Let the road lead you to your next great experience
Living on the road my friend is going to keep you free and clean" - from Pancho & Lefty, Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Bash
Farm Aid II, Manor Downs (Austin Downs)
Texas, July 4, 1986
We inched along six miles of highway, riding atop the car like it was a parade float, and tossing down cold 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Bulls in the late morning Texas heat. It was going to be a hell of a day, and by the line of cars, trucks and busses full of people partying, we were going to have company. When we finally parked and headed to the ticket gate, one of my companions forgot his camera and ran back to the car to get it. I never saw him again for two days. My other companion, who had to balance himself by holding one arm on my shoulder while I gave up the tickets to get in, went to sit behind the porta-pots while I utilized the inside of one. I didn't see him again until late the next day. Hence, the hitchhiking part of the story. But let me tell you a little about Farm Aid II first.
I met a lot of beautiful people that day. I walked among the crowd (generally looking for my companions for most of the day, yet still enjoying the bash), and often I was called over to a group's blanket to sit, visit, and enjoy the show. At one point, I had made my way to the stage and caught songs close-up from Willie, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, before I faded back into the crowd. There were many other musicians on the list who performed, including Bon Jovi, Waylon Jennings, and John Mellencamp.
I ate supper, and that is when the first flicker of concern set in. I knew it was going to get dark at 8:30. I thought - now I had better start looking for my ride. I headed to the parking lot, but unfortunate for me, the parking lot was now the size of Lake Superior and finding one little maroon automobile was going to be like the search for the Edmund Fitzgerald. But I immediately recruited some assistance. There was a truckload of ladies, two or so in the front, maybe three in the back, drinking beer and cruising the parking lot (not sure I remember why they were cruising the parking area), but they invited me into the back of their truck and off we went. Three drinks later, I had not found my friend's car or anything that resembled it. So I headed back inside the bash for one more uneventful look around.
I had to make a decision. I was 70 miles from my Texas home. The main highway was right there, which was one key to success when hitchhiking but I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to be bumbling down the interstate at dusk and half intoxicated.
I caught my first ride on a side road from someone leaving the bash. He assured me he knew where I wanted to go. After three miles, I got this awful feeling we were not headed in the direction I wanted to go. I told him to pull over; that I needed air (I knew that would work; besides, I didn't want to get into a fight with the guy over directions). I waved him off, and after he was out of view, I headed back toward the bash based strictly on a hunch.
I finally got back on the interstate heading north. I stopped by the first gas station I saw because I had worked up a thirst walking. You know, in those years, you could buy strong beer right at the gas station in Texas. They would even put it in a brown bag if you wanted. Well, I wanted, and they did, and I walked down the highway, drinking my cold beer and watching the sun go down. It was a beautiful moment. Not really.
I rarely ever stuck my thumb out like you see in the movies, unless I was really anxious to get moving. Usually I just walked along.
It was almost dark, and I was making my way over an overpass with a small county road passing beneath. Down that road, I saw what appeared to be a bonfire. Call it another hunch. I assumed it was a party, and since I fit in well with partiers in those years, I decided to take a detour. The fire was a half mile off the interstate, and after a few minutes of walking, I could see the outlines of the people standing around and breaking up the yellow and orange flames. They were just off the road and near another bridge. I walked up to the first group, and found that most of them were just a few years younger than I. When there was a break in the conversation (because they were all staring at the stranger who had just walked up), I explained my situation. And I got to say, they took it well.
Soon I had a new beer in hand, and had joined the conversation. I learned that a few of the people lived in the direction I needed to go, and after one more beer, I asked if I could catch a ride in that direction. To my surprise, he said they were leaving soon and would give me a ride all the way back. It was like striking oil. I was amazed at my luck to run across these people. Such was the life for a hitchhiker. It was either feast, or famine.
I suppose you are wondering what happened to my friends. My friend with the camera had gone to his car to get his camera, and on the way, he was told there was limited parking behind the grandstand. He decided to move the car; why I don't know? Then he stayed back there and partied. Never came inside the show! My other friend - after I left him, got up and walked back out of the bash. When he couldn't find the car, he walked straight to the gate to the parking area and waited there until he found a ride back north. No wonders I couldn't find them. They weren't there.
