Tag Archives: Hitchhiking

A Moment’s Pause

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Hey there, faithful readers!

Just a word of warning from yours truly: as I gear up for September 25th’s release of The Parrington Review, things are going to be slower here at The New Dialogue. Just one of the little inconveniences of life.

A few things to look forward to, even if their arrival is delayed:

(1) Between Dreams, Pt. 2. This is the final installment to my hitchhiking saga. We’ll have a look at a few of the strange and wonderful rides I took South of the border, and the various helpful or terrifying strangers I met while on the lam. Catch up, in the meantime, by reading Going West and Between Dreams [Pt. 1].

(2) Aura’s guest post. She’s a busy girl with school these days – way to go, honey! – but I’m going to try to coerce her into sharing her side of the story. She’s always got a lot to say, but doesn’t necessarily slow down long enough to say it. I’m pretty excited about this one.

(3) More fiction! As per Tom’s request, I’m going to post at least one work of my own fiction at some point over the next while. It’s all on paper – now to edit it so that it’s actually worth reading.

(4) University of Toronto: Revelations. This one is Aaron’s request, and it’s high time I bit the bullet and let you know what REALLY happened with all my dad’s hard earned tuition money. Eek.

So don’t go too far, folks. There’s a lot more coming. My priority is to make sure that the new site gets an awesome grand opening – then we’ll see things normalise again around here, even if at a more sedate pace.

In other news, check out AtContent, who have me in their employ as of this month. See if you can find my smiling Canadian face amidst my many Russian peers there. I’m writing their website content, bit by bit, and enjoying every minute of it. This is the first time I truly feel as though my job is aligned with my passion for words.

TIme for me to get moving. Lots to do today. Third week of classes for Aura and Kieran, second for Emery. And I have a lot of work ahead of me!

See you in a few days.

Cheers, Dan


Between Dreams

Part of the risk and reward of hitchhiking for me was the time spent on the road between destinations. How many times and for how many hours I held out my thumb, waiting in the wet or the cold for someone to come and take me for a ride, I don’t know. Every driver who pulled over and gave me a ride holds a special corner of my heart. I want to share those corners with you now.

The first ride I ever hitched was on my way out of Calgary, headed East. There’s not much to tell about it- an older fellow in a nice car picked me up and took me to the nearest major on-ramp. The experience was pleasant, easy, and altogether unrepresentative.

My second ride was with a middle aged Indian who spoke next to no English. Our communication was made poorer by the interference of the man’s car radio, which blasted an Indian talk radio programme for the duration of our time together. Our body language was sufficient for a while- and then he took an exit. This was not my exit. I tried to tell him what was happening, but he only smiled and said things to me that I was unable to interpret. He drove on. My consternation rose. He was taking me into the unknown, and I was powerless. I began to understand just how unpredictable hitchhiking could be.

That did turn out alright. After a while I was able to gesture my way to freedom, and then it was time to hitch back to the highway. My next ride, however, was one of the most bizarre I was going to catch.

I had to walk back to the highway- it took me the better part of an hour. Thankfully, my next ride was prompt and took me right to my next stop, some four or five hours East. A white van pulled over ahead of me- the sort of vehicle whose anonymity should always send a warning signal. I hopped in and mentioned my destination, which at that time was Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

My journal from that first round of hitchhiking is missing. I left it somewhere between Portland, Oregon and North California. My friend Mitchell looked after it for a while, but I think at this point it’s been lost to the passage of time. As a result, I don’t remember my driver’s name.

He was about sixty, maybe as much as sixty five. He was on a cross-country drive to visit family and had come from somewhere in B.C. He was headed to Ontario, and he was ready to talk the whole way. What else he had in mind, I can only imagine.

My driver began by telling me that he had been a promising amateur boxer, and that his career had been cut short after a lethal bar fight. He described the fight to me in great detail, down to the shattering tables and punches thrown. Apparently he spent some time in prison after that for manslaughter, or something along those lines. This part of our little chat was not the startling part for me, though.

He told me that he’d spent some time hitchhiking when he was a young man. He did his travelling in Quebec. One cold winter day- so he told me- a car pulled in and the door opened up. A man all in pink waited within. My driver, then an innocent, hopped right in and caught his ride. But then- and my driver looked at me carefully as he said this- “I should have known when I saw his pink clothes,” he told me. “But sometimes you just do what you have to do, you know?”

So there I sat, my burly and intense host staring me down after having dropped a load of innuendos into my lap. I really didn’t know what to say- or to do, for that matter. This was the textbook scenario for the hitchhiker at risk. Well, you know me. I made quiet and desperate conversation for the next four hours, and kept the man satisfied with good company. I really think that my willingness to be a friend, for a while, was what kept me safe that day. I didn’t find much in common with him, but, boy, you wouldn’t have known that.

