Halfbeard’s Inane Weekend Moralizing

Jehovah-Jireh… God will provide. Do you believe it?

I went to a friend’s wedding this weekend in Willoughby, Ohio. The number of bachelors I know is dwindling steadily. My sister, en route to a wedding in Warren, took me to the NE outskirts of Akron so I could hitch the rest of the way. I barely got onto the road before I was greeted with “fuckin’ hippy!” by a pack of testosterogues — bored male teenagers with IQs matching their speedometer reading. After 25 minutes or so I got picked up by Bill, a local electrician who got me about 5 or 6 miles up the road. It was a perfect intersection in terms of traffic — variety, volume, etc — but little or no good area for drivers to pull off. I’ve learned that an easy majority of rides come from people who, for whatever reason, are apt to give a lift under most circumstances so I counted on those kind of people to find a place to pull off. Rule #1 of hitchhiking: always make eye contact as drivers pass by. I felt that hitcher’s spark with some young dudes in a van… a minute later I saw them running back down the on-ramp hollering at me. They were four guys my age (whose names I’m embarassed to have forgotten) from a church in Canton headed to a camp in Erie, PA where they’d lead worship, be counselors, etc. These are the rides I kill for. I almost asked if I could just continue on with them and spend the week in Erie. Other than being obviously more charitable than myself, they seemed exactly like the kind of people I generally hang out with. They dropped me at a McDonald’s an hour before the wedding and a stone’s throw from the church.

Congratulations to Dan & Tabitha Gifford and best wishes for the future. I’m glad I could make it to your celebration. Thanks again for the awesome hors d’oeuvres.

My posse and I — a real group of gangbangers we are — headed to Sandusky for the Kalahari Resort courtesy of Mr. Motta & Mr. Motta. We spent Saturday night there, all crammed into a room straight out of Cribs: Pimpin Hotel Version. We owned the arcade til midnight, then poker with Skittles til 3am. We might’ve played longer if a 12-inch moth, ie pterodactyl, hadn’t reduced grown men to squealing toddlers.

On Sunday Brenton dropped me off a few miles onto 71-S. I didn’t really wait long before another Christian, named Ken, picked me and drove me some 6 miles to another mixed-bag exit: great traffic, but no pull-off room. Ken had just returned from medical missions in Central America, though was now headed to a church softball game. As is my custom by now, I was hitching with a sign + thumb but holding your arm out gets wearying… so since the only car coming my way was a black sports car, I put my arm down. Naturally that’s the car that stops. This was one of only three or four rides I’ve gotten in a two-door. I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him Hot Carl because he was giving me weird vibes.
He started with “You like to party?” Translated, I think this means: “You wanna suck me off?” So, no.
“You got some time to kill? I just bought some beers and snacks…” This sounds creepier than it actually was, but I knew I should probably just lie about everything.
“Can you drive a stick?” I obviously lied again, since I really think he wanted to just go for a Sunday afternoon cruise and this was not on my agenda, especially not with a middle-aged man with tiny shorts on.

Hot Carl dropped me at exit 222 on 71, which is quite possible the worst spot I’ve ever been dropped off at. I’m convinced he thought he was doing me a favor, but he essentially took me off a prime corner to drive me 8 miles to a shitty corner where there wasn’t even a gas station. I walked a mile or two before calling Katie and confirming that I was, in fact, screwed. Then it started to pour rain but this unhelpful collection of country homes did feature Holy Martyrs Catholic Church. It’s a very impressive place, though somewhat Protestant-looking. I was quite wet at this point and saw some folks inside setting up for VBS so I knocked to ask to use their bathroom. The lady who met me was obviously extremely nervous. She relented finally, but stipulated that I had to leave my pack outside and she had to accompany me to the bathroom and stand guard outside. Afterwards, she dutifully escorted me outside and locked the door. Most people are trying to get me into church, and she’s only willing to let me shit there. I walked diagonally to another entrance, clearly visible to the first, and sat under the overhang while it rained something wicked. Around 8:45pm I was wet and dozing when I heard an older woman come outside. She offered to buy me McDonald’s. I did not refuse.

