"I'm gonna come out with a fire," Julie said with a timid smile during a rare boasting. It was her first time hitchhiking.
She and Johnny formed the first hitchhiking team, as we headed west from Dr. Jim's Tupperville. Our group was gonna be doing it Argentinian-style. We had our tents, our sleeping bags, our mini-stove, and cheap food from the grocery store, and we were gonna see the country together with our thumbs. Many middle-class Argentinian youths travel their country this way; I don't know why more Americans don't.
My partner, Adam, and I watched and waited as Julie and Johnny got a ride in twelve minutes on the sun-brightened highway on-ramp. We were up next. Adam grabbed our "VANCOUVER" sign.
Before we could even get to the on-ramp, we were offered a ride by two guys. Gray-haired Martin O'Hara drove the station wagon, and he spoke to us in a very pronounced, distinguished British manner. Young Justin Maynard, who tended Martin's lawn, rode "shotgun." "Kaiser" the german shepherd rode in back. Martin told us, dryly, "Don't worry. If you behave well, he's not too likely to devour you." Adam caught the un-blatant humor in this and laughed. Tall Kaiser's eyes held worry over the car journey and not a hint of ferocity.
To make this day more interesting, Adam and I were competing with Johnny and Julie in a "Hitchhiking Scavenger Hunt." We'd made a list of ten assignments we could earn points for. Some of the assignments were: get picked up by an all-girl car; meet an Australian; acquire a baseball to replace the one Johnny had thrown into the weeds on the Atlantic coast; meet someone who's been to a hometown of ours; and avoid any conversation regarding President Bush or Iraq.
Martin O'Hara had been to the 48 U.S. states. He'd even lived in Michigan yet had never been to my Grand Rapids. "Why would anyone want to go there!?" he said about Baltimore.
He'd worked in a "shark tank" in Washington D.C. He spoke of extremely competative people, women. He disliked the D.C. subway, because he had to sit next to dregs who didn't live up to his "extraordinarily sophisticated tastes." He laughed, though I think he was serious. He used a great vocabulary that often lost me. My theory is Martin O'Hara was an independently rich, extravagant millionaire.
Twenty miles down the road, Adam and I were on our own again.
Our partnership was a tale of two shirts. Adam sported the "Joker," a light green polo with a wild design that seemed South African. Adam, in the "Joker," shorts, glacier sun-glasses, and a short, spiked-up haircut, stood ahead and hoisted the "VANCOUVER" sign high above his head. I chuckled to look at him. He looked like some hip-with-the-trends, chandelier-swinging crazy-man trying to make the next party.
I wore "Old Blue," a sky-blue, button-down J. Crew shirt I've had for over six years and have hitchhiked thousands of miles in in various countries. "Old Blue" has been stained, dirtied, ripped, tattered, and sewn, but you still can't keep him away from where he loves and belongs: the wide, open road.
Fancy shirts weren't necessary to get our second ride, from the family of our 14-year-old Tupperville friend, Samantha from the Schoolhouse Museum. Samantha's nice mom, Rhonda, drove, seated beside her daughter.
Back in Tupperville, Johnny and Adam had noticed something about Rhonda. She pillared her sentences with repetative stumps, saying things like: "It's a nice day, it is," or, "I'm a bit tired, I am."
So, Johnny and Adam started talking like this for kicks. "The chicken's dead, it is," and "The apples are growing, they are," soon developed into - and really cracked me up - "This food's good, they is," or, "I am, I says, I is," or, "The sky's not too cloudy, you am," or, "Good-bye, Tupperville, we is, we says, we am, we is, we was, we is."
Adam and I hugged Rhonda and Samantha good-bye. For fourteen, Sam was a beautiful girl, with pastelle, soft-blue eyes and pastelle, light-strawberry hair and a voice that's a country whine. Adam would later tell Johnny and I that Sam had snuck a kiss on him as they parted. This news caused an amount of hesitant jealousy in us, until we realized frat-boy Adam was only lying to play a joke on us. That's the type of joker he is, it is, I says, I am.
Adam removed from his bag the collapseable, green stool he so enjoyed sitting on as he hitchhiked. Man, glee shown on his face when he sat on that thing. A young man in a business suit, John, stopped for us because he thought our "VANCOUVER" sign was funny - seeing as how Vancouver was 3000 miles away.
He took us to the small road we were taking to cut across Nova Scotia. Our first hour-long wait came here, before a self-employed painter drove us a few miles.
Big, blond-moustachioed Mike lifted us next, and he was excited as heck to talk to us. Next to Mike rode his teenage, intelligent-sounding daughter, Alicia, who had a sleek face and slinkie-like blond curls. She was in a red softball skirt, on her way to a game. I think she played infield. "All right!" said Adam. Mike dropped us off, and we stood beside Johnny and Julie again, at our destination for the day.
At eight-thirty p.m., there were ninety minutes left before it gets dark in southern Canada during the summer. We were in rural, remote Rowden, land of strawberry farms. We set up our tents in a grass square in the middle of town yet still not near to really anything.
