Tuesday, March 26, 2013- Colorado Springs to Denver
Time: About 3:00 pm
Wait: About 25 minutes
Hitch: 3 people: Izzy, Kill, and Jill
Where: Uintah Exit (Colorado Springs) to Bellview Exit (Denver)
At about three PM I carry my weighty duffel bag and backpack along the dirt trail to Uintah Exit. It’s surprisingly warm, after a weekend of alternative weather involving snowflakes half the size of an average pinky. I shed off my jacket and lay it on top of my backpack and duffel bag along the shoulder, and once again begins the process of selling myself to the traffic passing by. I feel like a renegade now, the last warrior in the revival of the hitchhiker. Ok, maybe not.
The sun hovers high about the mountains and cascades down onto my face; the typical business men zoom by in their BMWs with scowls on their faces. I dislike stereotypes, but sometimes acknowledging truisms is not the same thing as a stereotype. As usual, a few people shrug their shoulders as if to gesture, “I’m not going that far”, or “sorry, I can’t”. Others smile or wave.
I’m looking at the clock on my cell phone and a bit of trepidation settles upon me; it is now almost 3:30, and I have to be at work off Bellview, about an hour away, at five o’clock. I’m beginning to wonder if I should have set out earlier, and if my luck continues this wayward direction, I just might be late for work.
Suddenly, a little green car slows down quickly and pulls to the shoulder, three passengers crammed inside, and I scurry over to my bags and a girl with a great smile and purple hair says hello and pops the trunk; I throw my bags and cardboard hitchhiking sign into the back. She introduces herself as Jill, and tells me that they are all from Colorado Springs, and only going to Denver for the night; they are heading to the Sixteenth Street area.
I hop in the back seat next to a guy with a nose and tongue ring, we exchange introductions and he tells me his name is Kill. He has an wide, secretive smile on his face like this might be some kind of joke and I find it ironic that I feel completely comfortable sitting next to a guy that I just met named Kill.
Kill is a nice guy and awesomeness seems to leak through his being. “I’m studying to be a bartender”, he tells me. I ask him how the studying is going. “Oh it’s good”, he tells me. “There’s a lot of technical information that I’m still learning.” I ask him how much practicing mixing drinks he has done with his friends, he laughs. “Plenty”, Kill says.
In the front passenger seat, a guy with a shaved head, wearing a black bandanna, introduces himself as Izzy. He is originally from Lake Tahoe, California, and it seems that he is dating the driver (Jill).
He turns around and asks me, “So have you ever tried train hopping?” I tell him no, but I think that it should be on my bucket list. “I have a friend in California, and his girlfriend and him hop trains back and forth all the time. They even bring their little dog sometimes, they put him in one of their bags, and she’ll jump on first, then he’ll hand her the bag with their dog and jump on after.”
I ask him about the logistics and planning involved with the modern day train hopper. I know that train hopping was a common way to get from state to state for many men searching for work during the 1930s Great Depression era, but I also know that now adays you have to watch out for the men known as “Bulls”, whose job it is to watch the train grounds for people who might be hopping, and if they find you, as with the kid in the movie Into the Wild (about a kid that train hops on his way to Alaska, and burns all of his money and decides to live in the Alaskan bush), it often can result in the Bulls becoming violent with the trainhoppers.
“The main thing to remember, is that train hopping is technically illegal”, Izzy says. “That said, it’s not wise to jump of the train directly at the station, because you’ll probably get caught. It’s better to hop off right before the station, and go about undetected. You also sometimes have to watch out for other train hoppers—- some of the old timers can be territorial and hard to get along with. They take some warming up to; a moving train is the last place you want to get in an argument with somebody on. It sometimes happened that men died in the ’30s from either stumbling or being shoved off of a moving boxcar.”
Jill chimes in and says that an old friend of hers used to train hop with her, and they once jumped off a Colorado train together into a deep lake below. “It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life”, she tells me. I ask her what she does now. “I was an EMT, went to school for it”, she says. This turns out to be something that we both have in common. ” I just haven’t got the chance to practice what I’ve learned in the field, since everything went to shit.” I interpret this as something happened to her that hinders her from pursuing an emergency medical career, but I refrain from prying out of politeness.
Izzy tells me that he is in the active duty Army, based in Colorado Springs, and his MOS is in the IT department, working with computers. I ask him how long he has left. “One more year, unfortunately”, he tells me. ” I can’t stand how the military operates, although my job isn’t that bad”, he says. “It’s difficult to do my job essentially because of the military procedures. The military’s computer system is based off an internalized computer system, meaning that basically it is not wired into any other computer grid, making is impossible for anyone to hack that is not from within. This is obviously good, but for this reason, and all the red tape involved with the military computer system, it can make it difficult, sometimes impossible to do our jobs.”
I mention that my brother does the weather forecasting for the Air Force, and he tells me a story about a weather blimp when he was stationed in Afghanistan that almost got away on a windy day. “Basically, the blimp was huge, about the size of two semi trailers”, he says, pointing to the trailer we are passing at about ninety mph. “The blimp reads the wind direction, amongst other things, and it is held to the ground by thick chains and floats with helium, I think. Well, it was so windy that it busted the chains and the thing came crashing to the ground.”
He laughs. “It would have been quite a production if it had gotten away in Afghanistan— because it is property of the government, they would have had to chase it down, wherever it went. Weather is an important job in the military though, thank your brother for me.”
Izzy tells me that part of the military experience is learning the language at first. Expressions like high-speed (meaning you fucked up), dress down, and all the other lingo takes time to get acquainted with.
We are almost into Denver, and Jill shows me some pictures she drew on her notepad that are in the style of Japanese Anime. Strange Pokemon-esque looking characters, naked angels (as she says an angel always looks more angelic without clothes), alien teddy bears, and other interesting figures that showcase Jill’s artistry as I flip through the book.
“I go to what’s called Non desu ka gatherings in Denver, which literally means ‘what is it’ in Japanese. People sometimes dress up as Anime characters, draw, and play-out the characters”, she says.
Izzy turns around. “It’s for nerds”, he explains, laughs. They drop me off at a McDonald’s near my work, and I thank them, give them a few CDs of my music, and arrive just in the nick of time.
“See ya around”, Izzy says, and they drive off.