1 July 2015
My lengthy hitchhiking piece, “The Dust of the Roads Behind Us: a Hitchhiking Couple Looks Back,” appeared in a couple of on-line publications, as well as the book WHEREABOUTS: Stepping Out of Place. (See links on right side of page.) Here’s one of the hitches whose account landed on the cutting room floor prior to publication:
Most Economical: Chicago to Oklahoma & Back, 1968
It started as a challenge from my college classmates, who didn’t believe the road tales I’d been telling them about my summer of ’68 gallivanting. A group of us gathered in my dorm room, threw a dart at a US map I had posted on the wall, and when it hit near the town of Miami, Oklahoma (right next to the little burg of Commerce, hometown of the Commerce Comet—the one and only Mickey Mantle), we got out our road maps and started plotting routes.
We formed into three teams and laid down ground rules for the competition: everybody had to depart after supper Friday evening; rendezvous in front of the local town hall by 6 pm on Saturday; return to our dorm in north Chicago by midnight Sunday. Each person was to bring no money—except a $5 bill to avoid vagrancy charges—but had to return with the $5 intact.
One duo made it fifty miles south by Saturday morning and gave up. A second group got as far as St. Louis, where they were arrested for sleeping in an abandoned house.
My buddy Dave Carlson and I hitched all through the night, down through southern Illinois and across the Missouri bottomlands. Spent the next day grinding it out on the roadside, picking up one middling ride after another. Landed on the outskirts of Miami, Oklahoma by 4 p.m. and went to explore the town while we waited for our partners. There wasn’t much to see, but astonishingly, two fine looking local girls took an interest in our plight. We spent a somewhat frustrating evening with them (plenty of false starts and urges going unfulfilled) and when they were unable to provide us warm beds for the night we made use of a Jack Kerouac road tip: we went to the local jail and checked ourselves in for the night.
The mattresses were straw ticks, and as a hay fever sufferer, I spent the entire night sneezing into my sleeve. At 6 a.m. there was a shout: “Everybody out who’s going out,” the barred doors slammed open, we scooted out, and the doors slammed shut behind us, to the catcalls of the more permanent inmates.
Sunday was a rough set of hitches that left us after nightfall on a lonely side street in the heart of Chicago’s southside ghetto. It took a bighearted bus driver to swoop down and snatch us up just before we unwittingly turned the corner into a juke joint with a fight already going on outside.
At 11:45 p.m. we walked back into our dorm, deposited our $5 bills, and sat down to tell our tale.