Hitching from Phoenix to Wyoming with a Lakers Win in Vegas

Molly picked me up at Larry's place the morning I was to start my hitch up to Wyoming. I said my goodbyes to Larry and hopped into her car with a cardboard "vegas" sign and a bag full of shells from the beach in Mexico I'd collected for Molly's jewelry enterprise, which she told me she'd apparently given up before she'd ever started.

She dropped me off on the northwest of Phoenix Metro at my typical hitchhiking spot, just past the 303. I hugged her, I'd be parting with her for the longest amount of time since we'd started parading around the west starting on Saint Patricks Day.

A pickup truck pulled over and a butch Mexican guy popped out of the passenger seat, telling me I could hop in back and that they were heading for Las Vegas. This was perfect, I'd already booked some comped nights there to break up the trip towards Jackson Hole.

He handed me a jug of water and a baby ruth candy bar and I hopped in the back of the pickup, we started cruising up the road. I felt something flapping in the wind hitting my face, I shooed it away at first, then realized it was a floppy brimmed hat being passed out the window to me. I put it on and shaded the sun. This was a good thing, my nose was already peeling pretty good from the burn I'd gotten down in Rocky Point.

We made a stop just up the road where they got us all some taco bell and I filled up the water jug again, I was also able to talk to them. There were two guys and a girl, the girl was moving back to Vegas from Phoenix.

We hopped back in and made a couple more stops at gas stations. The second guy was suspicious of me, "We were talking in the car, that you could be a serial killer or something, you know? How would we know? We're not gonna see you on the news are we, are you running from something?", he looked at me sternly in the eye. I let out a single breath laugh and looked him in back in the eyes, "I've got nothing to run from, just places to go, things to see".

"Do you believe in God?", the woman said to me.

"I believe in something", I said after a fraction of hesitation.

"Something?", she snapped back, "Well the lord's behind all of us, you gotta believe that". If someone can believe it, it's true to them, and if it's true to them then it's no different than the other truths in their life, "Fair enough", I told her, I hopped up in the back of the truck.

We stopped just once more at Boulder City and they told me the part of Vegas they were going to, I couldn't get a fix on where exactly where they were talking about, but I figured it wouldn't be important until I was there. We did get there soon enough, they let me out at a gas station. They told me to keep the water jug and handed me a different hat they said to have as well.

Where they dropped me was a good 2 or 3 hour walk to the hotel, Treasure Island, but I had no plans or deadlines and marched it out. Along the way I stopped at a bench by a bus stop to slam down some water and rest for a minute. A woman asked me for a cigarette, I think just to strike up conversation and let off some steam. She told me she was pregnant, her husband just got arrested, she'd lost all her money and she needed to get to Texas. I sat with her just a minute, suggesting hitchhiking, a solution I was certain was meaningless to her. She was in fact waiting for the bus, although I'm not sure where she was taking it to and to what ends.

I at last got to the hotel, checking in and heading up to the room in which I had two free nights to relax in. It also came with $50 in promotional chips, although it amounted to nothing, I lost them right away at the craps table.

The second day there I woke up and went to the breakfast buffet, they'd also given me resort credit that I could use on things like this. I ate as much as I possibly could, then took a few more bites still. I rested in the room, then returned to casino to make an effort to turn my $25 into something more significant, something I could pay a student loan with, but it all vanished.

That night I stayed in my room and put the Lakers game on, game seven of the NBA Finals. I thought of going down to the sportsbook, but this was too important, I needed to focus, as if I had a hand in the whole thing. It was a great game, ups and downs, and at last the Lakers won, the confetti came down, I jammed my finger on the ceiling as I leapt up joining the celebration. I got myself a tasty sandwich and milkshake afterwards, feasted, and fell to sleep.

In the morning I gathered up all my change and was able to get enough paper money for bus fare. I walked a ways to the bus stop, it took me as far north as I could get in a little less than an hour. I ditched my water jug on the bus, it had served it's purpose and I wouldn't need the burden of extra weight any longer.