Over a game of Hearts and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, we told about our days. Johnny and Julie had beat Adam and I to Rowden, picking up a point for "first arrival" in our Hitchhiking Scavenger Hunt, and they really wholloped us by a score of 7 points to 1.
However, Johnny said Julie didn't talk much in their four cars. After one ride, they bet on how long it was going to take to get picked up again. Julie won. As loser of the bet, Johnny had to fill all gaps in conversation during the whole next ride. Julie clammed up like a mummy, saying nothing unless spoken to and even then giving two-word answers. Poor Johnny was left on his own, diving into any awkward silences like a blabbering seal, and Julie just watched him struggle and laughed.
We were ready for a rest. We slept well, each hitchhiking team in its respective tent in the Rowden grass square, just like the Argentinians.
We slept on that square beside some hedges, and on the other side of those hedges there was a two-story, still-under-construction house. The guy who lived there had seen us in the night beside our tents. In the morning, he quickly came over and invited us into his house for breakfast. Peter was his name, and he gave us bacon, eggs, toast, and yogurt. He had two young sons who woke up and immediately got to their jobs of spinning themselves around the kitchen floor like tops. All right for Peter!
Johnny and Julie won first rights to the road by guessing which number from one to ten Peter was thinking of. They hiked out of Rowden and were soon lost, along with our low-traffic two-way highway, amongst an Atlantic forest of oaks and maples.
Adam and I started next. Adam wore the "Joker," but it could only sort of make him happy this morning. He was devastated, because he was from now on without his beloved, collapseable, green stool. He'd left it in Mike and Alicia's trunk. Poor Adam. It was like he'd lost his firstborn son.
... a good hitchhiking day could bring him up. Three quick rides got us into western Nova Scotia, back on the interprovincial highway. Undesirably, we were stuck on the highway itself - with no on-ramps around - and cars zoomed by.
Soon, a big, comfortable luxury car stopped. The drivers wore suits and maroon ties, so I thought they were Mormons. Instead, they were funeral directors. Blond, German-sausage-faced Mischa from Switzerland drove the car. His young, black-haired assistant Matt sat beside him.
They were rushing John's ashes from Halifax to John's funeral in their town. On his cell-phone, Matt said things like, "We just got back from the crematorium." John's funeral was only hours away.
"Hey, I just thought of a funny question," said Adam. "How many people are actually late for their own funeral?"
Speaking of dying, Johnny and Julie were riding with a mother and her nine-year-old daughter. My friends had caught a long ride with these nice two, but they were suffering because the nine-year-old would only listen to one CD, and she listened to it over and over.
Have you ever heard of the catchy, cute, brass music of pop artist Lou Beca?
"One, two, three, four, five, everybody in the car, now come on, let's drive! to the liquor store 'round the corner, the boys say they want some gin and juice, but I really don't wanna ..." - Lou Beca
My friends listened to that for hours. Julie, especially, wanted to throttle the girl or throw her CD out the window ...
This long ride, though, got Julie and Johnny to within fifteen miles of the destination for the day, and it was barely eleven a.m.
"None," Mischa answered Adam's question. I'm happy to report that John, in ash form, was not late to his own funeral.
Two more rides, and Adam and I were in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
An old guy, Rob, drove us to our destination: Parlee Beach in Shediac, New Brunswick.
Rob's lower lip came over his top lip, and his lack of many teeth made his mouth crazy and drooly. He had a compact, bald head, and his short nose made sudden turns. I guess he was sixty-nine, because he mentioned that number a bit for jokes. He was a perverted old man, with a funniness about him.
He told of a bumper sticker, "Courtesy is contagious." It became popular on cars, on the road. "So, then," he said, "you'd get a bunch of cars come up to a four-way stop. And everyone would just sit there waving the other people to go, and no one would go! It caused more confusion than good."
He drove us into the Parlee Beach parking lot. In the grassy park between us and the beach, there sat two restaurants, bathrooms, a playground, and a tomato-green hill that became beach on the other end. Ron told us we could go play on the teeter-totters and slides if we wanted. "If you guys get lonely, you can always go play with the seagulls."
It was one p.m. when we set foot on the beach. There was Julie, sun-bathing by two backpacks looking like she'd been there for a while. She really had "come out with a fire" - she couldn't have gotten around much quicker if she'd had a car. Johnny was running and splashing with kids in the water.
Due to our rapid day of hitchhiking, the four of us were going to have a long day to enjoy this beach. But, like those wandering Argentinian travellers, we were going to have to have our bags and stuff with us the whole time we did it.
No bother. Adam and I switched into our swimsuits and ran into the warmest Atlantic Ocean water north of Virginia to play a game of keep-away with Johnny and the kids. Woohoo, freedom!
- Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, Julie, "Old Blue," and the "Joker"
but no collapseable, green stool
Thanks to Martin O'Hara, Justin Maynard, & "Kaiser;" Rhonda, Sam, Anthony, & Shaleen; John; Carter; Mike & Alicia; Art; Kent & Abby; Jerry Humber; Mischa & Matt; Richard; Jeff Kramer; and Rob for the rides!