Saturday, July 26, 1975 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five
Seeing America on a thumb a day
By TIM SCHICK
VOR MOST PEOPLE there comes a time in life when
you have to put yourself to the test - maybe not in
the life or death sense - but just enough to get a clear-
er vision of who you are, unobscured by the supporting
cast of family and confidants on which you've so readily
leaned since day one.
Early this summer, the itch to go it alone was com-
pounded by a pressing need to meet my family on the
West Coast and spurred on by a lack of wheels and
liquid assets, I decided to take my chances on the
Hitch-hiking across the nation to San Francisco, Se-
attle and back (a total of 5,500 miles) would be my
way of completing the maturity rites that in one form
or another date back to the dawn of humanity.
I left Ann Arbor shortly after noon, on June 26, loaded
down with, backpack, tent, sleeping bag, a change of
clothes, two days supply of food and a month's worth of
assorted advice (including my grandmother's: "Don't
FOR THE FIRST leg of the trip I'd have somebody
to take tips from, my friend Paul who'd taken a similar
trip a few years back.
A small car took us from Huron St. a few blocks west
of Main to I-94. My nervousness grew as we climbed
the west-bound ramp and eyed the cars flying past on
the highway ahead. Paul laughed it off: "You'll get
over it once we get on the road." Shortly an old clunk-
er pulled over and we had a ride to Jackson.
Leaving all the advice I'd been given on the shoulder,
I was halfway into the car before Paul had pried its
destination from the two occupants. I wade a quick
mental note as the car coughed up a start and filled a
hole in the late afternoon traffic flow.
Hitch-hiking lore is foll of yarns abort those who
failed to. use "common sese." I had no wish to be-
coine a statistic if I colld avoid it.
ONCE DROPPED OFF in Jackson we crossed the
access road and started up the ramp back to the high-
way. We were less than half-way up when a man driv-
ing an elegantly-appointed car about a block long
stopped and said he was headed for Chicago, our des-
O'sr ride turned out to be a swimming pool salesman,
hawking his wares wholesale from factories to retail-
ers across the Midwest. He'd entered sales after a
stint in the Navy, where the Cuban missile crisis had
forced him to stick around six months longer than he'd
He recalled one point during his tour as a helmsman
when his ship was ordered to "get lost anywhere on the
North Atlantic" as part of NATO war games. By hid-
ing above the Arctic Circle, the ship eluded capture by
the fleet for six weeks, five and a half longer than any
of the other three target ships. During its polar ma-
neuvers among the icebergs the ship managed to cap-
ture one submarine on its trail.
The driver took us to the intersection of I-94 and I-80
south of Chicago, where Paul and I planned to part
company. We decided to find some food first and
started back toward the nearest exit.
IN ALL HIS STEEL and chrome glory, a state troop-
er pulled up behind us. A sudden blast from his high-
AFTER POCKETING our harmless embarrassment-
pink warning tickets - Illinois roadside novelties is-
sued by the thousands - we again set our sights on
the exit behind us where we found a Cal's Roast Beef
place nestled. We grubbed down, laughing at the ex-
perience and how we'd just joined the ranks of hard-
I then bid goodbye to Paul and for the first time in
my life I had no one else to depend on.
I didn't linger long on the thought and set out to
make some more miles before dark. My earlier ner-
vousness gone, I felt completely at home on the high-
It took a little while to get going again, but I finally
in Fort Worth but was headed for his home town of
Sioux City for a family reunion and a skydiving meet.
As we parted, another hitcher climbed out of a car
directly in front of us. In the short time I talked to him
it became apparent that he was completely burned out.
He was going to Denver, though-he had no pack or
shoes on his feet.
A truck roared by, then screeched to a halt behind
me. I dashed up to the cab as fast as I could with my
"I've only got room for one," the driver told us. "I'm
headed to San Francisco," I replied. "So am t. By the
way, my name is Frank, let's go."
got a ride to a better spot from an interior designed. BIDDING THE DAZED One farewell, the truck with
He talked about his own hitching experiences (his rea- its 40-foot trailer rumbled to a start. My satisfaction
son for picking me up) and the ever recurring subject over the length of the ride turned into quiet fear as I
of sex. Hitch-hikers are expected to be good audiences, learned more about Frank. He was a barber-beutician
the kind that have to listen and won't return to pass by profession, and had been since his divorce at the
the tales on to others. . urging of some gay friends. With this to go on, plus a
few stdreotypes of appearances and manner, I correct-
DOWN THE ROAD a ways I picked up a ride from ly concluded that Frank was gay, and was afraid he
two Jesus freaks. Jesus freaks and hitch-hikers have a might have some designs on me.
symbiotic relationship, each depending, at least in part, We stopped in Grand Island, Neb., for dinner. Frank
on the other for their existence. I politely declined of- carefully inspected his log books. Federal law requires
fers to attend a service but graciously accepted the drivers to keep logs of their travels to prive they've
leaflets they gave me. driven no more than 10 hours a day.
Princeton, Ill., is a small community about 100 miles Most truckers, however, keep two logs in an effort
from Chicago. It was dark when I arrived there that to make top mileage.
"According to one book, we have to stay here eight
hours. The other says we only have to stay four,"
Frank announced. After eating, Re napped in the truck's
sleeper as I kept a four-hour vigil inside the truck stop.
performance siren startled us over the guard rail and
down the embankment before we turned around to see
what the action was.
"That's why you're not supposed to be on the high-
way," he barked through the speaker mounted between
the red and blue lights, obviously delighting in the re-
action his arrival had caused.-
"We were just going to the next exit," explained Paul.
"Not any more," replied the cop. "Let's see some
i.d., where - are - you -from - where - are - you - going -
what - are - you - doing - here - did - you - know - I -
could - arrest - you?"
After we satisfied his curiosity he eyed us carefully.
"I'm going to be nice to you and give you warning
tickets. There won't be a' fine this time, but if you are
ever caught again ,
first night, so I found a nearby campground to sleep
in. The man in charge of the camp provided an inter-
esting glimpse of mid-American thought. "I guess hitch-
hiking is OK if you stay away from the black areas of
Despite my anger at his statement, I held my tongue.
Arguing probably wouldn't have helped his condition,
and it might have considerably worsened my own.
I woke at dawn and trudged back to the highway,,
full of optimism. After a while, a gold Grand Ville
stopped and the driver told me he was going clear
through to the Nebraska-Iowa border.
THE DRIVER, WHOSE name I never did catch, was
a professional skydiver. At his peak, he jumped 230
times a year, he confided. He worked as a lineman
ONCE ON THE ROAD again I dozed in the sleeper
as the Nebraska countryside rolled by. "Night time is
the best way to see Nebraska," Frank explained. "That
way you don't miss anything."
All of a sudden I jolted awake to find the truck slow-
ing to a stop. "I'm too tired to drive any further,"
Frank announced as he climbed back with me. A cold
sweat covered me.
I flattened against the back of the cab, carefully
placing one hand on my balls and the other on my knife
as I whispered a vow not to go down without a fight.
Much to my surprise I was untouched when I awoke.
I decided to re-examine the stereotype of gay behavior
I'd been using.
HE LATER EXPLAINED as we rode through Nevada
that he hadn't told me he was gay, out of fear it would
ruin my trip.
"'m basically a° promiscuous person," Frank ex-
plained. "I like both men and women, but somehow
balling a man has a special thrill. I would rather not
be gay but that's just the way I am."
About midnight Sunday I climbed out of the truck for
the last time on the corner of Turk and Van Ness. The
fog rolled in over the San Francisco hills, hiding the
true nature of the city I beheld.
Tim Schick is a Daily night editor.