500 Days In
Being a novice at blogging (blog-poster child?), I first googled to find what a reasonable and customary length of a typical blog post should be. Opinions abound. My conclusion is that, like a free-following furrow, a blog post ought to be--alliterationally and literally literally (that’s the old “literally,” not the new definition of "literally," which literally is figuratively)--as windingly long (oblong?) or crow-flies short and direct as it needs to be. “Nuts,” might be all the likes of a Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe type might need. Me, not so much; or not so little, so to speak, figuratively and/or literally, that is.
While I, like the proverbial aforementioned furrow, have no idea where this all will lead, it’s literally about following the free-flowing journey and the embarking on that Mobius trip of which I refer on this website’s home page. And, in my opinion, this particular leg of my multipedal expedition has been as amazing and surprising and fulfilling as any of the other of this trek's appendages. And it seems to me to be equally as astounding in the eyes and by the reactions of those who I have successfully contacted and been responded to by, as are noted below.
With this and with that, there is much on which to report.
My initial approach has been to attempt to find email addresses of folks by “data mining” the Internet and making initial contact that way. I suppose I could have cold-called people for which I may have found a potentially viable telephone number—but nowadays that seems too direct and in-your-face (and ear), and could even be perceived as even being kind of "stalkerish." Evidently on-your-Facebook is a far more socially acceptable social medium than an old-school in-your-ear phone call. Go figure. So, I also broke down and created a Facebook page. And it was with my first attempt at a Facebook connection, I was also successful at tracking down an inscription author (to be documented on a future post), and an email led to another successful contact via the Facebook route.
With that, thus far I have sent out emails to about 50 people and received confirmatory responses from 12 one-time hitchhikers; 5 from the families or friends of hitchhikers who sadly have passed away; a half-dozen from folks who were not the inscription’s author, but who nonetheless responded with encouragement and amazingly in some cases provided their own stories; and about 25 emails for which I have yet to receive a response and likely never will, and maybe for reasons I may never know—anything from their not being the author, their assuming my email to be a prank or scam or spam or phishing and/or an attempt at identity theft, or simply just not being interested in communicating with me. And, thus far one person just happened upon my website and emailed me of his own thumbing recollections, and kindly admonished me in the process, that as I venture out on the highways to collect graffiti, to also “…keep the rubber side down and the hard side up, and be safe in your travels.” Taking it to heart, it’s good advice for anyone, I suppose.
The following are direct quotes and many of the emotional reactions I have elicited from these contacts, whose identities are intentionally somewhat obfuscated, since I have not explicitly asked if they were OK with me posting their names or ways in which they could be identified and possibly have their identities absconded or otherwise tampered with. After which is one person's (i.e., my) assessment of the preliminary results of all this investigation based--as the now messenger of the messages posted old-school by the original messengers that I received by old-school "analoggedly" actually, physically (i.e., literally) visiting the posts and analoggedly logging (a-log?) these lamp-post posts to here and now "b-log" them to whoever might read this blog--on my hypothesis of all of this prior to my undertaking attempting to contact any of these hitchhiker message inscribers.
I hope you may find these at least passingly interesting, perhaps as you might the image of a hitchhiker standing roadside...
Response from the Actual Inscription Authors:
Middle school teacher in the Pacific Northwest:
“It was quite a shock getting your message. I don’t specifically remember writing anything on a lamp post, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I was 18 years old then, and was out discovering America and looking for life experiences. I had just hitchhiked to see my older brother in California and completed a hundred-plus hike in Yosemite, solo. At that point I would have been hitch-hiking home to Washington. The following year I went on another hitching adventure to visit my sister in Florida which took me through a variety of states and concluded my hitch-hiking experience in the U.S. A year after that I spent eight months hitching and traveling through Europe and North Africa. I had a philosophy when I hitch-hiked to always look clean and my signs would often just say PLEASE.”