When she returned 20 minutes later I naturally asked her name. “Oh, I’m just Maxine.” Meek Maxine was helping when nobody else wanted to. The other lady, perhaps Martha, was inside preparing to serve while Mary, er Maxine, found an opportunity to do more than prepare. Maxine was still hesitant to help because she said Martha would think she was crazy… sure enough Martha peeked her head out and scowled. Maxine hurried off after giving me my meal: double quarter-pounder with cheese, fries, and water. Stacked on top was $18 in cash. Douglas Coupland asks:

Yet how often is it we are rescued by a stranger, if ever at all? And how is it that our lives can become drained of the possibility of forgiveness and kindness — so drained that even one small act of mercy becomes a potent lifelong memory? How do our lives reach these points?

How? I have some ideas. Jean Baudrillard has some ideas. Herbert Marcuse has some too. But another time. The point is that Maxine is the very reason I hitchhike. She helps me accumulate potent lifelong memories so that strangers helping strangers no longer seems so novel. I love it when I’m cold, wet and tired these strangers appear from nowhere to pull a St. Christopher and brighten my life.

After supper I went around back of the church where there’s a trail through the forest with the 14 stations of the cross. At the end is a pavilion with benches overlooking their lake with fountain. I camped on the cement and stayed mostly dry. Unlike my trip to Seattle, this time I’d brought my iPod and drifted off to Robert Forster and slept relatively well.

Except I overslept by an hour. Meaning, I got busted in the morning by the church custodian who was putting bags in the garbage cans. He politely informed me that kids would be here for VBS in 45 minutes and I should probably go. I started to apologize, mentioning the storms last night, when he interjected and said he figured, he understood. I dressed and packed in record time, but still not fast enough. Another lady (Martha again? Can’t be sure.) came with the custodian to help out. She’s probably the one who called the cops on me.

A highway patrolman greeted me within minutes of setting foot on the road again. I wasn’t even to the on-ramp yet (nevermind, it was deserted anyway). He was, as most cops have been, extremely cordial, especially upon confirming that my record is clean. By the end, I even had him giving the old wink ‘n nod: “I’m not saying you can hitchhike, I’m not condoning this, but I’m just not going to do anything… though I can’t promise other officers won’t.”

Knowing that this particular exit was totally worthless (little traffic, nobody going 71-S) I backtracked back north to Brunswick which was something like 14 miles from where Brenton dropped me originally. The walk itself was 8.25mi and pretty excruciating. I don’t think I waited there long — despite the heat & exhaustion, hitching still amuses me greatly. People exhibit every possible emotion upon seeing me and it’s hilarious to watch. I think I mostly amuse people and making them smile makes me smile and we generally have a good time. Others get downright angry with me, which is understandable since my presence is an implicit challenge to their way of life. One lady gave me an obscene gesture with her fingers, mouth and tongue. I think she meant to be insulting (the gesture is rude), but it was hard to be offended since she was basically suggesting that she wanted a stranded, bearded hitchhiker to give her oral sex.

My next ride was Matt, whose first question was: “You got a joint? What kind of hitchhiker doesn’t have a joint on him?” Matt was interesting though, a foul-mouthed wrestling coach with a heart of gold. He’d just shattered his hand learning mixed martial arts. Matt also works with middle school kids with severe behavior disorders like OCD, skitzophrenia, etc. He’s hoping to start an after-school MMA program to keep these kids out of trouble. Matt is the kind of guy who will give a buddy a $7,000 engagement ring after his own fiance called off their wedding. His buddy had been off building houses in all 50 states for Habitat for Humanity and couldn’t afford his own ring. Matt’s great kindness extended to me: he dropped me off at the perfect exit (between two travel plazas) and left me with $17 in cash and a “Hey man I really respect what you’re doing!”

Is God still Jehovah-Jireh?

