My knapsack served as a pillow. I was excited for the morning. I looked up at the endless pricks of diamonds and waited for a shooting star before I fell asleep.

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The Fringes Get Cold

‘I’m glad as hell I got out of there. I loved it, but once I realized we don’t get sent in for the people no more, that’s when I bailed. Had to. You can’t just keep going along knowing you’re a pawn for someone’s private gain. Fuck that. I AWOL’ed. Ain’t no going back. Never is and it ain’t never easy, either. If it were easy we never would’a let it be taken. But I’ll tell you, it’s worth different things to different people. To me, there ain’t a greater feeling that a woman can’t give you.’

I’d been picked up in Kentucky by Mitch who had been seven years in the Marine Corp. He was a tough looking bastard, wide-jawed with big arms spotted with black tattoos. His voice was gritty, hollow and he cursed a lot. Gave me half a pack of Marlboro Reds.

‘What road you need to get on?’

’71 South,’ I said.

‘There’s an exit for it up here somewhere. I don’t think we passed it yet.’ The turn for 71 was, in fact, back north, back past the exit where the priest had dropped me. Mitch turned around and drove all the way back, back an exit north of where he’d picked me up. He pulled over on the side of the highway before the off-ramp to let me out. I told him, Thanks again for the smokes. He wished me luck and pulled out, made an illegal U-turn across the median.

The off-ramp was a wide turn through brown woods and it took my walking to the top of it before I realized it didn’t end, but joined right into 71 South. It kept going and I hadn’t expected this. Stuck on the freeway. But I was positive it’d be worth it.

Traffic here was slow and wasn’t worth trying to hitchhike, and if a passing cop saw me he was sure to stop. That’s how it worked, hitchhiking on highways. I never fret the stopping cop but I knew there was a warrant for me twenty miles north in Ohio, from a couple of tickets I had refused to dip into my hitchhiking funds for. I wasn’t going to risk it, but I needed to get off the highway, and soon, before dark. I could see the ramp curving up and joining with 71. There wasn’t much traffic. I was going to have to walk it. If a cop did stop I could say, ‘Look, I didn’t have a choice, look where I was dropped off. I haven’t been hitchhiking here, just walking to the nearest exit.’ I could lie and say I lacked identification. I wriggled my knapsack around, adjusted it to comfort and buckled the strap that went around my waist, tightening it.

The guardrail didn’t begin immediately and I walked along just in the grass on the side of the highway. A car gave a honk as they passed. Ahead was a bridge, the overpass for the highway I was just on. A two foot shoulder. That would be the margin of error for the seventy mile an hour traffic and me on foot with my cumbersome knapsack. Two feet of cushion between safe passage and my skull in a windshield. I stood before the bridge to let two cars pass. The wind they dragged tugged me forward. I waited a moment to see if any other cars came around the bend, took a breath and turned and ran, feet falling thud thud on the pavement, elbow scraping along the railing. Below the cars and trucks were shooting out from under the bridge, the whir of tires on pavement echoing beneath me. I kept trudging with my heavy knapsack, half-way across with a horn blaring louder behind me, the car swerving to the left almost swiping the car beside it. The car straightened out as the horn faded.

Whew! I stood and caught my breath on the other side. (Later, when I was at an airport, this knapsack, with all the same items in it, weighed in just under fifty pounds. For subsequent travels I’ve decided to rectify this.)

The highway in front of me was long and gently rising, carefully turning into a bend that took it out of sight behind trees in the distance. The sun was still out, hung far down the highway just next to and a little above the trees where the highway disappeared. It was a cold sun, its rays clear and crystal like thin narrowing shards of glass. The whole highway, the vacant woods and even the sky were all in shade so that, walking along in the shoulder, everything was more shadowy, icier and more lonely and the day felt much later than it truly was. I hoped to find an exit soon. I didn’t want to sleep in the woods. The woods along the side were at the bottom of a very steep hill and looked wet, boggy. There weren’t any signs on the highway. Cars passing at lonely intervals. A tractor-trailer came rushing by, the force of its wind tugging at me, tugging me towards the massive crushing thick black tires and the churning axles. I forced a step back. The truck passed and I climbed over the guardrail to get away from traffic.

