Transcript of EP 246 – A.M. Hickman on Hitchhiking in America

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or A.M. Hickman. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Andy Hickman. Andy’s an itinerant geographer from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, incorrigibly, anachronistic, comforted by isolated places and foul weather and always cackling. Welcome, Andy.

Andy: How are we doing? Good to be here, Mr. Rutt. I like this.

Jim: Yeah, this will be fun. This will be fun. It’s a little different than my usual podcast. My regular listeners know I read books, read 25 journal articles, research the subject deeply, find all their deep, darkest secrets. But today we’re not doing that at all. I know not a thing about Andy other than I happened to mention once upon a time on Twitter that I had hitchhiked 50,000 miles and my ill spent youth and someone said, oh, you ought to talk to this dude Hickman, right? And I go, well, what the fuck? And he popped in and we said, howdy. And next thing we said, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve hitchhiked a hundred thousand miles recently.” And I go, “Holy shit.” So, I decided that with no prep, no research, no preconceptions Andy and I would talk about hitchhiking. So, with all that, where are you today and how did you get there?

Andy: Well, I’m in Madawaska, Maine up at the northern tip of Maine. I’ve walked across the border from New Brunswick with my wife yesterday. Let’s see, we hitchhiked to Edmundston from Richmond Ski Quebec. We got to Richmond Ski by taking a ship for three days. We took a cargo ship from Blanc-Sablon, which is up on the border of Labrador. And yeah, we just hitchhiked the entire west coast of Newfoundland for our honeymoon. Because we just got married June 1st.

Jim: Oh, congratulations.

Andy: Thanks.

Jim: What does your wife think about these hitchhiking adventures?

Andy: She loves it. She loves it. I just think that she wishes that she caught me when I was more at my prime. Now, I’ve done so much hitchhiking. Sometimes I get tired of it and I’m like, yeah, screw it. We’ll take a bus or something. I don’t really care. And she’s like, no, I want to hitchhike further and sleep in more ditches. And I’m like, okay, sure, we can do it.

Jim: All right, you got a winner there boy, is all I can say, right?

Andy: Yeah, I did. I’m lucky.

Jim: I love it. Well, first, how old are you?

Andy: Well, I just turned 30 last month.

Jim: All righty. Well, that’s great. As I was kind of complaining and bitching on Twitter. Oh yeah, it’s old boomers we’d hitchhike, what the hell? I turned 70 late last year, and so back in the day, a lot of people hitchhike, but it’s gotten rarer and rarer and rarer, and so I’m really pleased to hear about a youngin who’s decided to take up the very interesting means of getting about. When did you first start hitchhiking?

Andy: Well, it would’ve been, let’s see, I graduated high school 2011, so probably 2013 would been my first real far distance hitchhiking when I went out west.

Jim: From where to where?

Andy: Oh, I made it, let’s see. That time I caught a ride up to Colorado with my buddy and from Colorado I made it up to Washington State and almost died in a car crash in Wyoming on maybe my third big hitchhike on I-25. Lived through that and then went out to the coast and down the coast of California and into Central Nevada and down in through the desert. And from there, I just didn’t really quit doing it for a number of years. I would go home for periods of time and take jobs and things and bed down for the winter somewhere usually. But for the non-snowy months of that five-year period, I was mostly out there hitchhiking. There were even periods of time where I hitchhiked every single day, most of the day for months on end, just because I love doing it. I wasn’t even going anywhere. I just liked meeting people. That’s a lot of why I got the mileage that I’ve got. Because it was less about where I was going and far more about the hitchhiking itself.

Jim: Yeah, that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. I mean, I will say when I was hitchhiking, it was generally to either go somewhere specifically or sort of explore an area, but it was the experience itself that was the real payoff. In fact, I tell people this story about one time I’d gone down hitchhike down from Ketchum, Idaho where I was hunkered down for the winter, as you say, and down to LA, San Bernardino to visit my girlfriend and a girlfriend of hers and hitchhike down. I rented a car, cheap stripo Pinto, drove around for 10 days, hitchhiked back. But I was keeping my eye on the weather because winter weather in the Rocky Mountains, you kind of got to watch it. And when I got to Salt Lake City, there was this prediction of a massive snowstorm along the Idaho, Utah, Nevada border, and I go shit, I don’t want to get in the middle of that.

So, I said, oh, I’m going to buy a bus ticket. So, it was like eight bucks to take a bus from Salt Lake City to Twin Falls, Idaho. And I figured I could hunker down in Twin and then hitchhike up to Sun Valley the next day. Well, turns out, as often happens, especially in those days in the 70s before the Weathermen had big computers and stuff, it was a total bust. There was no snow storm at all. And by about 10 o’clock in the morning, it was this brilliant blue western winter sky. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, right?

Andy: Yeah.

Jim: It was about 10 degrees, and I walked up to the bus driver and said, “Could you leave me off here?” And he goes, “What?” And I go, “Yeah, yeah, just pull over on I-84.” Maybe an hour east of Twin. And he said, “Well, I’m not giving you any refund.” I go, “Man, don’t expect any refund. No problem.” I paid my $8 and 65 cents or whatever it was. But hey, if you want to get off, sure. And you could imagine today the safety police would go fucking nuts, right?

Andy: Yeah. They wouldn’t do it.

Jim: And it was not Trailways or Greyhound. In those days there were still some independent bus lines, and there was one that ran route from Salt Lake City, main bus terminal to Twin Falls, and sure enough guy pulled over the side of the road, opens the storage thing to take out my big backpack and keeps on going on down the road. People say that’s nuts. You would pay for the ride to Twin, but yeah. But being out in that beautiful western sky and just meeting the randos on the road, hell of a lot better than sitting in the bus with the whackadoodles that take buses.

Andy: I love it. Yeah, definitely.

Jim: Cool. So, where was home originally? Where did you grow up?

Andy: I grew up just north of Utica, New York, up in the woods. It’s kind of right where the Adirondacks and the Tug Hill and the Mohawk Valley all come to one point. So, little blend of all those cultures and ecologies right there.

Jim: Cool. Am I right, is that about the cloudiest place in the United States?

Andy: In the eastern United States? Yeah. We have the highest rainfall of anywhere in New York state and the highest cloud cover of anywhere in the northeast except northern New Hampshire. And until recently, because the winters have been easy. We’ve get the lake effect snowfall, so my town would get an average of 280, maybe 300 inches of snow every year.

Jim: Now, do I also recall there was a nasty beer called Utica Club? Or did I imagine that?

Andy: Hey, Utica Club is good. It is good. We drink Utica Club and we drink a Labatt Blue. Because we got a lot of Canadian kind of culture as well. So, those are the beers and everywhere I go, I say, that’s what I want. And everybody says, that’s disgusting, man. You shouldn’t be drinking that.

Jim: They’re right. You’re wrong. I would say Utica Club is in the top three or four worst beers I ever had in my life. Not to say I wouldn’t drink it on a hot day, though.

Andy: That’s funny. Yeah.

Jim: Now, Labatt Blue on the other hand, that’s a first class drink.

Andy: It is, indeed. It is. And up here on the main border, I’m happy to still have access to it. Yeah.

Jim: Yeah. I spent lots and lots of time in Canada over the years and developed a real taste for Canadian beers, and I really preferred Molson Ex probably, but for a hot day, hard to beat the Labatt Blue. It was kind of like the equivalent of Budweiser only four times better.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s excellent. Yeah.

Jim: That’s cool. So, yeah, I could see Utica is a place to leave.

