Hitchhiking America, Take One (NYC)

(Michigan-Indiana-Ohio-Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York)

I’ve officially started a trip around America that will last me from now (January) until most likely late May.  This plan is to hitchhike America and hike as much as possible.  I’d like to find a folding bicycle if possible to travel around towns and the outskirts with but so far have had no luck in acquiring a good used one.  I’ve owned the Dahon folding bicycle before, and I’m in the market to buy the same model I used to have, or the Dahon Jetstream, which is a foldable mountain bike with 20-inch tires.

The idea of being able to fold the bike into a something the size of a small suitcase and hitchhiking to the next spot is enticing.  I’m planning to meander down as many backroads as possible as possible and meet as many locals as I can.  I’m curious as to what is going on in my own country before I venture out to explore the rest of the world again.  Some of these questions include, but are not limited to:

* What is going on in the country outside of what the news media presents?

* What are the effects of massive consumerism, and what are its effects on the small towns (especially) in this country?

* Are there really “crazies” that pick you up when hitchhiking, or are most people inherently good?

In short, I’m interested in finding out about different ways of life, non-traditional ways of going about accomplishing things, and I want to meet the people of this country and write a book about it.  The rest of this blog will be written in the present-tense, with intentions to bring the reader into the experience.  This blog has evolved from “Hitchhiking Colorado” and become “Hitchhiking America.”

In late May/early June, my friend Steve and I have a plan to attempt to climb all (or most) of the 14,000-foot peaks in the colorful state of Colorado.  Both of these trips have been fermenting in our mind’s for awhile, and it’s time that they are seen through.

By the way, if you’d like to read more or my travel-writing, you can find them on Amazon.

*Backpack Full of Bush Dust (my most recent book, hitch-biking through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and hitchhiking around the entire continent of Australia)

*Hitchhiking Colorado ( more about the characters met while hitchhiking in Colorado)

*The Bicycle Bum Diaries (bicycle touring in North America and Europe)

All of which are available on Amazon and Amazon/Kindle.

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My brother and his girlfriend drop me off in Indiana, and I dart across the highway when there is no traffic since there is no place for them to turn around for some distance.  I’ve taken to carrying a small dry-erase board achieved from the Dollar Store, so I’m able to change the intended destination with ease.  At first, I write New York on the board and a woman with New York plates drives by taking a bite out of a big apple (no pun intended) and flashes a half-smile, looks away.  She’s obviously going the exact same way that I’m going but doesn’t want to stop for whatever reason.

After waiting a half-hour, I realize that my running shoes that were tied to my backpack must have fallen off, so I find myself darting across the highway again to find them resting in the rest station parking lot.

I’m heading to visit my girfriend in New York for New Year’s Eve and a few weeks after, so I try changing my sign when “New York” doesn’t work to “Not Crazy”, and when that gets only a few chuckles, I change it to “For A Girl” and decide that it might come across as too soft.  So then I eventually change it to “NY” and an hour later, some 15 New York plates later, a small grey car pulls over to the shoulder.

I hop in with a nice guy named Chuck who is maybe in his late-forties and he drives me all the way to the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, where he lives.  He has just come back from visiting family near the Lansing and Detroit areas for the holidays.  The road rolls on, flat and speckled with light flakes of snow.  Chuck has a friendly energy, having done some hitchhiking himself getting to and from rock concerts when he was younger.  He lived a more traditional lifestyle before he was 40, and after he was 40 began travelling to Europe and even Northern Africa.

His favorite band, who he has followed around on tour from time to time is Cowboy Junkies.  He pops one of their CDs into the player; the band has a soft sound with a female-singer that sounds reminiscent of The Cranberries.  Once, while in Morocco, Chuck recalls when a local guy put a cobra around his head and took a picture of Chuck while doing so.  “It didn’t dawn on me that maybe I should consider whether or not it was poisonous until after the fact,” he says.  “But then, it’s one of those things, that if I had thought about it, I might not have got that picture.”

