Wyoming to NYC, Part 2 - Paintballers and an Ohio Police State

My couchsurfing host dropped me off at the truck stop in Austin, MN where I'd stayed the last night, woken up by police on a trampoline that morning, this is where I left off on the first leg of the hitch from Wyoming to New York City. Right when he dropped me off someone offered me a ride, but they were heading west instead of east, so I made my way to the freeway to start thumbing for a ride.

I got a ride from a couple guys, two guys who used to work for the nearby Hormel plant. They told me that 20,000 hogs were killed each and everyday, "that's 10,000 just on one shift", they told me. They went into the details, the whole process of bringing the hogs in, to killing them and how every single part is used.

They dropped me off down the road, my next ride came from a guy on his way to a board meeting, he shared some coffee with me and told me about his days hitchhiking when he was younger. He spent a decent amount of time on the phone as well, dropping me off far down the road after grabbing a bag of cashews and a couple beers from a cooler in the back for me.

My next ride was great, two brothers younger than myself and one of their girlfriends, all coming from Minneapolis. They were heading to a paintball competition south of Chicago. They offered me beers right away, I pulled out the two from my bag which were still cold, sharing one with the brother in the backseat. Their friend was supposed to come with them and flaked, they joked that I was his replacement.

They loved to hear my stories about traveling, I loved the spirit they had as we cruised. We switched to their beer, it was just me and the brother drinking in the back. They had cut up soda cans that we wrapped around the beer can, beer-o-flage they called it, we drank a few and smoked a bit too.

They'd heard on the news about a place along the way that sold exotic meet - kangaroo, lion and things like this. The place was apparently catching heat from nay-sayers for selling these types of meats, which was ironically about to get them more business.

We stopped in the place and they loaded up on lion steaks and more. They got some jaguar jerky that we all tried, good stuff. We soon got to their hotel and by then it was clear I'd be staying the night there with them. We loaded stuff up to the room and an argument soon ensued between the one brother from the backseat and the couple, it was over money. The younger brother was arguing about how much he'd lent out to them, what was owed and so on, some light brotherly shoving and shouting went on, tension. A pen and paper finally settled things out as to who owed who what, for the most part.

I took off with the brother to liquor store while he cooled down a bit, I drove. We picked up some beers, he apologized for the scene and re-stated his case on the matter. We got back to the room and all was smoothed over with beer, a shotgun-cheers to bury the hatchet. We relaxed in the room kicking back, all finally falling to sleep on the beds and floor space.

We woke in the morning with strange things about, a flower vase had appeared amongst other things, items found on a late night drunken mission apparently by the younger brother. We packed things in the car and then took advantage of the continental breakfast in the lobby, I filled up with waffles and everything else I could.

They dropped me off on the freeway after offering to take me along to watch the paintball, I was eager to keep cruising though. A blueberry farmer picked me up their, on the way to his farm to check things out. We had good conversation, talking about the best things in life being subtle moments and memories that take place in a span of less than a few seconds.

He dropped me off on the freeway as it made a turn to his destination, splitting from my route. I walked along the shoulder through the twisting road, wrapping around and turning and walking down the stretch of freeway for a while. A trucker at last picked me up, he said I was the first hitchhiker he'd ever stopped for. We talked for a while, then saw two girls just up the road with their bags on the ground and thumbs in the air, he swerved into the shoulder a good distance up from them, we watched as they scrambled for their bags and jogged for us.

The girls hopped in, they were on their way to Akron, Ohio. We drove and talked to them, switching seats a few times. One of the girls was a mandolin player, they'd come from a show out west somewhere, having good luck with rides. They eventually both passed out on the bed in the cab in back, I did the same, nodding out in the passenger seat.

The trucker dropped us all off along the freeway where he had to turn, we hopped out and thanked him, he'd gotten on the CB radio trying to get the girls another ride, but no luck. I told the girls I'd head down the freeway to give them the first shot at the traffic, figuring a couple girls would get picked up pretty quick. They did, getting picked up within minutes. It took me a while longer, a good amount of walking, but a pickup truck stopped for me and I rode in the open air back cruising for a while. They handed me a five dollar bill and a soda when they let me out, the guy in the passenger seat had a huge grin on his face and said he'd hitchhiked a lot before and knew how it was.

