Earlier this year, I found myself hundreds of miles from home, in a strange neighborhood. It was the first night of a hitchhiking trip across the country, and I was looking for a place to roll out my sleeping bag.
The LA lights twinkled in the distance as dusk fell.
Months ago, I was sitting in Jane Law’s cozy office. I had taken a fantastic course with her the previous spring, and I wanted to let her to know how much I had enjoyed it. At least that’s what I thought at the time. My days in Ithaca were numbered, and I felt a strange urgency to be reconciled with what I thought of as the past.
Her words came to my mind whenever I was unsure of myself, as was the case now:
“Go, go far away.”
I walk faster now. The pale stucco houses stretch on. Their shadows are long and tangled, and soon they melt into the rest of the night.
I curse myself for my naivety. For thinking that this would be easy.
It’s dark when I spot a ladder going up the side of an empty office building. I climb up and throw my things in a pile. Far off, the lights of an airplane blink blink blink in place.
Who still hitchhikes?
It turns out there’s a sprawling road culture, and it comes in flavors.
I can’t help but feel like a tourist, and that’s probably what I am. I’m going home when it’s over. Maybe I’ll write a blog post or two about my experience. Maybe I’ll fill it with blurry phone photos.
Danny is something else. The road is his home and he’s proud of it. With the patchwork pants, mutton chops, and dyed ‘fro, he looks as if he was spit out by a jam band concert deep in the Arizona desert and then decided to keep on going. And that was 2 years ago. He busks to pay the way. He’s indignant at the people who shout at him to “get a job”, but only friendly to other travelers.
“I’m going to Maine.” He says.
“I’m from San Diego originally, and it’s the farthest from San Diego there is.”
He runs a hand through his afro.
“I’ve tried, but I always had to turn back for some reason. But I feel good about this time.”
100 miles out of Phoenix, Andrew stops at a Wendy’s to buy us burgers. He had picked me up somewhere around Indio and we had been driving and talking for the past 2 hours. I’m ravenous and I gladly wolf down the burgers after initial polite refusal.
Andrew mades it known at the start that he was a Jehovah’s Witness, and also made it known we didn’t have to talk about it. Seemingly aware of the discomfort that comes with the door-to-door evangelism, he was at once eager to talk about his faith, and restrained out of politeness from doing so.
He ends up picking up two more people: an old rancher and a young hitchhiker. He extends the same introduction to them, and there’s a straining there too.
He drops me off at the U of A library, because I don’t know another landmark. The rancher got off a while ago and I say good luck to the other hitchhiker.
Every few days or so I hunker down in a McDonald’s rest booth and do my side job - a small web dev gig.
As I slide <div>’s across the screen, huge freight trucks scream past on the highway outside.
Tech is weird. I’m drawn to it, and the work that goes into making it. I’m sure I misuse it though. After spending enough time in any app I feel like I’ve eaten a big basket of candy.
I wanted to see the US, as much of it as I could, before I started working in earnest.
A friend asked me what I was looking for. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.
I will say: I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The sun is coming down, and I can see the downtown of my last stop. It’s months since that first night in San Bernardino. I’m elated - to see my good friend Sam mostly. There’s so much I want to tell him.