When I was maybe 18, I decided to take a little trip. I had someone drop me off at the Interstate entrance ramp in Grandville, and I stuck out my thumb. Yes, that’s right. I went for a hitch hike. I first headed for New Orleans. I had a friend there I knew from my time in Kansas.
I know what you are thinking, but it was truly a different time. People would actually pick you up, for one. You meet all kinds of people this way, and I want to tell you about some of them.
It took a couple of days to reach New Orleans. I slept under a bridge the first night. In the morning a nice lady on her way to Nashville gave me a ride. She asked if I would like to come with her to Music City and attend a record company party she was going to that weekend. I wish I would have done that, but I didn’t. I slept by a guard rail the second night. In the morning, early, Hank Williams,Jr.’s tour bus passed by me. They didn’t give me a ride. But at the next Stuckey’s there the bus was. My ride stopped for gas, and bought me breakfast. Hank didn’t come in, but some of the people on the bus did.
When I reached New Orleans, actually Metairie, I went to find a pay phone. That’s right kids, there used to be phones around on poles and the sides of buildings that you could put a dime in and call someone. I found one at a store and I looked my friend up in the phone book. Again kids, there used to be big books, printed on paper, that had everyone around’s number in them. And their address. These books were kept by the phone, or hung from the phone structure on a wire. Cool, huh? I found his number, and dug a dime out of my pocket. It was a Canadian dime. I was from Michigan, and that was not unusual. But I was in Louisiana, and that phone wouldn’t take it. And the clerk in the store, who spoke English in a manner I was not accustomed to, wouldn’t trade me for a US dime either. I don’t remember how, but I eventually ended up at his home. It was a mobile home in a park on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. My friend had married a woman he met in Thailand while he was in the Peace Corp. Her name was Kak. They had two sons.
The next day he took me into New Orleans with him, on his way to work. I wandered the French Quarter and the river front for the day. It was the week after Mardi Gras, so everybody was really tired and moving kind of slow. I went back to his car, which was parked in a lot at the Super Dome, in the afternoon, and took a nap until he got off of work. It was a blue Nova, with a white top.
I think I had it in my mind to go to California, but I do not remember exactly. I next went on to Texas. In Dallas I was offered a night in jail by a really nice policeman, but I declined. I ended up in Austin, and hung around there for awhile. I met a fellow traveler, and he showed me some travel tricks. We went to the college campus and found a Burger King. We stood around within sight of the take out window, and after a while it opened and an arm stuck a bag out. This happened a couple of times. Free fast food. Yummy. Then we went to a bar and drank some beer. I slept under a bridge that night too, but the pigeons kept me awake.
The next morning a gentleman picked me up. He asked me to drive. He had a coffee pot in the back seat. He didn’t talk. At all. His car was a big, new Buick Electra. It started to overheat. I pulled off into a service station for help. Yes, another revelation. Gas stations were called service stations, and they would fix your car. They even pumped your gas, although the curse of self service was on the rise. He seemed to think I caused the problem, and I slipped away and got back on the road.
Eventually, for whatever reason, I veered north toward Kansas. I found one of my friends from there in a bar we had always hung out at, and he let me spend a night or two at his house. I went out to the Sedgewick County Zoo, where I had worked when I lived there. In the concession stand they had my last paycheck. They cashed the check for me, I paid my tab from my lunches months prior, and I had a nice afternoon visiting. And I now had $20 or $30 in my pocket.
I must have decided to go home then, because I next found myself in Missouri. The nice people that picked me up there gave me a beer. I was in the back seat, and they were in the front. Two guys and a girl. We were going very fast down an Interstate, drinking beer. After a time the passenger turned to me and said” Have you ever been thrown out of a car going 90 miles an hour?” I assured him I had not, and had no desire to try that, ever. I do not remember how I got out of that car. But it must have been stopped when I did.