I did another big stint of walking, but eventually a woman named Shawna picked me up. She said she'd seen me two or three times already, passing me up, then making one stop or another, then seeing me again further up the road. "I figure you couldn't have killed a bunch of people and kept going at this pace, the smile won me over".

She was heading to Cleveland and took me as far as the split towards there, but this is where the long string of police and walking would begin. It began with the walking, thumbing the traffic shooting across Ohio, but soon a state trooper passed me, pulled into the shoulder and backed up towards me. It was the usual routine - asking where I was going, where I was coming from, running my ID and all saying I couldn't be on the freeway.

He gave me a ride up to the next exit and dropped me at the bottom, "If the local police here tell you that you can't be hitchhiking, you'll have to listen, just make sure you stay off the freeway at least". It was a toll road, I-80, so I had to wait at the bottom of this ramp where both east and westbound cars would pass me. A westbounder stopped offering a lift, no good, I waited more.

A local cop saw me and drove over, the routine ensued. He told me hitchhiking was straight away illegal there, I looked at him in the confused manner I usually do, "really?", I'd say.

He laughed, yet remained serious, "Yes! This isn't the 70's anymore. And you say you've come all the way from Phoenix?".

"Yea, I haven't had any issues with police so far", I told him, despite the previous state trooper.

"That's because you seem like a nice guy", he studied my ID waiting for word back on his radio as they ran it back at the station. He told me to go to the gas station nearby and perhaps get a ride there, "as long as you're not bothering anyone and they don't kick you out".

I walked to the gas station, I could tell it was just a local spot though, people weren't filling up and cooking down the freeway out of this station, they were grabbing milk and going back home. I got a big ice filled drink in the station talking to the lady behind the counter for a minute and then stepped outside. A few people asked me what I was up to, where I was going, but these were curious locals intrigued by my backpack and obvious out of placedness.

I checked the map and got to walking, intending to walk to the next town and hitch from there, a different police station that wouldn't know about me yet. After about a mile walking through residential, a police car rolled alongside of me, this was from the next town over. "Got a call that you didn't seem to look like you knew where you were going, what are you doing out here?".

Ha, I wasn't even hitchhiking yet and was drawing police attention. "I'm heading to New York City", I told him.

He looked shocked, "You're walking?".

"Yup..."

"Geeze... what? Where are you coming from?"

"Phoenix"

"You walked all the way from Phoenix?! Geeze... New York City is pretty far", he looked around in bewilderment, maybe searching for a thought that made sense.

"Yup, really long walk", I smiled at him the way I thought I might if I'd actually been walking across the country, a sort of proud yet bored smile from explaining it so many times, as one would if they were walking this way and this far.

"Geeze... let, me see your ID", he asked me, I handed it to him and he jotted down some of the info in his notepad and then drove off. I kept walking, now aiming for the town even beyond this one to try and start with a fresh set of cops once again. It was a long walk, that same cop saw me later on and pulled a U-Turn to confront me in a parking lot again.

"Hey Ken, you didn't come up in the system", he told me.

I looked at him funny, "System? What system?", I wondered. He explained he tried running my ID in his computer, then asked me for my social security number. I found this odd, but gave it to him, I watched him punch it into the computer and hit enter. "NO MODEM CONNECTION", the screen read.

"Strange, you're still not coming up", he said, then jotting my social security number in his notepad. I wanted to explain to him that his system was clearly down, not connected, as per the obvious red lettered message that flashed on the screen, but he let me go again and I kept wandering down the road.

I walked the sun away, soon the Ohio fireflies were out, floating and pulsating around me. I at last came across an on ramp to the freeway in a town where I hadn't dealt with a cop yet. The ramp curled far back past some trucking areas, I went as far down it as I could without being in site of the toll booth entrance. I stood under a streetlight and waited, thumbing just a few cars in about 20 minutes. I was tired from walking, my shoulders had been getting sore, I decided to dip into the woods and call it a night.

The mosquitoes were nipping a bit, I covered myself and slept in small intervals throughout the night. Towards the morning the deer started rolling through, I'd wake to them being quite close to me, I'd sit up quickly and stare them down, it was always a showdown. They stood still grilling me, I'd shout at them and throw sticks in their direction until they ran away, one after another.

