Hitchhiking from Arizona to New York, Part One

Before a long hitch, I've looked at the map, the route I'd like to take, and the big cities along the way I expect to get to in X amount of time. Instead I've encountered long waits and short rides to small towns, and the occasional awesome ride, and any ride can be awesome. Someone can drive you 10 miles and leave a lasting impression, or someone can be driving half way across the country saving you tons of time.

This is part one of my trek towards NYC, from Tucson to Oklahoma City.

Tucson Couchsurfing
Kelly, Jess, Diane, and Eve gave me a place to crash the night before the big hitch. The morning of I took a shower I thought might be my last for at least a little while, I was alone in their apartment when I popped out. I snagged a few of the excess oranges to go with my stash of bread and peanut butter for the road.

I hiked a ways to I-10, feeling light as a feather despite the 60 pounds on my back, and stuck my thumb out with high hopes. An hour or more went by, plenty of cars passing, but no rides. I decided to walk a mile or two to the next on ramp to try my luck in a new spot. Another hour went by, and I repeated this process several times until I reached the city limits, the sun nowhere to be seen. I'd been out there 8 hours and had one 2 mile ride in the back of a pickup truck to show for it. That and a sunburn I should have seen coming.

I slept in a pack of trees at a fork in the road scattered with bottles and blankets from hobos and bums I'm sure. The next morning I walked to the next closest onramp. It wasn't long before a guy gave me a tip about a truck stop 2 miles further down, so down I went to yet another I-10 on ramp.

The Smuggler
I didn't see the truck stop, but the on ramp had good visibility and a wide shoulder, so my thumb pointed out for another 30 or 40 minutes. There was another east on ramp about a 100 yards away that seemed to be getting more traffic, so I headed there despite the smaller shoulder that might make it harder for cars to stop. Maybe 20 minutes went by and a station wagon stopped, I hopped in.

The driver was wearing big dark sunglasses that covered all angles, almost like goggles, and had long bushy hair, he reminded me a little of the dude in the Big Lebowski.

He nervously and jerkily pulled his coffee from the cup holder and took quick sips. Small talk and silence filled the air at first, and then he asked how I felt about border control and illegals. I said something ambivalent, and he commented that he makes a lot of money helping them out. "cool, what do you do I asked?". "you figure it out" was his response.

He then got into the details of his smuggling illegals into the country, and he was currently on route to do so right now. At one point he said, "if you tell anyone, I'll deny everything".

"I'm just getting to nyc, that's it", I replied. he continued talking in spurts about his system, payment, and other stories about his trips to the border.

He dropped me off in Benson and he continued south. This town was only 30 or 40 minutes from where I started in Tucson, and it was tiny. I spotted a diner, and grabbed a breakfast burrito and coffee as I got to talking to the waitress. Sure enough, my bags brought up the question of where I was going. Next thing I knew a couple waitresses and other people near by were offering suggestions. The guy next to me even offered me a ride, but it was back to Tucson, not too helpful, but nice.

Hitch Cliff
A couple cups of coffee later I was ready to hike a ways back west to get to busier spot, and the old man behind me got to talking and offered me a ride there. His name was Cliff, he'd done a lot of hitching in his day. He drove me a few miles back to gas city, where I found a much better spot.

I stood in that spot for 2 or 3 hours though. In this time, one older couple stopped and gave me a 5 dollar bill. Another guy stopped, but was going north and out of the way, he slid 2 cans of beer my way.

Sober Jerry
Another hitcher was at the west on ramp, and at one point another guy waited patiently in the bushes for me to get a ride, also headed east. From behind me up the hill I heard a shout, it was from a cowboy who's name I'd learn was Jerry. He bought me an orange soda, and drove me 45 minutes to Wilcox, AZ to a truck stop. He gave me his number and offered to get me a motel if I found myself stuck come nightfall. It was 3pm and I had no intention of getting stuck, but I jotted it down all the same.

Snake
From the truck stop I walked over the bridge towards the I-10 east entrance. That's where I ran into another traveler, he looked seasoned from the road. He told me to stop in Demming, and about a blue house 2 blocks from the truck stop where I should knock on room 6 where I could stay free, and also of the wal mart a mile saying, "if you don't know get 100 bucks in one day then I don't know what", talking about pan handling.

I planted myself on the on ramp, thumb out feebly pointed at big rigs that couldn't stop if they wanted to and cars that sped on by. Across the road a big truck was coming off the freeway and honked, I looked over and the trucker waived at me to follow him back to the truck stop, I booked it to keep sight of him while I made my way over.

