Vagobond Travel Museum – A Random Hitch-trip on Interstate 5

The following is a true account of a hitch trip I took from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington back in the year 2000. It was included as a fictional trip in the 2009 edition of my novel Slackville Road.

I wasn’t laughing as I struggled to navigate the I-5  on-ramps in Portland. The interstate is surrounded by concrete walls that make it hard for motorists to stop and dangerous for hitchhiking.  Technically, it’s illegal to hitch on the Interstate anyway.

I walked to the last exit before the road crossed the Columbia River. I sat there nearly an hour and finally decided to catch a city bus into downtown Vancouver, WA.

After the bus dropped me off, I walked through a tunnel and over the Columbia River, thereby crossing the imaginary line that separates Washington and Oregon. The Columbia felt more impressive than the state line.

There was  a bum lying on a park bench listening to country music on tinny radio. I said hello and he began complaining about the rain as he smoked a  cigarette he mooched from me. It wasn’t raining as he laid there enjoying the smoke, but he was still complaining because that’s what bums do.

He told me a lot of the tramps had been getting their gear stolen in Vancouver. He told me he was going to Phoenix to “get where it was still warm and didn’t rain all the time.” Every bum has a dream. Bums are dreamers.

Further on through the park, I was hit up for a smoke by another tramp who told me he was called ‘The Duck’ when I introduced myself. He hit me up for change and then when I refused him, he walked with me towards the next on-ramp. He too complained about the rain and told me about the ever growing bum population in Vancouver.

Curiously, he had a huge bag of stuff he complained about too. Far more stuff than most bums carry with them.

When I asked what  he was carrying, he asked me  “Are you drunk?”

It was about 10 AM.  I told him I wasn’t. It was true. I wasn’t drunk at 10 AM.

“I am.” He seemed proud of it. Then by way of explanation he said, “I been trampin a long time. Hey, by the way, you got any cardboard?”

Again, my answer was negative. I had a sign with Seattle written on it. That was all. So I guess I lied. It was cardboard. I just didn’t have any cardboard for him.

“Well I gotta get me some so I can fly some cardboard and get me some spending money. I’m in danger of sobering up”

He was dressed all in camouflage. He was big and sort of scary.

“I gotta piss…You know, I wouldn’t be a very good tramp if I couldn’t piss and walk at the same time. “

That was pretty much the end of our time together since I started walking a bit faster as he slowed down. Suddenly I heard the splash of urine on the sidewalk. The Duck didn’t seem to mind that it was daylight or think that the couple walking behind him would mind a wet sidewalk. I walked as fast as I could to get away from that human disaster and tried not to burst out laughing as he kept cussing about the rain which was now starting to fall while he was pissing all over himself. That was the last I saw of The Duck.

I finally caught a ride from a tattoo artist who told me about his shop getting robbed and how he worked from home now. He dropped me off at a rest area.

I sat with my sign at the ramp. No one stopped for a long time. People are scared of hitchhikers now. Finally, a neatly dressed man in a v-neck sweater walked over to me. I smelt Jesus all over him. Big smile. 

“Hello, Friend. How are you today?”

I thought to myself, I don’t want to be preached to. “Praise the Lord, I’m fine.” I hoped he would leave me alone.

“I was hoping to talk to you about Christ the Redeemer.“

I lied, told him I was Christian, told him I went to Church, told him what I thought he wanted to hear, but he wouldn’t go away until I knelt down and prayed with him. Meanwhile cars were passing us by and ignoring my thumb.

“Dear Lord. Please help this man to find your salvation and forgiveness…” he began. I guess he hadn’t believed me.

“…and a ride to Bellingham,” I added. Then we went on until the Amen at which point he stood up.

“Can you give me a ride?”

“We’re packed full and we never pick up hitchhikers.”  And then he walked away. 

I felt like hitting him. I thought of doing a speaking in tongues and being possessed by God routine but didn’t have enough energy for anything like that.

To my surprise, that prayer worked, because a few minutes later he, his wife, and his five-year-old daughter made room for me to get in their car anyway. All I can think is that his wife made him do it.

Hot damn and thank you Jesus!

He called himself a planter. He had brought his family  from some Baptist church in Texas. They apparently felt that we don’t get enough of a chance to know Jesus in the godless Northwest so they were sending missionaries to save our souls. 

He said that if the Arabs and Jews find peace the world would end in 3 ½ years. That helped me understand why so many Christians stay on the side of Israel. 

They dropped me off just North of Tacoma at another rest area. My next ride was a middle class white guy driving a nice Lincoln Towncar.

He pulled over and I ran up and  got in.

“You mind if I drink while I drive?” He asked me, holding up a can of Bud.

