Hitchhiking across Texas to Arizona

Let's hitchhike together, shall we? We'll start at a casino in Louisiana, we'll midpoint at some more casinos in Las Vegas, and we'll end in the blissful serenity of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We'll even throw a plane in there, we'll float on the river, and hell, let's drink some goddamn beer.

Speaking of beer, that's where we left off. I'd just made a mission out of visiting every brewery in the state of Mississippi in under 24 hours, and after a hitch over the border, I found myself staying at a casino by Shreveport, Louisiana. Was it the Horseshoe? I can't remember, but I was staying there for free on account of being a degenerate.

Drunken, seesaw gambling is good honest work, and while I've put most of it in while in Vegas over the years, it turns out that the almighty Caesars network of sin and fools stretches far and wide, even to Louisiana.

On this trip I was smart, meaning: lucky. I blackjacked in short bursts, just enough every time to leave the casino and afford a couple beers and Louisiana foods like crawfish, catfish, and étouffée. Hobo Lifestyle, living it up.

A few days of this and I was back on the highway with my thumb out to Dallas. Two rides is all it took; first a pro basketball player from Trinidad, then a guy who owned a kayak rental store. Before dark, I was hopping in my buddy's car who was currently playing house with the latest girl he'd drummed up on the apps. This was the one he was gonna marry. At least that's what he told her.

The visit was short, grabbing some quality beers and a feast while we caught up before crashing in the guest room. In the morning, after dropping his lady off at her work, we somehow squeezed in a bakery, a couple of breweries, and even a trip to some video game museum before I was back on the road heading to... well, at that moment I wasn't certain. West, for sure. Phoenix was the closest thing I had to a complete thought.

A pickup truck and two 18-wheeler rides deep and I was putting some thoughts together. This truck driver was obsessed with legal nuance and loopholes bordering on unusable. He was the type to talk about your name being written in ALL CAPS being a different entity, not having to pay taxes, being owed a certain amount of gold and land as a birthright and other such ramblings I've heard before. Fascinating, seemingly airtight (without someone else in the know there to rebuttal), but a lot of talk.

Looking at the map, I saw that I could hop out of his truck in Big Springs to make a run at Carlsbad, New Mexico to drop in on a family friend. I did so at dark, and consequently slept under an overpass - the nicest accommodations for a hobo in the desert for miles, and was back on my feet when the sun peeked up.

The first ride of the day came from Juan, a guy who bought me a breakfast burrito to chow then and a cigar to smoke later... much later as it turned out. I think I held on to that thing for a good six months.

A few more rides with good walks in between and I arrived in Carlsbad, eventually meeting my friends at the brewery in town. Beers, feast, beers. Sound familiar? Standard operating procedure for travelers dropping in on friends after a time apart.

Another morning, another drop-off. Backpack on back, thumb outstretched, and road reaching the horizon. The Phoenix idea was drawing more attention.

First ride of the day came from a couple who took me to a brewery in Cloudcroft for beer and pizza. At this point, you gotta wonder if I'm lucky, a master of manifestation, or simply admit that beer is the glue that holds humanity together.

Did she slide me $27 afterward when her husband wasn't looking? Yes, pay me after feeding me and lifting me down the road. I've long since refrained from declining or arguing such gifts, to do so is to deny their joy of giving, of helping, of proliferating a culture of kindness. And I'll savor the sandwiches it'll buy, and the beers that'll wash them down.

Two more rides got me to Las Cruces and back to the interstate, I-10, the main vein from Florida to California with less than four-hundred miles between me and Phoenix. I have a great friend there, and while you know that travel-plus-friend-equals-beer, you may not know that this particular friend goes a step further. We always brew our own beer, drink the highest quality beer (big stouts, in particular), and generally find a way to have an otherwise kick-ass time.

The next ride would get me there, it would just take a couple days. It was a girl, about my age, thirty years old, who pulled into the shoulder of the interstate.

"Two heads are better than one," she told me as I hopped in. She was hoping I'd help her panhandle for gas on the way to Phoenix, something she'd been doing since she was eighteen when she became what she called "car homeless."

Now you might see someone like myself, out on the road with a backpack, not from "here" and benefiting from the kindness of strangers, but panhandling is not something I've gotten involved in. I solicit rides, sure, but I often do so from the side of the road, rarely employing the (advised and often fruitful) strategy of approaching people at gas pumps and the like. Either I don't wanna bother people, I'm conveniently shy, or I'm afraid of face-to-face rejection. I haven't thought about it enough, but in any case, I avoid it, and as I say, I'm looking for a ride, not money. Unless you just force-feed me $27 when your husband isn't looking.

But, I'm also a gracious guest, so if she wanted my help in exchange for a ride, I'd give it a shot. But, I sucked at it. Before dark, we stopped at a Walmart and two gas stations looking for handouts and I struck out every time, even drawing the attention of the owners of one place that kicked us out. She, however, was a pro and managed twenty dollar bills and a couple gas jug fill-ups.

By dark, we landed at a desolate gas station nearly on empty when a self-proclaimed "reverend" came out of the literal desert woodwork offering a fill-up. His card was declined partway through, but a partial fill-up was welcomed just as well.

We drove into the night, both getting tired, and parking the truck a hundred miles shy of Phoenix near another remote gas station. She was up with the sun, I crawled out of my bivy sack next to the car and welcomed the new day. She talked her way into one last jug fill-up from some road-trippers, and we were golden.

We arrived with masterful timing, as my buddy happened to be driving nearby in the otherwise sprawling splatter of a city they call Phoenix and other names depending on how far you're bleeding outward into the desert.

Game on. I spent over a couple weeks there as we drank great beers at home, great beers at breweries, great beers we brewed ourselves, and indeed brewed a couple more batches to drink down the road sometime. And during all this, I was in the midst of editing my show about beer. Have you watched Hopping: The Backpacking Beer Adventure? Well, there you go.

There was much more editing left to be done, a creative but tedious chore, but something that had to be done. With summer approaching, I figured Jackson Hole, Wyoming would be a good place to post up and finish. And while I started this post promising Vegas, a plane, a boat, and Jackson, let's take a breather and save that for the next one. Stay tuned, friends.