Amongst other stories, one of the better ones is his recollection of driving through France in his rented car and seeing four cute Belgian girls on the side of the road all hitchhiking together.  Chuck picked them up, and the girls piled into the backseat.  ” The exits come up quick along the expressways in France,” he says.  ” The girls were warning me to slow down sooner, because I was used to long exit ramps in America.  So we’re driving, and this cop along the shoulder standing alongside with a radar gun clocks me and motions for me to stop.  So he came up to the driver’s door and I told him ‘je regrette, no parlevous francais’… in my broken French, that sort of thing.  He sees all the cute Belgian girls in the back and I think he had a heart and let me off.  So it left me a good impression of France.”

Chuck mentions that at one of the bars in France that offered a free drink to anyone that could sing a song in a foreign language (foreign to their native country) and Chuck sang Frere Jacques, which resulted in a free beer.

Chuck lets me off at a rest area and I continue the rest of my hitchhiking onwards to New York from Ohio.  It’s getting close to dark as I wait along the edge of the rest area.  The canopy of dead trees just over the fence are starting to look like it might be my sleeping quarters for the night.  Cars packed with travelers heading home from the holidays pass me by, some of them smile and wave. The rest area is packed with semi-truck drivers taking a short break from the road and families anxious to fill up with gas and merge back on the highway.

nyc-skyline

An hour or so later, I get lucky and somebody stops, after passing me.  Reverse lights turn on and the cars backs down the merge ramp.  I motion for a white van to slow down that is speeding towards this Good Samaritan.  I meet Aaron (the driver) and his Dad, who is in the passenger’s seat.  I learn that Aaron’s dad used to be a doctor and recently his mother committed to suicide.  Despite this, Aaron is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and he recently lost his job and is looking for a new one.  I know that he will achieve this based on his attitude alone.

Through the long drive through the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania country side, we talk about everything and anything.  The dialogue doesn’t stop.  He tells me about the 16Personality Test, which I’m skeptical about at first, not being one to take multiple choice tests or have any faith in them.  After taking it though, I would have to say that it is entirely close to being accurate.

Aaron’s dad tells me about his adventures as the “only black guy hitchhiking through the mountains of Vail, Colorado in 1976.” Being from Detroit, his Dad follows the Detroit Lions game on his phone application.

Since it’s cold for the night and I’ve developed enough trust with Aaron and his dad and they’ve decided that I’m most likely not an axe murderer, I stay in a motel with them for the night and we drive the rest of the way to New York in the morning.  FOX news is the first station that blares when we turn on the TV. I imagine millions of people around America, listening to and absorbing the same propaganda and rhetoric. “Go fool someone else,” his Dad says, changes the channel. I ask him what he thinks of Obama’s presidency. “He didn’t accomplish all that he said he would,” he says. “The Republican party has too much money. His agenda has been manipulated by that influence.”

We watch an old mob movie from the 1940s, where his Dad becomes nostalgic for the days when things like plot and dialogue were a requirement for movies.  The scenes are drawn out longer, there is more build-up to the movie’s climax.

His Dad tells me that he was working as a doctor in New York City when 9/11 happened.

During the ride into Pennsylvania, we even touched on race in America, as Aaron is African American.  ” Black people are a minority in this country and a majority of the population that the police harasses, arrests, and sometimes kills,” he says.  Driving through a McDonald’s drive-thru, I notice Tesla electric car chargers displayed along back near the dumpster.  It’s interesting to see these here, and uncommon.  I can imagine that in twenty years or less you’ll see these at every corner but for now, it seems like more of an advertisement.

People begin driving erratically, honking from behind and then cutting you off by mere inches.  This is proper New York driving etiquette. “The closer you get to New York City, the more fucked up it gets,” Aaron says. “Tolls can get backed up for miles. It can take hours. Once every 4 or 5 months, a semi-truck gets wedged under the bridge since the driver is following the GPS blindly and not paying attention to the signs. It’s crazy driving around here.”

We cross the George Washington Bridge and the concrete jungle of NYC skyscrapers can be seen on the other side of the Hudson River. Aaron’s dad tells me that owning a car in NYC can become a huge burden since it’s hard to get around with all of the traffic and the maintenance costs are high. For now, I have arrived and in a few weeks I’ll take off again, heading south to explore the southwest (Arizona and southern California) and then continue heading southeast, following the areas where the warmer weather frequents for winter.

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