My Favorite Debt

I picked up a hitchhiker this morning and he identified me immediately: “You’re a Cedarville student, aren’t you?” Is it that obvious? Do I just radiate repressed fundamentalist vibes? But Samir assured me it was just a guess based on probabilities: C.S.U. students speed by, C.U. students pick him up. He’s living at Wilberforce but travels for undisclosed reasons (not a job, he says) to Xenia every day, a 4 mile commute that usually takes him an hour because he doesn’t have a car. “Neither do I, this is my brother’s.” We laughed. I mentioned my trip last summer; he mentioned his Chicago-to-L.A. trek in the ’70’s. Farthest N.W. he’d gotten was Eugene, which he described as an “enormous Yellow Springs,” which we both concluded was awesome. So I’ve now received some 40 rides as a hitcher, and given two in return. At this rate I might even pay off my student loans before repaying kindness owed, but at least this is a debt I don’t mind at all.

By the way, I stumbled across a book that echos some of what I discussed a month ago. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets “examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill.” I haven’t read it yet, but sounds interesting since it’s one-half of the same coin I blogged about earlier.

Also re: old posts, a friend gave me a copy of Phillip Lopate’s excellent essay “Resistance to the Holocaust,” an American Jew’s incisive look at the machinery of memory built up around the Holocaust and the ways in which this atrocity is used & abused. Unfortunately, I could only find a very brief excerpt online, the rest of which you’ll have to find in Lopate’s book Portrait Of My Body (1997).

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. (more…)

Part-Time Hitchhiking For Fun And Profit

I’m back in Columbus again after a weekend in Cleveland/Sandusky for Dan Gifford’s wedding. I hitched a bit both ways for a total of about 100 miles. The rest via rides with Katie, Kraig, and Brenton. I will do a trip report tomorrow since I’m too exhausted tonight. Here’s some Douglas Coupland (from Life After God) instead:

…I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.
But then I must remind myself we are living creatures – we have religious impulses – we must – and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about.

The Gospel from Outer Space

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Here’s an excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five by the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut:

…The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought:
Oh, boy – they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.

The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things in said in the Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

Moral of the story: don’t be rude to the bum-looking old man eating alone in McDonald’s, because he might just end up giving you $20 to help you hitchhike to Seattle and then you’ll feel like an asshole for traveling 2000 miles and yet still being a shallow narcissist.

You Shall Know My Velocity!

Wwwho’s in Ssseattle? THIS GUY.

I arrived at 10.10am yesterday via a Spokane-Seattle Amtrak train and was completely FUBAR. For brevity’s sake I won’t explain, but it did involve paramedics (one of them suspiciously Luke Seelye-esque), vomiting, and a minor panic attack. After medication and a 3-hour nap at Bryce Bahler’s house, things turned around and today I’m feeling well — still fighting the tail-end of a cold though. I’m in Seattle’s incredible 11-storey public library, an architectural wonder. I just visited the St. James Cathedral, which was beautiful, but I think it’s beat by Spokane’s awesome Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (but maybe it’s just my Protestant prejudice: Catholic vs. Episcopal).

I’m in town til Thursday, when I fly back to Columbus in the evening. I had planned on taking a train, greatly looked forward to it in fact, until I discovered that by “Columbus” Amtrak meant Wisconsin, not Ohio. A train to Cinci would be much more expensive, almost 3 days long, and still way out of the way for my siblings to pick me up. Hence one of the reasons I didn’t hitch from Spokane — also because I’ve been sick. Needless to say, being sick while homeless in Spokane wasn’t that fun. I had in fact been sleeping those nights at the Catholic House of Charity on 1st & Browne, a place for which I have nothing but praise. It was eye-opening too. Their “Sleeping Program” goes from 7.30pm to 7.30am, but lights out isn’t really until 9pm (before the sun even sets!) and the shades are pulled up at 6.45am so that I was generally sipping McDonald’s coffee and reading the paper before 7.15am (I took leisurely 3-hour breakfasts).

The House sleeps close to 110, split between two unequally numbered dorms (about 85/25). I tended to amble in around 8.45pm when there were less people so I got a little privacy while showering. You get a locker & bed (I was #73) but you have to walk dripping wet and naked across the room to the nice people at a window dispensing towels and pajamas. The mandatory showers and pajamas are primarily for hygenic reasons, secondarily for security. By “security” I mean that it’s more difficult to hide weapons in faded, nearly see-through cotton, but they’re also pacifying because it’s just hard for anybody to look threatening in pajamas.