You know how I mentioned that hitcher’s spark, that connection you often make with someone just before they stop? Clearly happened again with Rob, who I saw drive by and got the feeling. He was one of only two black men who’ve picked me up. Rob is a 28-year-old recent “Recreation” grad (football player) from Ashland University. He picked me simply because he needed someone to talk to, trapped in an extremely situation that got even more complicated just minutes before at the travel plaza (I’m respecting his privacy here since there is in fact a chance he’s reading this). You would never believe the kinds of things people tell complete strangers. The total anonymity is extremely appealing I think.

Rob offered to drop me at Ashland, but said if I waited a bit he could take me to Mansfield. A fifteen-minute stop to see his coach at Ashland turned into a several hour extravaganza. This was one of four near-misses to unfold during this afternoon. You see at one point when we were walking around the university (which is beautiful by the way), he offered to shoot me into Columbus if I gave him a couple bucks for gas. Obviously I agreed. This plan was nixed when we picked up Angelique, Rob’s cousin, who wanted a ride to his house for the night. I left them at Mansfield, exit 169, in the end after all. As Rob himself had noted earlier: it’s insane (read: frustrating) how sometimes a single 9-hour ride propels you across whole states at a time… while other times, a simple 140-mile trip takes 2 days and half-a-dozen rides.

Things at Mansfield did not go well. I wasn’t getting good hitcher vibes. It was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t pleased with the amount of traffic getting onto I-71S. Walking through the gas station at one point a guy stopped me, offered a ride, and asked where I was headed. This never happens and I about shit myself, especially since he bought an extra strawberry V8 juice drink for me for the trip. Alas, he was headed for Akron, not Columbus. Excruciating near-miss #2.

Later on two girls in a parking lot called me off the highway, leading to near-miss number three. The one girl, Ana, was on break from Bob Evans and wanted to know what my story was. On probation, she felt she needed to do more good deeds in life (“Do you think this counts as community service?”) She told me there was a Greyhound bus station just back in town (“Walkable?” “Yeah, probably 30 minutes walking.” “So 1 or 2 miles?” “Oh no, way more.”) and she offered to buy me a ticket. In Bob Evans, she also offered me a full meal (which I declined) while, in between customers, we waited on calling Greyhound, getting directions, prices, schedules, etc. In the end she gave me everything (including her phone number) except what I wanted most: cold hard cash. I was getting spoiled. Ana plain forgot, I’m sure, and did not mean to drag me away from the highway for a wasted 45 minutes.

The ending here is anti-climactic. Hitching at any time near dusk is a bad idea, so I caved and called Kraig to come pick me up (still 60 miles from Columbus), paying him $20+ for gas. I felt like a failed hitchhiker again. Why was it so easy on Saturday? So difficult on Sunday & Monday? I might’ve stayed another night but I felt I needed to get back for a stupid job interview in Columbus (did I mention I’m on the verge of an $11.75 job?) and so even an extra day on the road seemed like a bad idea. Paying for a ride was excruciating considering how close I was four times to getting a ride into Columbus for free. Did I mention the 4th near-miss yet? Oh: when Kraig was 10 minutes away, a man approached me in McDonald’s. “Were you the one outside hitchhiking?” “Yes…” “Where you headed?” “Columbus” “Us too, we’ll take you there, come on we’re parked out back.” I had to politely turn him down, of course, and after he left I nearly beat the shit out of my McNuggets in frustration. But Maxine and Matt had given me money, yes? Strangers had given me water & juice? Friends had given me rides & rooming? Jehovah-Jireh even when we’re just jaunting to weekend weddings?

But shit, aren’t I just an unbearable moralizer after hitchhiking?

5 thoughts on “Halfbeard’s Inane Weekend Moralizing

  1. Great story! I live in Medina and know people who go to the church you mentioned. I am going to pass your story along.

  2. Interesting story & a good read. I agree with Josh about making a collection of your hitchhiking stories. Like “Into the Wild” only you can still talk to your family & you don’t have to die in the end.

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