The pavement of the highway ran beneath the guardrail and wrapped over the top of the hill as a way of preventing erosion, from keeping the top of the hill from washing away and causing the highway to sink. There wasn’t much room for walking here. A few feet to the right was the beginning of the hill, a very steep and rocky forty foot drop to the foot of the gray woods. Through the trees I could see in the distance a road, a few small houses with wide yards. I felt something tug at my knapsack and Snap! I spun around to see my sleeping-bag hit the pavement and slowly roll to the edge of the hill. I lunged and got a foot in front of it. The bag that my sleeping-bag was rolled-up in had caught on the guardrail, tugging it out the bungee cords that secured it to the bottom of my knapsack as I walked. I took a moment to reattach it.

The ground along the side of the highway where I walked began to rise, climbing up a hill, and as the elevation took me higher the distance between the guardrail and the edge of the steep hill began to close, shrinking until it became impossible to walk besides one foot carefully in front of the other. There were crevices here, places where the run-off from heavy rains had eroded the pavement. Some of the crevices even ran beneath the guardrail and I had to step over them as I walked. The highway was soon forty feet below to my left, at the bottom of a cliff, and the steep hill, perilous with acute rocks and loose gravel, had grown in height as well, so that I now found myself walking along the thin edge of a very narrow and sharp berm. When my right foot slipped down on the loose gravel I held a hand on the guardrail for balance. The hill continued its climb. The crevices were numerous and grew in size, deepening, and the thin trail of pavement which I followed became less and less there, crumbling into the crevices, disappearing in the cracks. I stopped. My eye had caught something. It was dark now but the thing, it glinted, stuck against a crag in the crevice. I went to my knees to peer down and saw an orange hard-hat, the paint faded and browned, covered in dust from the road. There were tools down there too, old and discarded, and gloves and a single, mud-covered boot. I stood back up and brushed my jeans off. At the bottom of the hill I noticed a town had appeared, stores and shopping centers, the lights of cars stuck in traffic along perpendicular grid-planned roads. My foot slipped, the pavement giving way into the wide crevice. The gravel clinked past the helmet and tools. The crevice extended to the edge of the hill and went down quite a ways so that, even though it were night, I could see the loose gravel and a broken hammer spilling far down the side of the hill. The minor avalanche was illuminated by the digital glow of a building that stood at the bottom. It was a tall building, steel and gleaming glass, very official and financial in appearance. All of the lights were on in the windows. It was a tall building but it looked small from such a height. I looked over the guardrail to the other side. The vehicles were toy cars along a ribbon of gray. Headlights like dots slowly moving in a distant fog. I kept going. Kept walking and the crevices had grown wider, crevasses a foot wide that expanded like alluvial fans down the side of the steep hill, merging together so that now that the pavement where I stepped was nothing but a thin, fragile ledge, a ledge perforated every foot by foot-wide crevasses that ate the side of the hill. I continued, relentless and resounding in my head the determination to make it. I stepped carefully, testing each step before placing my full weight on my feet.

The hill climbed higher and turned to sand. No longer sharp rocks and gravel but sand, a magnificently tall hill of soft sand with the same crevasses as before. Far below I could see the town, fast-food and fancy restaurants, shopping centers and malls, hotels with pristine sheets and cable. I imagined folks walking together along the sidewalks under nostalgic street-lights, eating ice-cream and stopping in the stores to browse. Friends meeting at the local pub to flirt with the bartenders and order thick ales. At the bottom of each crevasse was a road. And these roads, though dark at the immediate bottom, were lined with streetlights and the red and white lights of cars. The roads were laid out in a web, so that at the bottom of each crevasse the road angled straight to the city-center. Each road was lined with the large and bright signs restaurants and stores have out in front. They were very small from such a height. There was a circular road in the city-center in the distance where all the straight roads eventually ran; a road circling a cluster of tall, gleaming glass structures. All of the lights on in the windows.

I realized how easy it would be, how easy to sit down on the top of the hill, place my knapsack between my legs and scoot myself down the sand to the city. Hell, I could even walk it. I could get myself a hot meal, go have some drinks and laugh with friendly faces, sleep in a clean bed and be safe and warm and comfortable and enjoy luxuries and simplicity. I could go and have that. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back. The wind in the dark tugged at me on the high ledge and bit my face. I staggered, holding onto the guardrail. Imagined a hot burger and thick ale. How would I get back up? I couldn’t walk back up. No way. There wasn’t a highway here, either. Couldn’t be. Once I was there I wouldn’t get back. Wouldn’t leave. Couldn’t. I won’t.

In the cold, desolate wind, stepping gingerly from crumbling ledge to crumbling ledge in the withering heights. My feet felt like bricks, my legs concrete columns soon to dissolve. My back like a hunchback with this ever-heavier knapsack. The hill grew steeper. I could no longer see the highway. Gusts of wind came cold from the sky, blowing hard and down. Gusts of cold air sucking down the crevasses, pulling at me, swirls of dust around my head being sucked into the crevasses begging me to follow. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I won’t have it! I imagined a homestead in the wilderness. A small ranch with a wife and children. I wondered if I would find this. I thought of a comfortable job at a desk, in a warm office. Suit and tie and bank accounts insurance make sure you pay your mortgage for the car you bought without affording credit debt foreclosures bank statements pay them pay them pay them. I won’t! I refuse the submission of my heart! Refuse the enfeebling of that which sustains my heart-beat! I kept trudging heavy footsteps that I could no longer make light, falling thud… thud on the fragile ledges, gravel crumbling down the soft sand. Gusts of cold, sand-filled wind whipping in desolation, pulling me down. The cozy town at the bottom. I kept going. The hill climbing.

And then I saw it. A sign for a weigh station. The sign towered up ahead, lights along the bottom edge pointing up to illuminate the words: WEIGH STATION. The legs of the sign were stuck far below in both sides of the sharp hill. I walked beneath it and the sign seemed hundreds of feet above my head, hundreds of feet wide. The prospect of rest on the side of the road, on the fringes of town, of finding a place to sit and warm-up and eat food – this lightened me, reinvigorated my morale and motivation and once again I marched with steadfast purpose and resolution, anticipation. I would be able to find someone there! An end to the brutality of isolated misery and tribulation! I am not alone! There would be someone, someone to lend me a hand and get me the hell out of here! I kept walking, faster, excited. Camaraderie. Salvation. Vindication.

I smiled knowing all worked out. The highway had risen and I saw ahead the right lane split – the entrance for the weigh station. I could see the building, the rest-stop. Closer and closer I walked and the fence for the entrance was shut. Closed, read the sign.

Hitchhiking Lives!!

I made it!

After a week of rambling across the North American continent, I made it. It took me just over one week and it was one of the most exciting, desperate, heart pounding, soul freeing experiences I’ve ever had. I survived on peanut butter sandwiches and Pop-tarts and apples and oranges, slept in the woods and open fields and almost froze my ass off in the Arizona desert and I woke up on separate occasions covered in slugs and ants. But you know what, I met the coolest bastards and sang at the top of my lungs with rambling saints and rode with addicts and truckers and now it’s time to soak up the sun and liquor and good times on the gold coast.

I was picked up often by older folks who had gone hitchhiking themselves — albeit twenty, thirty years ago. They’d tell me how easy it used to be to catch rides, that they never had to wait — out of one car and right into the next. Their rides would even buy them dinner! These were the aging Hippies, the older folk who came of age when the youth roiled and searched. I thought I made pretty good timing myself, only taking eight days including the day I spent visiting a friend in Oklahoma. It was funny though, how some drivers would be surprised how fast I was getting around while others were surprised how long it was taking me. My average wait time? 30-45 minutes. There were a couple instances where I had to wait well over three hours, and other times when I caught a ride in under 10 minutes.

