"Canada 2003" story # 3

Bangor, Maine           June 18, 2003

"You mother-*u@#ers need a ride!? Get the hell in!"
     A weird-acting college friend of ours, Tony Canty, had agreed to meet and pick up we three Canada-bound travellers on the early streets of Boston. He gave us a ride outside of the city, where he would see us off. I waited in the car with Tony, while my companions, the two newborn hitchers, walked onto the on-ramp and disappeared behind some forest.
     After thirty seconds or a minute or two, Tony said he wanted to move so we could watch them hitching. As we drove around the forest, and the on-ramp came into view, I yelled, "They're not gonna be there! They've already gotten picked up!" It was as ridiculously optimistic as if I'd said the Boston Red Sox were going to shake the Curse of the Bambino and win the next five World Series.
     But, out on that on-ramp, "Johnny" Seipp-Williams and Adam Rohr were like my babies. Except, instead of sucking on their thumbs, they stuck them out and hoped a car passerby would stop and let 'em in.
     Ridiculously optimistic yelling is probably the #1 thing for keeping morale high on tough trips. And this trip was possibly going to be a tough one. First off, Boston seemed like a pretty well-off area, and well-off people generally don't stop for hitchers. The other thing was we didn't know how well two guys would get picked up.
     But, turtle-headed Johnny had the bright-blue-eyed kid's smile to stop the cars. He was a smart guy, and he'd been a big activist during college. He really wants to make the world more fair and its resources better distributed. Sometimes, I think he's too smart, and he really beats himself up when he sees war and humans suffering. He seems to worry a lot. He's injury-prone and sick often, and I believe this stems from the concerns he often has that something might go wrong.
     Yes, the morale was going to have to remain high for all of us. "They're not gonna be there!" I yelled. Tony and I drove beyond the forest.
     And they weren't there. They weren't even in the forest beside the on-ramp, re-arranging their backpacks or anything. My god, they'd already gotten picked up! ...

"We just stuck out our thumbs, and a car came straight over onto the side of the road for us," Johnny would say later.
     He and Adam's first driver was a salesperson. Johnny told of him like so:
     "He picked us up because he said he drove that road every day, and he never saw a hitchhiker on it, so he wanted to see what was going on. He was twenty minutes late for work, because he'd just had a flat tire. He'd just fixed it, so grease was all over his arms and hands. And he had an english muffin. So, he kept his hands on the wheel, speeding really fast, and he kept turning around and trying to get to his english muffin. He got it. And, as he ate it, he kept wiping his mouth with his hands. So, by the time we got out of the car, grease was smeared all over his face."
     Johnny and Adam made conversation with him the whole way. "I think we made his morning a little better," said nice-guy, slightly-nervous Adam about it later.
     They got out in New Hampshire, and they stuck their thumbs out again. Again, they got picked up quicker than somebody could hail a taxi. This ride would take them into Maine.
     All right. My babies were going to Bangor! ...

I put the finishing touches on my breakfast half-gallon of Purely Pistachio ice cream. Mmm. I said a weird good-bye to my Boston buddy Tony, and I headed to the on-ramp myself. It was four hours up-road to Bangor.
     I, the proven veteran, couldn't be outdone by these new hitchhiking no-names. Sure, my smile may not be as kid-like as it was when I first stepped to the road, or even as much so as Johnny's. Sure, years of liberalism may have turned me into a "Long-Hair," and nobody wants those. But, I still got it.
     A truck running deliveries quickly veered over to the ramp gravel behind me. A big, mostly bald-with-white-ribbons-sticking-from-the-back-of-his-head guy, named Stan, let me hop in.
     Stan was about fifty, but he still drummed in a band. He told me that, when he was younger, his band's name had been: "Maria Teresa and the Shotgun Army."
     "Great name," he said. I agreed.
     He dropped me in a not-so-great spot, though. Where I was, in this part of coastal New Hampshire, I watched one ferrari, one mustang, two corvettes, several convertibles, and lots of new cars and trucks go past. Rats, I thought. Rich people don't like Long-Hairs.
     It took an hour, but Mike eventually picked me up. Thin, thirty-something Mike was excited because he'd just come from getting hired as the new manager at a home repair chain store. It was his first job in fourteen months.
     After that, Tim and his young son Calvin took me across a big river. For the first time, I was in Maine ...

An hour north of me, Johnny and Adam were looking for rides in South Portland, Maine. They may have been newcomers and a two-some, but they were ahead of me and revolutionizing their own personal hitchhiking techniques as they went.
     South Portland was a tough spot for them. So, Adam took off of his backpack a small, green, fold-up stool and sat down for a break. Johnny stood way ahead of him, showing the cars a big smile. When the cars didn't stop for him, they still had time to get a good look at Adam. Adam hunched on the stool and barely even presented his thumb. His smile-less face displayed, purposely, a cemetery-wilting fatigue to it. He was tying to draw pity from the cars who wouldn't stop for Johnny's smile. These guys learned quick.
     Whenever Johnny was feeling lucky, he would shake his fist around for luck like a craps-playing Arsenio Hall would shake the dice at a casino. He "rolled the dice" finally, laying his fist down, and all that came out was a thumb for the next car that was passing ...

