Hitchhiking to Memphis From New Orleans Meeting Vodka Howler

We had a wildly drunk man in our near future that would make Rebecca cry, but at the moment we were enjoying walking through the first cloudless day we'd seen in New Orleans. We'd been there about a week, this was after we'd me hitchhiked there from Savannah where we met, now we were ready to hitch up to Memphis where I wanted to see a couple friends, one who lived there and the other visiting from Australia.

A trolley ride got us up closer to the interstate so we could begin thumbing, conveniently by several cemeteries where Rebecca thought we would find the particular grave site of Marie Laveau, a voodoo lady well known in New Orleans. We searched quite a bit, but as it turned out we were in the wrong place.

Once at the freeway we managed to hitch a ride from a passing piano player who'd been in town for Jazz Fest. He ended up being very friendly, taking us over the Pontchartrain bridge, about a twenty four mile stretch over the water that was just amazing. Once on the other side he insisted we couldn't leave the region without getting some fried shrimp poboys, so we stopped at a restaurant he knew about and he ordered some for us.

After filling up, he took us over to the next interstate junction onto I-55 which heads straight up to Memphis.

We walked and waited a bit until we got our next ride, this came from a couple who lived in the area. They seemed friendly right away, telling stories seeming hip to traveling and helping travelers all the same. The guy, Robbie, offered us a toke and then we stopped briefly at a convenience store.

While we were paused there they made the offer to let us stay for the night. I looked over at Rebecca to see what she thought, she was looking at me in the same way. Outside the sun was setting and Memphis was still over three hundred miles away, to me it seemed we either went with them or would wind up camping off the side of the road sardined in my bivy sack again.

We headed back to their place, a bottle of vodka was now being passed around. It wasn't until we all got out of the car that I realized just how much Robbie had been hitting that bottle and likely bottles before it.

We walked into the house, which was more of a trailer that had been built on to. They explained how they had no running water at the moment, then cleared a bunch of stuff off a bed in a side room that they'd clearly been using just for storage before we came.

Rebecca plopped herself on the couch, I sat in the kitchen in front of a chess board with Robbie and the vodka bottle. We managed our way partially through this game as I realized more and more how drunk he was, I'm fairly certain I witnessed the exact moment when he blacked out, eyes rolling out and coming back especially glazed in a new dream state he'll never recall.

He began barking orders at his girlfriend Amy and also started making a very unique howling sound every once in a while, almost as if he was clearing his throat, not directed at anyone or sparked by anything, but pretty loud an guttural.

By this point I started taking more sips off the vodka just so there'd be less for him, he seemed more and more fragile. He was set on playing a board game, his girlfriend was also keen on it. Rebecca had to be convinced from her spot on the couch, she was clearly tired and more uncomfortable than I was aware of at the time. I'd in fact become a bit irritated myself for a moment, these people were are hosts sitting at a table wanting to play a game which required four of us and she was protesting from across the room.

She wound up coming to the table and we began the game, but it didn't get very far. Robbie kept forgetting what was going on entirely, all while continuing his howling and pounding the flimsy table with his fists as if to get his own bearings. His girlfriend did her best to keep him on track, all while giving subtle glances in our direction to make clear that she knew he was acting like a buffoon, rather than leaving us thinking we had a buffoon and a clueless keeper.

The game got packed up and soon enough they were arguing pretty good heading back to their room. Rebecca and I headed back to our little room and had our own discussion. I wasn't nearly as sensitive to the whole thing, all the shouting, howling, pounding and carrying on. I found it pretty goofy, and while I was aware of the potential of some sort of escalation of the whole thing, I was also staying on beat with it and recognizing his girlfriend's awareness of it all. I think Rebecca was not only a bit nervous about it all, but also empathetic.

In the moment I saw none of her discomfort, I saw someone rolling over, bored and off-putting in the face of adventure and generosity. This in contrast with my current state of overly vodka-filled passion. I was amped with it all and everyone was retiring. I wanted to run and jump, makeout, talk and drink, get lost, get found or throw a dart at a board - I had to lay in the dark, pent up under the sheets with someone who wanted none of that.

In the morning I poured myself a bowl a fruity pebbles as I came to, the one thing I'd remembered Amy said was up for grabs. It would take the better part of the day to get ourselves out of there.

Once Robbie woke up he sat down to play some chess with me again, but before long we were running out to the store for him to spend what had to have been the last of their cash on another bottle. In no time the bottle was empty, he was howling and barking again in the dopiest sort of way, all the while wondering where his vodka was, forgetting he'd just slammed it all down.

Hours ticked by, Rebecca and I with bags packed in the room, out of the room, by the door, outside by the car, angling and inching every which way to get moving. He was too drunk to find his keys, his shoes, anything - one distraction and sidetrack after another.

On top of this, Amy's young daughter was there in the midst of his mumblings, stumblings and arguments with Amy. I stepped outside for a moment (something I was doing constantly to try and steer his momentum), only to come back in to the daughter running out the door behind me away from him in tears, quickly followed by Rebecca. She sat with the girl consoling her for quite some time while Robbie remained in the house having already forgotten the whole thing.

At long last Amy got a hold of the keys. I was in the car, Rebecca was in the car, Amy and her daughter and our bags, finally it seemed like we were going to get moving. Robbie appeared from the house and came up to the car, seemingly upset that the daughter was going, insisting the car stop. Amy insisted otherwise and we began to back out, but he reached for the gear to halt the car. She shot him a sharp glance and told her daughter to stay put. He gave up and got into the passenger seat, we finally got moving.

We got back to the freeway after a strange ride, a strange night, eerie at this point. Amy was asking and discussing what might be the best exit or otherwise spot to drop us off at, Robbie was chiming in with his two cents. Rebecca, clutching the little girls hand, wanted nothing more than out.