Truckers made up a major demographic in the rides I took. One drove me back from Moose Jaw area to Calgary. It was a terrible cold day when I left Saskatchewan. It was February and the wind was whipping across the flatlands, all of it hurtling directly into my face. I had nothing more on me than a t-shirt and a hoodie, travelling light as I was. I kept a backpack with me full of books and a change of pants, but not a jacket.

This trucker was just one of the many kind and somewhat lonely gentlemen who shared their cabs with me. This one in particular, though, had a very small terrier who refused to give up his seat to me. We did reach a compromise, eventually: I sat on his seat, and he sat on me. He was very quiet while we rode.

On my way out from Calgary, going West, I listened to Sly and the Family Stone on full blast with a sort of neo-hippie girl. I ended up leaving my precious smokes in her car. She took a little ways, and after a brief venture in a beater full of partygoers, I ended up in company with a middle aged bureaucrat of some kind. He took me halfway to Vancouver in his SUV- just the two of us crossing kilometer after dark kilometer on the invisible Alberta roads. He was a nice guy, but he was obviously more used to the radio as company; I may have been the first hitchhiker he ever stopped for. We listened to a special programme on shark attacks- their history, the misconceptions, the modern situation. They included dramatic re-enactments, and one of the strangest moments I recall was flying along the nighttime highway with John Businessman, a desperate gurgling and splashing erupting at us from the dashboard.

I was stranded for a few hours that night. I never wear a watch, so I don’t truly know how long it was, but I finally found my way into a truck stop and did my exhausted best to chatter with the nighttime clientele. They gave me free coffee and a grizzled older man offered me a seat, going West. This trucker was quieter than some, but had a very pronounced interest in water. Yes, water: the rivers, lakes and swamps that we passed by and over. I probably wrote it all down, but again I must mourn the passing of that particular journal.

My route to the American border from Vancouver was split between a Hell’s Angels pickup and a police cruiser. The pickup driver was long-haired, bearded and tattooed and must have smoked half a pack in the hour I rode with him. I recall thick eyebrows and a wide and frequent smile. He told me about his longstanding relationship with the Angels doing custom work on their motorcycles. He told me that he made good money doing it, and in a rough sort of way, it seemed true. He had bought and remade a convertible for his daughter on her eighteenth birthday, and a motorcycle for his son’s. He did paint and chrome and parts and accessories. I enjoyed that ride.

The cruiser picked me up as I approached the border, taking me to within half a kilometer. He warned me not to hitch on the freeway South of the border- advice I did little to regard, for which I eventually suffered.

Going West

A number of you may want to know more about the first time I went West. I was known, at that time, to have dropped everything I had here, and everyone. There ended up being a lot of hitchhiking involved, and I spent significant time in towns and on roads from Saskatchewan to California. I started out on a ranch, however, and that was neat too. Let’s start in Ontario, though.

I only told a half a dozen people where I was going, and that didn’t include my parents. I was seventeen and angry about being a kid, about being a son, about any number of other angsty problems. I was also a lover of adventure, and felt I needed to find some peace by getting out there, somewhere. It was summer.

The whole exit was meant to be a big secret from my family, but at the last minute Dad caught wind and drove me to the terminal. The first leg of my trip was pretty unromantic, you see; I rode for three days and two nights from Peterborough to Calgary in a Greyhound bus. The whole time I was nuzzled gently by the unwashed snouts of various sleepy old men, and felt stickier and stickier in my own sweat. My adventure was shaping up to be both dirty and monotonous.

A friend of mine had set me up with her uncle, a rancher in the foothills south of Calgary, to work once I arrived. I intended to achieve financial independance from the get go. When I did get off that reeking, claustrophobic transport, I had my eyes peeled for a six foot lumberjack type, maybe with a cigar hanging from his thin lips. The man who spotted me, though, was five and half feet with a black cowboy hat twice as large as his head. He wore it on special occasions and church, as I later observed, wearing his regular cowboy hat when at work. This was Jim, and he was to become a good friend and advisor.

I spent several months on Jim’s ranch. He and his wife, Basia, took good care of their new runaway teen. I worked five days a week, six to six, putting together the components of what would become a new barn, house and workshop. The labor was harder than anything I knew, but I found tremendous physical and emotional satisfaction in that job. As I side note, I thought it was hysterical that we were building Jim’s mother’s new apartment into the side of the barn.

With winter’s approach, I left Jim and Basia and arrived in Calgary with a healthy bank account and the offer of a sublet from my friends Ian and Kathleen. Actually I only knew Ian at the time, but they were a package deal. Actually they were married one inconspicuous night during the course of my residency with them. I lived in a tiny room near the front door, just big enough for me, my bed and a shelf. I had great housemates, though.