Meanwhile, I was briefly on tour with a Mobile-area college professor up Maine's supposedly-scenic Highway 1. My most dull driver of the day, Larry, drove me past beds & breakfasts and lobster restaurants that looked more money-hungry than quaint.
     Occasionally, I could see glimpses of a cold blue sea that smiled as it met the coast because summer had come. I was happy when Larry returned me to our quicker, trusty steed, the Interstate 95.

Still in South Portland, Johnny and Adam had taken baseball mitts out of their cross-Canada backpacks and were now enjoying a game of catch on the side of the on-ramp. They made the most of their longest wait beneath the warming sky blue.
     Johnny, in his old Baltimore Orioles cap, paused and showed thumb when cars passed.
     Two young, pretty-looking girls drove by slowly. Johnny smiled his biggest and called to them, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!"
     The girl nearest Johnny dismissed him with a fly-shooing hand wave and laughed: "Yeah, right."
     Eventually, it would be just another hitchhiking-experienced older guy who would pick my friends up, and he would take them all the way to Augusta.

By the time I got to Portland, Maine, my friends were long gone.
     Large-guy Bruce Taylor stopped for me here. A wide-hipped, giant dog with nappy gray hair roamed the backseat, and he was friendly. "What's his name?" I asked.
     "Thank god you called it a 'him," Bruce Taylor said, relieved. "Everybody thinks just 'cuz it's a poodle, it's gotta be a ..."
     Bruce Taylor was a nice guy. He told me the dog's name was "Matey," and he shrugged in powerlessness. "I don't know, my daughters named it ..."
     I asked if he had Australians for daughters. Or pirates.

Johnny and Adam rode with a guy in middle Maine who they called "a sleepy pot-head."
     Johnny said it was the only time during the day he'd felt at-all scared. "I thought he might just fall asleep driving," he said.

It was early afternoon on this mid-June day, and some of the on-ramps I waited on were really beautiful.
     At one point, the interstate exit was a steep hill. Tall grass sunk behind me to a wild thatch of young-adult oaks and elm trees and maples that created an inviting cove. The forest in the middle of Maine state, with its gentle greens of leaves and gentle grays of tree bark, seemed a harmonious place for being swallowed up by and for feeling protected in.
     Richard, a white-haired guy who looked like he should've been retired, contently drove me into Augusta in his worn-out maintenance truck.

"We're sitting in the mall eating something," responded Adam when I called his cell-phone.
     For a moment, it scared me into thinking they'd had a bad day and had given up the hitchhiking. It was barely three p.m.
     But, Adam sounded excited on the phone. He explained, to my great pleasure, that they'd already arrived in Bangor. Yeah, my babies had made it! They were growing up so fast ...

Despite my motherly pride, I still had ninety miles to go.
     It took three rides and under three hours. Joe, a chubby, hispanic-looking, energetic family man finally dropped me off at the Paul Bunyon campground in Bangor. Before he dropped me off, he taught me a delicious way to cook trout or just about any animal you might find, by shoving a stick through its mouth and roasting it over an open fire.

At six p.m., Johnny and Adam and I were glowing to see each other 240 miles later in "Bang-eh." (Sorry, my Boston accent came out again.)
     "Bangor," I should say, found my pals a little dejected. Apparently, their last ride had been a very negative experience. A guy named Matt had driven them into Bangor, taken them to get food, and then asked if they couldn't help him move some boxes. Only, he wasn't really that interested in moving boxes. He was more interested in saving their souls and preaching to them for thirty minutes. "Don't you guys ever feel thirsty? That's how I felt, until I found Jesus," metaphoric Matt said. He was a born-again christian, and a pushy one.
     So, there was one sour apple on the otherwise sweet first tree of hitching. Or whatever you want to call it. By morning, we would all three be very optimistic about our Canada trip and the possibilities on the road.
     "Hey, Adam. Remember when those two girls picked us up?" said Johnny. My ears perked.
     For only a second, they perked. I knew tricky Johnny too well to realize he was only inventing a fantastic story to make me curious.
     In Bangor, we set up our tents, threw around the baseball, took a dip in the pool, and ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. And then, we were asleep in moments.
     Johnny and Adam's first day of hitching? ...
     An overall success!
     My free-like-the-bird babies left the nest so (sob, sob) soon.

later, yeah! - Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny and Adam

Thanks to Stan; Mike; Tim and Calvin; Larry; Bruce Taylor and "Matey"; Robert; Richard; Zac; Manny; and Joe; for the rides!

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