“As long as we don’t crash,” I said, though I was already worried and considering getting out.

“I’m a state senator,” he told me. “ I help make the laws, so I can break ‘em.” He laughed. He told me that he was pretty moderate about his drinking and driving.

“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Maybe I voted for you.”

“Gordon,” he told me. “Call me Gordy.” I was pretty sure I had voted for his opponent. Maybe he was a liar though. 

Gordy dropped me off in downtown Seattle near Westlake Center.

I heard chanting and shouting down the street and walked to see what was up. Pro-Palestine protesters were demanding that the violence stop in the Middle East. Banners reading “Stop killing our Children” and “Stop Israeli Violence” flew high.There were about thirty police officers and maybe fifty protesters present. Lots of bystanders looked on. I briefly considered letting them know that the world would end in 3 ½ years if peace came, but figured they wouldn’t care if it did.

 

Places I’ve Lived #14 – Seattle, Washington

Seattle, WashingtonI loved living in Seattle. I had been there for the protests that shut down the WTO in 1999. Seattle has great art, music, food, museums, and is surrounded by some of the most epic nature of any city in the world. I probably would have stayed there if the start up I was working for, TechPlanet, hadn’t of been an early crash and burn victim of the dot com crash in 2000. When I first started working there, I was commuting and after that couch surfing during the work week with friends in Shoreline and coworkers in Greenwood. Techplanet sent a bunch of us to Houston to take a crash course and become network engineers and all around tech gurus and after that three of us from the same cohort and office rented a house in Green Lake. We had stock options, we had good salaries, we were working in one of the fastest growing and best funded dot-com startups of that era – and then the venture capital dried up and one day we went to work and the corporate office in Menlo Park, California had simply closed. Suddenly, there weren’t all that many jobs in tech and those with more experience snapped up the jobs at Microsoft and Amazon.

Seattle, WashingtonOne of my room mates became an insurance salesman, another one teamed up with some of the other guys from our old office to try to build a consulting firm, and I bought a VW van, got a job as a community organizer with ACORN (Association of Communities Organizing for Reform Now) and began attending a lot of anti-capitalist, anti-government rallies and meetings. ACORN trained me in identifying discontent, organizing community members, and working towards legislative and social change (they also trained President Obama in this). I was working in poor communities like White Center and South Seattle and I was mainly working with people who were the victims of predatory lenders. Their neighborhoods were being gentrified and they were being preyed on by companies like Countrywide Mortgage. It was agonizing and horrifying work. It was terrible to see what was being done. These were the early days of what would lead to the Great Recession of 2008 and the robbers were feasting on the flesh of the poor with impunity. I suggested radical action – too radical for ACORN – specifically, a neighborhood group I’d organized in South Seattle said they didn’t want the gentrification to continue AND they wanted the police to have more presence in the community – I suggested they break a window in the new local Starbucks every night. ACORN asked me to leave.

Revolution VulcanizedI moved out of my house, moved into my bus and began writing what would eventually become my first book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond. The first title was Our Time is Our Own. My goal was to move into my bus and demonstrate and document a viable alternative to what I had begun referring to as ‘the money chase’. I lived in my VW van, did gig work on the side including ghost writing, web design, tile work, yard work, dumpster diving, book selling, and whatever else I could find. I endeavored to learn how to ‘work the system’ like ‘the system was working everyone’ and I used everything I could figure out – food stamps, unemployment, food banks, soup kitchens. I became a full time activist working with newspaper strikers, Food Not Bombs, and every other cause I felt sympathy for. It was a lot of work to not have a job. By winter, I was exhausted and it was getting too cold to sleep in a bus. In summer and spring it had been easy to find girls to cuddle with who wanted to explore my alternative lifestyle – but in winter – I was cold and alone most of the time.

One day in December of 2000, I drove up to Bellingham to see friends. I stopped at a Native American Casino along the way. I hit a jackpot on the slot machine of $1700. On the way back to Seattle the next day, I hit another jackpot of $1900. I bought a ticket to China and applied for a job teaching English north of Beijing. They offered me the job. I flew out of Seattle at 10:45 am on February 28, 2001. The Nisqually Earthquake hit ten minutes later. It was a 6.8 m earthquake and shut down the airport! It was quite a send off!

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and while it isn’t the political capitol of Washington, it is the cultural capitol. With a total metropolitan population of about 4 million Seattle has a bit of everything you could want – unless you want more than two months of sunshine a year.

Seattle has an amazing jazz and arts scene. It is the home to Amazon, Costco, Microsoft, the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Mariners, Starbucks, Nordstrom and many other big businesses and teams. I’m grateful to have been there when the Sonics still played there.