On This Page
Rambo: First Blood
Willie Nelson Bash
Pull Over, Please
6th Street, Austin
Never Been Shy
Never been shy to pick up a hitchhiker
Several years ago now, in the years I commuted from Glencoe to Spicer, I would run across hitchhikers headed west on Highway 7. This one time, I ran across a tall, stringy fellow who carried a backpack which hung down to his knees. How the hell he got that thing on his back I'll never know. I didn't need to ask where he was going because he carried a sign that said "Yellowstone." It turned out he was headed to Yellowstone to meet up with a Wolf research group. He was a wildlife biologist or something of the sort. I asked him if he knew David Mech, a well known wolf researcher from Minnesota. He did. So I asked, doesn't somebody pay for a plane ticket for you. He said they would, but added, it just wouldn't be the same. He said he lived in Sweden (I'm pretty sure), and flew into Chicago. He had hitchhiked from there. He added that he did all his trips that way. Being on the road hitchhiking was where he experienced the most and gathered the best memories out of the places he had been. Of course, I mentioned the hitchhiking I had done, and we had a great conversation for the next 40 minutes. I gave him my phone number and told him to give me a call if he needed a place to stay on the way back thru. I never did see him again.
And I am not telling people to run out and pick up any hitchhiker you see, but I am here to tell you, there are plenty of good hitchhikers who often have a really interesting story to tell.
Rambo: First Blood
- More than a movie
Three years after First Blood came out, I was hitchhiking between Austin and Dallas, when I decided to get off 35 and take a break. I sat on a park bench in a small town, and decided to take in the scene for a while. There were young teens stopping cars on main street and soliciting candy bars. I watched with curiosity for 20 minutes as I rested, when a squad car slid to a halt in front of me.
He asked who I was, and what I was doing. Then he said, "You're making people nervous, why don't I give you a ride to the edge of town and you can head on your way." I am quoting this because this is damn near what he said. So I get in the squad and he dumps me off on the highway on-ramp. He takes off, and I realize that it might be a 10-mile walk to the next town, and I had intended to get a bottle of pop (They didn't have bottled water back then) before I took off. There was a gas station just two blocks into town.
I look down the road and the officer had disappeared, so I eased my way back into town. Only two blocks I thought. Well, I was just about there, when out of nowhere I hear squealing tires. I look behind me and the patrol car is flying around the corner like the bank was getting robbed. He slammed on the breaks, squealing a scene well beyond necessity; obviously putting on a little show for the audience that was already out in the street.
He said something like, what you doing, boy? I looked at him (He is up in my face by now) and tell him I need something to drink. It is a long damn highway. He started to say, I thought I told you... So I said, just one soda and I'm out of here. I'll even take another ride if your offering.
Well, the story would have a better ending if I could tell you how he threw me in jail, and then I broke out with the help of a young lady, a birthday cake and a tiny saw blade. But, the hard nose cop was really a softy on the inside despite the show he put on for the locals. He let me get a pop, and gave me another ride back out to the highway.
I did drive through that city many years later. Even thought about parking the car, getting out and sitting on the bench for a while for old time sake. But I didn't. He was probably retired by then anyhow.
Pull Over, Please
An older model yet fancied up Chevy two-door pickup pulled to the side of the road fifty feet down the highway. I ran up to the door, and slipped inside. It was an older gentleman wearing a cowboy hat (but only old to an 18 year old. He was probably about my age now). I looked down between us and there was a big birthday cake. When I looked back up at him, he had a big smile on his face. "It's my daughter's birthday. We're having a party for her today, and I was just to town to pick up her cake." I responded with something like, That sounds like a good time. He told me about the relatives and neighbors that were coming over, and I just sat there listening as he carried on in his glee. I was just happy to get a ride. Then he asked where I was from.
I said, Minnesota. There was a slight pause. I looked over to see his nose scrunched up a bit. He asked if I knew how many Northerners came down to take Texas jobs? I said I had no idea, but realized he might be questioning why a Minnesotan was hitchhiking down a Texas highway. Well a darn lot of ya, he says. And we don't appreciate it. Blah Blah Blah. I said you ever been up to Minnesota? He says no. So I said, You maybe don't know how many people from down South are working up North either? He added a couple more comments. So I told him to cool off or he's going to ruin his big birthday party. He tells me that I ought not to worry about his business. And the last thing I said to the poor angry fellow was, Well, you better just drop me off here than so you can go about your day. He whipped the truck over and dropped me off. As his tires spun in the loose gravel on the side of the road, I didn't bother to wave goodbye, and he didn't either.
6th Street, Austin
One thing about Texas in those days (I am not sure of the laws now), but it was legal to buy strong liquor about anywhere (accept dry counties) and you could drink and drive as long as you weren't drunk. A fellow in his mid-twenties pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. We small talked for a few minutes, then he told me to go into the glove box. I opened it up and there was a bottle in there. I look over and he holds up his glass, and smiles. Go ahead, he said. I gave him a nod, and returned his smile, and a friendship was formed. He gave me a ride to Killeen, where I gathered up a friend or two, and then we headed to Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the place, it is several blocks of bar after bar, pool halls, dancing, and you name it. The streets are filled with folks moseying from bar to bar, and music echoing out of every doorway. There was entertainment in every direction, and in those early days of my life, I can remember thinking that it was the closest thing to Heaven that I might ever come across in my life.