Successful industrial real estate developer from Southern California:
“Very interesting! I do not specifically remember writing those words of wisdom but I was a teenage runaway in the mid 1970’s. I did pass through that area and I spent a lot of time on street corners looking for rides, I went anywhere someone would take me. It is too long to explain here but those times radically helped change my life for the better. In 1978 I was sent to juvenile hall in Santa Ana Ca. for the second time and a Judge…gave me a very scary pep talk about where I wanted my life to go. That day he released me to the custody of my Dad who I had not spent much time with in several years. They put me on probation and I was enrolled in reform school…which also helped shape me and make me realize I did not want to be standing on a street corner in Vallejo Ca…. It is amazing how things and times in your life shape the person you become I truly believe hitch hiking around the western part of the U.S. is a big part of what I am today. Your email definitely brought back a lot of emotional memories from a very long time ago.”
Saguaro cactus walking-stick carver from a reservation in Arizona:
“I am [he]. I don't remember the year but I think it was 1977. It was a time of drugs and alcohol that I can't recall but I did a lot of traveling during this time…Thanks for the memories because I had a lot of experiences and met good people when I thumbed my way across the US…Just to follow up I was 18 years old. I was running from life. I today...have found [a home] with peace and serenity…”
Home remodeler from Rhode Island:
“What a very interesting hobby you have. Yes that was me. What a very good job of investigating. Last night after reading your email, I tried to find the journal I kept to no avail. The year was 1976. I was 21 years old and on the adventure of my life. I had set out in August from New England and was planning to see the country. Looking back at it, I had been all over, met my share of wonderful people, and had more than my share of whacky stories. No plans. No schedule and a goal to see all I could. And I did. I have since graduated from college, started a career, married, had children. I would like to collect my thoughts and write more... Thanks that brought a wide grin to my face. I will follow up this email in the near future with some stories. The location you found this [graffito], was my time going from San Francisco to San Diego on the coast highway. That was such a fun time. You just can’t do that sort of thing these days. I was just 15 when my parents first let me hitchhike to Ohio to visit friends. No way would I let my son do that. A different time.”
Artist and sculptor from the Silicon Valley area:
“That’s me back in 71; I hitchhiked the whole U.S, some Europe & North Africa...Canary Islands. I'll check your website out sometime soon.”
Carpenter from British Columbia:
“Sounds like you are looking for me. Your email to my friend said that you found my name among…other hitchhiker inscriptions…on Interstate-80-East, in…California…I find this most puzzling since I haven't traveled in the states for at least 30 years or more…Very interesting to be sure. Thank you (I think) for this little blast from the past, vague as it is…My name is not what you would call common…just had a quick look at your website as well as where you said the graffiti was via google map (nothing specific). I do remember passing thru the area but don't remember leaving a mark there. Very interesting to be sure. Thank you (I think) for this little blast from the past, vague as it is…Hey Mark, Given that I have had time to think about it. Good god, I was 20...The girl I loved moved w her sister to [another province]…My friend invited me to a Rainbow Family Gathering in [Burnt Corral Canyon, Gila National Forest, NM]…After RFG I hitched W then N. Met another guy…from SF. Stayed w his friend...The 3 for us and [his] GF went to visit their friend's house and watched his cat have kittens in the middle of the living room floor…After that I made my way back to Canada and settle w the girl…Since that time I taught my son the finer art of hitch-hiking (a lost art for sure) when he was 13.”
Canadian western swing and bluegrass musician from Vancouver:
“Thanks for reaching out. I left that in the summer of 1990. I found your message very moving…24-1/2 years after writing it, quite magical. I will get back to you shortly with a more lengthy response but welcome any correspondence from you. Great project!