I’ve been told I have an addictive personality. Well, guess what, world! I’ve found my new high! because I know of nothing so freeing and spirit-lifting as hitchhiking, as living by your wits and sleeping under the stars, rising with the sun and spending an entire week outdoors breathing fresh air and truck fumes. It’s dirty, it’s tiring, lonely and sweaty and grimy and you’re a vagabond and a wanderer but there is nothing as exciting as seeing someone pull over, throwing your bag over your shoulder and sprinting over, clueless as to who the hell you’re about to spend the next two hours (or two days) talking to. And once you’re sitting there, sitting comfortably in a seat and talking with your driver, you look out the window at the passing scenery and a giant smile burns onto your face from the fire in your heart as you realize, I’m making it! I’m crossing a frigging continent! And this is what I’ve learned: that most people are good, with honest intentions. Of course there’s a lot of scumbags out there who look to take advantage, to rob and panhandle, but the vast majority of rides are people looking to pass forward some good. I got picked up often up by guys who’ve hitchhiked themselves and were trying to pass forward the favor. I got picked up by people on long, lonely drives, looking for friendly conversation and was even offered rides by folks on their way to work.

The looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ve hitchhiked. They’re surprised, in awe, amazed that such modes of travel \still  exist and work and these big excited smiles stretch across their faces. Other people call you an idiot and will promptly tell you how many people get butchered on the road. Oh well, (for them).

I’ve had some people, usually young people around my age, say they’re envious about the lifestyle, that they wish they could get up and just go like that. I’ll ask them why they can’t, and this is usually the response: I’ve got work, I’ve got school, responsibilities, man. Bullshit! haha. Listen, if you want to do something you have to just get up and do it. You can’t wait around. You can’t plan. Draw a line on a map and stick that thumb out! (But, do a bit of research first. And okay, some planning.)

Anyway, I’ve decided that the reason behind my wandering stems from a feeling of being un-free. I felt a cog in the machinations of someone else, a marionette dancing to someone else’s strings and I was sickened by it, inflicted with malaise and apathy, listlessly going through the motions and listlessly following the necessary steps I’d been drilled into understanding were the only way to success and happiness: Graduate high school, graduate college, get a nine-to-five and car payments and a home mortgage, get married and pay taxes and have kids. Bullshit! There has to be something else and I grew despondent, wanted to rip my skin off for a desperate attempt to find something, something else! Anything! I was sick of consumerism and the disgustingly palpable corruption in Washington and the endless wars and I couldn’t deal with it any longer. So I decided to throw myself out there. Decided to explore the fringes of society. I decided to hitchhike.

People are sick of doing what they’re told, sick of sitting around and sick of not moving — there is a growing sense of despondency among the masses, I keep hearing about it and I know you do too; that feeling of dread that something terrible is going to happen and that we’re helpless to avert the coming disaster. People are sick of the rich getting richer, the middle-class shrinking and again, the corruption. Something has to give, and time and again comes the phrase, “We need a revolution.” People are tired of feeling like mindless gears in a machine they can’t control and the freedom that is no longer felt is in dire need of expression. Allow for a history lesson: The Beatniks in the 1940’s and ’50’s lived with the dread of knowing that at any moment, a nuclear bomb could fall and vaporize everything they ever new. They felt they didn’t have control, and a search for higher meaning, for freedom and control of the self began: the Beatniks began to wander. The Beat movement morphed into the Hippie movement — more people searching, grasping for a higher purpose outside of bland consumerism and war and political corruption. The Hippies traveled. They hitchhiked. The Beat and Hippie movements were both born of discontent, of youthful angst, of a feeling of dread and a desperate sense to once again feel ‘in control’ of their worlds.

But then it was silent. For forty years it was silent.

Now, in 2012, what do we have? We have incorrigible corruption in government, with no politicians willing to take a stand. We have an ultra-rich class that continues to grow richer while the middle-class continues to shrink. The Beats had the Cold War. The Hippies had Vietnam. We have the perpetual ‘War on Terrorism’ and the ever-present threat of indiscriminate bombing feeding fear and the need for spying on the public, indefinite detention, the TSA, the endless bombings of foreign villages.

People are sick of it. People are getting anxious. The youth are filled with ill-content and the desperate need to once again feel free is ripping out the hearts of young people around the country. People hear about hitchhiking and a big grins matches the excitement in their hearts.

People are beginning to search again, the road again filling with wanderers and the discontent youth.

So hear this, America: Hitchhiking is not dead! It might be a rusted shell of what it once was, but it sure as hell isn’t dead!!

Hitchhiking is making its return and the youth are beginning to search once more!!

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