Time: About 2:30
Where: An exit just outside of Castle Rock
Wait: About 15 minutes
A little after one o’clock, having missed one of my train stops, Kathy and I meet in front of Meadow Parks shopping mall, just in front of the Denver light rail stop, County Line. It’s the kind of sunny day that pierces into your iris and makes you beg for some kind of vision, it’s a gorgeous day. Kathy is all smiles and laughs, and she’s a talker, as you may have picked up from the previous weeks that she has given me a ride just past Castle Rock. “I should start calling you Delay”, she says. “I used to have a friend that was always late, and we started calling him that.”
I ask her how the trip to Las Vegas, Nevada went, and she runs and hand through her blonde hair and laughs. ” Five days in Vegas is just way to effing long! I lost a lot of money, but we had a really great time.” This tends to be the typical experience one gets through the Las Vegas experience, lighter smiles and lighter pocket books.
As we head out onto the Interstate 25, Kathy tells me about the highlight of the trip, when they went to one of the famous Las Vegas shows, this one in particular involving a hypnotist. His name is Michael Anthony, and you can find some of his hypnotic demonstrations and entertainment on YouTube.
“It was crazy, all of the people were random contestants”, she says. “He’d convince people of the strangest, funniest things, like this one guy that was convinced his butt was on fire and the only way to stop the burn was for him to scoot himself across the floor. Another clean-cut looking guy was hypnotized and convinced that he was auditioning for a porn movie, using the chairs that were on stage. It was a riot”, she says. “After that trip, and losing that much money, I think that maybe I’ll go back to Vegas in maybe twenty years”, she cracks.
She makes a pit stop at the liquor store just off the highway. “I’ll be riiggghhht back”, she says. Two minutes later, she returns with a small flask of peppermint vodka to add to her depleting supply of Black Velvet. We drive on down the highway service road and she shows me where large chunks of iron rest along the train tracks. “If you ever need some extra cash”, she tells me. ” That’s one thing you can do. We used to collect them and load my car down and take them in for compensation. They are a bit heavy though, so sometimes you need another person.”
I don’t have any intentions of every doing this, but I listen to her all the same, intrigued.
Kathy tells me that she has been on disability pay for some time, and that she has to be careful with work, and prefers to get paid under the table so that the system does not screw her over. ” I’d rather not do it that way”, she tells me. ” But if the system is set up where they either want you all on them or all on your own, this is what I have to do.” She gives me the impression that much of her family has shunned her, or painted her as an outcast, and it’s maybe at that moment that it occurs that’s all Kathy needs perhaps; somebody to listen to her, which is totally cool by me.
Kathy lets me off at the same spot, and we agree to do the same thing next week if all works out right.
I’ve been holding my sign, pulling it away from the wind as it extends its reaches to pull the cardboard from my fingertips, for about five minutes when the one vehicle that I really don’t want to see pulls off to the shoulder. It’s a super-sized white Chevrolet Suburban with the words State Trooper engraved on the side of the panels.
He approaches me casually, and I just smile and nod. “What are you doing?”, he asks me, some hint in his voice as if I might be doing something wrong.
Hitchhiking, I tell him dryly and matter-of-factly, in my best attempt at the same tone of voice that he approached me with.
He gives me the same speel, in so many words of his own, that the other police that have stopped so far have told me. “It’s just dangerous”, he tells me. ” At least I’m not seeing you dead on the side of the highway.”
In all fairness, I give him the benefit of the doubt, because I can see where his perspective comes from, largely based off what he sees on the news, and I’m sure he’s actually see some horrible things beyond my worst imaginations within his work. Having acknowledged his point of view, I give him my alternative opinion in that I have had over 25 extremely positive experiences, and that I plan on continuing doing exactly what I am doing.
I suggest that maybe I could “try hitching in a different location?”, as I’ve discovered at this point that most of the time the real truth is not so much the safety concern, but the impression that some select members of the public get if they do not stop to talk in a condescending tone of voice to people with aspirations of meeting someone at random and getting a free ride.
