Date: Sunday, June 9, 2013 (Colorado Springs to Denver)
Time: About 1:30
Wait: about 1 hour and 45 minutes total
It’s been a great weekend, after adventures with a fellow traveler and hitchhiker from Moscow, Russia, whom I hosted through the website Couchsurfing.org. It’s a great resource for travelers, if not one of the best in the Internet world. Long weekend short, we decided to hitchhike separately, as Sasha was also heading to Denver; so he hitched out earlier in the morning, and I followed shortly after, only because it is typically a better strategy to hitch alone with better chances of getting picked up faster.
I set off to Uintah with my guitar and backpack– the weather couldn’t be any better; there’s hardly any clouds across the clear blue sky. It is hot though, and there’s nowhere to take shade from the increasing warmth of the sun as I wait at Uintah Exit. I’ve waited maybe 15 minutes when a silver car pulls over to the roadside.
The guy rolls down the window, he’s got sunglasses on, salt and pepper hair slicked back, fingerless gloves, and there’s a Buddha bobble-head that rests on the dashboard. I try to imagine this Buddha doll meditating through an earthquake of road turbulence. ” I’m only going to University exit,” he tells me, “but I can at least get you that far. Lots of military guys, people heading back to Denver, probably better luck at that exit,” he says. He speaks very quickly, in scattered thoughts and he’s an extremely positive sounding guy. ” Oh… name’s Laughing Bear,” he says, laughs and extends a hand to the back seat as we take off.
Nice to meet you, Laughing Bear, I tell him.
“They were handing these out in downtown Colorado Springs,” he tells me, and hands me back something that looks like a Bic Pen, says LiveWell on the side. “It’s a vaporizer,” he tells me. ” That’s what’s great about Colorado, you know, pots legal now, so it was only a matter of time until the engineers starting getting together and talking about inventing some stuff. You know, it’s a lot cheaper for me to smoke with that than a bowl or anything else… I smoke everyone out at concerts for like fifty cents, while everyone else forks out their entire paycheck just to get high…. some of that new stuff coming out is too strong for me, ya know, hemp like Lethal Weapon and stuff… it’s got way too much THC for my tastes man, I like to be able to function and get stuff done, not just get stoned and sit on the couch…”
Lethal Weapon, I think to myself. Some name for a brand of pot!
Laughing Bear talks very quickly and I just listen, gaining insight into the marijuana world that is foreign to me. ” The vaporizers hit much smoother,” he continues,” see, you just hold that button there till that light turns orange, and then it’s real smooth when you hit it…”
Laughing Bear sets me out at the University Exit, hands me a magazine called THC- Colorado’s Premier Guy to Hemp Culture. “Here, that will educate you,” he tells me. ” Anyways, best of luck, nice to meet you, and hope to see you at the Gathering!”
The Gathering is part of the counterculture movement in Colorado since marijuana has become legalized. Maybe I’ll see there, I tell him, great to meet you, thanks for the ride.
I’m laughing out loud as I hop out of the car.
I walk across the main road of University and walk onto the merge ramp, stick out my thumb. One guy pulls over and tells me that he is only going two exits up, which i decline, with the logic that it might hinder me from finding a ride quickly the rest of the way to Denver, as it’s a less trafficked area. ” Right on brotha, have a good trip,” he tells me, assuming that I am on some kind of extended road trip. I tell him that I will, just to keep things simple, thank him for stopping.
The sun is burning down on my neck as I wait out along University for a ride, and there’s not a single tree in near sight– perhaps I could take shelter behind a decent-sized tumble weed? I’ve waited maybe twenty minutes already when A Colorado Springs police officer rolls up and just says ,” Ya gotta be standing before the sign”, and I say no problem, and he drives away.
There is a sign that is at the beginning of the merge ramp, only problem is that its literally safer and more logical to get a ride where I’m standing. I decide it’s best to follow the rules in this case and avoid getting a ticket, and my gut instinct as right, as another cruiser strolls by about five minutes later, evidently checking to make sure that I have adhered to his demands.
So this does form a problem, as nobody can see me till they are literally right on me with my thumb extended, and it makes it harder for anyone to pull over in time once they see me. The merge ramp has a curvature, so drivers do not see me till they have come around the bend, already traveling at a good speed. An old couple drives buy, and I read the lips of an old man say to his wife, ” Should I ‘it ‘im?”, which could also have translated to “Should I get ‘im?”, but based on his slight swerving I would estimate it was the first rather than the latter.
Over an hour later, I’m really starting to think that I’m going to have to call in to work because I’m most likely not going to make it to Denver in time tonight. That’s when suddenly, a car with Florida license plates pulls over, just as if he dropped right from the sky itself– some kind of miracle.
I hop in the car, throw my stuff in the back. ” My name’s Jack,” he tells me. He’s got wide-eye eyes and greying hair. ” I bought this car in Florida back in December, was out there helping some of my family with a move… when I got back the state of Colorado said I had to pay sales taxes again to get the license plates, so I decided not to do that, and I’m waiting till next year, keeping the damn Florida plates. Talk about taxation for the mentally challenged!” He laughs dryly.
I learn quickly that Jack likes to talk a lot and has a lot to say, so I just listen. ” Yeah, well you know, the whole double taxing something that has already been taxed when it was brand-new is completely ridiculous and corrupt anyways,” he says. “Think about the mathematics of a car, for example… you buy the car, pay what is it– six percent sales tax in Colorado when it’s new? Then that person sells it, it gets taxed again for six percent, then again, six percent, again six percent… you think about it like that, you get to realizing that the state basically owns a majority of that dollar…. it’s all screwy.”
