Date: Sunday, July 14, 2013
Wait: Less than 15 minutes
Consider my hitchhiking sign upgraded and brought to the next level– laminated and fluorescent orange, reversible, re-usable. Says Springs on one side, Denver on the next. This brings the hitchhiking to the next level. You could probably read the new sign from a quarter mile away with a good set of binoculars, so when the cars coming zipping around the corner they can’t miss me anymore, even if they are yapping on their cell phone with one cigarette in the other hand and one foot on the wheel.
Less than 15 minutes later, I’ve got my ride in the style of a Smart Car that pulls over to the shoulder immediately after seeing me. This is road rules lesson number one– the comradery towards other travelers. This guy comes around the corner and instantly pulls over. Not a drive-by, questionable glance at me as I wait. He just pulls over, straight away.
This is the first time I’ve ever been picked up in a Smart Car. Thirty-eight miles per gallon on the highway, riding by semi trucks inside a tin can is an experience in itself and a humbling feeling. It reminds me of a post I saw recently of a smashed-up, totaled smart car along the side of the road. The caption read “I hit a deer and all the deer did was laugh and walk away.”
The trunk does not pop, but the window on top of the rear hatch does, and I side my new orange hitchhiking sign and backpack into the trunk. I hop inside, where two small dachshund dogs sit staring up at me, one of them being part chihuahua.
The man introduces himself as George, he could be anywhere from mid-forties to late seventies. He’s got lines on his smile and face that make him look like Jack Nicholson. ” I just got those dogs a few months ago,” he tells me. ” They like soaking up that attention.” He laughs. One of them sniffs me a bit and then curls up in my lap.
“Want a hot dog?,” he asks. “They were two for the price of one er something-another at Seven-Eleven.” I thank him for the ride and the dog. A couple weiner-shnitzel dogs and a dog for breakfast.
“Just moved here a few weeks ago from Austin, Texas,” George tells me. “Lived in Texas for almost twenty years. Just went and checked this out yesterday.” He hands me a brochure of Seven Falls in Colorado Springs. “Took my dogs up the elevator, since it’s too much for them to climb,” he tells me.
I ask him about Texas, and he said that he enjoyed Austin the most. ” Live musicians at every bar on Sixth Street,” he says. ” It’s a lot different than the rest of Texas. Once met Willie Nelson. You know, he’s a really down-to-Earth kind of guy. My daughter does wheelchair racing in the States and France, she’s got a world record. One time we met Willie and he signed the wheelchair. You know, he smokes a lot of pot but he isn’t hurting anybody, so they need to leave him alone already.”
George tells me he used to hitchhike in the seventies, when it was much easier to get a ride. We talk about camping, and my experiences with cycling through Texas, and the folklore and myths of rattlesnakes curling up next to campers to stay warm in the middle of the night. “You know, there’s an old cowboy saying that if ya circle enough rope around ya while you’re sleeping, you can keep the snakes away.” He laughs. “Whadda ya think of that?”
I guess it depends on how much rope you have, I tell him.
George tells me that he was a sailor in the Navy for over ten years. Fought in the jungles of Vietnam. ” Yeah, an average night of drinking for me was a 12-pack back in those days,” he tells me. ” I quit cold turkey and don’t drink at all anymore. Only smoke. More health benefits rather than negatives with that.”
” I’ve had PTSD since I got out of the war, and I’ve been trying to get help since after the war. It’s been an uphill battle with the military. Tossing paperwork back and forth sorta thing. I finally got a lawyer working on it for me and they just couldn’t spit out the paperwork I gave them anymore, so finally getting some help, all these years later.”
George expresses his passion for old-school Harley Davidson motorcycles, as he just recently bought a vintage bike after moving to Colorado. “I rode that sucker all around the second day I had it, got burnt like a lobster,” he tells me. ” You don’t realize how close the sun is out here in the mountains.”
“Only thing wrong with this one is it’s a got a leaky oil pan gasket. Harleys are tricky though– you can’t just start turning a wrench like on other bikes. It will keep on leaking. You have to torque every bolt down to specifications, be sure that everything is properly aligned.”
The voyage in the Smart car is incredibly smooth, given it’s light weight and small tires. Maybe the Smart Car doesn’t deserve such the stigmas that it’s been given.
George drops me off in Denver, and I hop out. Wish George and his weiner dogs the best of luck.