55 RIDES TO CROSS THE COUNTRY
It took me 55 rides to cross the country from the San Fernando Valley, just north of L.A., to Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, a peninsula reaching into the Atlantic Ocean.
Going to the Cape wasn’t my goal. I was just headed east. The New England area sounded good, and if it happened that I was close enough to visit my grandparents along the way, in West Virginia, I would do so.
My time in L.A. had come to an end for the time being – no prospects or job, and now was the time to travel. I pared down my belongings to what would fit in a corner in my friend’s garage, to be retrieved at a later date, and stuck out my thumb. I had made a sign that read “East Coast.” I carried a duffel bag with my essentials, a sleeping bag, a couple books, and a variety of snacks. I had my acoustic guitar, and twenty dollars.
I used to remember all fifty-five rides but over the years only these few have remained with me.
My friends drove me north on Interstate 5, over the Grapevine to Bakersfield, where they dropped me off at Hwy 58. “See ya’ later!” and they left for their return to the Valley. It was just after dark. Ride Number One.
A few rides later, and early morning, found me deep into Sacramento. I wanted to get to Hwy 50 and go east to South Lake Tahoe. I did a lot of walking. After what seemed forever, a couple of guys picked me up. They were going up 50 as far as Pollock Pines, half way to Tahoe.
As we neared Placerville, a gold country town on the famous Hwy 49, the driver said he thought something was wrong with his engine. I hadn’t noticed anything. We pulled into a gas station in town. He went in to talk with the mechanic, who said it would be a while before he could look at the car. We waited in the shade of trees lining the parking area. I brought my guitar and bag with me as I always do when hitchhiking.
Somehow, perhaps it was my “spidey” senses, and a furtive glance or two from the driver, but I became convinced that it was a set-up to separate me from my belongings, and they would be on their way leaving me there.
Thinking better safe than sorry, I picked up my gear and with a “I’m gonna go, see ya,” I walked to the highway entrance where I soon got another ride going all the way to South Lake Tahoe.
Riding through the lush forests of California Pines, I felt sure I would return to stay one day.
I walked through the city a couple of miles to Stateline, on the Nevada side of the border, where large casinos sprang up, flush with people and lights. It was only midday.
Two guys in a jeep picked me up and we were headed to Reno, on Interstate 80.
They let me off on a frontage road near the freeway. I had to walk a good ways, as did a parade of other hitchhikers, as hitchhiking was forbidden on Reno city streets. The police were vigilant about it. Finally coming to the freeway entrance, I joined the queue to wait my turn for a ride.
A family of four picked me up. They were going to Salt Lake City. It was a good ride and by late afternoon we were in Winnemucca.
They treated me to dinner at the buffet of a casino. As we exited to go back to the car, I put a dime into one of the slot machines and won five dollars. I now had twenty-five bucks.
Jerry, the dad, let me spot him driving so he could take a nap. I drove to Wendover on the Utah/Nevada state line, where we stopped for a few hours rest. I was tired and fell fast asleep.
Jerry resumed driving and by daybreak, they dropped me off at a busy freeway entrance in Salt Lake City. I felt good and was wide awake.
Two college students traveling from Oakland, CA, picked me up. They were going to Davenport, Iowa, to connect to Interstate 74, then to Interstate 70 at Indianapolis, all the way to their university in Delaware. What luck, I was thinking. This was on the way to where my grandparents lived.
We drove steady, each of us taking turns at the wheel, stopping only for gas. Early the next morning, after 24 hours driving, we stopped at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where they had friends and we could rest up.
A day later, after what was supposed to be a brief stopover, we were still there. I had the feeling they were waiting on something. Every few hours, we were supposed to leave, but it didn’t happen. Then, I overheard a whispered conversation between the two about “when is it going to get here?”
Ding! Ding! Ding! Alarm bells went off! Whatever it was they were waiting for, I got to thinking it was time for me to leave. I thanked them for the ride and left shortly thereafter.
end part 1, of 2.