In the mess of the trucks filling up, I saw my truck, and went up to the window to see a confused look on the truckers face who had waived to me. He cautiously rolled down his window and asked what I needed. He hadn't waived to me at all, just a loose honk and miscommunication. For a moment I thought he was contemplating giving me a ride, but he was really reaching in his pocket for 3 dollar bills to get me to move along, I took this to the picnic table outside the truck stop to consider my next move.

Snake walked by, asking if I'd quit. I followed him over to the other side of the building where he was sitting at another picnic table. He said he'd scored a ride with the cook who was getting off around 5, taking him 100 miles west. He was on a mission to deliver a love letter to a girl he had to find, it wasn't from him, but for a friend who'd had a falling out with the girl a night or two before.

In the meantime he offered stories of the streets, he's been roaming since he was 13 and looked to be 40 something. He warned me about cities in Texas, and how I should avoid talking to groups of tramps, and to look out for my pack getting stolen. "A young face like yours, they'll slit you and take that load from you, I know these streets, you'll learn." I asked about all kinds of cities, he had something to say about each one, saying things like "you go up that hill 2 blocks from the truck stop there, don't talk to no tramps on the bottom, you go to the top and ask for shaggy, tell him snake sent ya, you'll be ok, I know these streets brother."

Shadows were starting to get longer, I made up a sign from some cardboard in the dumpster that simply said "East" and waited by the truck exit, but got discouraged by how few and far between they were leaving. I went up to the on ramp again for some reason, and then back to the main exit after a while. One car stopped, a couple full of enthusiasm ready to give me a ride, but they were headed west. They left me with a dollar shouting "You hold that sign up high! You'll get a ride now, yes you will now!". The shadows kept getting longer until it was night and getting cooler, I headed inside.

Drunken Jerry
I thought about finding a place to couch surf, but there was no one in the obscure town of Wilcox, AZ where I found myself. I reached in my pocket and pulled out Jerry's number, remembering his offer of a hotel room. I thought about it for a minute, not sure if I should test his kindness. I glanced outside seeing the wind and people moving quickly to get out of the cold, and dialed his number. He told me to meet him at the palace bar in town.

As I got up to figure out where the bar was, a voice from behind me asked where I was headed. I turned around and told the man chowing his chicken that I was headed for NYC. "That's a ways dude" he said.

"I know, I'll make it somehow though... any chance you're headed east?". He reluctantly said he was going towards El Paso, a little more talking and he agreed that if I met him by his truck in the morning between 9 and 10 he'd let me ride with him.

With that excitement, I approached the cute girl behind the counter who'd been making eyes with me, I asked her how to get to the palace bar and she pointed me two miles away, off I went walking.

I creaked open the door to the bar coming off the streets of what felt like a ghost town, and all heads turned as I walked in, all 5 of them. Jerry smiled and handed me his keys, I put my bags in his car, came back and grabbed a beer. Jerry was mostly silent, his two friends were loud, Cactus Jack was trying to convince the bar tender to "at least show us a damn nipple, there's a $20 tip for you if ya do!". They all knew each other of course, and went back and forth with drunken banter like this. Before I got halfway through my beer, Jerry was ready to go, up with a start abandoning what was left of his beer, I downed mine in a shot, not so willing to leave a beer behind like that.

Out on the street, Jerry fumbled with his keys and crashed face first to the pavement as Cactus Jack shouted something about doing another shot. That explained his silence and beer abandonment, he was wasted. I offered to drive, but he said he was fine. He drove us about a block away in the wrong direction, turned around and drove 2 blocks in another wrong direction and I watched as we headed straight for a parked pickup truck, I said nothing and silently braced for the crash, but he swerved at the last moment, drove another block going the wrong way, and asked if I had a license.

I knew the way back towards the truck stop, I'd just walked from it, but I drove according to his drunken navigation anyhow and did a 20 mile loop and finally pulled into the motel 6 near the truck stop where he paid for a room, I slept on the floor in my sleeping bag, happy to be warm.

Trucker Roy
In the morning I showered, and Jerry drove me to the truck stop where he got me a sausage biscuit then drove away, off to some kind of work I imagine. It was about 8am, and I was happy when the trucker from last night walked by, saying "hey there he is, don't you go no where, I'm a take you all that way to San Antone, how 'bout that?!". Not too much later, I was following him to the truck where I told him my name, and he said "and my name's Roy, now we're not strangers", and off we went riding high in the big rig headed east.