"This is good", I said, "this will be perfect, actually".

We hopped out in a random spot just along the freeway, there was no reason to stay with that energy another minute longer.

They drove off and instantly Rebecca and I were hugging, her in tears. She didn't want to talk and that's about all she said, so we started walking. I dragged my thumb behind me for a while, but then thought of what it would be like hopping into some one's car in this kind of shape, so put it down.

I lead us off the first exit and pointed us towards a place we could sit down, get a coffee and decompress. Half way to a spot a couple women in a pickup truck pulled over, not to give us a ride, but to hand us ten dollars, as if they somehow knew it's what we needed for where we were headed that very moment.

We started to get some coffee and a little food into us as Rebecca slowly began venting on the past twenty four hours - the drunken howler, his treatment towards his girlfriend and her daughter, my late night attitude. She suspected there was some physical abuse coming from him, or that it was at least barreling in that direction. She'd even given the daughter her phone number to call if anything came up.

We decided from then on that we'd have some sort of a code word or sign in case one of us was feeling uncomfortable and had to bail on a future ride or host. "Did we remember the shampoo", or some such.

After walking back to the freeway we got a short ride from a pretty chill guy, he dropped us off exactly where the howler had picked us up yesterday, it sunk in that over twenty four hours the only progress we'd made were Rebecca's shaken psyche and a change in our dynamic that wasn't quite clear to be a strengthening or a rift.

A young girl aiming to be a teacher picked us up next taking us another short distance, it felt good to be back on track. After a bit of walking after this we got the good long ride we needed from a Jim, a friendly guy who could get us to Memphis.

He told stories of his days hitchhiking. He'd once been so hungry that he stole a pet rabbit out of a cage on some one's back porch for a meal. Another time he'd gotten a ride from a guy who forced him to have sex with his extremely overweight wife, although he didn't seem to mind. These days he did a lot of driving and had movies all set up to watch while he drove, which is what Rebecca and I eventually got into as we cruised into the night.

He was nice enough to drive us straight to my friend Nick's house too which was a huge bonus, especially given how late is was. There was some quick hugs and catching up with Nick and Mandie, but everyone was about ready for sleep.

Rebecca and I spent several days there in town. One lazy day, then the next wandering the downtown while Nick and Mandie went to the zoo. Afterwards Nick took us over for the obligatory Memphis experience of Gus's Chicken, followed by a scientific comparison of various donut shops.

Another day walking around the park and lounging on blankets, the next enjoying another BBQ feast before going to the baseball game.

Nearly throughout Rebecca seemed to have become generally bored. In New Orleans and Memphis both she'd come off as uninterested and entitled as far as my friends were concerned, I wasn't sure how much more we'd be able to play the role or house guests moving along.

At times I thought she'd be more comfortable on the street, eager to pan handle and urban camp, make some crafts and carry on. Maybe having a place to stay was too easy. Perhaps part of it was being on the outside of the established dynamic I had with the friends we were staying with. I met Nick and Mandie at the same time in Alaska years ago and have had my share of amazing adventures and downtime with both of them.

Nick and I once ate donuts in his car. Seems like a simple thing, but in fact it was one of the most amazing and patriotic experiences of my life, one we will remember forever. Mandie once sprinkled moth balls in a circle around us as we sat around a tiny fire off the side of a remote stretch of road in Alaska, she thought it would keep the bears away until morning when we could attempt to get a ride from the few cars that may or may not be heading towards Canada.

We understood each other, time travel even, seeing each other after X amount of calendar months on one continent or another as if we'd only went to the store and back. We could hitch a thousand miles together on an epic journey or sit in a room silently together, simply instilled with the warmth of our connection.

Rebecca was not installed into our mind meld, so this was my guess as to a part of her growing distanced bored appearance. She also was becoming more and more preoccupied with her phone, reason being that it was the interface to the guy she'd become interested in back in Connecticut. This much I could understand, there's few things like the bubblings of fresh infatuation. Her escalation in that regard also spelled the end of our brief physical explorations together for the time being, those would remain exclusive to New Orleans, somehow fitting, but I understood that as well even if it wasn't momentarily ideal. I also knew that even if she appeared bored, she could be plenty entertained, I've been one myself to seem poker faced even while experiencing ecstasy. Anyways, there was something unique about her being that kept me interested, curious.

I also had someone from afar to think about. I'd been visiting Marilyn in Indiana just a couple weeks prior, immediately before hitching over to Georgia to meet up with Rebecca. Marilyn broke down as I was leaving, in need of a change, itching to travel, weighing her options. Since I left she'd started putting things in motion. She managed to secure a three month leave of absence from her nursing job and now had booked a flight to New York City to meet up with me and start her adventure.

One catch was her parents, who upon hearing the word "hitchhiking" apparently lost it. It wasn't too much of a catch, only in the sense that Marilyn was going to do what she wanted with or without their graces, but all the same she was hoping I could come meet them to ease their minds.

They lived just across the state in Nashville, Marilyn was driving down and I agreed to head over to meet them in hopes of making them slightly more comfortable with the idea of their daughter roaming around for a bit.

Rebecca was up for anything, so back to the road we headed.

May 4, 2013 to May 10, 2013


  1. I would love to blast Robbie about being such a drunken jerk but their was a time I was Robbie. I used to live to party but eventually looked in the mirror and sadly admitted, some people cannot hold their booze. I have no doubt Robbies wife has been left him and I hope for his and his family and friends sake he has opened his eyes. Great stories Kenny ! Mostly good experiences with some amazing people but a healthy dose of reality included.


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