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.