Black hawk mines reviewsTales of a 60-year-old hitchhiker
black hawk mines reviewsTales of a 60-year-old hitchhiker
• I knew they could see me. Families on their way to the lake, truckers hauling loads on deadlines, couples heading for church or breakfast – they all would have found me directly in their line of sight as they screamed into the westbound curve at 70 miles per hour. I imagined that for those 10, maybe 15 seconds, they thought: Is that a person on the shoulder? Where’s his car? What’s he doing? Looking for a ride? Really? Then, whoosh, they were past.• They were coming at the rate of about one vehicle every four seconds. That would be more than 15 per minute. More than 1,000 per hour. Times two, for the time I’d been there. I knew it wasn’t personal, but from where I stood, it was still a lot of rejection. The sun rose higher, its glare and warmth intensifying.• All I’d have to do, I thought, was hop across the median and turn my back on all of this – head east, back to the Twin Cities and home, and never tell anyone I was ever serious about hitchhiking 1,700 miles to visit a friend in Twisp, Wash., a small town in the mountains east of Seattle. I could be home in two hours, and spend my week’s vacation fishing.
It was early on Day Two on the summer road trip I’d been thinking aboutfor several years – an appealing Western road trip, sure, but also anexamination of whether the American road even resembled the one Ithought I once knew. For beatniks in the ’50s and baby boomers afterthem, the highway was a cultural Main Street, combining adventure andcommunity, and hitchhiking was a way to join the parade. If you had thetime and curiosity, it was as good a way as any to walk off and look forAmerica. But it had been more than 30 years since I’d been out there, andin that time hitchhiking had simply vanished, like phone booths and pennycandy. Now seemed like the time to find out where everybody had gone –whether the Me Decades or a generation of ramped-up fear had made thathighway commons a different place, and made us a different people –suspicious, driving solo, insulated by our custom music and podcasts.Also, I had just turned 60. In another year I could be having a hiptransplant, or worse. I realized I was in a rare position, as lives go: noelderly parents, no wife, no girlfriend, not even a dog. No disabilities. Mytwo grown daughters seemed to turn pale when I mentioned the trip (theurge to wander being a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease), but they weren’tabout to say no. Suddenly, thumbing halfway across the country – fartherthan I ever had before – had become something I knew I had todo now, before it would be impossible or certainly just crazier. It wassomething I knew I would deeply regret not doing.
But what was I thinking? Even when thumbing was commonplace, hitchhikers were an object ofsuspicion, and old ones even more so. Now I could easily be taken for a guy fresh off a 40-year hitch in thepenitentiary. A crazy. A deadbeat. And that was even if people understood the meaning of the little sign I washolding, with its one, handwritten word: “West.” So after two hours on the shoulder that morning (and onehour the evening before), I was beginning to have my own doubts. If I’d wanted to celebrate my seniority, whyhadn’t I just gone on a cruise or cut back on salt? Twenty-four hours after leaving my Minneapolis home, Iwas stuck in Albany, Minn., only four rides and 100 miles up the road, and the first 40 had been on acommuter train out of town. Turning back east, to what was close and familiar, suddenly seemed to makesense.That’s when the big red pickup hauling the enormous horse trailer slowed to a long halt on the entrance rampshoulder. The driver opened his door and waved to me.“Where you going?” I asked.“Bismarck,” he said.And I was in.
I began hitchhiking to get to high school, as my brother had before me. We lived ona busy street near a traffic signal, so we could simply walk the line of idlingcars, books under our arms, asking for rides. We were clean cut and always got toschool, which of course got me thinking this was a pretty reliable way to get fromplace to place.In time, my hitchhiking horizons broadened. There were trips on college weekendsto see my sweetie, or relatives in Chicago, or friends in Sioux City or Saugatuck.Trips to big-city concerts, and once 1,000 miles to an antiwar protest inWashington, D.C. That trip featured a night in jail for my young wife and me inHenry County, Ill. (for walking on the interstate shoulder, though insurrection wasimplied).Hitchhikers were a common sight in those days. In fact, there were so many that onbusy highways we often had to negotiate who got to stand where, or ask drivers todrop us off farther up the road, where there wasn’t so much competition for the nextride. If a rusty old van came limping over the hill you could often count on it pullingover to absorb everyone into the river of road-trippers. But all kinds of rides werepossible. Businessmen in wide, air-conditioned sedans often stopped, looking forsomeone to keep them awake with conversation or to pepper with questions aboutus young kids and hair and the war. Guys just out of theservice, readjusting, curious about college and girls and driving hot new cars.Sometimes “older” couples with kids about our age. All types, and they’d often telltheir secrets, encouraged by the odd intimacy of the front seat, where the hoursdemand conversation but eye contact is difficult. And then they dropped you off anddrove out of your life, leaving you a little closer to your destination, with their storiesnow in your bag.