Amazing James Makes Cross Country Hitchhike Easy

We woke up in Bakersfield ready to continue our mission to the Northeast. We'd been playing with the idea of going to Sedona on the way, but with just ten days until Christmas action and some relatively slow hitchhiking thus far getting down California, we decided we'd just head straight to Connecticut as fast as we could. It was a good choice, as it resulted in one of the better and certainly the longest ride I've ever gotten while hitchhiking.

Kindra dropped us off at good place to hitchhike on her way to work. A big white truck gave us a ride a ways as we stared out into the snow covered mountains. We waited at an on ramp near a truck stop and not much else, just vast wide open view of mountains around us.

Many cars and trucks passed us as we kicked around a golf ball we’d found, finally a pickup truck stopped and we rode in the back with the open air. It was a great ride, Bridget and I smiling back and forth. We passed an RV that had passed us up while standing on the ramp. The woman in the passenger seat lit up when she saw us, smiling and frantically reaching for her camera to take a picture of the hitchhikers now passing her.

The woman driving let us out at a gas station, we walked a long ways down a desolate road getting to the next freeway, only getting a short ride from a guy in a moving truck who was sadly heading the opposite way on the main road, but at least he got us to it.

We walked along that road until doing the mad dash to catch up to an eighteen wheeler that had slowly pulled off into the shoulder far ahead of us. The trucker was Cuban, heading to Yuma and then Miami a day or so after. He let us out at the junction where he was turning south, leaving us with his number in case we decided we could catch up to him and decide to go along with him. Miami was a long ways east, for sure, but I figured it was too far out of the way despite being such a potentially long and great ride.

We found ourselves at another truck stop in the middle of a desert with nothing else around for miles. We walked along the side of the road, seeing another hitchhiker ahead and keeping our thumbs down until we got past him. We talked to him briefly, his sign said “Barstow” and he’d been standing there all day without any luck. We’d be passing through Barstow as well and east as she goes, we hoped our luck would be better.

We kept on walking, thumbing cars as they came, hoping that we’d somehow get picked up even if that guy was ahead of us and not getting scooped up. We walked for a good while, flirting back and forth and staying entertained. In fact we forgot we were hitchhiking it seemed, as we were in the midst of kissing only to realize that someone had pulled over.

We ran up to the car and hopped in, a guy heading to Barstow. He used to be a managed for the Blue Angels and told us stories all the way to town. He let us out at a gas station where we were instantly greeted by another couple hitchhiking, we told them we were heading east, they told us they’d been trying to get to Vegas for the last six days and wished us good luck in a tone that suggested we didn’t stand a chance. I knew better, no one hitchhikes for six days without getting a ride in one spot without some sort of internal struggle holding them back, Bridget and I didn’t have that.

We got picked up within five minutes by the second car to roll up, a guy on his way to Needles, Arizona. He told us about his love for dirt biking and such as he got us into Needles right as it was getting dark. We jumped up and down in the street light staying warm, there weren’t many cars coming and none of them were keen on picking us up. I was eyeballing a spot to sleep, but wasn’t sure what the go would be. Bridget had been freezing less than a week before camping in the red woods, and it was noticeably colder now, and far less majestic as the red woods.

We went into the Denny’s, the sign had been the only thing in the dark nearby, glaring at us the whole time. We had a small bite and some coffee to warm up, then it was back down to the streetlight to try again. Eventually we went for walking up to the freeway in a bid to be seen by more traffic, but this quickly resulted in a police officer stopping to tell us we couldn’t do so, back down to our streetlight.

It didn’t seem like a ride was coming and it was only getting later and colder. The only sign glowing besides Denny’s was the Motel next to it, we had to go for it, so I checked in pretending to be by myself, then gave her the sign and she joined me. Between us we had next to no money with nothing coming in, but it was enough for the warm night, a good one, also with a bottle of red wine she’d brought back from Australia, now was the time for it.

The other benefit of the motel was the shower in the morning, we had more than a couple thousand miles ahead of us and there’s no telling where showers and sleeps may come from with that kind of distance to cover. We checked out and headed for the highway, hoping for better luck with a new day.

A couple Jehova’s witnesses were coming back from the social security office and heading to Kingman, they gave us a good ride out that way. There was another hitchhiker where they left us, so we decided we’d walk parallel to the freeway to another entrance that we could have to ourselves. I’d say that’s where the grind kicked in.