Andy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s definitely emblematic of the decline of Western civilization, I think, because it’s like this grandeur of this town where there’s all these old buildings and they’re still nice. The urban renewal movement didn’t tear down their marble column train station, and all of their old brick buildings are still mostly intact, but there’s nothing going on there. It’s a totally empty place. And I think growing up, I asked a lot of questions about why is it this way? Everybody’s talking about the Great Recession in the news when I was a kid, and it’s like nothing changed for us.

Everything’s been this way forever. So, then it kind of drove me to wonder what else is out there in America? And I don’t know, everybody talks about leaving where I’m from. Upstate New York is the number one place in the United States still for 15 or 20 years straight to move away from. Everybody is leaving and everybody either has family that moved away or is talking about moving away, or if you go to the bar, people are talking about who would move away, but can’t afford it. Nobody wants to stick around upstate New York.

Jim: And that’s a shame, because as you know, it’s a physically beautiful place.

Andy: It is indeed. Yeah. I’ve been all over North America, and I think that the Adirondacks are one of the most spectacular wildernesses in the country.

Jim: Yep. And most people don’t know this, it’s Quasi protected as a gigantic state park.

Andy: Right, right. It’s about the same size as the state of Vermont, but where the state of Vermont has, I think 600,000 people, the Adirondacks has 120,000, and it is probably the best protected land in the United States because it’s written into our constitution that it will be forever wild. So, you’d have to amend the state constitution to change that land for any other purpose.

Jim: And that it’s an interesting kind of park, even though it has this big boundary, there’s lots of private land within it, right?

Andy: Right, exactly. Yeah. Hamlets and villages and things of that nature. So, it’s a neat balance of man and wilderness that you really don’t see almost anywhere else in the country.

Jim: Now, was there any specific event that puts you on the road?

Andy: No, I wanted to travel since I was a little tiny kid, like single digit ages. So, I have a theory about this, and I’ll tell the story if you want to hear it.

Jim: Sure, let’s hear it.

Andy: Basically, my parents met at what was at the time the largest Renaissance fair in the United States, and this was around Los Angeles Long Beach. My mother was in the Navy and my father worked for the Renaissance Fair and was like an itinerant circus guy that did all kinds of circus stuff, and she got pregnant and he didn’t want anything to do with it. So, we never met, didn’t know his name, never saw a photo of him, didn’t know anything that he did. And all my life as a kid, I said, man, I want to travel the world. I want to see the world. I had maps and atlases, and I love geography, always wanted to travel. And so finally when I was getting up in my years in high school and ready to graduate, I sort of put myself through what I called hobo college, and I started teaching myself how to sleep outside more and make fire and just have all those skills that I knew I would need on the road.

And after a couple of failed attempts at going to college, then I left. And I traveled for years. And it wasn’t until I joined the Coast Guard years later that I looked up my father and I found him on Facebook during COVID, and I called him up and I said, “So, what have you been doing for all these years? I haven’t known you. I haven’t heard from you. I don’t know anything about you.” And he said, “I’ve been on the road for 40 years with the circus, and that’s all I’ve ever done.” And I said, “Well, what’d my grandfather do?” He said, “Oh, he was into herding goats in southern Idaho, and he always moved around for livestock auctions.” And I said, “Well, what’d his father do?”

He said, “Well, he was a great depressioneer, a hobo that actually came from Scotland, and his father was a Scottish traveler, and we actually still have a vagrancy ticket that he got in Scotland way back when in the family like genome.” So, I think it’s genetic. I think there’s some people that are just, it’s sort of in their blood to ramble. You have your guys that you’ll meet and they’re on a gap year. They’re backpacking, they’re traveling, they do their thing, and then they say, okay, it is time for me to get a job and a house and a wife and be normal. And I just never did that and neither did my father or any of the other patriarchs on that side. So, I figure that that’s just what’s in the cards for me too.

Jim: That’s pretty amazing that clearly the itchy foot syndrome goes back at least four generations.

Andy: Yeah, yeah, it does. Yep.

Jim: Yeah, that’s interesting. I actually started out hitchhiking for relatively pragmatic reasons, but then grew to love the experience. When I was in college, I grew up right outside of Washington DC and it turned out it was actually an optimal place to be a hitchhiker from. Actually looked it up on a map this morning, and our family home was one mile from where I-95 and the DC Beltway meet. We were just inside the beltway in one of the older post World War II suburbs. And even though we were close to DC, famously inside the beltway means close to DC. By chance there was a fair large amount of woods that had been left. Some of it was owned by an old rich family. Part of it was the developer that built our neighborhood that never did his phase two. University of Maryland owned some, the school board owned some, the park commission owned some.

So, there was a band of woods. You could walk one end to the other. It was about six miles and it was maybe half a mile thick where the beltway and 95 ended. So, when I started and finished my hitchhiking trips, I just walked out there a mile to where I-95 and the beltway intersected, and if I wanted to go north, I went on 95. I wanted to go west, I went on the Beltway West. And that was actually quite handy. But anyway, so anyway, I went off to college in Massachusetts, MIT, and I enjoyed, the education was good, but I did not enjoy the social scene that much. It was just like dry, nerdy people didn’t like to have fun, a lot of them. I eventually got a circle of people that I have a lot of fun with, but it took me a few couple of years.

But my hometown was famous for its party hards. Working class, basically the statistics said half the adults were high school dropouts, the other half were high school grads. And I think that’s about right. And we all knew how to have a good time. In the summer, seven days a week, and even during the year, it was really a good place. So, when the first school holiday came up at MIT, I think it was in October in 1971, this would’ve been, and I was a working class kid, had no spare money at all. I could barely piece together college education with a scholarship, loans, some money from my parents and working my ass off. And so there was no fucking way I was going to be able to afford an airplane ticket down to DC from Boston just because I wanted to see my homies and hang out and have a good time.

So, I said, I bet can hit, and it was only a three-day weekend, but for some crazy reason, I said, I calculate I can hitchhike down there and I can hitchhike back and I can do it all in three days and I won’t sleep much when I’m there. And I was a quite methodical character. So, I started thinking about, okay, what do I need? I need this, I need that. I had my old Boy Scout expedition backpack, which I had for many years until it broke. And then I bought a replacement for it and it was identical and I had a sleeping bag, but it was a fairly mediocre sleeping bag. And I had some rope, never go any place without a rope. And I had my hatchet and I had a few other things. And then I said, okay, what else do I need?

And I’ve read a little bit about hitchhiking before, just before the internet people, there was a time before the internet. And I ended up making a decision, which I kept with me for all my 50,000 miles of hitchhiking, which was I always got one of those, the big size Rand McNally atlases, the United States, the paperback ones, real big, very detailed. And I also got an artist sketch pad, probably 13 by 17 and a couple of magic markers. And I’d write my destinations on the sketch pad and be able to hold it up for people. And so with that as my working kit and I had some food, I had some tuna fish and I had some crackers, I had some cheese and stuff. I hiked the mile or so from my college dorm to the entrance to the Massachusetts turnpike. And I had determined a route that, I would try to avoid the big cities through Connecticut and stuff, go out to central Mass and down, but right through New York City.

No, actually my first trip I wimped out. I did not go through New York City. I crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge and down, and it was actually relatively uneventful travel down and back. And I enjoyed the experience. I got to hang with my homies for a day and a half, didn’t sleep much and hitchhiked back. It all was cool. And thereafter, my parents would spring for airline ticket for me for Christmas, but that was about it. And I ended up doing 18 hitchhiking round trips between Cambridge, Mass and Delphi, Maryland. And that’s where I got the really, the taste is this was kind of an interesting way to travel.