Roy was full of energy, he always had some kinda smile on his face. Every so often he would just blurt out "San Antone, San Anotne, here we come, 200 more miles we'll be in Texas! It won't be long after that!". He drove us about 500 miles to a town called Fort Stockton where stopped for the night. He grabbed a shower, washed his clothes, and we drank a couple beers in the truck sharing stories about girls on the road mostly, and then I passed out on the top bunk in the cab.

It was about 6am when I woke up to the engine going and Roy saying "Alright Kenneth, let's roll!", and off we went, both of us shouting "San Antone!" the whole way. The miles melted away, and the country side became the city of San Antonio in no time at all. He had to drop his load off just north of San Antonio, and about 40 miles up I-35 we found a truck stop where we parted ways, it was only about noon or 1 .

Reuban and Augie
I wandered about the small truck stop for a bit, the sky was gray outside and the rain was coming and going lightly. I headed for the corner by the exit to see if I could catch a ride before it decided to let loose. Not 5 minutes went by when a guy in a Texas hat rolled in, saying he'd only be a few minutes and could take me north.

I waited, and met my knew driver Reuban. He has an arcade with slot machines, basically a loophole casino there in Texas. He backtracked a bit so he could check out a mobile office he wanted to rent, and he took me up to San Marcos, about half way to Austin. The rain was starting to get heavier, and he warned me of the storm brewing up towards Dallas. He offered to let me stay the night in an empty house he had in town, and even drove me there to take a look saying I could just lock up when I needed to leave in the morning, it was only a couple blocks from the freeway. I wanted to try and push forward though, and he dropped me off at a gas station writing down his number for me in case I changed my mind.

There was a break in the rain, and I waited by the on ramp, getting lucky again when a pickup truck pulled over within 10 minutes. I threw my pack in the back, and got inside sitting between Augie, the driver, and Toby, another hitch hiker Augie picked up a little earlier. Toby was headed to the greyhound in Austin, Augie had no business in Austin, but drove us both there for the sake of helping us out, telling stories of the 70's when hitching was more common.

I sat for a second in the greyhound station, staring out the window at the intermittent rain until I finally decided to head towards the freeway again for another ride. It didn't take long for the wind and rain to pick up again, blowing me back to the cover of the bus terminal. I stayed there all day and into the night, charging my phone and cruising on the laptop mostly, eventually laying down to rest just after midnight.

Around 3am security finally, but nicely, asked me to leave for at least 2 hours, and pointed me to an ihop where I sat with some coffee for a while. In the early morning I headed back to the greyhound, washed up, and headed for the freeway again. The way Austin's streets are set up makes hitchhiking very difficult. A road runs parallel with I-35, the shoulder is non-existent, even if a car spotted me and wanted to stop it would be quite the maneuver to do so. So I walked, and walked, continuing north in hopes for some kind of better spot.

Eight Dollar Jon
After a number of miles I cozied up in the exit of gas station close to an on ramp, and sure enough someone stopped within a half hour or so. They didn't take me far, maybe 10 or 20 miles, but left me with $8 which he "didn't normally do", and I was now at a normal looking on ramp with a huge shoulder. Almost immediately a truck pulled up, and community service looking folk dispersed in their orange vests collecting trash all around me. This didn't help, and every time I retreated further back, they moved forward with me. This continued until I found I was once again walking north, towards the next on ramp. I used the $8 I'd just received to buy a $7.79 sandwich at firehouse subs.

Energy Sonya
I spent the next hours walking and stopping here and again with my thumb out testing different spots, and landed at another gas station exit. Eventually a cop sped by, flashed his siren and honked his police horn while shooting me a look and shaking his head. I nodded my head and gave him a thumbs up since it was already out there, threw my pack on, and started walked again. Only a minute down the road a girl in a pickup honked by me waiving, and she parked just down the road in a parking lot, I sped down to her and jumped in.

Her name was Sonya, "Do you like loud music? I like my music loud! Can I turn it up?", that was the first thing she said.

"Bring it!", I said, smiling wide, happy to be in a car again, she twisted the knob and classic rock filled the air. She turned it down just quickly, and got to talking, full of energy. She wasn't going too far, but said she wished she could drive me all the way to OKC, and would of done so if she wasn't on-call, "I'm in one of those moods!"

She dropped me off in a fairly obscure area, but everything felt pretty obscure in this part of Texas. I got to walking again, the clouds formed a massive circular canopy across the entire sky, the sun was setting now coloring it all with pinks and oranges. Rain and wind came in short light bursts, I soldiered forward. At one point a pickup truck pulled along side me, the driver thrusting a wad of one dollar bills at me. All he said was "God bless you", his tone said he thought I was pathetic and without hope, and this was the best he could do for me. He drove off, I mocked him aloud to myself, "God bless you" I laughed.

