HItchhiking from Toronto to Phoenix... or Vegas as it turns out
I woke up in Toronto not knowing where I'd be that night, only that it would be on the way to Arizona. I threw my clothes in the washer and got a shower in, then switched to the dryer and was out the door for one last meal. I only had 50 cents left, then 60 when I found a dime, but I got another 40 by returning some empty bottles to the beer store. Equipped with a solid dollar, I headed to the chineese bakery and got a few buns.
My clothes were dry when I got back, I packed up and was out the door again for good. It took a good amount of walking to get to an on ramp headed west, the freeway was raised up without many entrances, but this at least put me on the edge of the city with my thumb out. The first guy to pick me up had done some hitchhiking himself when he was younger, mostly just around this immediate area.
He got me to the east ramp to highway 403 and gave me some poor advice, saying I should hitch that way to get to the 401. While this was true, going west was the direct route by a longshot. I stood in between the ramps after he drove off, unsure of which way to go after his injection of confusion. I finally took a look at a map and it was clear that west was the way, I headed down on to the freeway and was picked up quickly.
This ride was also from a guy who'd hitchhiked around Ontario in his younger days. He'd recently been to NYC with his son, a "right of passage" for him when he turned 16. We talked about hitchhiking a bit and he was interested to hear my experiences, he thought it was "a dead art" these days.
We got off at his exit to discover that it was just an exit with no on ramp back on, so we drove through the little town a ways and up to the next entrance. He gave me the rest of a veggie burger he'd gotten earlier and I went on my way, down the ramp and to the side of the freeway.
My next ride came from a once UFC fighter from Columbia. I'd told him I was on route to Arizona and then Mexico, he told me to be careful. He'd been down there once riding in a taxi when two guys came riding up on both sides on motorcycles telling the taxi to stop, he believed he was going to be kidnapped. He had a gun in his belt, so he pulled it out and put it to the drivers head saying "don't you fucking stop!". At this point he put a bullet in the leg of the motorcyclist on the left who tumbled over, then took aim and fired at the guy on the right who also wiped out after getting shot. He drove a distance and then reported the whole thing to the police.
I went as far as he was going and then walked down to the freeway again for the next ride, a car pulled over from the main flow of traffic before I even got to the spot I was walking towards. A bigger guy jumped out from the passenger seat, "We already got one! This guy's from Edmonton.", I slipped into the backseat next to another hitchhiker who was headed to the town of London, he had a beer in his hand. The big guy looked back with a big smile, "you drink?", and he passed me a beer too. A girl was driving who didn't say an awful lot, but the music was cranked pretty loud anyhow.
The guy shouted back again at me, "you do ecstasy?", and now he was handing me a little green pill. The glazed over look from the hitchhiker next to me was the clue that he'd already taken a pill himself, I instead pocketed it for another time, I still had some hitching ahead of me and a border crossing this day.
We kept cruising, stopping once for the guy to piss along the road, then another time for gas. While we filled up I was able to talk to the guy, he'd hitchhiked himself a number of times and made sure he always picked people up, "I don't care if I'm not even the one driving, I make sure they stop no matter what". We both laughed at the guy from Edmonton, we saw him go towards the gas station to take a leak, but then run across the road towards the freeway to take a piss there instead because of the line to the bathroom. This guy was in fact going out of his way a bit in order to get the kid to London.
We kept on down the road, again he shouted back, "You do oxy?", he handed back a CD case with two lines laid out of oxycontin for us hitchhikers. I hadn't done the ecstasy given the circumstances, I wasn't about to do the line and wander on to the freeway again. I passed on it, and we soon passed London by a couple exits on a mistake, but it worked well for me and put me to the fork in the road where I hopped out of the car on to the shoulder of the busy freeway.
Both roads led to the US border, one to Detroit and the other just north of that. I opted for the one going north of detroit to avoid any unnecessary inner city hitching. A little sports car pulled over and I ran up to the window that was rolling down, an attractive girl from Ecuador was in the drivers seat asking for my ID and if I was a good guy. She was satisfied and I got in.
She ran through the typical questions I get, once through that we got to talking. She told me about her missed opportunity to go to Columbia, two of her friends had set everything up, she would have had a free trip down there for a little while when she was about 20. She had a serious boyfriend, who became her husband, and eventually an ex-husband, but at this time he didn't want her to go down, assuming she would find another lover down there, and she admitted at that age she almost certainly would have. Since then, and especially after the divorce, she'd regretted not living her life at the time, always hearing her friends talking about the trip to this day and seeing the pictures.
We talked a bit more about traveling, she'd heard of couchsurfing before, so when I mentioned it she made me tell her everything about it. Her new husband was a bit more into traveling, so she figured she'd give it a shot in their travels and perhaps open up their home to travelers as well.
My next ride came from a guy originally from Cuba whose english was still not great, but he had a big smile and drove me to Sarnia, his exit was exactly one kilometer from the border. He left me off still on the freeway and I got to walking towards the border. I knew that the chances of someone picking up a hitchhiker right before the border were very slim and didn't bother sticking out my thumb, I also knew that pedestrians were not allowed on the freeway, but I kept walking right towards the border.
I walked right by the lines of trucks waiting to talk to the booths of border patrol, and kept walking right by all of it. Ahead of me I saw a duty free liquor store and a big bridge going into the US that didn't seem to have a pedestrian walkway or even a shoulder wide enough to walk in. None of that mattered, because a truck with flashing lights cut across the lanes of traffic from the main building and pulled up right next to me, asking me what I was doing. "Going to the US" was my answer. They told me there was no way to walk across the bridge and pointed me to a pay phone where I should call a taxi, my response to that was my lack of money. The girl driving looked at the guy and said she wouldn't mind just driving me over, "You have a US passport, right?"
The guy hopped out and I took his place, throwing my bag in the back, she said a few things over the walkie talkie alerting the rest of border patrol about what she was doing. On the other side of the bridge there were a few patrol guys waiting for me, asking a number of questions and mildly amused and confused, apparently not too many people try to walk across the border. They had me leave my bag outside and I got in line at customs.
After a short wait, I was presenting my passport to one of the officers in front of a computer. I didn't have the slip people in their cars are given, "ah ok, are you the walker?", she seemed confused too, but started pecking away at the keyboard in front of her. She asked how I was getting around, I said hitchhiking, she told me that know one does that anymore and I probably wouldn't get picked up, I just laughed. After she was done with her typing away she turned to the guy next to her, "... so what do I do with someone who's walking?", the older guy replied to her, "just send him on his way", so she pointed me to the door and handed me a slip of paper to give to the officer outside.
I went out and handed the officer my paper, "where are your car keys?", he asked, I explained my situation. Confused as well, he asked where I was going then, I just pointed forward. "You can't walk on the freeway...", he warned.
"Ah ok, I guess I'll just stick my thumb out over there and catch a ride then", I gestured to a pullout next to the road.
"Hitchhiking is illegal, if you go over and do that I'll arrest you on the spot", I looked at him with a smile as if to say, "then what other options do I have?". He pointed to a building ahead and told me to walk around it to the back where I'd find an elevator and could go down to the street level, so I headed that way. As soon as I got to the building I was stopped yet again by an officer, and other swarmed around asking where I was going and asking for ID, I explained what the other guy had told me to do. They said the elevator was back where I came from and escorted me over to the guy who'd given me the poor advice and told him where to take me.
He called another officer and finally I was going down the elevator. The original guy questioned my journey, I cited hitchhiking and couchsurfing which confused him, but the older officer knew couchsurfing well and explained it to the guy, this perplexed him. We walked down a long hallway and reached the exit, the younger officer pointed, "That way has some fast food places, and that way is the main drag of town", the other officer smiled at me, winking without winking, "where are you headed?", towards Flint was my response, he pointed to his right, "then you wanna go that way, just be careful by the freeway, some guys might give you a hard time if you're walking on it", and off I went.
I was walking through the little town of Port Huron, Michigan. I saw a sign outside a diner looking place that said "Coney's $1", so headed inside to get a bite. After a quick meal and some glasses of water, I got back to walking. Across the street I saw a guy playing the keyboard with his case out looking for handouts, I looked over nodding my head to the beat, amused that it was coming on dusk and he was playing to the empty streets of this little town.
A little ways up the streets he caught up to me, "are you hitchhiking?" and I told him where I was headed and all. He said he did some hitchhiking all around and was just staying with his family here in town a bit. That was about the end of it and I kept on walking. It was a number of miles until I made it to the entrance of freeway 69, light dwindling, but a guy in a pickup truck stopped for me. He wasn't going far, only a few exits, he was from North Carolina originally, but had found work here in Michigan. He let me out along the freeway with these words, "You believe in Jesus Christ? He's all we got these days."
Just before the light went away I got one last ride, two young teachers on their way to Chicago, not directly though, they were visiting some friends or family in between. They said they'd passed a hitchhiker earlier, but went by too fast and couldn't stop, so they'd promised to pick up the next, which happened to be me. They gave me some granola bars to munch on while I told them some stories.
They told me about getting into teaching, one of the guys had moved from Fort Collins (home of Fat Tire beer from New Belgium brewery) and was looking for work in Chicago. They were going as far as Flint where they'd have to turn off and head south. Before the turn off we pulled off an exit to get some food, they let me choose from the few spots around, and we went to Wendy's and they got me and themselves a good meal, we stood around the hood of the car and chowed down.