I started walking up the road towards the speedway, the same patch of road I walk whenever I'm heading north and away from Las Vegas. I was picked up by a tired guy heading for Saint George, mildly frustrated that he couldn't find a certain credit union anywhere. Just before hitting mesquite, we almost glided into a truck, he'd fallen asleep at the wheel briefly. He decided a nap was in order, dropping me by the freeway saying he'd pick me up if I was still there when he was rested.

I got picked up by an older ex-trucker though, a guy heading to Saint George to do some shopping. He dropped me off along the freeway and town, I was picked up there by an Argentinian guy bound for a town just south of Provo. The guy had a cleaning business in Vegas that seemed to be doing pretty well, he told me a bit about it.

We stopped a Carl's Jrs and he got us a big meal. While we sat and ate, he told me about his hitchhiking days growing up in South America and all the beauty down there. He told me that once in Brazil with a couple friends they'd ran out of money while hitchhiking. For whatever reason they passed a garbage can and saw a wallet, opened it up to find the equivalent of $500. Nothing else was in the wallet, no IDs, credit cards, pictures - nothing, just the cash. They lived like kings for some time on that money.

He dropped me off, leaving me excited about South America. I stood at the on ramp for a while, my only goal being to get past Salt Lake City by night, Jackson by the next day. After some time, a guy around my age picked me up, he was heading for Salt Lake. We picked up his cousin at school first, then sat in heavy traffic talking about travels and the like. He finally dropped me off by the canyon where I-80 and I-15 come together.

The sun was down, but some light remained, I stood by the road as cars sped by until the light of day was gone. Afterwards I stood under a street light, but eventually decided to call it a day and get some sleep. I found a place just off the road in a narrow hilly spot and got in my sleeping bag for the night.

The sleep wasn't completely solid, few nights on the side of the road are. The morning jolted me up with brushing sounds, a nearby deer ran by about 20 feet to my left. I drifted off again and felt pressure on my legs, something darted away into the bush, something small and brown. A conversation later in the day would lead me to believe it was a porcupine, but I can't be sure.

I was awake, back by the side of the road thumbing rides in earliest hours of morning. This time it would be a VW van driven by a guy who'd been up all night riding away from his "soon to be ex wife" after an argument, running in circles it seemed. "Full disclosure, I'm on three tabs of speed", he spoke fairly quickly and consistently, grinning like a blessed man finally able to release the wild thoughts that had been running around his head into the air and into another head, mine.

"You have a license, you ever drive a four speed? This baby's a four speed, this van here, I've been collecting and fixing them up for a long time, this is my thirteenth once, VW Vans. You'll probably never get a chance to drive a four speed again", with that he began pulling over in the shoulder of this windy up-and-down canyon road from Salt Lake towards Park City. I quickly finished the egg sandwich he'd given me when I'd first got in the car and switched seats with him.

Now I was driving the object of this quirky manifestation, the loose steering wheel constantly in motion even during the very brief straight aways. He jabbered on about his ex-wife and some other girl, the new one, "a cougar" he told me, and this new girl had a big money job and a New York City apartment to match, right by Central Park on the east side. He'd be moving there soon, I told him this is where I was ultimately headed.

"You think there's anywhere for me to work on my vans?", he asked me. I told him I wasn't sure, I pictured him tearing things up out of the van in some ritzy Manhattan parking garage next to sleek sports cars and SUVs. He had the signs of a meth addict, crusty hands with permanent blisters, dry skin all around and the beginnings of rotting teeth. His eyes shined through all this, there was happiness and honesty there, acceptance of whatever guilt he had, re-purposed into forward momentum.