Owner of an insurance agency in Indiana:
“I am indeed the person who posted at the Western Terminus of I-70 on the light pole on April 9, 1978. I was on my way back to my home town in Indiana after having spent the winter working in Torrance California doing census work for the State. It was a lark that I even was in California that winter. A friend told me in a bar on January 4, 1978 that he was moving to California. Asked me if I wanted to tag along, as I had been that way before and knew the route plus had contacts from my previous trips back and forth to the coast. Well, I made it as far as Phoenix where I unexpectedly stumbled into an old boy scouting friend and stuck around for a Jack Daniel’s Birthday party at Minder Binders in Tempe AZ. Ended up in San Pedro later that month at another friend’s (who is now a Florida resident), and we made plans to go to the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach, CA in April. I was coming home after that event when I posted on this pole. I have no memory of writing on that pole, but I did always carry a sharpie and generally signed the back of the “no hitchhiking beyond this point” signs, as did everybody else. I just don’t remember the sign post, but that IS my handwriting. I was there. Most of the time on the signs, the signature line or handle was “the Wandering Arab” for my headdress that had been a gift to me from a family member having been to Israel. Of course the “Wandering Arab” moniker fell out of political correctness with the Oil Embargo of the late 70’s and the shooting of John Lennon in NYC. Yes, I was the one who had 2,000 bumper stickers printed up: “Shoot Iranians, not Beatles” and distributed from Seattle in 1980. Just for the record: I am white, Anglo-Saxon, or possibly even Normandic, as the family name is one of three on the Bayeux Tapestry. I hitch hiked from 1976 through 1979 when I settled down in Seattle for the next 8 years. Managed a hardware store there after spending about 8 months bouncing around on temp jobs. Left Seattle in 1987 to move back to the home town as I had gotten “trapped” by a hometown girl getting herself impregnated by me. Took over the business my father started and became a reputable businessman and community leader. Far cry from the pot smoking, hair on the shoulders “hippie” that I was in the 70’s. In all my travels (hitchhiking primarily from Indiana to West coast) I never had any real concerns or issues. I would always eat a good meal when I could, but would throw it up waiting for that first ride of the morning. Even the gays in Missouri were respectable. I just told them, “thanks for the offer (or compliment), but I’m not into same sex, so I will have to pass”. That always shortened the ride! I’m sure you’ve seen Rudy Gardner out there on the posts/signs. Rudy became a friend after we met at the I-70/US-287 intersection East of Lima, Colorado. The ONLY intersection that I had to walk away from as nobody drove East after coming from the south. We all posted that warning on the back of the sign, “no rides available here, walk West to Lima”. Rudy was hitchhiking himself and in the passenger seat of a Ryder Truck. Saw me standing on the ramp, had the driver stop to pick me up also. I didn’t keep track of Rudy after 1979. I stopped to see him at his business/home. It was a ski lodge near Breckinridge, CO catering to gay men. Called the “Bunk House”. Man, you brought back a floor of memories. The 1970’s are tough to remember through the cannabis haze.....But I love telling the stories as I remember them.”
Resort manager in the Colorado Rockies:
“Interesting note from you…and yes...that was/is me…I was not working…so I had hitchhiked alone to Las Vegas to look for work in the hotel business as that and fitness clubs were my fields…I remember staying in a $25/night dump in town near the old hotels…not on the strip and playing the nickel slot and going around to the union halls seeking work. I did not secure a job so I hitchhiked back [home]. Funny that you came across my note. Thanks for getting in touch and I’ll explore your website.”
One-time actor and current poet from the San Francisco Bay area:
“Well this is very interesting. I am [he] and [the others] were my best friends in high school. I have no recall of this or even why we would have been [there], my only guess is that as graduating high school seniors we went…to [a] College to check it out…and we all went our separate ways…All…of us were radical students active in the anti-Vietnam War movement…This was all in 1971. So though I don’t remember writing our names on the pole, we did use to hitchhike together…If I think of anything else I will let you know and I would love to hear what news you come up with…Thanks again this has brought up old history. Keep in touch…Mark: Spent some time reading your essays and checking out your site, good stuff and a truly imaginative endeavor! I did not get a driver’s license until I was thirty, especially liked your essay on the Greyhound bus, "ain't that the truth"!”
Owner of a construction design-build collaborative on the West Coast:
“Well I can't imagine a more strange story line and it's giving me a good laugh and start to the day. I am the very [person] from the pole, though I am not the author. I grew up [nearby] there in 1964 and went to school there, as did [the other person of the graffito]. My memories from [him] are maybe from the 6th grade…but it's possible that we continued to go to school together through high school…I don't remember, but the fact that you found that note makes me think that we likely did. My house was very close to the intersection…as was [his]...Anyway, I never knew that anyone thought there was or should be a [me] + [him], or maybe it was something written to make [him] embarrassed, who knows. …Anyway good luck with your fun project and thanks for including me in the wake.”