Andy: It’s interesting because that route now, if you told me to hitchhike that route, I would not want to do it because that particular, the East Coast corridor, like the I-95 is one of the worst places that you could hitchhike today because it’s illegal in New Jersey and the cops are on you. And in general, the urban East Coast corridor, people are super leery of you, and they’re going to call the cops on you basically everywhere you go now. So, you caught probably the tail end of hitchhiking in that region, because that’s sort of the way that the death of hitchhiking is gone, where there was a time where you could hitchhike almost any road in the country, I think. And then certain regions have a certain cultural shift that changes and makes it so that hitchhiking there is just not conceivable anymore. So, you have to go further and further out to where now I only hitchhike in northern New England, the West coast, a couple very obscure places that even in my career as a hitchhiker, I’ve watched a lot of places decline hitchhiking wise.

So, it is cool that you got to have that experience because today, hitchhiking I-95, I think I’ve done it once and it was awful when I did it. There’s certain roads like that. I-90 through Ohio is the same. Basically, and I hate to say it because I hate to generalize, but if you’re in a place where there’s a lot of successful white people that have big single family homes, you’re going to get a lot of people calling the cops on you. That’s just the way it is. If you’re almost anywhere else, the hitchhiking is going to be a lot easier. And I-95, it’s not it today.

Jim: Yeah. And I will say in retrospect, it was the hardest hitchhiking I ever did with one exception, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Andy: Oh, really?

Jim: Yeah. And it was not easy. And oh, by the way, in those days it was illegal to hitchhike in the New Jersey Turnpike. I got three or four tickets for doing so. I just threw them in the trash. There were no computers in those days. Nobody ever chased you for an illegal hitchhiking ticket, at least in Jersey. I did spend a night in jail once in Wisconsin for hitchhiking on the interstate there. The magistrate said, “You got your choice, boy, $45 or a night in jail.” And it was like 4:30 in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to make it to my destination, which was a friend of mine’s farm in Southern Minnesota. And I was going to just have to sleep rough.

And I said, well, it’s 4:30, 45 bucks, which was about 12% of my cash hoard. And I said, fuck it a night in Sparta County Jail. I don’t give a fuck. So, I ended up spending the night in the Sparta County Jail, and it was the classic tale where the sheriff’s wife brought us dinner and all this stuff and actually brought me dinner. I was the only resident at the hotel that evening. It wasn’t shabby. It was chicken and dumplings that she’d cook for her family. And then in the morning, seven o’clock, the deputy came and rattled the bars and woke me up just like in the movies. And he said, “All right.” I had a lot of chutzpah in those days, still do, I guess. And I said, “Hey, would you mind driving me out to the interstate?” And he said, “Sure, but just don’t get on the interstate boy.”

And I go, “Yes, sir, I’ll stand here at the top of the ramp.” And that was the only time I actually got thrown in the clink. Of course, cops would fairly often stop and check you out, see what you’re up to. But that was the only time, and I will say it was my own fault. Because I had been warned earlier in the day by a state trooper in Wisconsin, but ended up getting dropped off a place where the interstate split, right? You had no choice. There was no exit there. And so there I was standing on the split. Another trooper pulled up and said, “Are you the one that the cop gave the warning to 80 miles down the road?” I go, “Yes, sir.” And he goes, “All right, well, I’m going to have to write you a ticket then.” And so that’s how all that went. So, whatever. Could have been a lot worse. But the East Coast thing, again, would not in the, historically would not have been my favorite hitchhiking at all. The only other area that I thought was even worse was trying to navigate through Chicago.

Andy: Oh yeah, forget it. Yeah. I always avoid that area too. Yeah, I don’t even like driving through there.

Jim: I actually lived in Chicago for a while. Once you know it, it’s okay. But the people there are a little on the crusty side. The roads all constrict because Lake Michigan comes down and cuts off all the routes. And one of my early, I guess it was my first really long trip, I ended up going right through Chicago and I got stuck in a bad neighborhood in Chicago for seven hours. Finally, somebody had mercy on my soul. Oh, I got to tell you another one, the perils of I-95. One time, I just thought a spur of the moment, I decided to head out, hitchhike. And normally I would try to leave early in the morning, but this time it was like six o’clock at night, something like that. And was kind of slow. And I ended up getting to Co-op City, which is this big gigantic set of condos in the Bronx on the edge of the Bronx in Connecticut.

I don’t know, a hundred thousand people live there or something. And the person was going there and they dropped me off, and this was this East Coast thing. Nobody would pull over and give a ride in the Bronx, nobody. And so I looked at my map and said, all right, how the fuck far is it across the Bronx, across the George Washington Bridge and into Jersey? I said, I know I can legally hitchhike at the entrance to before you go to the toll booth on the whatever the fuck road it was. 95 on the other side. I think it was the Garden State Parkway, maybe. I don’t remember.

But anyway, so I looked at my map and did, used my thumb as an inch measure and all that shit. Came out with 10 or 11 miles. I go, fuck it, I’ll just walk it. And so I walked from Co-op City down 95, right through the middle of the Bronx, took me four hours and I didn’t get started until about 3:00 AM and I walked across the George Washington Bridge as the sun was rising. And it was actually quite beautiful, quite nice. But when I got to the other side, I got a ride in about five minutes, and the rest of the trip was fine. How about some crazy happenings? What are some of the wackadoodlish things that you encountered out on the road? I mean, while actually in people’s cars?

Andy: Oh, I have a number of strange ones. The weird one was in Montana. I got a ride with a guy in an old international pickup outside of Kalispell. I had been, what was I doing? My ex-girlfriend was working at some restaurant in Clark Fork, Idaho in middle of nowhere, small town. And I was staying there. And the woman that owned the property that she was on, she said, “Son, you look like the product of intergenerational poverty. You walk arrogantly and over confidently and people around here think that you’re going to burglarize their homes.” And so they basically ran me out of town. And so I stick my thumb up and I get a couple of rides and everything’s going fine. And then in Kalispell, a guy pulls up old international pickup, he picks me up and we’re going down the road and he starts smoking meth.

He’s smoking meth, and he’s driving about as fast as that old pickup could go. And he’s got some weird country song on the radio. I think it was like Faith Hill or something. He’s grabbing my shoulder real tight, and he’s bawling. He’s sobbing listening to this song. And then finally he sort of catches himself and comes to, and he says, “Boy, why don’t you open up that glove box?” I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, I’ll show you why I’m going to live to be 130.” I said, “Okay.” Well, I guess I want to see that. And so I open it up and there’s Tupperware in there, and the Tupperware is full of eggs. And I said, “Oh yeah, you eat eggs. It’s probably good for your health.” And he said, “No, you crack one of those eggs open.” So, I cracked it open, and it was a bunch of blood came out because it was a fertilized chicken egg. And he said, “Give me that.” And so he took it and he popped it in his mouth and he was eating fertilized chicken eggs, going down the road and crying and smoking meth.

Jim: Oh dear.

Andy: He kept talking about how he wanted to take me back to his place and show me things. He said, “If you smoke this, you’ll be able to see visions and you’ll even see visions of Jesus Christ, and we can get you eating these eggs and you’ll live to be 130 just like me.” So, he pulled over to take a piss at a rest stop. And I hopped out and I said, “Yeah.” I went down into the river and all around and he couldn’t find me and he left. And that day, it didn’t quit that day because then I wound up getting a ride with a math teacher down in the Flying J on I-90, and there was a neo-Nazi that started shit with me and tried to fight me.

And there was this big to-do and a parking lot and a big brawl with, a trucker come up and the trucker picked his ass up and threw him. He was driving a Cadillac and his wife was crying. It was craziness. And then finally I said, “Well, I got to get the fuck out of here.” So, I went out to the interstate and the sun was going down and I caught a ride with a woman in a truck, a big truck, and she was, I didn’t realize how drunk she was. I got in and she was blackout wasted. I’m talking like piss in her pants and slurring her words and all over the road. And we’re going up over the great divide and out just outside of Butte, Montana, and it starts snowing.

Jim: Jesus.

Andy: And we’re fishtailing on the road, but she’s on her cell phone. She’s telling me about her pet reindeer. She’s got pet reindeer. So, she says, “I got to find the photos of my pet reindeer on a Facebook slideshow. So, take the wheel.” Of course, I’d never driven a car, because I’d always hitchhike. So, I’m taking the wheel and we’re going 80 down this road, fishtailing side to side. And I screamed at the lady. I never do that, but I screamed at her. I said, “You take that wheel lady.” And she let me off in the middle of nowhere, and it got cold, and I was worried that I was going to freeze, and I didn’t know what to do.

Nobody was around and I did not have adequate gear for it. And so I sat for a couple of hours and I was just hoping that something would happen and that nothing did until finally there was this guy, this Mexican guy on a four wheeler who was, he was doing a sheep herding job, and he didn’t really speak English, and my Spanish wasn’t that good then. And he took me over into his place and I slept there, and he took me into town in the morning. But that was one of the craziest days for me.

Jim: That actually beats all my crazy stories all in one day. My stories were fairly mild. I still remember, I actually wasn’t going back and forth to Boston. One time in the middle of all that, me and my best friend decided for no good reason to hitchhike down to Charleston, South Carolina and back. And we did, and I still recall the first ride we got, the guy said, “I need to take a piss.” He was obviously drinking pretty heavily, but this was 1973 or so. In the old days, the cops didn’t really give a shit about drunk driving. They’d say, “Mr. Rutt, do you think your ass can get this car home without wrapping it around a tree?” And we’d go, “Yes, sir.” They’d say, “Well, get your ass off the road. If I see you out again tonight, I’m running your ass in.” Another time, I remember my girlfriend was driving and we got pulled over.

They did the old walk the line to see if you were drunk or not. She fell right over in the middle of the road. And then he said, “Well, how about you? How drunk are you?” And I said, “Well, I’ve had a few, but I can stand on a foot and touch my nose. I can do all that shit.” Of my dad was a cop, and he had taught me to practice all those little drills so I could do them even when I was fairly blotto. So, I stood on one foot and touched mine. And I say, “Say I’m drunk. I ain’t that drunk.” And he said, “All right. Just get that girl home. If I see you all again tonight though you’re going down to Hyattsville.” So, that was the cops, as long as you didn’t sass them, thought it unrespectable to run somebody in just for drunk driving.

So, unlike today, they’d fucking fry your ass for that kind of shit. But anyway, on this trip to South Carolina, the driver got out of his car right on the side of the interstate, pissing in the grass, and he was so drunk, he fell down and rolled down the hill. Now here’s how dumb my buddy and I were. We walked out, we went down the hill, it was pretty steep and helped him up and helped him back up the hill and back into the car. We got back into the car and went another a hundred miles.

Andy: Great, great.

Jim: Yeah. Another one was on that same trip, was the driver, not the same day, I don’t think. It might’ve been the same day. Maybe it was another one of these a little bit strange days where the guy let his 4-year-old kid drive the car.

Andy: Wow.

Jim: Yeah, he had to put the kid on a cushion and he then sat next to the kid and he was operating the pedals, but the kid was actually steering the car on the interstate at 65 miles an hour. And that kid wasn’t a bad driver. And again, we were going, that’s a little strange, but what the fuck. And I will also say about the drugs. As far as I know, I don’t think I ever got a ride with anybody doing anything other than alcohol. Or of course, this is the 70s, lots of reefer.

I mean, I would say a third of your rides you got offered a doobie, something like that. And of course this was 70s pot, pretty weak shit. And that was in the days when an ounce went $15 maybe, something like that. And it was not the greatest in the world. And many a time they’d ask the drivers, do you know how to roll a joint? And I’d go, “Hell yes.” And so they’d give you the bag, give you the papers, and you’d sit there and roll the joint. And they were happy for the person to roll the joint for them. So, you were providing a service.

Andy: Right. Yep.

Jim: The other psychoactive chemical story is kind of a funny one. As you know some people pick up every hitchhiker they see. And one time it was in right on the North Dakota Montana border heading west. And this good old boy had been hired by somebody to drive a flatbed farm truck from North Dakota to someplace in Montana. And he was picking up every hitchhiker he saw, and there was like seven half-ass hippies sprawled across the back of this flatbed truck. And I was the seventh or the eighth and hopped on, and the sun was beaten down, but it wasn’t super hot, but a little hot.

And so as soon as we get into Montana, he pulls over into a little grocery store there. He said, “Oh yeah, we get some beer here.” And so I think I was the one that actually collected the money from everybody in the flatbed truck went in, bought like four six packs of beer, and we got back on the truck, started sucking the beers down and kept sucking the beers down. Nothing’s happening. I go, what the fuck is wrong with this shit? Then we look at the can and say, oh, it’s 3.2 beer. And apparently in Montana, and the guy told us this later, said, “You dumb kids should have gone to the other store, the liquor store. The liquor store sold strong beer, the usual five, five and a half percent stuff. But in Montana, the grocery stores can only sell 3.2% alcohol beer.” And the stuff did do nothing but give us a headache.

Andy: Yeah, I missed the days when that was the case in Montana. I think they changed that, but I had that experience in Utah where you’re like, there’s no point to it.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. What other good stories, what other things, adventures on the road, particularly while actually in the cars, did you experience in your days?

Andy: Boy, the America of the 70s is not as dark a place as the America in the early 2000s or mid 2000s, or the teens, I guess, because most of my stories are kind of weird of getting in car wrecks, lot of drugs lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of drugs, weird stuff like that. But also people will say things like, “Oh, aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped or raped or assaulted or something?” And I’ll tell you what, I was in Connecticut on the I-84 and Connecticut’s a miserable place to hitchhike. And what was it that there was this black guy in a work truck, he was in a white van for work. He was real funny. He was like, “Boy, you got some big feet.” I was like, “Yeah, I got some big feet. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And he’s like, “Boy, you must have a big old shlonky.” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know. I guess I can’t ascertain whether it is or isn’t, and I don’t particularly care to talk about it with you.” And he is like, “Oh, come on, let me just see it.” And I was like, “Nah, nah, I’m not really interested in that.” And he said, “Okay, that’s fair. That’s fair.” And he was cool. And I found that to be the case all the time with the homosexuals they shoot their shot and who could blame them, but they were never anything but respectful towards me. I never had problems with that. The strange stuff too was little cultural differences.

There had been a mass shooting in San Bernardino, and I was on the I-10 right after that mass shooting, and I hitchhiked for eight, nine hours and no rides. Nobody would pick me up. Everybody was spooked about the shooting. And it was an old school kind of South Central Compton guy from the hood that saved me. And he picked me up and he offered me weed. And I was like, “Sorry, I don’t smoke weed.” And he was like, “You don’t smoke weed. What do you mean?” He didn’t understand. He had never heard of really conceived of the idea of somebody not smoking weed. And at the time I was vegetarian and he’s like, “All right, well at least I’m going to take you out for lunch.”

And I was like, “Okay, sure, if that’s what you want to do.” And so we go to KFC and he’s like, “Okay, what do you want?” And I was like, “I don’t know, I guess I’ll have some fries or a baked potato or something.” And he is like, “Yeah, but what do you want?” And I said, “That’s about what I want.” And he said, “Yeah, but don’t you want some chicken?” I said, “No, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat.” And he’s like, “Man, you don’t smoke weed and you don’t eat chicken.” And it was the funniest moment where it was like, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t.” And he was just mystified. Stuff like that would happen all the time.

Jim: That’s kind of cool. I certainly both smoked weed and ate fried chicken. So, I got along pretty well with anybody. And of course there were people pass the bottles back and forth. But yeah, your point about the homosexuals is I had the same experience. Some percentage of the time, 5% of the time, maybe the driver would be gay and figure this was a chance to make his offer. But I never had anybody try to push it. I just said, “No, not my thing, dude.” No problem. And one time a guy said, “Well, how about if I paid you $300?” I go, “No, sorry. Just not into that sort of stuff.” And after that he was fine. But yeah, I never had anybody be pushy. And of course there was the other side too, but we won’t talk about that stuff.

Andy: Yeah, well, sure, yeah.

Jim: There was some good adventure. But about the darkness and the light, I think that’s a very good point because when I think back to the seventies, I think of the light being glorious and golden, right? This really was a good time to be an American. And when I graduated from college, it was actually during a recession, but we knew the recession would last 18 months or something, two years, it would turn around. But we all thought life was good, and we all knew that if we put our shit together even a little bit, you could get a decent job. And houses were still not that expensive. You could still afford to buy a house if by the time, if you worked five years and got married to a decent person, you could put together a little nest egg and buy a house and life was going to be good.

And there were some negatives though, and people say, well, it wasn’t that golden era. I go, you’re right. We had the bomb. We all thought, good chance we’d be blown the fuck up by nuclear war. I grew up seven miles from the White House. We assumed we’d see a white flash, that’d be that, but it didn’t get us down. That’s interesting. And also, this was the era of Nixon. Nixon left office in 1974, and so my high hitchhiking years were ’75, ’76, ’77, my highest mileage years. And we had Nixon, we had the craziness of the weatherman, 1,200 bombings in the United States, but yet it didn’t feel dark at all. I mean when you look at pictures of that time, people are smiling and happy. And it definitely did not feel dark, at least certainly not to me.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I think a lot about what caused that shift. I mean, one for hitchhiking. I know some people that I know are big time hitchhikers. They theorize that it was the eighties and Reagan and the crack epidemic kind of all put together. All in one shot you had a massive deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. And so a lot of those guys took to the road and did weird, weird, dark, crazy stuff. And then the news covered it in as sensational terms as they possibly could so that every housewife in America was now thinking about serial killers in a way that maybe was not quite the same 20 years prior to that. And then you had the crack epidemic in the eighties in the cities and New York City was going to hell. And there was all these problems. I’ve heard this said to me before, I’m not old enough to actually ascertain whether there’s any truth in those claims, but it does make sense.

But even I think these things go in waves too, because all of my major hitchhiking was pre COVID and now hitchhiking, post COVID, I notice a difference for sure. I haven’t hitchhiked that extensively since COVID, but enough to just get a grip on where people are at. And people are definitely more leery, and it’s less of a, “Hey, look at that guy. He’s traveling and having fun. Let’s have a beer and let’s be friends.” And it’s a little more like, “Who’s that sketchy guy? Is he going to do something untoward? Is he a threat to us? What about our safety?” There’s a different mindset now to where I’m convinced personally that hitchhiking is on its way out, or I’ve heard people talk about its death. And I’ve always said, “Oh, well, the death of hitchhiking, highly exaggerated. This is how I get around.” But maybe now it’s over. I can’t tell. But definitely people are different now.

Jim: Certainly the numbers are way down. I mean, back in our day, lots of people hitchhiked long distance. And I said this place where I’d start from college, the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and the Mass Turnpike, I would say most of the time there’d be 2, 3, 4 people there. Sometimes there’d be 10 people there. And if you were at a pretty decent exit off I-70, I always swung south around Cleveland and Chicago and all that went on 70 instead of on 80. I’m sure you had the same trick, right?

Andy: Same thing.

Jim: You learn one time I made the mistake of going down 80. I go, fuck that, right? But anyway, there was definitely competition in those days at each exit. And one of my theories was I wanted to look a bit more bright-eyed and bushy tailed and less crazy than anybody else. And I also had my artist sketch pad with my destination.

And part of that was the strategy of, okay, how far do you want to ride? You’d optimally want a ride that would go all day, but the probability of getting one that’s low. So, I’d pick a place that was three or four hours beyond where I was. And of course, you get picked up by people who are just going four exits. They’d say, “All, I’m not going to Grand Junction, but I can drop you off in 30 miles.” And then I’d say yes or no, because again, I had my Rand McNally and I could tell what exits were likely and which ones weren’t. You had to kind of play the optimization game because of the fact that you were competing with other people. Remember when I was hitchhiking down Route 1, I went on my first big West Coast trip. I went from Maryland to Minnesota, hung out there for a while, went out to San Francisco, then went to Seattle, then I hitchhiked down Route 1 all the way from Seattle to San Diego. That was one of the most amazing trips ever.

Andy: Yeah, it is. In my mind it’s the same. I had nothing but good times doing that. But I was recently there again, I was in Oregon to meet my father, my estranged father I was talking about earlier. And I hitchhiked in the same spot that I’ve hitchhiked half a dozen times, and I waited for hours, and I actually missed my train, because I couldn’t get a ride. And I had just planned in my mind, I was like, yeah, of course I’ll get a ride. But I actually didn’t for a long, long way. And it was kind of sad to see. But yeah, that west coast route has always treated me so well, and nobody cares where you sleep. And I don’t know when you did it, but when I did it, there was blackberries, like wild blackberries everywhere. So, you’d be eating blackberries. And I took to digging clams. I was eating clams and cooking them on the beach. It was great.

Jim: That’s interesting. And I never did do much foraging, I must say. Well, I do recall that the Route 1 south of Carmel by the Sea, it was kind of the entrance into Big Sur area, and there was like 17 fucking hippies there, hitchhiking. And I got dropped off. I was, oh, I’m going to have to put on my A game. And I was like the second guy picked up. So, my optimization strategy worked. Making a living on the road is an interesting topic. My first trip, which was 14 days, I spent $11 of which four of it was for a Wino hotel in New Orleans one night. But mostly I would buy a loaf of bread and some bologna or something like that. And on my longer trips, something my father, again, my father was a wise working class guy, a high school dropout, but he knew how the world worked.

He had told me, “Well, one thing you can count on is if you go to a large restaurant, particularly one associated with a hotel, and go tell them that you’re willing to wash dishes. You can always get a job.” And he was exactly right about this, more often than not they’ll hire on the spot. If not, they’ll say, come back tomorrow. Because in those days, this was before there was lots of Hispanic immigrants and stuff, and all the people in the back rooms of the restaurants were drunks and crazy people. They were mostly white, some black, I would say out west where I usually did this, because that’s my more extended trips. They’re probably 80% white and 20% black, but they were real low class and very unreliable, and either crazy or drunk or both. And people didn’t show up or had to be ejected, et cetera.

And so I never failed to get a job within one day in washing dishes. And my father also said, “Well, they’re going to ask you how to use a Hobart”, which is the big industrial washers, “just say yes.” And say, “You’re a smart kid, you’ll figure it out.” And so my first job, I figured it out, and thereafter, whenever I needed bucks, I’d worked three or four days, and they paid considerably better than minimum wage for that job, because it was kind of an ugly job. Second, you could steal all the food you wanted off the plates and use some discernment on whether this looked like a thing worth grabbing or not. You could walk with your pockets, fucking stuffed full of prime rib and stuff. It was great. And then once in a while, if you clearly had a good rapport with the restaurant manager, they let you sleep in an open room. A couple of times got free squats in the hotel where the restaurant was.

And so I’d work two, three days. In those days, I think they paid about $3 an hour or something like that. And then you’d get the deductions out. You’d get about 50 bucks, 55 bucks for working three days, and that’d be enough to keep me on the road for a month. And that was my fallback thing. I also did other, as we all do, I worked one time unloading a truck of hay. That was a fucking nasty ass job out in the Dakotas. My best one, too bad this was near the end of my last long journey. I was down in San Diego. I’d love to talk about your camping experiences, but I had a good eye for good, safe places to crash. I was not one that generally liked to crash in town. I did it a few times behind dumpsters or whatever, but I preferred to hitch to camp on the outskirts of town and just go in for the day.

And in San Diego, there was this amazingly beautiful clover leaf that was totally overgrown with tropical plants and all this stuff. And then as the guy was driving by, I said, “Pull over here, let me out.” And he goes, “Why? What?” Like, “Don’t worry. Just let me go.” And I realized I could wheel my way into the middle of this clover leaf, and it was this amazingly dense tropical growth. No one’s going to even know I’m in there. And today, a lot of those places are hobo jungles, but in those days, they weren’t. This was virgin. And so I set up a camp. I actually even strung up my little tent, which was basically a painter’s drop cloth with grommets attached, and I’d run a rope between two trees and make a little pup tent. I had stakes. I mean, I was a good boy scout.

I was always prepared. And I set that thing up for three days. I camped out in the clover leaf within the San Diego city limits, but the outer parts of it, and I would hitchhike into town. In those days, California, this was before most places had any gambling of any sort except maybe lotteries. California had this old, old law that allowed poker rooms, and you didn’t play against the house, you played against the other players, and you paid a little rake for the table. And in San Diego, it was mostly these old retired Navy guys, and they’d sit there and drink and play cards. Well, I was a pretty good poker player, and I was curious how good I was. And so I happened to have maybe 50 or 60 bucks on me at that point in time, which was a pretty near my high watermark of the amount of money I’d actually have on me.

Get a sense of what that’s worth today, multiply by about six, that’d be equivalent of $300 today. That was a fairly substantial amount of money for a bum hitchhiking around the country for months at a time. I went into the poker room, said, I’m going to go here on the low stakes table and play and see how good these guys are, and they sucked. Then I went to a little bit bigger table and they sucked too. Not quite so bad. Then I went to a little bit bigger table, and they were a bit worse than I was on average, I thought. But I figured I had an edge, and because the stakes were bigger, I could make more money. So, in three days, I made $300. And so I was fat, dumb, and happy for the rest of that trip. I never replicated that, unfortunately. But that was an amazing way to resupply the cash hoard on the road, basically beating heavily drinking retired Navy dudes at poker in the legal California card rooms.

Andy: That’s awesome.

Jim: How about you? What did you do to restuff the grouch bag while you were on the road?

Andy: Well, they used to call me the white Mexican because I just did work for cash with illegal immigrants. That was all I really ever did when I was actually traveling. So, you could go in front of Home Depot at like five in the morning, six in the morning.

Jim: Oh yeah. The guys come down and pick you up for odd jobs. Yep, they do that.

Andy: And you got to speak a little bit of Spanish, but it’s not terribly hard. And yeah, I wound up doing all kinds of things, laying pavers for patios, unloading hay, worked in a cannery, picked dates, picked oranges, picked lettuce, picked strawberries, ran a cultivator, all kinds of stuff like that. I even took a job in a slaughterhouse. I mean, I mentioned earlier I was a vegetarian for a while. That might’ve had something to do with that. But yeah, I did all kinds of jobs, but I also would go back home and a ways into my traveling my uncle started this kind of weird business of taking down old barns and turning the wood into shelves to sell online. And so I wound up doing a lot of that type of work. So, I found everywhere I ever went, if I needed to make money, I could make it.

And I also found too, that people who might’ve been viewing me negatively and sort of wondering, maybe I should get this bum out of here, if I could sense that and I’d say, “Hey, is there any work around?” Their tune would change, and they’d be like, oh, so you’re respectable, so you’ll work. And then next thing you know, I’d be mowing somebody’s lawn or pumping down somebody’s hot water tank or something and just have all kinds of little things to do. And you’re right about the restaurants, peeling potatoes and washing dishes. I’ve never asked for that and not gotten it, because those guys are always hiring. They’ve always been hiring. It could probably be the best economy in the world they’d still be hiring. That type of work. Nobody wants to do that. That’s miserable work. But it’s not miserable for three, four days.

Jim: Yeah, three days. And you make a enough money to live for a month. What the fuck? Right?

Andy: And that’s the thing, the economics of it, people will always, I’ll get people online now that I use Twitter, and I’ll be talking about my travels and they’ll be like, oh, you must be like some rich trust fund baby, blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, dude, you do not know if you have a sleeping bag and a tent and a backpack and a camp stove your life cost any money at all. You just sleep outside and you eat food, cheap food from the grocery store or food from wherever you can get it, and your expenses are like nothing. And so there was even a time where months pass by and I didn’t spend money because I would dumpster dive and there would be so much good food in the dumpsters. I would sleep outside. The only thing I would spend money on would be beer if I wanted it. But if I wasn’t even drinking beer, then it was like I didn’t have to spend money on anything.

Jim: Absolutely. It would amaze people, what I’d tell them how much I spent. I’d be gone for two and a half months, I’d say, what did I spend that time? Less than $300 in two and a half months. And people say, whoa. And I think I took $300 with me and I came home with about $300, but I spent about $300 when I was on the road. And you could live forever for almost nothing. And in those days, occasionally I would buy a beer, but only socially, because one of the other cool things in the seventies, it may not have been so much in the double aughts. I guess in your case, the tens, you didn’t get started until the tens.

Andy: Right, that would be it.

Jim: Yeah. Fairly often you get invited home by people, right?

Andy: Yep.

Jim: And there was two kinds of people that would invite you home. One were semi hippies. I spent three or four days in the town of Big Sur with a bunch of hippies in this crash pad. That was hilarious. And I did buy some beers at the bars and stuff to make sure I wasn’t a total mooch, et cetera. And I’d chip in for the grocery money and stuff. But this was some guys that were living for the summer in Big Sur. And I could have lived there permanently if I wanted to. Because I had a place on the couch that was mine as long as I wanted it. After four days, I think it was time to start to move on. And the other, I don’t know if you ever had this experience, but whenever you were hitchhiking in Mormon country and got picked up by a Mormon family, they would take you home, they’d give you a dinner and you weren’t sleeping on the couch.

They’d have a guest bedroom for you and the whole deal, a hot shower, and they would never preach. Never had one preach at me ever. But I would say that at least in the seventies, the first time I had this happened to me, I was picked up by a blonde housewife in a station wagon with three kids, and was going to give me a ride five miles or something. “You look like it’s the end of the day. How would you if you came home with us and we cooked you dinner and gave you a place to sleep?” And I go, “Yes, Ma’am. Don’t ask me twice.” And then she drove me back to the state road where I had been hitchhiking and in the morning and everything was totally cool. But over the years, probably four or five times I was invited home by Mormons, taken totally good care of and never preached that once.

