LA to NYC, a Hitchhiking Classic
After a short but good time around LA and Glendale, the morning had come to begin the long hitch from west to east, NYC, but Denver was first. I headed to the on ramp, a text message arrived in my phone from Kayla, she'd broken her collar bone snow boarding so wouldn't be able to hitch along from Denver to to NYC with, but I decided I'd aim for Denver anyhow.
I stood at the on ramp, inner city hitching can be a trick sometimes, just getting to the right freeway can take a while, but I thumbed the traffic anyhow. A van passed by with a guy and a girl echoing my smile. I thumbed more cars, soon enough that same van rolled up again and stopped this time, they'd looped back to pick me up and hear my story. The driver lived in his van and was planning on hitting the gym just an exit away, but they drove me almost 45 minutes down the road to the I-15 and out of the main city. We had a blast talking, they were excited to hear about my travels, maybe inspired too, he used his laptop to take a picture of the three of us before he let me out.
Soon enough I was in another car, a pickup truck driven by a woman heading north. She dropped me up a little further at an on ramp, traffic was fairly light so I headed on to the freeway itself thumbing all the cars, I chewed on some elk jerky my uncle had given me in Wyoming. A mini van pulled over after a bit of a wait, Alaska plates that said "MR FUN", I hopped in. We talked about travel and other things, he was into real estate and was headed all the way to Vegas. He dropped me off right on the strip, the night was in full swing.
I decided to hit the craps table at the mirage to score some free drinks and work on getting a room comp for the night, I left a couple hours later with emptier pockets and a belly full of guiness. I went next door to Treasure Island and got comped a free room and called it a night.
I checked out in the morning and headed to the on ramp right off the strip, attempting to hitch out of Vegas. I had to stand behind a 3 foot wall around a corner in order to thumb the cars, almost an hour of this went by before I walked the side roads in search for the next on ramp. A mile or two led me to a much more suitable spot, I got picked up in no time by a guy who'd hitched out of Vegas in his younger days a number of times, he took me to edge of town at truckstop by the speedway. I asked a couple truckers where they were headed, not my direction, I ended up on the shoulder of the freeway waiting for the next ride.
Someone stopped, they always do, a southside gang banger now living in Saint George, and that's where he was headed. He worked on glass now for big casinos and other high end projects around the world, but he told me stories about going to jail and how he handled it, "If someones steps to you just keep your head up, clique up and they'll have your back". He told me about the different lock ups he'd been through and how he got busted selling meth to a guy with a wire, he'd been cautious with the guy the first few times but said too much after getting too comfortable, the wire caught it all, three times so the cops were sure.
He dropped me off in Saint George where it was a bit colder, I through a smartwool shirt on under my t-shirt, someone stopped and only took me an exit, they laughed a bit when I said Denver was my destination. From the next spot I got picked up a big guy with his dog, he claimed to have been one of the top skiers in the world in his time, but a series of injuries over the years had slowed him down significantly. He dropped me off a little ways up the road, not too far, it was starting to get dark.
I walked up on the freeway, cars kept passing, I looked ahead up the road towards the mountains scoping possible spots to sleep the night. A car stopped those thoughts, I hopped in with a guy headed up to Salt Lake City, a good long ride, I hopped out when we hit the I-70 junction near an old fort, he continued on to SLC. I found my way to street light along the freeway and decided I'd try to hitch a ride despite the dark and increasing cold. More than an hour went by, no one stopped, few cars were passing anyhow. I started walking down the road towards a bridge less than a mile away, a good place to crash for the night. Just before I turned off the freeway, a car stopped.
Frank was inside, he was driving all the way to Denver, 500 miles away. I hadn't even considered I'd make it to Denver this quickly, if Frank had come just minutes later my night would have been under the bridge and a bit colder. Frank was coming from Vegas where his 2 year old daughter and pregnant girlfriend were. He talked about that a lot, he was waiting for the baby to be born so he could do a dna test to prove he was the father, in which case he could consider marrying her.
I sent a message to my friend Dave in Denver, he said it was fine for me to crash at his place. Frank drove me right to his house and dropped me off, it was just after 4am by the time I arrived to the sleeping house. I quietly went to sleep, in the morning I caught up with Dave, he had a few roommates, I'd met PJ the last time I stayed with him, a web developer and beer brewer. I gave Kayla a call, she was up in Boulder so Dave and I decided to drive up and see what she was up to with her busted collar bone. After a quick stop at Biker Jims, an incredible hotdog stand in downtown Denver, we hopped 30 minutes up the road to where she was staying.