Woman living in Americus, GA:
“This is to the man who painstakingly created this page! HUZZAH!! Thanks for looking for me over a year ago. Shame on me for not coming forward before, but I am here now! My maiden name was found by you near Merced, or Stockton (I believe). I wonder who was with me to scratch in my name, as I was taught differently! If It was my boyfriend, we were headed to Sacramento, and we DID GET STUCK IN LODI (and we waited more hours for a ride from Sacto to come and save us)!!, Then again, if it was my friend, Tyler, we were headed to Galt, where they had a print shop we were picking up an order. Too many hitching trips to remember which. I hitch hiked more than almost anyone reading this!! I saw a lot, did a lot, and can write some nice stories. The one that WILL be written was the 3 month hitch, 4 women across America (some Canada), in 1975. RICH! Still thinking of the title.”
Responses from Relations of Hitchhikers:
Cousin of a deceased Viet Nam veteran:
“Very interesting endeavor. Yes, [he] is my cousin and as children (and adults) we were close. I make the distinction from being close as children and adults because after we graduated from high school, he joined the service, serving in Viet Nam and upon returning, became a drifter (hitchhiker) after not being able to adapt to civilian life. My belief for this is his sad and unfortunate life changes from childhood on. His is an interesting story. But thru the years he contacted me often "just to check in", sometimes needing help or just the need to connect to someone he felt cared for him… He died in a nursing facility after suffering (it is believed) from a stroke. He'd had several brain surgeries over the years but after "the stroke" since he could not communicate at all, I was contacted because my name and number was the only contact they found in his personal belongings. He lived this way for some time...I'm guessing a couple of years. An existence I know he hated. The nursing facility would call me whenever there was a dangerous change in his health. However, when he did pass, I located his 3 brothers who I understood from [him] that there had been a relationship severance and they were no longer communicating. But, being brothers, his brothers chose to have him cremated and took his ashes with plans to scatter them at a place they knew [he] would want. I assume this was done. I have not had any contact with his brothers since…I would be happy to share with you what I remember of [him] and I will find the address or phone number I had for his brother…and you can pursue his "California" stories from him.”
Musician from Slovenia, about a deceased band mate and painter:
“It is amazing what you do and even more a story how you found our friend and a member of our [musical] group. [He] was a really nice person and in the same time [a] great artist. I know his story about his trip to USA, but of course not all details.
Brother of a deceased trading post owner in Taos, New Mexico:
“Received your email and was pleasantly surprised with the content and message. Yes, I am [his] brother…The inscription left by that group of travelers marked a monumental time in the lives of the adults and certainly shaped the future of the children...[The two dads]…decided to take themselves and their [6-year-old daughters] on an adventure of a lifetime. The hitchhiking continued across the Pacific [Ocean] as they managed to gain passage on freighters headed west…I am sure you have enlightened many and brought back thoughtful, welcomed memories. I will pass your email on the family members and I am certain that like me they will be grateful for your tenacious efforts. Thanks Mark. And if you are ever in Taos, please stop…and say hello.
Widow/life partner of a radio personality from Northern California:
“What an interesting website you have. Yes, that was [him]. He left his name in many places. Feel free to email me if you would like.”
Siblings of a deceased retail shop owner from Southern California:
“Thank you for contacting me. It is a pleasure to see someone devoted to your unique avocation. Indeed, it is likely that the inscription you quote is the work of my late brother. The spelling of our last name is atypical and [he] hitchhiked across the country several times during the period cited. He lived as an itinerant for several years, learned how to play the harmonica deftly (by practicing alone under highway overpasses where no one would laugh at him, he once confided), and returned home with an education considerably different than those gathered by four older siblings.”
“Thank you for contacting my brother…after you did such a diligent search to find my [other] brother…I am just wondering…have you had much luck in finding other people who have left their marks on the side of the road? I notice from your logs that few actually leave their names…I have been researching my family history for years. Some people think it’s a waste of time. One thing that I would like is to be remembered…somehow. It is very sad how many people know very little about their grandparents, or great grandparents. Now I have a little bit more to add to the story of my little brother’s life. Most people would not have taken the time to go to the extent that you did, to find him. My mother will be 95 next month. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and she will feel the loss of her youngest child more than usual. [His] first grandchild was born last month, and we are all so sad that he is not here to share in our joy.”
