The Hitch hiker (2)

At the entrance to the travel store near an I-5 interchange in Redding Ca., where the young girl had stood minutes before, was big, stocky man.  Whether propelled by guilt for not offering the girl a lift or kicking my own butt for missing an opportunity for a look into another’s life, I walked over to him.

Close up he was not as imposing as he first seemed.  His short gray hair peeked from the edges of his tiny, dark blue, short-brimmed cap.   A sewn-on patch proclaimed “NBC Olympics 2000.”  His face had as many decades of furrows as my own.  I learned his name was Mike and he wanted to go to Bakersfield.

He’d been in Olympia, Washington where his 15-year old car developed terminal low-oil pressure and had gone to Minivan Heaven.  The four hundred dollar bus ticket back to Kansas was a couple hundred dollars too big a whack to his wallet so he was heading for Bakersfield, 400 miles warmer and 200 dollars closer to home.  He’d been in the truck stop since yesterday afternoon and slept the night in the trucker’s lounge.

After warming up Jolly Swag’s little diesel, we pulled out of the truck stop, crossed the overpass, and rounded left onto I-5’s southbound ramp where a youngish man stood with a khaki duffel bag and a cardboard sign, “Reno.”  I drove a couple of coach-lengths past, stopped and turned to Mike.

“Shall we pick him up?” I asked.

“Up to you,” he said.  “If you do, I got your back.”

I opened the door to a big smile with a silver tooth in the middle of it.

“Anthony”, he said.  “And I sure appreciate you stoppin’”

“Hop in.” I said.  “I got another hitcher here.  This is Mike, he was here first and got the seat in first class, and I am AL, and today I am running my own private bus line for hitch hikers.”

Anthony sat on the settee behind the driver’s seat and we settled in for the 200-mile slog to Sac.  We learned Anthony was from Jacksonville, Fl. and had hitched to Seattle for a job as a welder that didn’t pan out.  Now he was heading for Reno to get out of snow country.  He did not react when I told him Reno got snow.

There wasn’t anything in Florida for Anthony except 13-17% unemployment.  No parents and a brother he’d lost contact with long ago.

Neither did he have any prospects for work in Reno.  Dishwashing was his best idea.  Anthony sagged in the settee and crashed.

We drove on in silence and I decided to engage Mike.

He’d been a painting contractor, a skill he learned from his father.  He was able to raise four kids and now had grandkids coming along, ten of them.  Now at 66 he was living on his $720.00 social security check plus an occasional job from an old customer.  There was no complaint in his story.

Mike lived in his 12’x70’ 3-bedroom mobile home.  His youngest son, son’s wife and their kid moved in when he lost his job.  His son was working now but Mike wasn’t going to ask them to move on.

“We have enough space.  They help with the bills and she’s a great cook.  I like havin’ them there, especially when I want to go away for a while.”

We drove on until it was time for me to recycle my morning tea.  I pulled in to a rest stop and asked the guys to step out of the motorhome while I was away from the coach.  They agreed quickly.

There was a dump station where I could unload my waste tanks.  The guys offered to help me but I had the routine down so they stood in the sun and jawed away while I attended to my 15-minute chore.

Mike and Anthony

Once underway Mike asked for a piece of paper and said, “Anthony, I’m writing down my address, if you get to Kansas, you got a place to stay and three squares a day.”

We drove on and as we neared Sac, Mike volunteered he knew of a truck stop near the intersection of I-5 and I-80, the major eastbound interstate toward Reno.  There we dropped off Anthony with a couple of energy bars from my larder.  Mike gave him a half-package of beef jerky.

“I really appreciate the ride.  You guys helped me a lot.”

Mike and I drove into Sac and found the Greyhound terminal.  As he left, I said.  “That was generous, what you said to Anthony.”

“If he gets to Kansas, he won’t be hungry.  Thanks for the ride.”

He was gone and I was left with two mental snapshots of Mike and Anthony.

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21 Responses to The Hitch hiker (2)

  1. Dave LaRoche says:

    Well, there you go … the adventurer adventured after all. Nice experience to add to your inventory.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    Terriic vignette. It shows how good-hearted most Americans are, including the driver. That was brave of you to pick-up TWO hitchhikers.

  3. Don Fleming says:

    I’m reallyenjoying all this Al , please keep it comming. When I was riding bikes with you I was always impressed how you could so easily communicate with people.