I learn that Jack works at Sears in Colorado, but he’s got a huge story behind how he got to where he is, one that has sub-stories and complications that we can’t get covered in one car ride, but I get some insight.
Jack also is from Michigan, like myself, and he used to live in Ann Arbor not too long ago. “I lost everything– everything in the mortgage crash,” he tells me. ” I was doing everything right ya know– never had missed paying a bill in my life, had a white picket fence, two-car garage, a steady job for over 20 years, and then one day, my wife and I just had to give it all up… I lost over 80,000 dollars in my investment… it was both devastating and liberating to lose my house… I was just filled with emotions the day I lost it… can’t even tell ya in words. Yep, one day, I just had to tell the bank fuck it, you can have the house. I lost everything I’d worked for… now my wife and I live in a small apartment in Denver and I work at Sears. I love my job though, meet new people every day… ya know, Sears is the only place that you can get a warrantied house window good for 50 years. Anyways, thing about it is, I’m going to have to work my ass off and save till I retire, because now I don’t have any kind of plan or savings… everything was ripped away from me.”
I sympathize with Frank, as this is the story of many Americans since 2008 and before, and especially in the states of Michigan and California. ” You know, Michigan is a great state overall,” he says, ” it’s just that it’s been over-run by the Democrats in my opinion. This is what over 30 years of Democratic rule will do… why would I start my business in Michigan with a 30% taxation, when I can take it to South Carolina or something and only pay 7% sales tax for my business? Everyone that can pay taxes in Michigan has moved out, in my opinion.”
Frank starts talking political with a fire, and I keep my opinions to myself and let him vent. It’s interesting to get different perspectives, conspiracy theories or truth.
He laughs. “Well didn’t you know the White House’s cafeteria has been replaced with a Verizon? I don’t have a cell phone, it’s only a way for the government to watch over us and keep track of us… I was in the military as a young man, until they told me that I was a drunken lunatic. After getting kicked out, I bought a ticket to Florida, and then spent the next six years basically hitchhiking around America, working jobs here and there. Somehow after all that, I ended up in Vail, Colorado. Hell, for a while I was homeless living under the bridge in Cherry Creek along the river.”
I ask him if he’d ever been train hopping.
” I did, all the time actually,” he tells me. “But I wouldn’t do it today… things have changed. The people that hop the trains these days are bound to kill ya, throw your body in a field, and maybe, just maybe later they’ll find your discarded body… the world aint’ the same.”
” I’ve got a bad feeling about everything, well, I would guess that in five years or less this is all going to end…. it’s only a matter of time before Israel uses some of the weapons we gave them, Iraq or Pakistan get hold of devastating weaponry… World War 3 was triggered back in the ’60s, only a matter of time. I feel bad for your generation.”
Things get looking more optimistic.
” Well, you think about the Constitutional amendments, we don’t have any rights anymore… let’s see… the first amendment was taken from us long ago, doesn’t even exist. They’re working on taking the second amendment from us, I give it five years till no ordinary American citizen owns a gun. Once shit hits the fan, the government will just use the third amendment as an excuse for soldiers to raid our homes… the fourth amendment doesn’t even exist, the police just break into your house any time they want to these days. Fifth amendment has been handed over to the big government and the sixth amendment… I forget what the sixth amendment was…. ah fuck it, what does it matter, who cares anymore.”
There is sarcasm here, as I’m sure Frank is aware that the sixth amendment is a right to a speedy and fair trial, allegedly.
I ask him if he thinks rights are slowly being eroded from generation to generation, so that it’s so slow that people hardly notice. “Well now people are starting to become aware,” he says. ” My grandparents lived much more free than your generation or mine did, that’s without a doubt. Here’s something funny– I asked my grandparents before they died, back in ’87 what the best invention or most impacting moment was during their time… my Grandpa lean backs in his chair and says, ‘the moon landing.’ My Grandma gives it only a few seconds thought and says, ‘the invention of birth control pills.’ He laughs deeply.
“You think about it, that really changed the outlook for women forever. You know, I think the problem with politics today and the crisis is that we have people with the mindset of Bill Ayers running the office now, you know, like Barack Obama… now those people that were outside of the norm are running the country to the ground if you ask me… we need someone from the Republican Party like Ronald Reagan to step in there and get our economy going again.”
He sees me contemplating, not saying anything, not agreeing, nor disagreeing, just listening.
“You know, don’t ever take anything as straight truth though. Question everything, even what I say… especially, question authority.”
I agree with him.
” Anyways, I like to cook,” he says, changing the subject. “Growing up, my mother died young, so it was just me and my brother making dinner. You ought to learn to make yourself things like a pot roast. You know, put in the spices that you like, share it with five people or so, have yourself a good meal. I’ve got two daughters, and I’m real proud of them, the youngest just graduated high school.”
He tells me that his hobbies include building guns and playing with explosives. ” Last fourth of July, I built some fireworks with a whole bunch of green fuse in it, and loaded about 1500 grams of gun powder in that son of a gun… set it off at this organized festival and ran like hell.” He laughs deeply and dryly.
We’re in Denver before you know it, and he sets me off at the Colorado Blvd. exit ramp. I thank him, he says “glad to get ya out of the sun, you know, I couldn’t see you at first where you were standing, lucky I stopped.” I tell him about the cop who forced me to move.
“Ah, I see… that’s why you should carry a wrench,” he tells me.
Why’s that? I ask. You mean, like a metaphorical wrench, to change the rules a bit?
He laughs. “No, man… to literally remove the sign when nobody’s looking…. don’t tell anybody I told you that.”
“You say you’re gonna get the light rail from here? Say, they had just started building that back when I first came to Denver back in 1983.”
And just like that, Frank drives off and it’s over.