Rides were coming a bit slow and shorter distances, long waits and walks like this in between. On my own, I’d of thought a little less of it, but being with Bridget I was wanting everything to go smooth and breezy. Plus, being that I was with Bridget, a sweet blonde girl smiling as wide as I was, I had even more reason to expect things to be going faster. I sensed her stress building more than anything, although she remained quiet for the time being.

Right as these thoughts were rolling around in our walk, we got to the next ramp and were picked up by the first car to come along within a minute. It would have been a break, however he was just going four or five miles up outside of town.

Where he dropped us off we had to walk down to the freeway, there’d be little to no traffic getting on at this entrance, even though there was a small truck stop there. We walked for a good while, past signs with mileage for Flagstaff, which was the next place I figured would be worth stopping at to see some friends I had there.

My soldier style of hitchhiking had us moving forward, no use standing around, especially on the side of the freeway, and especially in Arizona where police sometimes have questions that are best answered from the standpoint of someone who wasn’t standing around.

“I just don’t get it”, Bridget finally let out, “We seemed to be on the right path, no one’s picking us up”, I had no answers for her, I knew one was coming, she probably did to. We were counting pennies as our path and would continue to do so, always picking them up off the ground as a sign we were heading in the right direction, confirmations.

Five minutes couldn’t go by before a car skirted into the shoulder ahead of us, enter James.

“I thought there was just one of you”, he said, clearing out some room in the back seat, “We’ll have space here in no time though”, soon we were in with space to spare, packs and all. James told us he was heading to Michigan and that Nashville would make the most sense as far as letting us out. Instantly we were comfortable and relieved.

He was a painter from there in Michigan, he’d never taken a vacation since working for the company, so they’d given him a company gas card and told him to take a vacation, although I don’t think they realized how much driving he’d actually be doing.

He hopped in his car and drove to Washington, then hugged the coast down through California, now was hitting it back east towards Tennessee where he’d worked once before turning back north to Michigan.

We all hit it off instantly, he’d hitchhiked from age 13 to 20 (he was now 41) after essentially “divorcing” his parents and had been all over the country, we were swapping stories back and forth as fast as the words could leave our mouths, not missing a beat.

The desire to see my friends in Flagstaff was pretty strong, but it would also be a shame to turn down this ride all the way to Tennessee. Luckily, the best of both happened when James said he may call it a night in Flagstaff and we would be welcome to sleep in the car with him, or join him in the morning if we ended up staying with my friend. This became less of a choice when the gas light turned on.

The deal with his company gas card was that he had a limited amount of fill ups per day, so he could only really go so far. He had also pulled the trick of filling up other people’s tanks and have them pay him in cash so he had some extra spending money, limiting his miles, but maximizing his cigarettes and fun.

We started gaining elevation, as one does when they go to Flagstaff, all fingers crossed that the drops of gas left in the tank would get us to town. All the while I was on the phone trying to get in touch with Molly, one of the greater people on the planet who I thought was in town.

We stopped at a gas station, successfully into town, parting ways with James after exchanging phone numbers. It wasn’t clear if we’d see him again. We weren’t sure if we’d have a place to stay in Flagstaff, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to fill up his tank one more time or if he even wanted to keep moving on this night. There was just a loose offer of letting us crash in the car if he was still around, otherwise figuring something out in the morning, or just a “nice to meet you never see you again”.

Flagstaff was cold, all of our clothes came out of our bags and onto our bodies. Bridget and I headed next door to the fast food spot to figure out our next move. Suddenly I got word from Molly, she was indeed in town, but staying with a friend. Although she was unsure if we’d have a place to stay ourselves, it was still absolutely necessary to get together.

We walked by James and told him what we were up to, he was still parked at the gas station contemplating his next move. We walked the wrong way for a while with some confusion, then got to a gas station waiting for Molly to come pick us up.

It was so cold outside, I remember someone saying “low of 4 degrees”, that two separate people offered us places to stay in the ten minutes we paced around the gas station waiting for Molly. We took the numbers down anyhow.

Molly arrived with her friend driving, all smiles and we hopped in heading back to his place. In no time we were catching up, having a smoke and doing a couple shots of rum. We had the fortune of arriving on a Wednesday night, where most anyone from Flagstaff can tell you means 25 cents drinks at the Green Room, also called “Ladies 80’s” since many people dress up in 80’s garb to get in for free.

Before we left I got a call from James, he told us that some gas money had come through and that he could leave that night or in the morning and was letting us decide. We told him about the Green Room and that we still weren’t sure where we could sleep for the night, but we were definitely going to head there, this was all by voicemail phone tag at this point.

