Hitchhiking Colorado- Friday, April 26, 2013

Where: Castle Rock exit, from Denver to Colorado Springs

Time:  2:35

Wait: About 5 minutes

Kathy and I agree to meet off of the County Line light rail exit, near the shopping mall.  I’m laying out in the grass soaking up the sun with my earbuds on, and don’t even hear Kathy honk at me as she pulls up.  She is with her fifteen year old son, Daniel, and he is driving. 

I try to remember the elated feeling of being able to drive for the first time when I was fifteen, and the look on his face says it all, more than words can describe.  Daniel sports a backwards red Cardinals ball cap.  You’re probably the youngest person ever to pick up a hitchhiker, I joke with him.  He pulls the punch and tosses it back at me.  “I was expecting a dirty hobo, and I almost brought my Mitsubishi Eclipse instead”, he told me.  Instead, he’s surprised to see a bum college kid who just got a shower.

“My mom says she trusts you, but maybe you’re somebody that gains trust and then murders everyone”, he jokes.  ” I guess I watch too much TV, too much 48 Hours.”

Daniel guns it, trying to show off a bit, and Kathy tells him to lay off the gas.  “This isn’t a race car”, she scolds him.  “Should have brought my Eclipse”, he replies, shifting gears like a Nascar driver. 

They drop me off at the normal spot near Castle Rock, and Daniel mentions that he is anxious to get home and play some more video games with his friends, Call of Duty to be exact.  I bid farewell to Kathy are her son, and give her a copy of my book that I promised to bring her last week.  There is an unmarked car pulled along the shoulder and Kathy asks, “is that a cop?  If they bother you, just call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

Oh, it’s alright, I tell them.  I don’t think they’ll bother me, and if they do, they won’t bother me. 

I must have done something right today because I literally only hold my sign out for less than five minutes when a black Lexus pulls over, and a broad-shouldered guy in a blue Samsung business shirt invites me into his car.  He introduces himself with a handshake, a rather large hand, and something about him strikes me that he is x military personnel.  Sure enough, he did time in the Army, somewhere in central Texas, I later learn.

“Names Rocky”, he tells me, offering a beefy hand.  I ask him if that’s a nickname or his real name.  “My real name is Rockford”, he says. I tell him it can’t be so bad having a name in conjunction with one of the most awesome movies of all time.

He tells me that he works for Samsung cell phone company and is his “own boss”, being responsible for all of southern and southwest Colorado, including Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.  He drives his own vehicle, but is reimbursed for gas by the company. 

“Yesterday I drove over 650 miles”, he tells me dryly.  ” This week I put in over 60 hours.” 

A co-worker tries calling him, and it’s one of those phones that is connected to his car speakers, but the signal isn’t coming through.  “Todd, you there?  Todd?”

He disconnects and reconnects the phone.  “Fucking technology.”  It’s kind of funny to hear words like that come from somebody who sells phones and communication technology for a living.

He gets a call from his co-worker that comes through, and he talks about bringing a tablecloth, giving presentations, some kind of dinner banquet, and a two minute presentation.  Rocky seems to have a hard work ethic and a no-bullshit business ethics.

As we drive along the mountain range, I notice a plane pulling a glider plane alongside the mountains.  Rocky drops me off the Interquest Parkway exit in Colorado Springs, and I tell him that’s fine and thank him for the ride.

I think of walking the rest of the way to my brother’s place off Uintah Exit, but then I think twice and realize it would be a long walk.  I do what I suppose any vagabond should do, and I ask the first person I see at the gas station if they are heading south.  The first guy I ask turns out to be a nice guy, and says that he is heading south and can give me a ride, but not without first grabbing a “nasty gas station hot dog.”  Five minutes later, he comes out with a plastic hot dog wrapped in aluminum foil.  “I know I will regret having ate this later”, he tells me.

He introduces himself as Jason, and we both marvel at the glider over the mountain range, and he says that he has considered doing it.  “I guess it’s only 300 dollars to do”, he tells me.  “And you get to hang over the mountains for awhile.”  I tell him that I have done a tandem skydiving jump in Longmont, but it’s over in less than two minutes.  Gliding would be a longer experience.

” I just moved to Colorado Springs”, he tells me.  I ask him what brought him to Colorado.  ” Oh, the mountains”, he tells me.  “I just wanted a breath of change, of fresh air.  One day I just quit my job at the Human Services Center in Iowa, packed all my stuff into my car and moved here.  My car was so packed that you could barely see the mirrors.”

Jason says that he grew up in a small town of less than 6,000 people called Centerville, Iowa.  “Everybody knows everybody”, he tells me.  ” I like it out here, because in some ways, it’s nice to be able to go to a grocery store and not have everybody recognize you all the time.  Not that it’s a bad thing to have that community, but it gets to be overbearing sometimes.  Centerville, I think, is somewhat of a dying town now though.  It was a lot larger in the 1920s, when it boomed due to coal mining.  Now adays, lots of people are moving out.”  He pauses.  “Why would anyone want to live in Centerville when you can move to Des Moines and get a job that pays twice as much?”

He says that moving to Colorado was a great decision for him, and he knows this after staying for only a week so far.  He tells me that one of the “claims to fame” that Centerville, Iowa, his hometown, has is that the first black opera singer comes from Centerville.  His name is Simon Estes, and growing up during the Jim Crow era, he faced a lot of difficulties with becoming excepted in opera, often having to sit by himself in the top row if he came to listen to his mentors.  As Simon Estes, the great opera singer, says, ” I could have stopped in the field of opera and gone into music… and probably become a millionaire… overnight.  But I wanted to use the talent that I had, that was a gift from God given to me, in a more serious sense.”  He wanted to eradicate the barriers for other young blacks who wanted to pursue a career in opera after the footsteps he paved.
Here is a link to a short documentary about Simon Estes:

Jason drops me off, and says that he is on his way to “buy a mountain bike off Craigslist for 60 dollars.”  I tell him that we should do some riding this summer, and I think that indeed we shall as the good summer weather is rolling in, and starting to act like it might stick around for awhile. 



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