Shrooming with The Naked Gourmet at Scenic Hot Springs near Seattle

This happened ages ago back in the late 1990s, but it’s still one of the most enjoyable naked drug experiences I’ve  had – I know, I don’t get out as much as I should. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it. 

Shroomin at the Hotsprings with the Naked Gourmet

Scenic Hot Springs is off of  Highway 2 near Snoqualmie between Seattle and Everett.  We hiked two miles vertically and finally reached the hot springs where about a dozen people were nudely soaking and reveling despite the snow, the icy slick trail, and the difficult hike. By the time we got there, it was dark.

Scenic hot springsSomeone there offered us some psychedelic mushrooms  almost as soon as we arrived and so we settled into the natural hot spring tubs with an expectation of the unexpected. Just as the shrooms began to kick, which I think was faster than normal because we were soaking in the hot pools, Robert, the naked gourmet arrived.

A Puerto Rican man in his 40’s who reached fame through traveling to different hot springs and cooking incredible gourmet treats for those lucky enough to be there. He was, of course, naked, as were we. Everybody was – this, after all was a wilderness hotspring in the Pacific Northwest.

Before he cooked, Robert explained the hierarchy of the hot springs to everyone there.

“There is a class system here” he said, “It goes like this. This place and this energy is a result of Goddess. So first in the hierarchy are the goddesses who come here. Whatever they want, they get. Here they are not girls or women, they are Goddesses and I exist to serve. ” The beautiful girls in the tub with us murmured in delight.

“Next come those who serve Goddess and the Goddesses who visit. So this young man,” he indicated a dark youth with a secure energy about him who was happily massaging a Goddess’s shoulders. “He is next because he helped me carry my gear up the mountain and he is really pleasing this Goddess. After that come the rest of the guys.”

The shrooms started reshaping my reality and the snow-capped peak directly across from us began sort of bow and kow-tow to me while the trees began to giggle. Faces and words began to blend into each other and I thought of how the whirling dervish spins so reality blurs together and God can be seen in totality. My reality was blurring into the steam rising into the clouds and the stars that were not there dancing among those that were.

Scenic hot springs

One of the boys brought out a pipe and propane lighter. We shared his weed. I was intensely reflecting inward while I sat in the corner. Sitting in a bucket looking at my bucket. The Goddesses were lovely and the water was divine at just the right heat. A light snow began to fall.

Robert pontificated pleasantly from the pool called The Lobster Pot and I settled into a comfortable corner of another calledThe Bear’s Den. The dark boy and his Goddess were next to me; they were very comforting and real. The Naked Gourmet served up a delicious treat with orange slices that I tasted with my ears and felt with my nose.

Goddesses first, then helpers, and then the guys. Strange things still blurred the corners of my vision.

Two very drunk teenage Goddesses came and got in the Bear’s Den with me. They both had huge bottles of beer. I struggled to hold on to the center as their much older boyfriends came and got in with them. Let the molesting begin…

I felt an urge to speak but each time I tried, I realized, I fit in better being quiet. The Goddess and her dark servant moved to the Lobster Pot and the drunk young Goddesses squealed in delight at the extra room. I felt like I was going to be soaking in their boyfriend’s sperm soon so I moved to the Lobster Pot.

Roberts’s constant patter about the adventures of the Naked Gourmet  allowed me to simply listen and exist in my own world. Each time someone got out of the pool, we all shifted to a more comfortable spot. Slowly faces became distinguishable and words took on meaning. The visual died away and I returned to the somewhat Valhallalike world of Scenic Hot Springs.

The Naked Gourmet cooked in the snow and then turned from his makeshift kitchen with quesadillas and more orange slices.

Scenic hot springsShortly afterward he began packing his enormous load of gear into a sled and set off yelling “For those of you here tomorrow, I’ll be back for brunch!”

I stayed in the Lobster Pot for the next 6 hours or so, only getting out once to take an enormous pee in a downhill snowdrift.

About 3:00 AM, my friends and I dressed as needle like snowflakes flogged our mineral bathed skins. The hike down the mountain was a slick ride on one foot while crouched in the easy parts and treacherous ice in the flatter areas.

I thought my trip was still going on as a loud buzzing got near deafening and I looked up to see the purplish blue wires coursing up and down the mountain with an eerie ionic glow.

My friend saw me looking and said “Isn’t that a trip?”

“You mean it’s real?” I asked.

“Yeah, freaky huh?”

I thought about the strange effects all of that electromagnetic energy must be having on my brain, nervous system, and body as I lived among it every day…the same as standing under the same power lines in a city…the thought made me shudder.

 

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