I kept us cruising through the curves, gas pedal to the floor barely pushing 60. "Take a look at the gas gauge", he told me, I wondered if we were running out. I looked at the dials and all scanning for it, "I don't see it... "

"No gas gauge on these babies!", he put his hand in the air for the high five. He talked more about the van, and his routine of reading at least one book a week. We got to a gas station in the town he was heading to and I pulled in. He told me to grab something for myself to eat and drink, I did, he paid and began jabbering with the cashier, an older woman. She admired his rings, he had practically one for each finger, all different. He pulled one chunky silver off, saying it was some sort of engagement ring or otherwise tied to the "soon-to-be-ex-wife" and gave it to the cashier. She almost wouldn't accept it, but did, he kept jabbering away and I finally slipped off and thanked him, grabbing my bag from the van as he kept going on with her.

I walked to the on ramp and got picked up right away, a young guy who barely spoke a lick of english. I told him I was going to Jackson, then Evanston, which was closer, he recognized that. I hopped in and he started driving, but after some time I got the feeling he was driving further than he thought he would be, going out of his way. He at last made a turn onto the wrong road, wrong for me, I let him know this and hopped out, backtracking just a pinch to the road again.

I walked over a bridge and saw some sort of marathon on the lonely road below, no sign of a town or even a hint of where the road was coming from or going to. I waited a good while standing on the side of the freeway thumbing cars, but at last a couple guys picked me up.

They got me a decent ways, to Evanston, offering to take me further into Wyoming, but it wasn't the right direction. Evanston is a junction town, the one I wanted, they dropped in a good spot past the town and to the openness that breaks off into the rest of Wyoming. Not only that, but they gave me a big bag full of warm tamales. They were very good, I had a few and got to sticking my thumb out.

Evanston proved to be quite an ordeal. After a bit of waiting I found some loose cardboard and made a "Jackson" sign, hoping this would help my chances. Cars kept passing, I alternated between standing still and walking. I walked miles on top of miles in this fashion. The towns I passed were tiny, few stores at all, just sprawling fields and cows, structures that looked beat up and abandoned.

A woman stopped at one point asking if I had money, saying she'd drive to Jackson if I did, but I didn't have anything. "No one's gonna pick you up here, not unless they know you", she told me. I kept walking. I'd finally walked close to fifteen miles, six hours or more had gone by. My water was low, gone. I'd walked a good five miles from the last anything. Only a pack of cows that I'd been leading, walking along side me in a pack behind the fence. When they'd stop, I'd "mooooo" forcefully at them until they'd continue following, I liked the company.

I knew there was nothing in front of me, not for a ten miles or so, and even then I didn't know what it was, just crossroads probably. The sun was baking me, I decided to keep moving forward into it rather than stay stagnant.

At last, a small pickup with a closed back stopped for me, I sat up front with friendly old couple from the area, they'd just been traveling south around Utah and were finally getting back home. The man played tour guide, pointing out everything from distant mountains to nearby streams. They dropped me a good ways up the road at another junction, closer and closer to Jackson, leaving me with a couple bottles of much needed water.

There weren't many cars to be seen in this new spot, the view was vast and distant, but the water was enough for my spirits. I was picked up quick too anyhow, just a few cars, a guy who'd just been biking all day in a marathon of sorts on his way back to Jackson. As it turned out, he knew my uncle in town and lived just a few blocks away.

We talked a good deal, smoked a bit and soon fell quiet to the music and the scenery. I was happy to be getting to Jackson, I called my mom and got picked up there in town and headed back to the village where she was staying. I heated up some lasagna and drank that ever-so-needed post-road-day-beer, catching up with my mom on all sorts of things.

I spent the next two days there in Jackson, feeling right in the mountains and fresh air. My belly was filled throughout with tasty meals, I caught with my aunt, uncle and cousins too at the brew pub in town. I spent time with my mom, hiking and talking, she also made sure I was suited up with things like shoes and rain jackets. Billy's Burgers was also a good stop, good food wouldn't end.

Well fed, clothes laundered and a couple nights of great sleep, I was ready to get going for New York City. There'd be just one more night of sleep there in Wyoming, and in the morning, the road again.

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