When I was 20 and rash (as opposed to being my age now… and rash), I bought a plane ticket to New Orleans–one way–just for the hell of it. I pretty much assumed that things would work out and I would find a way home back to my apartment in Kansas City.
Because there was an AMA convention in town, all of the local Orleans’ hotels were already booked for the weekend; so I had to take a cab to the outskirts (passing by the first Windixie I had ever seen) of town and stay in a cheap chain motel. Which was fine because, hey, I came on whim–what did I care?
I spent the next couple of nights playing on the streets of New Orleans (talked with a handful of beggars; shouted back at the guy who yells scripture passages in front of the giant Catholic church; tasted lots of gumbo; got chased by a guy who kept yelling, “Hey, you!” at me), and when I was ready to move on, I rode the trolley out of town (or close to the edge of town), commented on the various bulding structures on the way out to anyone who would listen, and then started walking.
(I do have–somewhere–a journal with all this written down. But I’m not sure just which box houses this thing. I have the names of all the people I met, but since it’s 3:30 in the morning now, I probably shouldn’t stave off sleep too much longer. Work in the morning, don’tcha’ know. So, my memory may be sketchy at this point…)
I spent part of the night in a fancy-schmancy hospital in the area–one with a waiting room equipped with a giant piano. I just put my bag down, sat down and fell asleep for a few hours. When I awoke, I started walking again.
I don’t recall which interstate I started off on (maybe I-55), but I began walking and within a half hour or so a delivery guy picked me up. Apparently he drove nearly twelve hours a day from Lake Charles, LA to New Orleans (stopping off at various places) to deliver pies. And that’s all he did–the man was starving for company. So, I rode with him for a good six hours of his delivery route, stopping off with him at his favorite 50s-style diner, learning his opinions about sugar farmers (rich, messy folk he didn’t care much for), Wal-Marts (hate 'em, love 'em, didn’t matter; they were all potential customers for his pies, even though they never paid on time), racism (he liked Black folk well enough even though he was taught different in his youth) and hitchhikers (he didn’t normally pick anyone up, but he was looking for converstaion and I looked “normal” enough).
I proved to be a poor companion for the last hour of the trip, because I ended up dozing off. He didn’t seem to mind at all, though, because he woke me up when he was about ready to head back to Lake Charles, gave me his business card and said to mail him when I got back home, safe.
He was kind enough to drop me off at a rest stop on I-49. After he left, I went inside, brushed my teeth, shaved and started walking again. Within five minutes, a man in an SUV pulled over and offered me a ride as far as Shreveport. I accepted. On the way he told me about his job working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (he worked so many weeks in a row and then had a full week off–if I remember correctly), the two houses that he helped burn to the ground so that his buddies could get the insurance and pay for nasty divorce cases, and his daughter–of whom he was very proud for attending college.
While he stopped to get gas on the way to Shreveport, I looked at what he was drinking and was rather shocked to learn he had been swilling beer after beer for the entire journey. I stayed with him, though, because he was a nice guy and that whole “mortality” thing hadn’t quite burrowed its way into my noggin’ yet.
When we got to Shreveport, he offered many apologies for not being able to house me (“My daughter is home and I don’t want her getting the wrong idea…”), but made sure I was able to get a map of the area from a local Wal-Mart, and then took me to a motel so that I would have a place to spend the night.
But yeah, I didn’t want to wait around, so I thanked him, wished him well, assured him that I had a room at the motel, and then snuck off into the night when he left the parking lot.
That night I ended up sleeping under a bridge, and then when that got too cold, I found a parking garage elevator and curled up there. (No wind, you see.) But, later that morning, the elevator returned to the ground floor, waking me up and sending me on my way.
I walked for the most of the day, but I really don’t recall what happened–if anything at all. Anything interesting, that is. My feet started to hurt (because I took some cheap shoes that were not made for long distance walking), but I kept on going. During the early evening I found myself resting my weary feet on the floor of a rest stop. That’s when Andy (this guy I remember: mustache, tan truck and all) asked me if I needed a ride anywhere. Once I was inside his cab, he made reference to how the rest stop I was at was a good place for gay men to meet one another.
Uh-oh. Or so that’s what I thought back then. I hastily made an excuse so as to be let off at the next stop–a request he kindly granted–and started walking again. As I passed that rest stop, another SUV stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. So, with his dog in the back, the scent of too much weed filling the SUV, we were off on I-20 (I think), headed to Dallas. Now, this guy had the same name as me, had tattoos up the wazzoo and was a pharmacist in Arlington, Texas. He was just visitng friends in Lousiana, apparently. Turns out, though, that his father graduated with my father from Rockhurst College (a Kansas City Jesuit College) back in the 60s.
Interesting as that was, however, I still fell asleep. Besides, at this point my feet were all cut up, bloody and bruised from the bad shoes. Which is why, aside from quicky dress shoes purchased at Pay Less, I don’t mind paying lots and lots for good shoes these days. Who knows when I might have the urge to leave it all and travel again?
The inked-up drug guy dropped me off in Dallas, where I spent some of the wee early hours dodging the most insane drivers I had ever seen. Seriously–Dallas drivers hate you. It doesn’t matter who you are, they hate you. All of you. Even you. Ugh.
By the time the noon hour had approached, I decided that bloody feet were bloody feet and I was tired of trying to pretend otherwise. So I headed toward the airport (got picked up by a guy who worked for an auto body repair shop), called my best friend, asked him to buy me a ticket, waited a few hours, and headed home. Bloody feet and all.
And the next weekend I went out to play a soccer game. Which did nothing for my feet, lemmee tell ya’.
One of the best parts of the whole journey (other than meeting the assorted nice people–wacky as they were) was that I never, ever intended to hitch. In fact, I never raised my thumb–not even once. I’d like to think it was all magic, but really it was probably because I was a clean-looking white kid who didn’t look like he could harm anyone.
I’m much more menacing now. Just ask collection of unicorns–they’ll tell you! :mad: