When Dave’s red Chevy truck turned around a few hundred yards up the road from where I sat on a guardrail, I got a good feeling. On the side of the road you don’t get much chance to see people’s faces, so you can spend a lot of time imagining what is on the mind of the people passing by, even on a secondary road that has a maximum speed limit of 55.
Dave pulled over across the road to ask where I was going. I’ve taken to telling people “California,” so that’s what I said to him. He laughed and said he could get me to Canandaigua, 17 miles west. I lept at the chance, and he turned around and pulled over, and helped me get my pack into the back of his work truck. (The pack hasn’t gotten any lighter – I seriously should have brought a mule).
When I told him that this was only Day Two of the trek, he said that I probably hadn’t had a chance to meet up with law enforcement. Well….
Remember last night I told you I was saving a story (actually there are two stories). Twenty minutes after Marc the web guru left me at Beak N Skiff, where Rt. 80 and Rt. 20 intersect, a sheriff’s patrol car pulled up. A very polite officer who will go by his initial J in this account, said that he had received a call about a suspicious person walking along the road asking for rides. I looked around for a suspicious person, but it did seem like they were referring to me. J asked for my license and while he was checking me out on his dashboard computer, another officer, who I will refer to as A, pulled up. So now I’m the guy on the side of the road by the distillery and apple orchard with the two patrol cars, jelly beans flashing, home-bound commuters rubbernecking.
J gave me back my license and confirmed that his dashboard computer found no violations on my record, but he informed me that it was against the law to hitchhike. He and A both asked me what I was planning to do. I told them that I had hitchhiked across the country 40 years ago. J had not yet been born, but A had, and both of them informed me that the times had changed and that hitchhiking was not only illegal but dangerous. They asked if I was armed. They seemed very concerned. I told them that I had done this all over the world, but they were very certain that this world has changed and that “there are a lot of crazy people out there.” “They’ll shoot you,” said A.
I was polite, but I did ask if they knew any cases of hitchhikers who had been harmed. They did not. J offered, and I swear I am not making this up, that the lack of casualties was because – wait for this – “Nobody Hitch Hikes Anymore.” Yup.
Their more immediate concern was that they would get another call about this suspicious person and that they would then be forced to return to the scene of the crime and do something about him, which sounded like they might want to apprehend the perpetrator. What I have learned in interacting with law enforcement over the years is that arresting people for nuisance crimes or victimless crimes is really a time-consuming bother for the officers involved. They wanted to get on to more important matters, but it seemed that concerned citizens with their cell phones might not let them do that.
So they left me on the roadside, asked me not to put out my thumb, at least not in the presence of a police car, and definitely not anywhere near Skaneateles, which they suspected, rightly so, would blow up their switchboard. Then they drove off.
That kind of thing can leave you rattled for a bit, but I hung on to my composure best as I could, and initiated a new routine. As cars came toward me, I looked both ways for any police vehicles before holding up my sign and putting out my thumb. Five minutes later Rich pulled up and I was on my way to Skaneateles. Rich kindly drove me through the village to the western edge of town. There I stood for an hour and a half, watching the residents leave town, wondering if they planned to blow me in. Before dusk I crossed the line into Cayuga County. Now I was a different sheriff’s headache.