I got a job at Bluenotes, a clothing retailer, and for several more months worked there. During this time I also developed an intimate relationship with booze. This has affected me ever since, although in recent years it has been relegated largely to memory. My bank account dwindled- I found pleasure in going to movies, on my own, and buying music. I bought a lot of music- something like fifty CDs in those few months. I was expanding my interest in and knowledge of genres, artists, traditions. But it cost me more than I had, coupled as it was with drink.

Stasis soon got to me. Broke again, and hungry for change, I left Calgary and went East with twenty dollars in my pocket. I hitchhiked as far as Moose Jaw, SK, and stayed at a school there for a week or so. I met up with my friend Leanne there, and made an important connection: my key to the United States. After being hounded out of my storage room hideout by bloodthirsty dons, I hit the now frigid Saskatchewan road to head West once more.

Note that I had some very interesting rides throughout this part of my trip. Because they could fill a post of their own- and they might, sometime later on- I’ll leave them aside. You should know, however, that virtually every inch of road I passed over was either very pleasant or mildly disturbing. The ex-boxing ex-convict, the detailer for the Hell’s Angels, the truck driver whose small dog sat on my lap for three or four hundred kilometers: all these you’ll get to know, I promise.

Dragging my cold feet through Calgary again, I arrived a few days later in Vancouver. I slept in a bus stop the first night- an upturned container of yogurt at one end of the bench, my head at the other. The next morning I explored the network of Go-Trains and managed to connect with an older lady, April, my grandmother’s longtime penpal.

For this next part, I apologise. It is not, in fact, meant as slander: I spent an emotionally demanding five days or so in the grip of a closeted old nut. April was so friendly at first, and was good to me in a very practical way during the whole visit- and this was Grandma’s penpal, so I was also eager to provide a good impression. This lady settled me into her basement, where I found myself housed with half a dozen cats and their vast deposit of hair and droppings. I was surrounded by milady’s father’s possessions, the fruit of his lifetime. Stacks of John Wayne movies caressed family photos in gilt frames.

April started showing me off to her friends the day after my arrival. She took me to restaurants, a piano concert, and a Chinese New Year celebration. She began bragging to her friends about the young man who was staying with her. I was getting uneasy with all the attention- never really my thing. It came to pass that I became tired of the busyness and the fond care, and so one night I told April that I was going to continue on my way.

She was angry. As she spoke, chiding me at first for leaving so soon, she became still angrier. Her voice rose. I was ungrateful, presumptious and hurtful. She asked me how I dared abuse her hospitality in this way? I was quiet. I went to bed after watching her stalk away. The next day I left poor April, feeling bad about the whole situation, but definitely going my way. April warned me one more time about the roaming gangs that endangered us all, and shut her door.

I proceeded south on foot, crossing the US border- still on foot- around dusk. I walked up between two long lines of cars, some of them honking at me. Dogs started barking up ahead, and oh- I had lost my glasses in Calgary! Well, that sure didn’t help. I couldn’t see a blessed thing. As I approached the border itself, I saw that the dogs were barking at me, straining at the ends of their leashes, withheld by an irate guard. It took me two long hours of sweet, sugary conversation to get myself through that tangle of bureaucracy- I didn’t have a passport or money. But I did it!

I walked four hours more that night. It was raining, and I had fashioned a coat from a black garbage bag. It was inadequate. I slept in the computer lab at the University of Western Washington that evening, and explored the campus next morning. It was really very pretty, as I remember. Nice school, snotty kids.

The next few weeks were beautiful. My connection was a great guy in Seattle named Chris, who sheltered me a while and showed me around. I renovated part of his bathroom, and he paid me a generous hundred bucks. We ate gourmet burgers one night. I saw the Google headquarters.

My ride out of Seattle, to Portland, became a friend that I kept in touch with for years afterward: Mitchell. This guy was a talented guitar player, fantastic singer, and a warm companion. I smoked a lot back then, and we went through pack after pack together, talking about whatever it was we talked about for hours. We hitchhiked together when he had to return his parents’ vehicle to them. We parted ways amicably in North California, and I still wish him the best.

I got as far south as San Jose. I enjoyed the Wharf, seeing Alcatraz, and the warm weather. This would’ve been late February, and it was twenty degrees. Amazing, for an Ontario boy having endured the Canadian elements to get here. I met a lot of neat people here, and was given a free plane ride as far as Buffalo when my welcome finally ran out with the highway patrol. Too much hitchhiking, they said, will land you in jail; and they caught me a few too many times, and I was on my last warning. So some family friends funded my escape, and my adventure came to a close.

That was a long one. The post, I mean. The trip was surprisingly short, looked at from this wide-angle view, but eventful and important to my internal process. I came home surer of myself, full of stories and ready to find excitement in my own town. I’ve also been conscientious about giving rides to hitchers, since then. How lonely a long road can be, and how wonderful the inside of a lousy car.

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