Into the cold we went, walking out to the bar happy to be alive, the stars above sprinkling down on the night ahead. Double rum and cokes, smiles, dances, familiar Flagstaff faces and good times.

I got another message from James, he’d decided it was staying in town, it was too damn cold to sleep in the car so he’d gotten a cheap motel room and we was momentarily downtown drinking. I passed on the word again about the 25 cent and before long he was in the door joining us.

We laughed the night away, James was having fun and we all were. We left the bar and headed back towards his motel, telling us where it was at and saying we were welcome to join him there for the night for a place to stay before hitting the road in the morning.

Bridget and I ended up somewhere else in the momentum of the night, but eventually things wound down and we raced along the sidewalk buzzed in every way. I snagged an abandoned pizza box off an outside cafe table in the frozen night, we hit a main road a bit disoriented, stuck out our thumbs out of habit and scored a ride immediately. The person knew just where the motel was and dropped us off there.

James was still awake watching TV, happy to see us travelers with a box of pizza to boot.

I woke up as James was taking a shower, then he headed outside. I slowly got up as I heard him outside asking someone for a jump.Bridget and I hopped in the shower, then James came back and we had to rush into the car and drive away quickly to avoid being seen. It was a single occupancy room, someone still saw us, coming out of the office with a look of disappointment, but it was too late for them to do anything other than have that look.

We burned all the way to Albuquerque where we stopped at a grocery store for bread and jam to stay fed, then we kept on cruising through into the night clear to Amarillo, Texas where we all slept in a Walmart parking lot in the car.

We got moving pretty early the next day, before sunrise. Our first stop was to a gas station, the meter trickled slowly, a penny every couple seconds. At last James talked to the attendant inside to discover the pump was broken. The two bucks was charged to the gas card and we had to find another station to get a proper fill.

We burned through the day again, through Oklahoma City and eventually to Little Rock. All the day we’d been eating free french fries, Burger King was having “free fries” so we just stopped every time we saw one on the road.

Little Rock is where our day ended though, that bunk two dollar gas charge counted as one of the three maximum gas station visits allowed on the company gas card, so there in the early afternoon we were marooned in the Arkansas Walmart parking lot.

We paced, wandered, ate more free fries and relaxed. Eventually night fell and we still got our laughs in together before passing out in the car yet again.

We got another early start, the gas card worked and we were on our way. Somewhere before Memphis we stopped at a truck stop so we could all get washed up. It felt good to get all cleaned up, we all rendezvoused back at the car. As we got going James spoke up, “You know what, I’m loving hanging with you guys, you’re getting home for Christmas, I’m gonna take you to Connecticut!”, unbelievable.

“Why not?”, he went on, “I’ve never been to New York City, I’d like to see that, I’ve got time”.

“Oh I’ll show you New York City!”, I exclaimed though an undying smile, “I’ll show you both New York City!”, now looking at Bridget in the backseat, “We’ll have a big meal at my folks place, you’ll definitely stay a night or two or however long, this is amazing, man!”, the thought of a proper meal had us all reeling, none of us had a pocket of cash worth the pockets themselves and had been living off bread, jam and fast food fries.

“We’re so blessed!”, Bridget from the backseat with the ultimate relief. The idea of being dropped off into the cold once more was daunting, left to hitching rides another thousand miles, especially entering the east where interstates shift rapidly in all kinds of directions, spinning and crossing in cities like undecided weeds, there’s no clear path for the hitchhiker in the northeast.

We buzzed on, settled in and happy as one can be, blasting through Memphis and finally getting towards Nashville, where, up until a few hours ago, should have been our parting ways point. Instead we were going to a little town south of Nashville for a trip down James’ memory lane. He’d worked a job there once before, so we drove up to his old apartment complex, past his favorite sports bar, all the while hi trying to get in touch with anyone who may still be shaking around down there.

No luck getting in touch with anyone, but I could tell he was happy to just eyeball some of his old haunts. We kept cruising, eventually stopping at a gas station where we waited in the car while James again looked for people paying in cash so he could pay for them with his company card and get the cash. He scored fifteen bucks from someone, good enough for smokes.

We cruised up I-81, using the rest of the cash for bread and beers. We drank down the beers, all laughs and running through the night. Another stop, another two tall cans and we kept cruising, getting just past Roanoke when James knew a stop was due, gas was low and buzz was high. Parked in yet another Walmart parking lot I broke out a bottle of rum from the depths of my backpack, the shots went around, the stories got deeper, laughs harder and we were all in bliss.

We passed out for a while, but once midnight rolled around the gas card was assumed to be re energized. James rolled up to the closest station and, sure enough, the card worked, we filled up and we kept on rolling north.

We didn’t get too far until we pulled over, “We’ll just stop for five minutes”, said James.

Sunrise came hours later, fair enough and a bit more sober, we kept cruising north, I was starting to sense New York. He stopped at a couple more gas stations hoping to get another cash score, but no luck and we kept moving, soon hitting I-80 east.

We kept moving, but at this point we knew we’d need the cash hit just for toll money alone. We were getting dangerously close to the tolls and found another gas station. We parked and laid in wait, watching each car pull in

Eventually a beat up van rolled in with a young guy at the wheel, James took notice, “Here’s a cash guzzler right here”, he hopped out of the car and approached the guy, sure enough he was paying in cash, twenty bucks came our way.

It was just enough to get James another pack of cigarettes and be enough for the astronomical tolls one encounters entering New York City. Once we hit the bridge to get into the city Bridget and James both were in awe, loving it, taking pictures. Growing up and living in New York City for sometime had me sometimes forgetting that it was the dream, the center, the New Years drop and the movies’ scene around the world. It is an amazing city, but for James and Bridget, it was their first glimpse.

We cruised on through and soon enough it went from picturesque skyline to the thick forest of Connecticut, and then into the southwest corner itself. Another hit to them, the vastness of the forest that was the norm for me growing up and the size of the houses and mansions driving through, both were in awe and it gave me eve more appreciation for the surroundings.

At last we arrived at my parents house, it had been a hell of a mission and I was still amazed at the way it had unfolded. My mom and step dad were all hugs and hand shakes and thanks. Bacon was in order right away, something James and I (much to Bridget’s comical dismay) had been daydreaming about since Arizona. “Imagine wrapping this in bacon, or wrapping that in bacon!”.

That and a proper meal, with wine even, relaxing on the couches watching a movie instead of the road, sleeping in proper beds rather than car seats in a Walmart parking lot. All were grateful, all were relaxed, life was good.

In the morning it was time to show them New York City, as promised. We got some spending money by filling up my mom’s tank for cash this time with his company card, then we were driving right into the city, right into Astoria, Queens.

First it was on the subway, James assured me that riding the subway alone had made the trip worth it, it was something he’d always wanted to do. They were both buzzing, James was even leaving a message on his friend’s voicemail, “Guess where I am?”.

I took them clear down to 34th street in Manhattan and did the next thing James had been dreaming about, getting a beer at an Irish pub in the city, I happily obliged. From there we took the short walk to the the empire state building, just looking up and walking in the lobby was enough to have James buzzing.

I lead them to Broadway from there and right up to the obvious Times Square, a must. Down 42nd a couple blocks to Bryant Park and the library, the skating rink set up as an added bonus, also where Mark was around to meet up with us, a welcome to the city.

Mark only stayed with us for the walk a couple blocks down to Sean’s office building. We cruised up the elevator the to Sean’s floor where he let us outside to show them the view of the Chrysler building and the rest of this visible city. James was snapping more pictures and completely in bliss.

We went down and across the street to Grand Central, another obvious place to show people and also where I used to work. I suit and tied it up those escalators five days a week for months until I felt a tug on my soul, the grind that finally through a spark for the hobo lifestyle.

We headed to fifth avenue from there, myself walking in New York City mode, weaving through people as if I was on a mission, forgetting that Bridget and James had their heads pointed upwards and were the type of people I was buzzing pass. I was the tour guide, I had to stay on their pace, I slowed down.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, shops, droves of people, window displays for the holidays, all of it. We hit Rockefeller Center, they were both happy to see the famous tree, the iconic skating rink. For one last thing I took them to Central Park on a brief stroll, James wanted to lay on a bench in the park more than anything else.

At last we hit the subway, back to queens, got beers at the grocery store, than headed to the car. Once past the tolls on the bridge, we cracked celebratory beers, the new trio, on the road again back to Connecticut coming from the big city.

We relaxed back at home, more drinks, laughs, good food and relaxation. We slept in a bit in the morning, but for James, it was time to head back to Michigan. We said our goodbyes, our thanks, my parents thanking him, then he was out the door. Bridget and I smiled at each other. The door opened once more and James popped just his head through, “On the road again!”, he disappeared with a smile and his car buzzed out of the driveway, on to more of an adventure than he quite knew he was getting into.