Down the road just a little ways I was hopping out into the dark and they drove off, with no more sun or street lights I decided to set up my sleeping bag just off the road by the tree line and call it a night. It was a hot night, I rested on top of my sleeping bag, but still in the bivy sack, the mosquitoes were feeling vicious that night. It rained pretty good at one point in the night, but only lasted a 10 minutes.
I woke up to sun light in the morning after some disjointed sleep, I discovered that I rolled over the ecstasy pill I'd been given, crushed green powder covered the inside of my sleeping bag. I brushed it all away and packed things up, rubbing sleep from my eyes as I walked up into the shoulder of the road in search of my next ride.
A local guy with sun glasses picked me up, he only went a few exits and dropped off, there was a truck stop nearby. I thumbed on the on ramp for a bit before deciding to walk up the main flow of traffic. After a little walking, a motor cycle cop flashed his lights and stopped before anyone else did. "You can't be up here! You wanna go to jail?", I shook me head, "Well that's where you're going", he pulled out some papers and asked for my ID.
A regular cop car pulled in too, a guy got out and hobbled over, he seemed a little more free spirited. He asked where I was going and laughed at the answer, Arizona. "You're braver than me!", the motorcycle cop was waiting for the folks at the station to run my ID.
"If this guy's clean and green, you wanna give him a ride to the county line?", the other cop agreed. They repeated that it was illegal to be on the expressway, even on the ramps, as that was part of the expressway too. He got the OK from the station and I hopped in the cop car with the other officer, 10 or 20 miles down the road he pulled over and let me out, we'd crossed the county line, and I was still on the shoulder of the freeway far from any exit. He wished me luck and that was that, I guess as long as I wasn't there problem they didn't care what law I was breaking.
I did a little more walking, a golf course came up on the other side of the freeway, little houses on my side. A pickup truck eventually stopped, the guy was Mike, he was headed towards Gary, Indiana for work. He was involved in building the robots for building cars on the assembly line. Some girl from his office called that he didn't like, "a real bitch", trying to give him some orders, he blew her off and laughed about it after, "I don't like taking orders from women, especially not this one, she's not even in charge of anything".
He was on and off the phone, mostly work related, he saw me dozing off at one point and told me I could put the seat down, I did so and passed out for a good while. I woke up as he was pulling off an exit, "I'm gonna get us a meal and then we only have a little ways to go". We stopped into a Panera bread where we got some soup and sandwiches with some frozen lemonade, it was a nice big tasty meal that hit the spot.
Down the road a little ways he pulled over just before his turn off and let me out, I looked up at the incoming clouds and started walking. A small dropping of rain hit, but stopped just as quickly. Soon the rain started up again coming down a bit harder, and right then a mini van driven by a Korean guy pulled over. He went a little ways, but a good ways. There was a major turn off heading north to Chicago that he got me passed, and then past another major fork in the road, finally letting me out on a more peaceful stretch of freeway with better odds, he gave me a donut too.
The next guy to stop had one bloodshot eye, driving a pickup truck towards his town. He seemed down on his luck and cited the economy. He dropped me off along the road waiting for my next ride. A cop sped by me that I hoped wouldn't come back around, before he'd get a chance too an 18 wheeler skidded into the shoulder of the road. I hopped in saying I was headed for Arizona, he felt bad that he wasn't going too far, but in fact he was going 80 miles or more which was pretty good.
He was a cuban guy interested in my travels, saying that he thought about ditching his trucker lifestyle at times and doing something similar. We stopped where he was going for the night, a truck stop in Illinois. He had some credit at the truck stop, enough to get me a shower, he did the same, then got us sandwiches at subway. In the time I took a shower and ate the sandwich, it started down pouring outside, but the rain stopped just as we were done and I went back to his truck to grab my backpack.
I thanked him, I was clean with a full stomach, and still had 1,800 miles of road to cover until Phoenix. I walked down to the freeway and started thumbing, a cop sped by shaking his forearm back and forth with an angry face. It took a little while for a car to stop, at least longer than it would have taken for the cop to turn around and give me a hard time, so I guess he had more important things to do.
The car and the guy inside that did stop were both pretty old, probably the oldest guy to ever pick me up, certainly the oldest looking. I tossed my bag behind the front seat and hopped in an we started driving. The first thing he said was, slowly and pronounced "I just came from that adult thee-A-ter and I'm feeling awwfuly horny...", I laughed it off, laughing harder in my head at the scene all together, I asked him where he was headed. His answer was a bit dis-jointed with some mentions of towns I didn't know about, but for the moment we were on the right road in the right direction, even though he had one hand on the wheel and one hand over his crotch feeling around.