Responses from Someone other than the Graffiti Authors:
Railroad employee and expert bow hunter from Montana:
“Very interesting hobby, and it is actually with disappointment that I have to tell you that I’m not that [person]…BTW, one of my best times when I was a kid was from hopping on a freight train. I climbed on a boxcar in Livingston, Montana and climbed off in Portland, Oregon. There, me and my buddy bought ten-speed bikes and biked down the coast to San Francisco.”
Avid trails hiker from Florida:
“I read with interest, your query. I was not the author of the pole graffiti you describe. However, I have done a fair bit of hitch hiking in my life. In March of 1969, I was attempting to catch a ride in Phoenix, Arizona. A cop pulled over to check me out…After running a check on my Michigan driver license, he told me that another person with my name, but a different middle name was wanted for murder. He told me to have a nice day…If you find the [person] you are looking for, I'd be interested in hearing who he is. Good luck in your avocation."
Artist from Connecticut:
“I'm sorry to tell you that it is not me who left this particular inscription. Funnily, at one point I used the free white pages nationwide to see just how many [people with my name] are out there. And to my surprise there are many. Never was much of a hitchhiker either. Anyway, good luck in finding the correct [person].”
World-renown bagpiper musician from Illinois:
“Interesting Work and Philosophy! That wasn't me, as I never did any tour around the Country in 1980...I did pick up Hitch-Hikers in those Days, and even now. It's possible that I might have benefited someone by giving them a Lift, but I think that's a tenuous assumption, at Best. My favorite Hitch Hiker story happened to me, back in the Summer of 2002. I was driving East through Nevada, a bit past Reno, in my Ford Econoline 150 Van, and approaching Lovelock Prison. There was this Tall Fellow with Glasses, standing just off an Exit with a Suitcase on a 2 wheeled Caddy Frame. I pulled up and said, "Do You need a Ride ?" He replied, "Didn't You read the Signs ?" I said, "Yes, but escaped Cons aren't usually Hitching, with a Suitcase on Wheels." The Man agreed with that, & told me He was going back to Detroit. I said that I could take Him as Far as Rock Island, Illinois…His story (I can't for the Life of me, remember His Name) was that as a Young Man He had Hitch Hiked from Detroit to San Francisco and Back, just before He had joined the US Air Force, sometime in the 1960s. As He was now Dying of Pancreatic Cancer, He had decided to do the same Hitch Hiking Trip that He had done, as a Young Man, & He was on the Return Voyage, back to Detroit. I remember that he was fixated on stopping at "Little America" in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which we did & rented a Motel room there. He did help with the Driving, and so on. It was after Dark when we got to Rock Island, I waited around to make sure He got the next Lift on His Journey…About 15 minutes later, a Man in a Pick-Up stopped for Him, We waved Good Bye, and I never saw, or heard from Him again. I do have some other "Hiking" stories, but this one I believe is a One-of-a-Kind story, due to the circumstances and the many Miles we covered, together. Good Luck with Your Hitch Hiker Graffiti Mission!!!”
Regionally renown bagpiper in the Sierra Nevada Mountains:
“What a cool project and what a coincidence but, sadly, I am not the [nickname] in question. I was in the area at the time, in the navy, stationed at Monterey….best wishes on your project.”
Epilogue to this Post (or is it an epiblog?)
As I have proffered in the introduction of my website (http://www.hitchinscriptions.com/introduction.html) before ever attempting to contact anyone:
“Some thumbers may have gone on to seek and obtain fortune or fame, others straight to prison or infamy. But most, I suspect, just went on to their respective destinations and settled down with so-called normal lives and who, with gleams in their eyes might skip a generation and recount to their grandchildren--before ever revealing to their kids--of their adventures on the road…You can make up any number of other scenarios and may just as likely be right.
“Whatever the case, by the messages left, my sense is some authors were brilliant or at least very insightful, others may have been equally insane. But, generally it seems that most were just benignly passing through to make it back to a loving home or to flee one that wasn't; to attend some concert or other event; or just to see where that elusive "Point B" around the next bend might be.
“…And, while few risk takers would ever hitchhike, few hitchhikers would not be averse to taking some amount of personal risk.”
More reports to come.
Down the road…Mark