Small Towned Michelle
I cut over to walk right along the freeway, that paid off after a mile or so when a cute blond girl named Michelle pulled into the shoulder in front of me with her green pickup truck. She took me 10 or 20 miles up the road to a truck stop in the little town of Jarrell, TX, night had fallen by now. She said she and her husband picked up hitchhikers whenever they could. Her whole life was spent moving around, 6 years here in Jarrell was the longest she'd spent in one spot, she was itching for another change. She offered her couch to me, saying she had to just check with her husband first. She never did come back to the truck stop though. While waiting, a trucker gave me a 20 dollar bill telling me to eat well. None of the truckers seemed to be headed my way though, so I walked deep into the night, seeing nothing but construction and fewer cars passing, eventually breaking out my sleeping bag off to the side of the road and calling it a night.

Aaron the Composer
In the morning I walked another 5 or so miles until I found a populated area, I spotted Roy T's Bakery, and decided to rest a while. After a couple donuts and a few coffees, my next ride walked through the door. He came in announcing he was heading towards Fort Worth, being the only other customer there I got to talking with him. He'd been heading between Austin and Fort Worth every week while selling his house up there. We found common ground in music production, he himself was a composer of sorts. After a bit I asked if I could ride with him, a couple coffees later and were cruising up I-35. He dropped me off at a truck stop on the north end of Fort Worth.

After an hour of watching cars fly by my extended thumb, I decided once again to start walking. 10 miles I walked that night, stopping periodically with my seemingly feeble thumb. Walking right along I-35, night fallen, I came across an overpass in the middle of nowhere, and decided this would be my home for the night. I drank one of the cans of beer I'd got from the driver in Wilcox, AZ, and crawled in my sleeping bag. My dreams were whirlwinds of madness, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. In this state of madness, I found myself twisting and positioning myself within my sleeping bag as if to attract a ride from the cars rushing above me. I was somewhat conscious of this lunacy, but none the less it continued throughout the night.

Sweet Jeanie
In the morning I walked along the freeway for a ways, until finally a little car pulled off right in front of me. In the driver seat sat a slim college girl from Denton, asking me to hop in. She immediately apologized for her hungover appearance, but as she took off her sunglasses I knew everything about her was beautiful. I think she'd spotted me headed the opposite direction and turned around to pick me up, she drove me half way to Oklahoma City while we shared stories of travel and dreams of the future. We agreed I would have to make my way back to the town of Denton. She drove as far as time would permit, and I found myself 60 miles from OKC with my thumb out again.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Ride
Probably an hour later a car stopped, and I hopped in the back seat. "I'm Bill and this is Ted, welcome to our adventure" said Bill from the driver's seat. I introduced myself and Ted turned around with a joint that made it's rounds as we flew down the freeway, Bill weaving in and out of traffic making some references to Nascar. They dropped me off a little ways up the road, where I thumbed out for a little while before walking 2 miles up to the next slightly busier on ramp where I got picked up by an older couple from las vegas. The woman sported the female mullet, shouting was built into her southern accent. They took me about 10 miles to pretty busy part of town, plenty of restaurants and gas stations.

I waited another hour with my thumb out, trying to avoid the worsening of my already apparent sunburn. A middle aged guy in a nice looking car stopped and asked where I was going, and I hopped in. He was headed all the way to Kansas, I told him how excited I was to finally be getting to Oklahoma City after coming from Tucson, and in no time I was leaping out of his car into the city.

I gave my couchsurfing host Delissa a call to let her know I was in town, shot Carolina a text to let her know as well, and soon enough I was in a car with Delissa headed to her friend's house. About the first thing I did was take an incredible shower, followed by a meal of chicken curry surrounded by laughter a high spirits. That night I slept in a comfortable bed, sleeping the whole night through.

Soon enough I'll be back on the road to complete the trip to NYC. Videos have been piling up, I'll get around to editing them down soon enough for those who want to watch. Until part 2, may your times be good ones.

Comments

  1. Where is part two?? I live in Arizona and am wanting to move to NY. Not by way of the thumb, but curious how you enjoy it if you made it :)

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  3. Here's part 2: http://www.hobolifestyle.com/blog/2008/03/tucson-to-new-york-part-2.html


    NYC is a great time, I lived there a few years and grew up right around it.

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