The morning was cool, clean and bright and I enjoyed the six block walk down to the highway. I reached a large intersection and knew from all my hitch hiking as a teenager that I needed to get on the other side of the traffic light, set myself there with my thumb out and not move until I got a ride.
That scene was forty-six years ago and it’s as clear in my mind today as if it were yesterday. Any sensible person would think a thirty-year-old man who, by choice, was hitching into possible oblivion with a big smile on his face would probably be certifiable and by all reasonable measure, they would be right.
However, they would have to be in my shoes to understand. I felt like a frontiersman or a mountain man from the seventeen hundreds standing atop the Appalachians surveying the North American continent or even at the edge of a freshly created earth. The only way I could have felt more amazed and amazing was to have sprouted wings and sailed off over Mississippi. It was freedom that I was feeling, the freedom of letting everything go and jumping off into the arms of Providence. How could I tell someone about freedom when there are no words to describe real freedom to people who by inheritance or self-imposed bondage have given up real freedom for some very nice guarantees and comforts?
In fifteen minutes I had a ride headed for Macomb and Natchez Mississippi then over to Alexandria and Shreveport Louisiana. I was sailing as if I were on a fleet sailboat cutting through a shining, boundless, magical sea. I was high as a kite but the only mind altering drug I was on was nicotine. The people who picked me up were so open, friendly and nice I just clipped along talking to them all and humming two songs most of the time from a new group Connie had turned me on to call The Grateful Dead. The songs were “Truckin” and “Ripple”. They were stuck in my brain.
Remembering that scene today reminds me of how great movies have great sound tracks and I really had a great sound track that was reflecting my movie like experience, especially when I add in the other group Connie turned me on to called Delaney and Bonnie with their songs, “Never ending song of love” and, “Sing my way home”.
Well, in every great story there’s going to be some low places following the high places and in Shreveport there was a low place that I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but it took place at a mad house split in the highway where the left split went to South Texas and the right to Central Texas and Dallas/Fort Worth. I just remember how tense it was dealing with a flat tire and traffic whizzing by a few feet away.
We took Interstate twenty toward Dallas and my next low place. It was late afternoon and my ride dropped me off in the boonies between Marshall and Tyler Texas. It wasn’t the worst place to be dropped off; there was a small country store where I bought some canned meat and crackers. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so canned meat never tasted so good.
I went out to the interstate ramp with my laundry sack and my confidence that was still glowing to catch another ride. I waited and waited and waited; seemed nobody from the country was going to the big city that afternoon, and I waited some more. It was Saturday and it was getting dark and the store keeper warned me to watch myself because the Cowboys, that’s what he called them, were pretty wild around there and might throw beer cans at me or who knows what else they might do if they didn’t like the way I looked. I reached up and took off the green head band I was wearing.
He was right. It had gotten really dark except for a couple of security lights near the entrance to the interstate ramp. Just enough light so the Cowboys could see their target I thought to myself. Sure enough, here they came and they were throwing cans.