Back in the 1970’s I would hitchhike around the Detroit area, especially up to Ann Arbor. In late June of 1977, I started on a more ambitious journey.
It was a “loop de loop” going down South to New Orleans through Arizona and Texas (West) up through California and back through Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, Wisconsin and so on. I left June 29 and got back home August 13 so it was a six week trip.
I got a ride as far as New Orleans (with a carload of family and friends). We stayed there about a week. My sister was living there. I remember the lizards on the walls, going to an art museum, getting my palm read at the voodoo museum, touring the French Quarter, being there for the Fourth of July and much more. I rode the streetcar. I walked around singing. It was so amazing. What a city!
Even before my hitching started in earnest, I fell into one of its “highlights.”
That’s meeting people you’d never have met otherwise. Some are strange. Some are scary. Some are beautiful. Hitch hiking (and being in a great city) are ways to make surprising and unexpected encounters.
I started off hitching with friends. Eventually, I’d do most of it on my own. Both have their advantages. It didn’t seem as dangerous then as it is now. Most people were friendly and interesting.
| We got a ride into Mississippi from a CB man “the Ragin’ Cajun.”
Then, the next ride was from an Oklahoma oil rigger. We rode through
Texas mostly at night (in the cab with the driver helping to keep him
awake, in the back of the pickup truck lying down looking at all the
In New Mexico we got to see some old cliff dwellings. It’s easy to lose stuff. I lost my sleeping bag and someone else lost one of their packs (left in a car in the night or stolen or just lost).
I made it to Flagstaff, Arizona. I stayed there nearly two weeks, mostly in a big teepee. I spent time at the local libraries and the beautiful natural environments (red rock formations etc.). I made a side trip to Sedona and found the site of artist Max Ernst’s old home there. I talked to people and got some broken bits of his torn down studio. These were broken window pieces of colored plastic.
I saw the Grand Canyon. I got to meet some Hopis (Native Americans) and a Vietnam Vet telling war stories. I visited other friends.
Then, I went off hitching on my own. A sign is always good to have. The thumb is better than nothing. I get a great ride from a beautiful young French woman. Her husband was following in the car behind and they were headed for Las Vegas. I remember she really was rough on Jean Dubuffet (phony? poseur?) but good stories of France. Get another ride from a guy with a radar detector (always racing, playing 8-tracks and watching for the police).
| I’m not sure how close to L.A. I got. That fast
driver got me into California (going all night). I spend a few days
visiting friends in Merced. My first day in California: we had a
picnic, played three games of baseball and went swimming.
I stayed there two days then went off hitching by myself for real. It was a hot California in July. A driver pointed out sites (including a World War Two Japanese Internment camp and the Altamont Speedway). I just got into Berkeley and my pack fell apart so I had to carry it in my arms.
I had an amazing stay in the “Bay area.” I kept moving around from Oakland to Berkeley. As usual, I gravitated toward Art Museums, libraries and bookstores.
Strategies for navigating cities: Occasionally stash your gear cleverly in bushes or shadows but accept that it may vanish. Make use of “coat check” facilities when possible. Be prepared to lug your heavy gear around with you everywhere. Try not to steal or get food from the trash but also try not to go more than two days without eating. Wash as best you can. Sleep when and where you can (while watching out for police and unfriendly transients). I was busy with this for the last part of the trip. My taste of “temporary homelessness” (or vagrancy) has long given me insights into those for whom it is long-lived or permanent.
Various “open houses” or religious groups had “free feasts” and entertainment. These helped to sustain me. At a commune in Berkeley my table formed a group “Maurice’s Music Makers” and sang “You Are My Sunshine.”
I spent a week in San Francisco. My first night there I slept in an old abandoned house (creepy). Another night I stayed in what seemed to be a real “hobo jungle.” I’d usually find a wooded or wild area and hide in it. Once I awoke to see an older man doing his exercises (Tai Chi I thought/ like a slow motion dance).
In Golden Gate Park, I went into the ocean. It was cold and I could see sea lions away off. I got by Coit Tower, Union Square, Chinatown and so on.
I spent a lot of time at City Lights Bookstore. On August 1, I met Jack Kerouac’s first wife Edie Parker. I got to know her better, later back in Detroit.