Once I tell him that I am a college student in Denver, and plan on attending Metro State at some point, he seems to warm up as he is pursuing his second degree at Metro State at this moment. “I hope to graduate soon”, he tells me. “Maybe then, I can get out of this damn monkey suit.” It’s an honest remark like this that makes me respect this guy even more, and a situation that he easily could have made painful for both of us, has been turned into a positive. “Well, I’m not gonna kick you off or tell you what to do”, he tells me. “Just be safe, and good luck.”
With that, after taking my ID, he drives off and I offer him a casual salute.
In a matter of five minutes, I almost don’t notice the white car that has pulled over to the shoulder to offer a ride as I look at oncoming traffic in the other direction.
The guy sitting in the drivers’ seat is a jolly looking guy whose appearance is best described at first glance as having a Chris Farley kind of look. Thanks for stopping man, I tell him. “I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker… in gosh…. almost twenty years!”, he tells me. “But we used to hitchhike all the time back in my prime. You get a completely different experience through biking and hitchhiking that you would never get through other means of traveling.”
Come to find out, his name is Kelly and he grew up in a small town in Michigan, just north of Detroit, of which I have forgotten the name of. He asks me what I do in Denver, and I tell him a little bit about myself, as he seems genuinely interested. I ask him what he does and his interests are.
He smiles, and casually responds,” Well, I’m a former electrical engineer, turned crackhead, who recovered and became a counselor. ” He tells me that he struggled in his young adult with years, after having smoked a joint with cocaine one time, and went onto a harsh downward spiral after that moment. Now a-days, he has completely recovered, eight years sober, and he spends his waking hours aiding the homeless, giving counseling to drug abusers and users, and apparently, occasionally picking up hitchhikers like myself
He tells me about an epic two week hiking trip he did with some buddies of his years back, in Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, near the Lake Superior coast in Michigan. “We just brought a backpack, two weeks worth of food, and set off into the wilderness”, he says. ” There was a town along the coast also, where we spent some time in drinking, maybe getting laid”, he says, reminiscing. “Those were some really good times.”
He asks about my books, and tells me that his daughter might be interested in reading them. “She likes suspenseful books, books that are dangerous, that involve life or death situations”, he says. “I’m not sure why… actually, I know why. My daughter had a bone marrow transplant when she was younger, and it’s affected her life outlook.”
Kelly tells me about one of the places that he is in relations with through his counseling work, called Phoenix Multi-Sports, which is based in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder. The organization is actually amazing, dedicating their time to helping x-addicts and drug users stay sober through recreational outdoor sports such as hiking, mountain biking, running, strength training, yoga, and other activities.
There is a link to the organization here:
On the way in, Kelly gets a phone call from a friend and answers. Based on their conversation, it sounds as if he just got done with job interview in Denver, and he thinks it went well. His friend apparently asks him what he wore. “Oh, I found a suit that would fit my bulk”, he cracks. “I suppose the medical term for it would be obesity.”
There is something about Kelly that makes a person feel instantly comfortable, somebody that can joke about themselves in a only mildly degrading way in order to let the other person feel in control of the conversation. It is a quality that I could see in him that would make him an excellent counselor, especially based on his past experiences.
I tell him that I play my music downtown on sixteenth street occasionally, and he asks me if I have heard of the “gutter punks”, meaning the younger people that apt to be homeless by choice rather than pursuing other things. I tell him that I’ve met someone of them, I suppose, and they have listened in on occasion, some of them obviously with drug problems, outside of being homeless.
“I work with those people to try to get them out of their situation”, he tells me. ” It can be a problem, as they are often mooching off a lot of the funding that we get for people that really need the aid.”
I thank him for the ride, and tell him I’ll be in touch, as I would like to volunteer through one of his organizations for one of my classes. “Great meeting you”, he tells me. Likewise, I tell him. He drives off.