My first night, one guy tried. You see after lights-out the dorm becomes home to a symphony of snoring, a sonorous score punctuated by all manner of bizarre interludes: farting, burping, wheezing, moaning, sneezing, and so forth. This is naturally upsetting to some, usually just met with cries of “shut the f–k up!” But one guy got up and marched over to yell at my neighbor: “Roll over! You’re snoring like a motherf–ker! I told you to roll over and you’re just staring at me like a… like I don’t know what the f–k what, but you’re snoring and I can’t sleep!” I almost laughed out loud. Again, the second night, different guy: “Dale! You awake?” He was calling to one of the counselors (I think they call them proctors). “Let me out of here! The snoring’s so f–king bad I can get more sleep on the streets! Jesus Christ. I can get more rest on the streets!” It’s true, the snoring is bad.

More stories to come at a future date. Library time is almost up, so I’m out. Don’t know if I’ll blog again before I fly out. Be well.

Big City Blues

Hi friends, Halfbeard the Barbarian checking in from a public library in Spokane, Washington. I arrived at a rest stop last night ~1.30am Pacific time and have essentially not slept for 36 hours (save for several cat naps when I holed up in a single-occupancy, lockable handicapped restroom to escape the cold). June 3rd I woke up in Buffalo, Wyoming and caught two rides to get to Billings, Montana where a crazy middle-aged lady coming from South Dakota (after a week of branding calves) took me all the way to Post Falls, Idaho. Montana is unbelievably huge… the Rockies are unbelievably awesome. I even drove her rickety ’94 Geo Metro (manual; 40 mpg) for a stretch. I got into Spokane around 6.30am this morning – after the obligatory run-in with state police on the highway — and was pretty overwhelmed by the city for a while. My fatigue, hunger, body odor, and 44-degree temps did not help. I got a little more oriented this afternoon thanks to the library and a helpful Spokane visitor’s center. I have to chill here til at least June 9th, then onto Seattle. I’m on the waitlist for a bed at a Catholic mission / homeless shelter; if I don’t get in (I won’t find out until 9pm) then I’ll boondock it at a local park. I wanted to kill time by seeing Wasson in Pasadena but somebody forgot to tell me that Pasadena is hella far away and a bus ticket, let alone train, is $300+ so that’s out. I owe a lot of you phone calls but will probably wait until I’m at Suz’s in Seattle and can breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks again for all the encouraging txts & voicemails… and obviously, Obama ’08. Peace.

Almost to Rushmore

Your favorite vagabond is in a public library in Rapid City, South Dakota… no cell phone reception, but at least the intarweb tubes reach out here. I spent Wednesday in Cactus Flat, a non-town that is comprised of gentle prairie hills and no cactus. There I played with prairie dogs and probably contracted rabies from the one that nibbled on my finger. Thursday was Wall, a town that’s sprung up around the ridiculousness that is Wall Drug. This whole part of S.D. is a bizarre mix of nature wonderland & crass commercial tourist trap. The history in & around Wall Drug is fascinating, but I could do without the miles of Western kitsch. I caught a very clutch ride straight to exit 59 in Rapid City and hoofed it here to the library, in spitting distance of SD-16S which should take me to Mt. Rushmore (if I can get a lift). I will probably spend tonight & tomorrow around here, also trying to see the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park (home to the largest buffalo herd). There’s a ton to do & see in the Black Hills, but not a) without wheels b) without lots of cash. This area is beautiful though and very different from IN & OH etc. My computer time is about up… thanks for cheering me on and all your prayers.

Nobody Hitches Anymore

It seems every time my siblings update for me, I somehow get internet access immediately thereafter. Right now I’m stealing intarwebs in a hotel “business center” in… drumroll please… Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (!!!)

My Memorial Day was terrible… after the popo (F.T.P.) kicked me off the 90/94W on-ramp and threatened jailtime, I spent 6 hours in the sun at two truck plazas, but no rides. What I did receive:
– 1 salty balogna & mayo sandwich
– 2 cans of mixed fruit cocktail
– $20 in cash
– large fruit punch Gatorade
– advice from the first fellow hitch-hiker I’ve met on the roads
– mild sunburn
At the end of the day I went back to Token Creek park and camped in the exact same location as before. Bonus: camp showers.