She had some great people hosting her there, the lot of us caught up over beers and more dogs, then hopped in a car to go up the mountain on a scenic drive. The snow picked up pretty good and we explored a bit, after an hour or more we headed back down the mountain to find it was snowing there too, and in Denver as well. I said my goodbyes to Kayla, if not for catching an edge while snowboarding she would have been joining me on the hitch across the country, but that was that.
That night Dave had some people over, many a beer was had by all, I learned some new drinking games, people started to fade and the night rolled to an end. I relaxed the next day away, punching out some code for Trip Hopping and playing Mario 3 on the original Nintendo. As the evening rolled in we began brewing a batch of beer, boiling water, mashing, drinking, checking temperatures, the whole process was great to see.
I got up early the next morning, Dave offered to drive me to the interstate and a bit out of town to find a good spot, by 9am I was standing by myself surrounded by mountains and a light show of different clouds in every direction. A truck pulled into the shoulder ahead in less than 10 minutes, I ran for it and hopped in, he started rolling before you could hear the door slam. "I'm headed to New York City!" I said.
"Shit! This could be your lucky day, I'm going to Harrisburg, PA!", incredible. He didn't speak great english and told me as much, he told me I could sleep in the back while he drove, I did, I laid back there 4 or 5 hours as he sped down the freeway. "I don't need much sleep, I go all the way, I try to, OK?", that was fine by me. He stopped twice for gas and once to catch a few hours of sleep, 1,600 miles in about 30 hours.
It was around 4 in the afternoon when we parted ways at a truck stop just outside Harrisburg, it was raining heavy. I went around asking truckers where they were headed, maybe a dozen or more, none of them were headed towards NYC though. I walked in the down pour down the street to the next truck stop, no luck there either, but I made an "NYC" sign with some cardboard I found and headed for the on ramp, despite the rain, my packcover would keep my bag bone dry, only my jeans were and shoes would suffer. I figure most people don't want to pick up a wet hitchhiker in the dark whose face is cover by a rain hood, but it seemed like the thing to do.
A car stopped almost immediately, a buzz cut blonde guy with lingering eyes, he rolled down the window, "You want your dick sucked?", I thought that's what I heard, "what?", I asked. He repeated himself, "Do you want your dick sucked?", he smirked with anticipation. "Oh, no, I'm good", he drove off. No one else stopped. I realized the on ramp was split, there were two northbound entrances to I-81 about 200 yards apart, and I-81 only went so many miles before I would have to turn on I-78 heading west, I was in the spaghetti of roads that is the northeast. The dark, the cold, the rain, split on ramps that led everywhere - it's not the ideal hitchhiking situation. I tried both on ramps, I started walking on the freeway and turned back, waited under a bridge with my sign pointed at traffic, I eventually headed into a third truck stop warm and dry up.
I pulled out the laptop and searched couchsurfing for a place to stay in Harrisburg, I sent a message to someone who looked like they may check their email more frequently than most. Meanwhile I asked a few truckers walking by and sitting near me where they were headed, I got answers like Louisiana. Feeling a bit more dry and warm, I headed back out to the roads, I decided I'd walk down the shoulder of the freeway again. It was dark and wet of course, and cars couldn't see me until they were passing me at 70 mph or so, I forgot why I thought it would make sense, but I kept walking anyhow, sometimes with my thumb out, sometimes not. My jeans were soaked through, and eventually a car did stop, but it had blue and red flashing lights.
"What are you doing out here?" the cop asked. I smiled and laughed a bit, "Getting real wet!". He had a hint of a chuckle, I think he was happy to see I wasn't a complete lunatic, although at that moment I may have been. I told him I was headed to downtown Harrisburg to try and catch a bus. He took my license in his car, I stood in his headlights waiting in the lines of rain coming down, laughing at myself wondering what cars passing by were making of the situation. He ended up giving me a ride to the next little town, dropping me off at a McDonalds. I dripped in and got a small coffee to sit and think of my next move, I was a few miles away from the interstate at this point and still 10 or 15 miles outside of Harrisburg itself. A couple came in looking at me funny, I was the wet guy with the big backpack alone in McDonalds. I spoke to the woman, she wanted to give me a ride, but was headed in the opposite direction.