"I picked up one of them adult magazines", he tapped it on the console between us. I started asking him some more neutral question, "do you live around here" and "how about the family", I got him talking about his kids and grand kids for less than a minute, while also trying to figure out how far he was going, down the road that is.
Alas, there was an empty moment that he seized first with, "You don't mind if I play with myself, do you?". He was doing this anyhow it seemed, but I assumed he was gonna break out of his pants and go for it, and maybe he did, but I kept my eyes glued to the road straight ahead.
"As long as it's just with yourself, you can do what you need to", I told him.
"How big are you?", he asked me. I said something along the lines of "huh" or "what".
"How big is you cock?", he said with the mild frustration of having to repeat himself.
"I'm not sure that matters", and I changed the subject back to his family. Minutes after that he was pulling off an exit and I told him he could pull over straight away and I'd hop out there, I grabbed my bag as he drove away, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
An SUV stopped very shortly after that, I ran up to the car hoping for a good ride after the short and strange ride from the old man. The younger gray haired man inside was pleased to hear I was going to Phoenix, he was going all the way to Los Angeles, he was even happier to hear I would be able to share some of the driving. The golden ride had arrived.
We got moving and I told him how awesome it was to be getting in a car going so far, especially after the "how big is your cock" ride, I told him about what happened.
"I hate when fags pick you up, I don't put up with it", he told me. He'd hitchhiked before a decent amount and got picked up by guys who had made passes at him. He told me that one guy picked him up and did this, so he told the driver they should go back to his place. He lead the excited driver to a random house, they got up and headed for the door, then he turned around and smashed the guy up pretty good, knocking him out. After, he went to the bar where some family was and told the story, they nodded their head in agreeance.
He was headed for LA to start over a bit, he'd lived there once before, but recently had been living up near Michigan. He'd fallen pretty hard for a girl, hardest he said he has, but she broke it off saying they weren't the same anymore. He knew he'd changed a bit since his bar burned down and he lost his business, but all the same he was a little heart broken. Either way, he was off to California to make something happen.
He pulled out a map for us to look at and see if there was another route he could take that would get me closer to Phoenix. His planned route was to head west until he hit I-15 in Utah, then take that south through Las Vegas. I told him that may still work, I gave Kelly a call to see if she was up for a little Vegas trip. She took a minute to decide, then said she was up for it and was to bring her newly 21 year old friend. Things were shaping up pretty perfectly, as I still had room comps to use.
We got to a gas station and the guy decided he would pay for my food along the way in exchange for me helping with driving, as I'd be getting him there quicker and thereby also saving him money on motel rooms along the way. He grabbed some burgers at McDonalds and I got in the drivers seat, shooting down I-80. We talked about a lot of things, he went on about poker for a while though, he'd played a lot of games and even knew some pro players.
After a whole bunch of driving we got closer to his dad's place in Nebraska, he wanted to stop there for the night and also drop off some guns. He'd already given his dad a heads up about the hitchhiker, I met his dad and everything was fine. They caught up for a bit and his dad asked me a few questions too, but soon we were falling asleep.
In the morning we woke up later than what was planned for, but the plan had no meaning anyhow. His dad made us breakfast - sausage, eggs and toast along with some coffee. We got some showers in and I was given a clean shirt to wear, soon we headed down to the car only to discover the battery had died. His dad gave us a jump and we were on our way.
We cruised through the day, stopping for gas, snacks and to switch drivers a couple times. We got into the mountains of Colorado, one of my favorite drives across I-70 into Utah. He was ready for "some real food", which sounded fine by me. Past Vail in the town of Avon he found an Outback Steakhouse where we had a great big meal, then got back on the road.
I drove into the night a few hundred miles or more, he couldn't sleep while I was driving, he'd been up for a while. He saw a sign for a rest area and said we should pull over and sleep for a while, we tried to for a few minutes and he gave up trying to sleep in the car, deciding we'd push further. We made our way all the way to Mesquite, only 80 miles from Vegas. Once their he got a motel room and we passed out.
In the morning we got back on the road, he had In-N-Out Burger on his mind and I knew exactly where one was, right at the south end of the strip where I was headed anyhow. The place was swampped with people, but he got us burgers. This would be the second time I was driven into Vegas and bought a cheeseburger at this very In-N-Out.
We went to the New York New York Casino next, this is where I'd booked a couple nights for free, the girls were just getting on the road and set to arrive in 4 or 5 hours. He had a giant check he tried to cash with thoughts of playing some poker or even spending a night, they wouldn't cash his check though. He looked around, maybe looking for an excuse to stay that he couldn't find, so he got back on the road to finish up the last chunk of his ride to LA.
I had yet another short Vegas trip ahead of me...