Today started out much the same, spending a few hours at the T.A. before getting very discouraged and heading back to the Shell plaza where I decided to just walk up WI-51N… when at just that moment an old man named Joe offered to take me to Portage in an old white truck he’d just won in a 7-card stud poker game (straight flush over quad aces). He went a bit out of his way to drop me off at a Petro truck plaza which was swarming. Just after 4pm a woman with a black dog said I could ride with her and her daughter to Pierre, SD if I didn’t murder them… I emptied my pockets and she patted me down to be sure. But they are incredibly kind people and we drove some 6.5 hours, including stops, and am spending the night here in Sioux Falls. They’re spending the night in the hotel while I’m sleeping in their car. And hacking hotel internets in the meantime. There is obviously way more to this story, including some very interesting bits (oooh, teaser!), but it’s way past my bedtime and the pillow & blankets they plundered from the hotel for me are calling my name.

It’s true, what I’ve repeatedly heard this week: nobody hitches anymore. But those that do get treated damn good.

Badlands HERE I COME…

The Journey Continues

This is Katie Cole reporting for Kevin. I heard from him on Sunday night as he was settling into his tent and bracing himself for a wild thunderstorm at Dane County Park in Madison, Wisconsin. After a week of rest and rejuvenation in Elgin, Illinois with a college buddy, he had set off that day to continue the westward journey. He has decided to follow highway I-90 W, going through Minnesota now instead of Iowa and Nebraska. He was hoping to be near Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN by Monday and is anxious to get to Badlands National Park and then later, Yellowstone.

All seems to be going well and his research seems to have paid off in regards to preparation and planning. His equipment is working out well for the most part and he hasn’t had any run-ins with wild animals or police yet.

We’ll continue reporting on his progress as we get word.

Trampin’ tales

Hey friends, this is Kevin. I’m somehow in Chicago, having arrived last night. This has been one of the craziest weeks of my life. I will give a more detailed trip report later since I took pretty good notes (but failed on the photographic front).

I’ve revised the purpose & rules of this trip so many times, and am continuing to do so. I realized early on that it is impossible to mostly walk and sometimes hitch to Seattle… so I stuck with mostly hitching and sometimes walking, sticking to the country roads. I followed this plan from West Alexandria, OH (Tuesday) to Lebanon, IN (Saturday). It was a total of 112 miles, 41 of which I walked (13 on my best day). The rest was hitched on 8 different rides. 

Somewhere between Eagletown and Jolietville on Saturday, I decided that – for a lot of reasons – I should try interstate highway hitching and see if I could get to Chicago by Saturday night. In Lebanon, I spent 75-80 minutes on the on-ramp of I-65 N with a sign that said “CHICAGO (Elgin)” until a Mexican couple (with their baby) picked me up and took me straight into the city (152 miles). I walked a little more before getting 20 miles on the Chicago metro, and another 31 miles via Nate’s car before we arrived at his house in Elgin, IL. I am ridiculously happy to be here – though with 3 blisters, 2 terrible sunburns, windburn, swollen knees and aching shoulders I am in less than optimal physical condition.  I don’t know what my plans are now… but there’s a good chance I will stick to interstate hitching from now on. I think I made incredible progress getting to Lebanon, but it was absolutely brutal and still behind schedule if I were to keep that up to Seattle. I won’t explain all the rationale right now, but there are definite pros & cons to doing highway vs. backcountry hitching. It was an incredible week though, and I look forward to writing up some stories. Thanks for your prayers and the encouraging & funny (though occasionally weird) voicemails.

The Beginning…

Kev’s little brother, Kraig, here…

kevin walking

We dropped Kevin off on the side of Route 35 in front of Hawkins Appliances just outside West Alexandria, Ohio on Tuesday, May 13th at 5:11 PM. He was in high spirits and his little belly was full of greasy small-town food from Barney’s diner. His final words, strangely enough, were “Shalom, peace be upon you and your future generations. Allah Akbar.”

I received a text message from Kevin this afternoon: “in Lebanon, IN. mentally, in good shape. physically, in all kinds of pain. strong chance this trip ends in Chicago”

“Beware thoughts that come in the night.”

My nocturnal thought was to walk across America. This half-cocked plan finally becomes a reality today. My first ride will be hitched with my brother, who will take me as far West as his schedule allows. From there… freedom.

“A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go. He could quit trying to get out of the way of life. Chuck routine. Live the real jeopardy of circumstance. It was a question of dignity… With a nearly desperate sense of isolation and a growing suspicion that I lived in an lien land, I took to the open road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected.” – William Least Heat-Moon