Saturday, February 20, 2021

8

May 1974


Getting out of Denver took some doing.  I have found that many people are not as knowledgeable as they claim to be about local highways. I’ve been living in and around Boston for over thirty years and I’d be hard pressed to describe routes to places not on my regular beat.  

A driver who picked me up near the university where I'd slept said he would be able to get me to the highway.  We drove in circles before he scratched his chin clearly lost.  “Hmm” he muttered, by way of apology.  This sort of thing happened on several occasions during my journey. People certain they knew where they were going, but drove circuitously ending up nowhere near where they had set out to go. And where I knew I needed to be.  The guy in Illinois on the way back was the worst, but I’ll get to that. Eventually, I found my way to I-70.

Day 3 was not like the first two.  I had more than ten rides before I got to the other side of the Rockies. It had taken me only three rides to get from where Becca dropped me off, to Denver. Four if you counted Nelson’s lover taking me the University. Not today.  In and out of cars all day long.

 I-70 goes right through the mountains and the scenery is spectacular. My most vivid recollection of that multi ride snowcapped stretch (in May) is of a stoner who was, go figure, holding onto a joint and smoking dope like an extra in Easy Rider.  One hand on the wheel, one hand on the smoke as he chattered on while driving through the mountains.  At one point Easy Rider dramatically exhaled what he had been holding in,  and wheezed, “Hitch-hiking cross country. Far out, man.”  A hippy from central casting.  Probably a Republican now. One of the many strange ducks I rode with that day.

On the other side of the Rockies I met up with Ted. Ted, not a schmoozer, was going to LA.  We happened to be left off at the same spot and I tried to chat him up.  Not much luck there.  Ted probably said less than 100 words to me in the hour or two we were together through two rides.  At one point when we were waiting on the side of the road I asked him if he wanted to share a sandwich I’d bought at a convenient store. His deadpan response I will never forget.  “No. I ate yesterday.”

After the first ride, Ted and I met two women who were wild.  Very bouncy, drug inspired happy, and wearing not a whole lot.  One was named Marnie. And the other kept calling her Marnie. "Isn’t this cool, Marnie.  The mountains, Marnie, are so beautiful."  Marnie and her chum got picked up before Ted and I did.

I lost Ted somewhere and wound up in the town of Grand Junction, Colorado.  A fellow who was an old record collector had picked me up.  He said he travelled to small towns looking for hard to get 45s and was now going to spend time in Grand Junction hunting for records. After Grand Junction he would be off to Las Vegas.  He deposited me at the Grand Junction ramp when he exited to do his sleuthing.   

I could not get out of Grand Junction.  Stood there for a long spell and, to make matters worse, another hiker was dropped off at the exit.  It is always more difficult to get a lift when there are two of you unless you happen to be hiking with someone who looks like Marnie.  It was late in the afternoon when a fellow driving a pickup truck stopped.

We, myself and the new companion, were not sure if this was good news.  The fellow was going only one exit to a town called Fruita.  He was a local so we asked him if there was much traffic in Fruita.  Oh sure. Plenty of traffic in Fruita according to this young fellow.

We take the lift one exit to Fruita. And we are standing there twenty minutes before a single car drove up on the ramp. Plenty of traffic in Fruita. Sure. An hour later and maybe three cars have driven up, the last of which was a state policeman.  The officer told us that hitch-hiking was illegal in Colorado unless you were on the interstate itself.  I knew this. Each state has its quirky rules, but Colorado’s then was the opposite of others. Most states allowed hikers on the ramps to the interstate but not on the interstate.

We were not sure what to do.  Our first inclination was to wait until the officer took off and get back on the ramp hoping that we could get a lift before he returned.  This seemed risky to me, so I decided on another approach which was then, and is now, on the very far side of foolish.  Fruita was only 17 miles from the Utah border where hitch hiking was not illegal. I thought I would begin walking to Utah and perhaps get fortunate to get a lift part of the way by a local driver.  Within twenty minutes the absurdity of this approach became evident. I needed to walk back to the ramp which I did while muttering a mantra of “what-could-you-have-been-thinking.”  

I was not thinking of metaphors at the time, but in retrospect the idea of going nowhere while still moving around surfaces.  How much of my life have I been moving, but going nowhere? It is something I thought about on the plane after I found the newspaper article. Now when I reflect about my time in Fruita, Colorado-- the experience seems analogous to how I’ve spent too many years.  And the next step of the journey was even more symbolic. 

I returned to the Fruita ramp where my hiking colleague still stood hoping the cop had gone home for the night.  He wiseguy asked me if I enjoyed the walk.  I did not say much of anything. Then a car stopped and we both thought that finally we would be out of Fruita and on our way west. Yes, we were out of Fruita but the driver was going back east to Grand Junction.  My hitch-hiking buddy and I decided to go back to Grand Junction. So we wound up back where we had been when the record collector dropped me off.  And then as if it had been prearranged, up drove the record collector again. Done with his search for 45s. He was ready to continue west to Las Vegas.

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