Andy: Right. Right. That’s about spot on. That still happens for sure. That’s happened to me numerous times in both cases. And I think also too old farm type people, like real old style out in the Dakotas out in Kansas, some of those old guys take you home for a day or two and give you a spot. But the Mormons reminds me of a funny thing that happened to me. I was in El Waco, Washington by Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia gorge out west. And it was pouring rain, pouring rain. I was miserably soaked. And it’s like you probably have had the experience of it’s raining. And so people say, “Oh, well you’re never going to get a ride in the rain”, and it’s actually more likely to get a ride in the rain initially when you’re not totally soaked. And so I was hoping for that and I never got it.

And then I got to the point where I was so soaked that nobody probably would give you a ride, because I was so wet. But the Mormons came through in one of their big 15 passenger vans full of kids. And I was so thankful to get into that van. And they took me around and they were not preaching at me, but I figured out shortly into the ride that the father had picked me up as an example to his kids of here’s what a loser looks like, here’s what somebody looks like who just totally lost it. And so he keeps pushing them. He’s like, “So, boys, do you have any questions for this guy?” And the one kid, he was maybe six, he said, “So, what is it that you do?” I said, “Well, I go all over the country and I just see the country and I meet nice people like you.”

And he said, “Boy, that sounds pretty fun.” And I said, “Yeah, it is. I have a lot of fun. I love my life.” And you could see the father was just getting so mad. And by the end of it, one of his sons who’s maybe 12 years old, he’s like, “Dad, I think I want to do this.” And it was clear, it totally backfired. And they gave me a Book of Mormon and they bought me dinner. And the father was like, “All right, well, you got me beat.” And he said that to me. I was like, “Oh.”

Jim: Oh, that was cool. That was kind of cool. Yeah, I always loved hitchhiking through Mormon country. And you talked about the decline of hitchhiking and well, yeah the two areas that I did not like at all, even in my day, were New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania around Philadelphia.

Andy: Oh yeah.

Jim: And tell me if this hasn’t happened to you when you’re standing there, say on a state road at the red light hitchhiking and the suburban housewife sees you there and reaches over and locks the door.

Andy: Oh yeah. Oh, for sure. For sure. I mean, I was writing an article just before we started talking, and the way I described it wasn’t just the locking of the door, but when you’re standing on the road and you’re smiling and you got your thumb out and the person’s driving by and you’ll watch them avert their eyes as if by looking at you, they might catch whatever horrible disease you might have that puts you in that condition. It’s like, man, people are so funny.

Jim: I was a little bit more charitable than that. I had a more charitable interpretation of that. Oh, absolutely. They would definitely not want to look at you, but I think it’s because they understood that their human empathy might break down if they looked at you.

Andy: Oh, maybe. I think that could be fair. Yeah, that could be fair.

Jim: Yeah, that was my more benevolent interpretation. Oh yeah, you definitely saw that. And then in Jersey and Pennsylvania, there’s a reach over and lock the door like, okay, I’m going to jump in your car or something, lady. I don’t think so. I don’t think so. As I mentioned, my first hitchhiking trip, I just happened to have a crappy cheap sleeping bag. But when I got back home, I remembered that my cousin who had been in the Air Force had years before given me an Air Force survival bag that he claimed he robed from the Air Force. And he was a light-fingered sort, so it wouldn’t totally surprise me. And he said it was from a B52 and it was what they put in the B52s that flew over the North Pole. And this sucker weighed about eight pounds and it was totally stuffed with down, and it must’ve been five pounds of down.

That’s a lot of down in a sleeping bag. Further, it had this very heavy duty vinyl wrapper that you could put around it. And thereafter I took it back to college with me. And thereafter, whenever I hitchhiked anytime past middle of October or anytime before 1st of May, I took this Air Force survival bag with me. And I can remember one time hitchhiking out in middle of January out through the middle of Midwest from Maryland to Ohio, then to Indiana, and got caught in some really bad weather. And I did my just outside of town camp. And in the morning I woke up and my vinyl wrapped sleeping bag was frozen in the ice. There had been water on the ground and gone from 35 to 10 or something overnight, and I just got my hatchet out and chipped it off. So, I was never worried about freezing with my Air Force survival bag as long as I had it with me.

And then I said, the other thing I did was always had a painter’s tarp set up as a tarp tent so that I could string a tent between two trees or road signs or a fence post or whatever, or if you could only find one, you could run the rope at an angle and build yourself kind of like a little pyramid tent like that. And those were kind of my basic things. A couple of times took a camp stove with me, but I found it was too much of a pain in the ass. I didn’t like the fact that it would leak gas and shit. So, I was old school and just cooked with wood. Cook a hot dog out of stick or I had a set of cook pots in my later days.

But yeah, so that was essentially my gear and a hatchet. I had my trusty Jet hatchet, a really nice top of the line boy scout hatchet. And once or twice I did have to pull it out, but never had to actually use it on anybody. And it was of course a tool of many uses, splitting firewood, driving pegs, et cetera. And of course, I always had a knife in my pocket, so I traveled pretty light. I did not travel with a lot of gear, but I did travel with enough gear.

Andy: Right. I usually did the same. I mean, I had the benefit of serious ultra light gear was coming out heavily when I was traveling, and so that was the only thing I spent real money on ever. When I was doing that, I would work up four or $500 for a sleeping bag that weighed, I don’t know, 15 ounces or something, and my entire weight in those days for everything that I needed, as long as it wasn’t winter, was about eight and a half pounds without food and water.

So, it was like nothing. There’s people they go to work with a bag that weighs more than that. So, I was doing really well with that. But I’ll say your vignette about using the winter sleeping bag, that reminds me of honestly, some of my best hitchhiking has been in the dead of winter. I hitchhiked from the coast of Maine to the Berkshires via Vermont, New Hampshire, and I’m telling you, daytime highs were in the negatives. And I had a similar sleeping bag to the one you’re talking about. It’s like the US Army extreme cold sleeping bag. It’s like about the size of a beer keg, and it weighs about as much.

Jim: It weighs about 11 pounds if it’s like the one I had.

Andy: It was absurd how heavy it was, but it did work. And when you got your thumb out with your mittens on and it’s that cold, people are picking you up who would never pick you up and they’re concerned or they think you’re crazy or whatever, but they just can’t let you stay there. So, I just zipped across New England, but I slept out behind a gas station and I think I was in Ascutney, Vermont, and I slept there and it got down, I looked it up, it got down to negative 23 or something like that, and I woke up and you wake up and you’re like, whoa, I didn’t die. And it’s such a thrill to get through. Winter camping is some of my favorite. I love doing that.

Jim: Yeah, I was lucky I never got into one of those super cold snaps, five below maybe it was the coldest I was ever actually out in.

Andy: Hey, that’ll still kill you.

Jim: Oh, that’ll definitely kill you. But if you have your Air Force survival bag, you’re actually toasty warm and have no idea how cold it is out there.

Andy: Right, right.

Jim: Yeah. This thing had wool fur and you could close it up so that your face hole is only about this big. And if you either had a tent or you didn’t need a tent, one of my other favorites was those little flat areas at the top of interstate overpasses.

Andy: Oh yeah.

Jim: That was one of my favorites. Because then you don’t have to worry about setting the tent up or anything. Not likely to have any precipitation get on you. And also in a spot that at least in those days, the cops didn’t know about and never had anybody try to rouse me, never had anybody else try to join me. It was because of my own little secret, the little flat areas at the top of those under the overpasses.