  4. Anne Fox says:

    Your snapshots are vigorously literary as well as mental. We see in many ways.

  5. Gene Morita says:

    Al,
    Love the real stories you are experiencing. It a chunk of life that I have not seen and maybe that I don’t want to experience but I’m envious of what you are experiencing. Spread your goodness. Thanks for sharing it. Do you have video on your camera? Or a tape? Taking pictures makes it safer for you. Stay safe.
    Gene

  6. mal patterson says:

    AL, I”ve known you for some 15 plus years, we indeed have had our share of a few adventures, but I’m beginning to feel I have never known Al Levenson.

    AS I said before “your a good man charlie brown” but I knew that, none-the-less be careful……

    To-day you will have fair winds and dry decks… Cheers Mal

    • allevenson says:

      There are always character facets that are not visible to even close pals like us. Sometimes intentional, more often it is simply far off the center of the shared relationship. The explosion of communications and media varieties has made us aware of more activities, interests, passions and we join more communities. You and I have shared pleasure boating, the business of boating, and been regulars on one another’s party list. That is a lot but there is much more to both of us.

  7. We are seeing faces of America through you. Thanks, man.

  8. cavenoid says:

    I really love this sentence: “Close up he was not as imposing as he first seemed.” That sums up so much about America, about life, about travelling.

    I love the idea of you filling up your home for a few hours on the road. Less lonesome, shared resources, links of friendship. In this Great Recession we may find that “hobos” and “hippies” of days gone by are alive and well and they all have stories and they all need rides and they all need a little TLC.

    • allevenson says:

      An astute observation, Kristen. I think there are several sub-cultures out there besides the vacationing RV travelers. There have always been full-timers and I think their ranks are swelling with people who are forced to re-invent their lives in reaction to the Depression. You know the definitions: Recession is when you know people who are out of work. Depression is when you are one of them.

  9. AL PEDERSEN says:

    MY FRIEND, .
    HOPE YOU ARE BLOWING THEM AWAY WITH YOUR SEA-STORIES.
    DO YOU HAVE LONGEVITY PLANS FOR THIS EXPERIENCE? OR, PERHAPS THE TERMINATION WILL PRESENT ITSELF.
    YOU SEEM TO BE ENJOYING IT. REMEMBER THAT I AM HERE IN A
    FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA. SOUNDS LIKE NEXT SUMMER BEFORE YOU WILL BE NEAR HERE,
    KEEP THE HAPPY LOG GOING.
    THE ORIGINAL “BIG AL”.

  10. Michael and Marsha Joyce says:

    So many times we see through those in need, the homeless and hitch hiker, like they are invisible. Your heart has eyes.

  11. john miller says:

    Al
    Just finished teaching GRAPES OF WRath to my contrastive culture class after two Turkish films, I saw the sun and White Angel. Their essay was on the extended family, blood and choice. What do the texts tell? Nichlas Kristof’s essay Our Banana Republic November 6 NYT. Richest 1% of American earn 24% of the income, CEOs in 1980 40x average worker. 531x in 2001. Who knows. Maybe we reached 600x with the bank bonuses of recent years “Economic polarization also shatters our sense of national union and common purpose, fostering political polarization as well” Keep being a communalist American; pick up those hitchikers! From Turkey, sharing the American dream and disillusion with my students. John

  12. Sheri M. Cohen says:

    I guess the next best thing to knowing you are a published writer is knowing that a bunch of people are reading your blog and really getting into it. So add my name to the list. The last thing I read before I went to sleep last night (at 1:30 a.m. after a very long day) was your hitchhiker tale – – and enjoyed every word of it!
    Thanks, Al.

  13. Pingback: Welcome | AL's Blog

  14. roberta dimond says:

    Brave of you! Picking up two men and not the gal! Well, trust your instincts–and have a plan and a handy can of MACE–just in case!
    By the way, Bakersfield is–indeed– much warmer and was my hometown for the first two decades of my life -before off to Stanford and the adventures that followed! Hope to see you on the Bridgebaseonline.

    Places you need to see–if never have: Yosemite, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Sedona, Arizona—my favorites in America! Robbie

  15. Jeff Kingman says:

    I’m really enjoying your posts, Al. Sounds like being on the road is full of rich experiences. Good for you.

  16. Evelyn Washington says:

    Well Al you’re either an angel or a nut – picking up strangers. I guess that’s part of the adventure of the journey. I’ll keep you and your passengers in my prayers.

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