I stood at the same spot from the night before come morning light, but soon got soured on the spot, deciding to walk to the next one. It was a fifteen mile walk to the next spot, through parks, past business people biking, million dollar homes and residential areas; cars passed by me as if I was just a deer myself.

I at last got to a truck stop on the interstate, I grabbed a bite and passed a couple in the parking lot juggling with a sign looking for gas money. I headed down to the ramp and began thumbing the cars that came. The juggling couple came up the ramp and pulled over ready to give me a ride, they were heading west though. This was the trouble with these toll booths, I couldn't filter out the opposite direction traffic.

A guy finally stopped, heading east, I hopped in, excited to be in a vehicle again and going in the right direction. He dropped me off a few exits up to what ended up being a pretty desolate spot, this was in the early afternoon. I waited a good while, a couple cool people stopped offering me a ride, but were heading west. Much time went by, I ran out of water, so I headed towards what I thought would be a little town. There was essentially nothing there, nowhere to fill up my water. I contemplated walking down the side roads to the next ramp, but the 30 miles I'd already covered in Ohio seemed like enough, I walked back to the ramp.

More hours went by with no rides. Finally a guy stopped offering to go west and I just took the ride, "these country folk will never pick you up", he told me, I'd figured that out now. I cruised in the opposite direction of New York, he dropped me off at a gas station and a busier spot. The first thing I did was fill up on water and make a sign that read "NYC".

I walked down to the ramp and got picked up really quick, an ex-marine coming back from a day of golfing, a business thing, heading east. He went out of his way a bit to get me past some junctions and on the right track, leaving me at the on ramp near a couple big truck stops.

I headed into the truck stop after a while of thumbing past sunset, spending the night in the truckers lounge nodding in and out of sleep in front of the TV. I headed back outside when the sun had come back around to make the morning, standing on the ramp a while waiting on the next ride.

A local cop came to tell me I couldn't hitchhike, he seemed to feel bad about it. He suggested I try one of the truck stops to catch a ride. I walked down to a McDonalds at the other truck stop to catch a bite to eat and decide what my next move would be. As I walked in, an older guy asked me what I was up to, having the backpack and all. I told him the scoop, saying I was probably going to walk the back roads the half dozen miles to the Pennsylvania border. He offered to give me a ride, I grabbed a quick bit and hopped in his car.

He was a quirky guy, confident in his wisdom in which he credited to his age. He told me a riddle, along the lines of choosing a number and then doing various calculations and assigning letters, eventually resulting in him guessing the end result of all this as if he knew what number I'd chosen in my head. It was quite easy to figure out what he'd done this, but I acted impressed as to not take it away from him.

He dropped me off just over the border along the freeway and I got to watching cars pass by again. This border jump proved useless quickly, a state trooper from this new state rolled up in no time. Same story as all of them, no standing on the freeway, he gave me a ride up a good ways to a truck stop and let me off.

I walked back to the freeway entrance and soon was rewarded with my final ride, an 18 wheeler heading for New York City. The driver was Polish and worked on his own terms, vacationing when he saw fit and taking the routes he wanted to take. We talked about travels, skiing, his family and his love for motorcycles. We stopped just once for coffee and a snack, then finally hit the near-standstill traffic at the George Washington Bridge.

After quite some time in the traffic, I was hopping out of his truck in the Bronx, I'd made it to New York City at last. I hopped on a subway and headed for midtown, arriving at my friend Mark's bar where he was surprised to see my return. I sat at the bar sipping beers and mojitos talking with everyone around and catching up with Mark in between his bar tending.

The bar closed earlier than normal, I waited by the nearby church with one of his fellow employees sipping on some bottles. Once Mark got off we headed to the Gingerman for a night of great beers and catching up.

I came to later on a subway at 170th street, just myself. I hopped off the subway to discover it was daylight, wandering the streets in search for a proper subway to get to Astoria. Some guy looking for baby milk pointed me in the right direction and after some subwaying around I landed back in Astoria ready to pass out. I was happy to be in the company of friends and memories, there was still a lot of New York ahead of me.

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