I ended up getting in touch with Joseph, the couchsurfer I'd contacted earlier from the truckstop had checked his email. He said he'd come pick me up and give me a place to crash, all was well. He picked me up and we stopped at a bar that sold six packs, we grabbed two and headed to his buddy's place where they were getting started to brew some beer. We drank, we smoked, we brewed, we played pool. They were new to brewing, I had little to offer other than what I'd learned in Denver, but it was coming along. At one point they accidentally dropped some chicken in the brew, mixing it up with the chicken soup on the next burner.
We headed back to Joseph's place, we talked about our sites, he too was working on a rideshare style site called Pombai which hasn't yet been publicly launched, we shared some ideas and experiences about the process. Once at his place I passed out on the couch upstairs.
In the morning he made breakfast and coffee and then dropped me off at an entrance to the interstate. I waited a while with my thumb in the air a smile on face, you can't help but smile when your hitchhiking, especially when you can see the faces inside the car. Cute brunettes smile in amusement, blondes on their phone try to avoid eye contact, middle age women either laugh together or look in disgust, truckers throw their hands up as if to say "there's nothing I can do" or honk their horn, business men look uninterested, some guys smile as if they've just seen a clown, and little kids stare trying to figure you out, and a million other faces, it always puts a smile on mine. A woman stopped this time, I hopped in.
She worked at an HIV clinic, she drove me up the 81 and made the turn off to the 78 headed west, an important step, I was on the last leg of the trip. I walked down the freeway from where she dropped me off, I walked a good ways, stopping in different straight aways, the trucks drove by creating huge gusts of cold air, one knocked me back pretty good into a sign post, not hard enough to hurt, just enough to make me laugh and likely anyone else who saw.
Finally an older guy picked me up who lived in the area. He had plenty of stories to tell, he'd hitchhiked a lot in his day, ski bummed a bit, substitute teachered, and generally made the most of his life traveling and consistently having good times. He'd worked on cleaning up the air in Pennsylvania for years, but recently retired. He took me a bit past Allentown, from where he left me I was less than 75 miles from NYC.
I got picked up fairly quickly after that, a grey haired dutchmen entrepreneur. He'd done quite a bit of hitchhiking in Europe when he was younger, and he said his kids had done quite a bit too when they'd graduated from college. He told me of his latest venture which he considered to be using the McDonalds franchising efficiency to retirement centers.
He dropped me off 25 miles outside of the city, I got a ride from a younger guy after 20 or 30 minutes. He installed high end floors around the city, the music in his car was east coast gangster rap and the occasional odd ball song thrown in, like "Dancing Queen". We cruised through the Holland Tunnel and into Tribeca where he pointed out where Jay Z had just moved in the Florida Orange juice guys, all near where he'd been installing some floors. He made a quick stop to buy jeans in chinatown, and once we got near the subway I said goodbye and hopped out at the red light, I was in New York City again.
I popped on the N train headed to Astoria, I got out at the Broadway stop once in Queens to go to a beer store we discovered last time, it was pretty pricey so I went to the grocery store instead which also had a decent selection, I picked up a six pack of Hazed and Infused, a great beer from Boulder. I headed to my old apartment and rang all the buzzers until someone let me in, it was Vic on the second floor, we talked for a minute and I headed to the top floor where Mark, Sean, Carl, and Kelly live, the door was open. Only Kelly was home, I startled her a bit, she thought I was either the landlord or a burglar.
Being Sean's birthday, they were all meeting at Grand Central at 5 to head into CT with their folks. I headed there with Kelly and gave Sean a mini-shock, he hadn't expected to see me, I hadn't counted on making such good time to New York either. Mark came next and was surprised and excited, even more so when I broke out the Hazed beers on the train ride, we all drank and caught up laughing on the train ride, we always do on train rides.
In Connecticut we got an amazing italian dinner and celebrated another year of Sean's life, I later passed out on the couch at their folks' place watching Home Alone. In the morning Mark and I went to a home brew shop in South Norwalk to pick up supplies, it was in a back room of a liquor shop, we got what we needed, and a few hours later we found ourselves on a train headed back to New York sipping on a couple Coronas, Sean stayed back with Kelly for some more relaxation in Connecticut.
Mark headed to work and myself back to the apartment, Carl was there, we went out and grabbed a six pack of Sam Adams Winter Lager, and a handful of $1 24oz Coors cans, still one of the best deals on beer I've seen in the country. We had a beer and caught up while we played to Wii, a new addition to the apartment here.
It's good to be in this part of the world, good people, busy New York, I love it. Tonight's plans involve a bar with good beers on tap, there's beer to be brewed later this week, and who knows what else is in store for my trip here, but I can't imagine it's anything other than good times.