Even if I had already gotten off at the exit, sometimes I’d walk back and come up to the underpasses when I was sort of in transit from point A to point B. That was always kind of handy. In my day there was a lot of people who were just kind of ill prepared. They were just kind of people out on the road and they didn’t have shit. And I’d always feel sorry for those folks. I always wonder what became of them. How about in your day, were the other people out on the road also reasonably well-equipped, or were there people out there that just didn’t seem to know what the fuck they were doing?

Andy: I could write a field guide on America’s traveling homeless because there’s so much diversity. Definitely after your time. I don’t think that this existed when you were doing this. There’s this kind of, you have punk like the punk rock scene, but deeper than that, you have this really grimy, gritty underground punk scene called Crust Punk where most of these guys are anarchists, they’re criminals. They got face tattoos and dreadlocks and big backpacks and a lot of them hop freight trains with dogs. These guys vary widely because a lot of them are on heroin. So, I knew guys like that, that they didn’t even have a sleeping bag. And I was staying at Quartzsite, Arizona, and there was this kid from Kentucky that every night he would basically set a log on fire and cuddle up to the not burning side of the log to stay warm. And it was like, dude, you’re nuts.

Jim: You’re going to die. Either you’re going to burn yourself up or you’re going to freeze your ass. What are the [inaudible 01:04:29]-

Andy: For real. Yeah. I could not believe it.

Jim: Or both.

Andy: I will say too about gear and all this sort of stuff is one of the coolest parts of the whole thing to me also beyond just the hitchhiking is the camping, sneakily camping in weird areas of like I climbed on the roof of a Dairy Queen. There were pipes behind it, and if you grab the pipe and put your feet on the wall, you climb up hand over hand and you hop up in there and they’ve got walls above the flat spot, so it feels like you’re in the Alamo. You’re up there and you can see everything and nobody can see you, and the ground is flat and nobody’s looking for you because who the hell would ever go up there? And I would sleep on the roofs of Dairy Queens. I would sleep in culvert pipes on construction sites. Once when I was hitchhiking too, I caught up with this kid who was a freight hopper, and he happened to have a key for a freight train that would open the auto carriers that were full of brand new cars that had been assembled in Mexico.

So, we got in and there was a Honda Civic, and of course they have the keys in there, so the keys are in there. We got the AC on, we got the radio, we’re getting drunk on a freight train in a Honda Civic, and we put the seats back and we got the AC running and we go right to sleep. I slept at night that way before. Like there’s a million creative ways. Oh, and one other thing I’ll say too about that is nobody ever looks up. So, for a while I traveled with a hammock and I would climb high up in trees and I carried a climber’s belay loop harness, and I would put a guideline in and tie myself in and I’d fall asleep in the hammock up in Central Park or up in Seattle. Right in downtown.

Jim: That’s cool.

Andy: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: I was not that adventurous. I had my clover leaves, bits of woods, behind the dumpster at the 7-Eleven or the gas station. Nobody looked behind the dumpster. I should sneak in behind the dumpster and set up your little camp back there. And it might smell a little funky, but oh well.

Andy: Well, and behind those gas stations too, when it’s cold, those reefer units just blow hot air on you.

Jim: Blow heat. Yeah, they blow plenty of heat.

Andy: Yeah, that’s nice.

Jim: Absolutely. Well, this has been interesting. I got to tell one last story and then you can tell a good story or two, then we’ll wrap it up. My first long distance trip, I mean the real long, I went to California and up and down the coast and back. On the way back, remember the movie Smokey and the Bandits and they used to talk about convoys and all that shit. Well, sure as shit did I get picked up by at Trucker someplace in, I think it was in Illinois. And by the time I got to mid-Indiana, and this would’ve been 1970, early July, 1975. And sure as shit, this guy with his CB had joined up with a convoy that kept growing and growing and growing and he was chattering away just like on Smokey and the Bandits and just like the classic CB truckers of the 70s because he was, and they were using all the same jargon.

And we rolled from middle of Indiana all the way to the middle of Pennsylvania where I got out and the convoy, it was eventually 80 trucks and these guys were running about 85, 90 miles an hour. They’re roaring across half Indiana, all of Ohio and half of Pennsylvania. It was truly memorable. It was right out of the fucking movies, all the same jargon. And the guy was a big old guy with a great sense of humor and a gift of gab. And all through the night, it was all nighttime. I got out at midnight and that was one of these once in a lifetime experiences.

Andy: That’s awesome. That is truly, you’re privileged to have experienced that. I always looked up to Convoy, CW McCall, Smokey and the Bandit, all that trucker stuff. It feels like hitchhiker stuff, like those old songs and stuff. I love that. Yeah.

Jim: Really cool. So, how about you? Final story to exit on.

Andy: I was in Eureka, California on, I think it’s 101 by the time you get up there or if it isn’t, it’s nearly that. And I was out on some beach and I’d stayed out on that beach for a couple weeks by myself and put my thumb up. And this guy, he was old Vietnam vet driving like some busted old RV. He’s driving down the road and he pulls over and it was one of those situations where the camper was full of hitchhikers. There was just tons of people in there, mostly like face tattoo, crusty rough guys getting drunk on Black Velvet whiskey, cheap whiskey in the back. But the guy was all over the road who was driving. And I asked one of the other hitchhiker, I said, “What’s his deal? Why is he like that?” And he said, “Well, he’s old Vietnam vet and he’s been huffing glue all the way from San Francisco.”

And so the guy was. He was dumber than hell. He couldn’t hardly speak coherently. And he was just zooming around the road and the wind is blowing the RV all over and he got so high and he ran out of gas and as he’s running out of gas, he coasts into this parking lot and all of us hitchhiker get out like a band of pirates and we start drinking on the beach. And then I noticed that there was one girl in the pack of them and she was young, and I kind of took her aside and I said, “Do you know all these other guys who you’re with?” And she said, “No, I just met them because I run away from home in Fresno and I’m trying to go to Portland.” And I said, “Well, how old are you?” And she said, “Well, I’m 14.”

I said, “Holy shit, you’re 14.” I said, “What’s your name?” She said, “Well, my name’s Chastity.” Her name was Chastity. And she was 14 and she was running away from home in Fresno. And so I said, “Listen, I’m going to take you to Portland, because I don’t trust some other boys.” And so her and I hitchhiked up the coast together and hung out and it took a couple of days and we were eating together and she didn’t have any money, so I had a little bit of money, but I was feeding her and we were taking … everything was good. And we get up to Portland and I said, “So, where does your uncle live?” And she said, “Oh, he lives here.” And so her aunt and uncle were there and we borrowed somebody’s phone and we called them and they said, “Okay, we’ll come pick you up.”

And they picked us up and they took me in. I was at their place for like a week, but her aunt and uncle were so thankful. They said, “Chastity was in his bad situation getting abused down in Fresno and just horrible stuff.” And the guy told me, he said, “I think you probably saved her.” And he was just happy, but he couldn’t believe that I didn’t do drugs. He said, “So, what kind of drugs do you do?” I said, “I don’t do drugs.” He said, “You don’t do drugs. I don’t believe you.” And I said, “I don’t do drugs.” And he was blown away, but I’ll never forget that. Because that was just so wild. Riding around with a guy huffing glue in an RV.

Jim: Jesus. As you said, there was a lot of dark shit in that era. Much less of that in my era. Well, anyway, I would love to thank Andy Hickman for a really great time to talk about hitchhiking and I got a chance to tell some stories. You got a chance to tell some stories, compare some eras, et cetera. So, thanks a lot Andy, for coming on the Jim Rutt show.

Andy: Of course.

Jim: It was wonderful.