The next day I caught up with the San Francisco Surrealists (found through City Lights). The late Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia (in particular) was one of the greats (to me). We had a long talk. They gave me a big box of books to hitch hike home with. Then too, I got to sleep indoors, in a house again. It was electrifying, inspiring and encouraging. These talks underlined and highlighted a lot of things for me (as well as tossing in a bucket of exclamation points).
This journey changed my life in unexpected ways. It set me off onto certain paths from which I’ve never strayed. I’m as set on them now as I was then.
The next day I got by City Lights one more time. That night I started heading out of town. I ended up sleeping in a kid’s toy fort or castle in a playground. I think some children arrived to play as I was awaking. I ended up back in Berkeley and walking from there to Oakland.
There were some spots where there were twenty other people trying to get rides. I had to walk to find a spot with less competition.
Finally, an interesting stream of rides: a Vietnam Vet, a young kid, a housewife who said she never picks up hitch hikers, a neat old “cartoon-like” guy who’s off to see his mother and asked “Are you short?” gave me two bucks. After that I walked a lot (eating carrots and day old sourdough bread).
I went back to Merced to recoup my energies and visit friends. After a day, I headed to Yosemite National Park to be with some wilderness. I spend a night there and most of the day. I went through the Tuolumne Meadows, Glacier Point, the Royal Arches and various points.
I had bad luck for awhile (no rides). I changed my sign “PLEASE MERCED” to “PLEASE MERCY.” I got some short rides and walked and walked.
I was back in the darkness and mystery of the lonely desert. I’d get a bit kooky from lack of sleep and see things.
It was in this stretch that I saw things (strange lights and noises). I was sure it was a UFO or some sort of space thing. It was something weird and unexplainable. There were little flashes sort of like firecrackers going off.
Then there was an animal, following me. I could hear it for sure. I’d stop and it would stop. I’d start walking and it would start walking again too. Nature kept singing at me, out in the West. This time though, I was getting really “spooked.”
Finally my luck turned. I got a ride from a trucker going into Reno (the biggest little city in the world). I remember walking through the “neon strip” in the middle of the night (bright lights, people playing slot machines etc.).
I got a ride out of town from a man and his wife. He said he used to ride the railroad freight cars back in the depression. After that, I found a place to sleep. I woke up and put on all my white clothes (for luck or visibility).
Sure enough, my first ride was a white pick-up truck. The driver had white hair and beard. I started to read my box of books I was going back with. Then I got another ride (into the desert by the only tree in sight).
It was a long wait (hot and down and getting low on water). I finally got a few rides and soon leave California. I hit Oregon just as it got dark. It was a really good long ride from a trucker. I even got to sleep in his “sleeper” section for part of the ride. The next day brought another long stretch of walking, waiting and a few odd rides. Then I get a ride all the way into Spokane, Washington.
I knew that this is going up further North than I really needed to. Maybe I just wanted to make my voyage more dramatic! I was broke. I was dog-tired and beat. I was 24!
Next day I started in Spokane and got to Coeur D’Alene National Forest in Idaho. I only stayed there awhile but yes beautiful (I can’t avoid the natural). I lost the mangled remains of my eyeglasses. I met some German tourists and we stopped awhile in Frenchtown, Montana. They dropped me off in Bozeman.
There I got a hundred mile ride from an interesting talker (tales of his recent world travels: Afghanistan, Thailand, India and Australia). Then I had another really great ride from a friendly couple coming back from Canada. Get into South Dakota. Pass through the Black Hills and the Badlands and end up at Mount Rushmore. Go through Minnesota. They ended up dropping me off in Madison, Wisconsin. I paused there a bit and headed back to the freeway.
The rides were good to me (all thumbs). Pass through the edges of Chicago and through Gary, Indiana. I find a “road doll” (a toy) on the freeway.
Back in Michigan, I get one of my scariest rides. The driver was drunk and driving crazy. He was lobbing full cans of beer at cars that were driving “too slow” etc. I got a few more (safer) rides. When I got close enough to Detroit, I phoned home for a ride! My father drove out to help me finish my journey. It felt so funny to be home again (like “jet lag” or “culture shock”).