May 18, 2018
When you’re at the edge of Omaha watching the parade of cars go by or standing by the ramp in Peoria as a thunderstorm approaches, you realize something. You were dumped here by chance.
In those towns where I had friends, I had an advantage. Not just a warm shower and a cold beer, but knowledge of the territory. In Buffalo, in Cleveland, Lexington, and now in Fort Collins, I’m able to rely on friends or family who can get me from the highway when I arrive and drop me off at a good hitching location when it’s time to move on.
And then there are my new friends.
Here’s how I got through Pennsylvania and into Ohio on Friday, May 18:
Gordon Post and his son Andrew stopped almost as soon as I was set up by the entrance ramp to I-80, on the outskirts of Erie. Gordon is a rare bird among drivers who pick up hitchhikers – he himself has never hitched. He’s been around quite a bit, though. We barely had time in the two or three exits he drove me, but he mentioned regular trips to Cuba to do work with church groups there, and about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation that he runs on the farm. The farm itself has morphed from an apple-picking operation to an eclectic vegetable farm which plants and harvests as many as 150 species of veggies. Gordon’s workers are for the most part Mexican nationals, and a lot of his customers who pick the apples for fun come from India and Pakistan. All of which he finds wonderful. I thanked him for the ride.
Short and sweet
I was barely back on the road when my phone rang. It was a Syracuse number, a friend and reporter with the Syracuse Post Standard, Marnie Eisenstadt. She wanted to do a profile about the trip. Her first question was – who picks you up? Marnie added, “I mean, I wouldn’t pick you up!” Ok. I didn’t get a chance to answer. A red Suburban pulled to a halt, and a young mother, whose name is Lydia, motioned me to hop in. She asked where I was going, and I reflexively said “California” and got off the phone with Marnie.
I shoved my pack in the back, and hopped in the front seat, which the four kids in the back found very amusing. They had important things to tell me. They were going to the zoo, and all four of them were most eager to see the tigers. They had just brought their Dad his lunch at work, and his dessert included home baked chocolate chip cookies. Three girls, one boy, the oldest seven and the youngest four. Lily, Lindsey, Jackson and Lyla. They had to drop me off a few exits down the road to get to Arby’s before it was time to go to the zoo. Oh my God, what cute kids!
So today if you ask me who picks you up, I say Lydia and her four kids do.
As you probably expect, women don’t often pick up hitchhikers, especially hitchhiking men. So as I stood on the edge of the ramp leading back on to 80, right in the middle of Erie, I was astonished when a car stopped and Morgan lowered the window to invite me in. Two rides from women in the same day is really unheard of.
Morgan had driven by moments earlier and saw the sign with the hashtag. She checked it out while she was still driving, then called her husband to tell him all about it, and swung around to get me. Her main concern was that I would be gone by the time she got there!
Turns out that Morgan also has done some hitchhiking. At age 15, she had to get away from her Dad, who had gotten involved in heroin. She thumbed all the way from Houston, Texas, to Erie, PA, where she moved in with her grandma. She remembers a number of truckers who knew her from childhood (they were her dad’s co-workers) picking her up to keep her safe, and a West Virginia woman who stopped at Walmart and came out with all new clothing for her to withstand the northern weather.
Morgan was going to IHOP just a few exits down the road, but instead kept driving and took me all the way to Ohio! Thank you, Morgan!
Mike and Nancy
On the ramp near the truck stop where Morgan and I said goodbye, I spent maybe 15 minutes until Mike and Nancy showed up. Mike said he had to stop because he felt he know me. Actually he had just seen me yesterday, back in Canandaigua, NY, in the Wegmans where Dave had dropped me off. I was brushing my teeth in the restroom after lunch and he happened in. I guess my oral hygiene got his attention.
We had a great talk about family. Mike and Nancy are fortunate upstate New York parents in that all three of their adult children live in the state and they get to see all their grandchildren without having to fly across the country. Today they were on their way to see Mike’s mom for what may be the last time. She is in hospice care and ready to move on. Hard passages.
They drove me to Willoughby Heights, which was few exits past their destination. I noticed a big medical facility, the Cleveland Clinic, just across the highway and called a friend of mine who was there – turns out she had just left to return to Syracuse five minutes earlier.
I spent an hour trying to get a ride on Rt. 91 in Willoughby Heights before calling one of my best friends, Pat Coy. Pat drove up from his house in nearby Peninsula, Ohio. And so my weekend began.