Date: Monday, May 27, 2013
Time: About 2:00 (Colorado Springs to Denver)
Wait: Less than 2 minutes
What is the proper word for hitch hiking with a bicycle? Considering that the term hitch hiking derives from a combination of both hiking, and hitching a ride, I suppose the word could be hitch-biking. Having decided to bring my Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bicycle into Denver, I took one glance at the back seat of my brothers’ girlfriend’s car and could see that molding that bike into the back was not going to be feasible.
So I cycled to the Uintah hitch spot on Memorial Day, leaned against my kickstandless bicycle, and stuck out my thumb like always. I was predicting that this would take longer than normal, given that the hitcher had to either have a truck, a bike rack, or be some kind of bicycle enthusiast– but my prediction is proven wrong as a mildly beat-up white Ford-250 construction truck pulls to the curbside after waiting less than two minutes.
A big, surly construction-type looking guy with tattoos along both shoulders and a cleanly-shaven bald head hops out of the truck. I ask him where he’d like me to lay the bike, as the bed of the pickup is full of all kinds of assorted things– linoleum tiles, two by fours, tool boxes, tubes and chains, old dirty styrofoam cups.
“Oh, throw it in wherever you want,” he says, and helps me load it into the front of the bed. We hop back into the cab, which is covered in a thick carpet of grime and dirt. He extends an ogre-size, deeply-callused working-man’s hand. “Name’s Butch,” he says in a booming voice. “Nice to meet you.”
It becomes immediately apparent that Butch is a straight-forward guy, a workaholic, and quite possibly an alcoholic based on the warm aromas of whiskey that float off of his every breath. His driving skills seem better than most, despite this.
“I can’t understand why an old guy like me can work harder than them young guys I’ve got working that are 18, 19… I’ve worked 65 days straight without a break. Left Denver at 7 this morning, got to work at 8:15.”
Wow, I say, sounds like you work a lot.
“Yeah, I do, but I get a day off soon for my daughter’s high school graduation. She went to a private school in Denver called Options. I’ve been married 19 years, got five kids.”
He merges into the fast lane, and the engine is roaring, until we catch up with some holiday traffic near Monument and we jolt down to a snail’s pace. “Son of a bitch,” he says. We’re cruising at 20 mph on the interstate. “Hell, you probably could get by faster on your bike along this stretch,” he says, laughs deeply from his belly.
He gets a phone call and he talks with his contractor on the phone about a job involving tile, the day’s progress. “Yeah, ya don’t have to worry about the hotel for tonight, boss,” Butch says into the phone. “Decided to go home and see my cats.” He laughs. “You know I love my pussies.”
The traffic picks back up, and we start moving at a consistent highway speed again. The weather is crystal-blue clear over the mountains and flawless; not a single hint of dark in the clouds.
“I pay most of my employees 8 to 10 dollars an hour,” he says. “If they get the job done early, I give them a bonus. One kid quit the other day, and told me he got a job paying 12 an hour or something, but then I told him that the reality is, after taxes, he’s only making 8. Under the table is the way to do it, helps me out, and helps my employees out. Fuck Uncle Sam,” he says under his breath, laughs.
“Had to fire a guy last week cause another worker called and said, ‘ yeah, this guy has just been sitting here all day and smoking cigarettes’, so I had to make a decision, and fire him, and when he asked why, I said, ‘well, it’s either you or me, so you’re fired.”
He talks about the grievances that go along with working construction, and I notice his bloodshot eyes, either from alcohol or working like an Egyptian, maybe a little bit of both. Butch tells me how the construction “plans” are always up for revision–agendas constantly changing, which always sets him back, costing him time and money.
“Guy pissed me off the other day,” he says, “first, he tole me to drill 1 1/4″ holes for the wiring, and then after it was drilled, says change it to 3″ holes, then tells me something else, so finally I said, ‘well would ya make up yer mind, whadd’ ya want already?!”
Butch tells me about his older business model, which was before he cleaned up and started doing construction. “Used to make thousands turning speed into crank, and was dating a girl whose Grand Daddy was the DEA, so I had the inside scoop on when busts were going on. One day, I was putting a quarter into the jukebox at this bar, to play some Eagles or Bob Seger or something, when she says to me, ‘ Butch, you gotta stop your business, and they are onto you.’ Someone at the bar I was going to was an informant.” He laughs. “I don’t do that anymore,” he says. “I hate going to bars now cause I can’t stand all those eyes staring at me.”
He tells me that he almost got busted once, since one of the junkies he sold to was discovered squatting in a cabin with a needle sticking out of his arm, and one of the hunters happened to be an off-duty cop. “Well, I had traded the guy dope for his Corvette,” he says. “Let’s just say, that guy ratted on me, and I almost got caught and lost my Corvette.”
Driving down the road, Butch says, “smell that?”
I take a whiff, the olfactory aromas distinct. “Smells like skunk,” I say.
He laughs. “Yeah, or some really good weed.”
He lays his foot down on the accelerator, and buries the needle to 95. “There’s a limiter at 95 mph,” he says. “Won’t go any faster than that!,” he says as we soar passed the tiny cars below us.
He takes out a flask of whiskey, and I don’t say anything as he holds it between his legs, not drinking, but as if he is resisting taking the first swig. Really, it’s his vehicle, and was nice enough to stop and pick me up— none of the people that don’t drink did– he seems like he wants to take a drink, like it is almost moderately painful having the flask sit right there, and a few times he almost brings it to his lips.
We talk a bit about relationships. “My brother basically married a woman he pretty much found living in a tent outside of a Holiday Inn motel with her son,” he says. “Well, they got married, had 2 kids of their own, so three kids total, and later she divorced him. She got bored with him, and he ended up cheating on her. ” Not every story ends in butterflies, flowers, and a majestic castle.
Butch drops me off at the Arapahoe light rail stop. ” I don’t ride trains anymore myself,” Butch says. “Last time I rode a train was years ago, with my family in California… I had my two daughters with me, and somehow we wound up in Tijuana, Mexico!”
He helps me unload the bike at Arapahoe, and we exchange a firm handshake, I thank him again for the ride. “No problem,” he says, ” say, how many miles do you have on that bike?” Maybe about 3,000, I tell him.
He shakes his head and laughs. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Take care!”, he shouts, hopping into his tank of a truck.
Yes, Mr. Butch, you are a good man indeed. I don’t care what anyone else says about you.