Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Seattle to Huntsville Without Corporate Assistance

The goal: Travel from Seattle, WA to Huntsville, AL without paying a large corporation for travel/lodging.

I’ve kinda wanted to try different ways of traveling lately. Seeing how my life currently has no deadlines of any kind, this seems to be a good time to try out rideshare/hitch-hiking.

Hitch-hiking is no more dangerous than riding in cars in general (as long as you don’t get dropped off in a dangerous neighborhood!), but can be frustrating if you set up at a bad spot. I don’t think I would have had the patience for it even two years ago.) But you do have to know how to do it, and you shouldn’t have any schedule to keep to, otherwise it could get very nerve-racking. (Also I made sure I wasn't carrying anything that I considered irreplaceable, and of course was careful to be appreciative and not offensive toward my drivers.) I had a few pointers from friends, but there’s also plenty of info online, and I bought a copy of this book, an excellent guide to “taking a road trip pilgrimage.”

Anyway, here’s how things went—

July 1st -

Here's what I have with me in Seattle -
way too many clothes for this kind of thing, but at least clothes aren't heavy so whatever.
way too many books that I brought for the bus ride on the way up.
Debit card with 32.85 on it.
Check from separate account with 110.26 in it.
Emergency credit card from my dad that I'm pretending doesn't exist

I'm thinking I may offer to split some gas costs with anyone who gives me a ride (craigslist rideshare, or hitchhiking)--this doesn't count as paying a large corporation since the gas would have been bought anyway, and I may also eat at McDonalds or other chain if my driver suggests we stop there for food. But I will try to the best of my ability not to pay a big company for travel or lodging.

Someone on craigslist is going olympia to colorado tomorrow--a couple things aren't ideal…

-------from Craigslist-------
I'm going to Fort Collins in Colorful Colorado tomorrow (Wednesday, July 1.) It would be great to have some company to help keep me awake and pitch for gas and I could take you as far as Denver, or drop you off anywhere along the way. I am a smoker and like the music loud but am respectful of my companionship. I am a good conversationalist and I'm not a serial killer. Must be willing to pitch for gas and as we are going to a Higher State (5,280ft) must be 420 friendly. I'll be leaving in the early afternoon, around two-ish.

maybe a little rough, but to get straight to Colorado in just one ride sounds well worth it to me. Plus could be interesting to spend 16 hours in a car with--we'll see if he takes me up.

----------from me--------
Hey, I could use a ride out towards Colorado if it's still available. I'm in Seattle now, but could meet you tomorrow off I-90 in Bellevue (if you're going through Seattle anyway) or off I-5 in Tacoma. I'm flexible as far as plans, and I'd be glad to contribute a tank or two for gas. Email back or give me a call if you think things will work.

Tom - 336-251-2196

July 1st –

Never heard back form that first guy but Ralph came through for me!

GOing to Colorado (Paonia )
[ Don't have exact first message cuz it's deleted from craigslist, but basically said he's offering a ride from Washington to Colorado for anyone that needs it, and left his name and cell number ]

I e-mail back, we call in the morning, and head out from Seattle to western Colorado around 1 pm!

July 2nd -

Ralph is a good dude. We communicate well, and I am very compatible with the songs on his iPhone (which includes a very cool reggae version of dark side of the moon)
He found a national park a little ways off the highway on his Iphone, so we camped there (that’s how he was planning to sleep anyways), and plus we communicate well and have similar interests. I'm in Salt Lake City right now, Ralph's staying with his brother who he says has a super small apartment and can be a "difficult guy", so I am either gonna get in touch with someone I know or crash in a hostel. It's raining so prefer not to camp.

July 3 -

Stayed at Avenues Hostel in Salt Lake City last night. Very good experience. Roomed with two English guys, who just happened to check in (they didn't know each other before). Phil (I think his name was) was from Wales, and don't remember the other guy's name but he was from Manchester City. The guy from Manchester brought a Australian movie that he thought was killer, and I did quite enjoy it--The Proposition--apparently based on a true story about a family of outlaws, but kinda reminded me of an Australian Apocalypse Now. Slept on the top bunk, and there was a clean bathroom/shower. Very reasonable at $18 a night (and $10 key deposit that you get back).

Next, I’m heading to Delta, CO with Ralph. Before dropping me off, we stop by a City Market to get some supplies. Ralph advises I get the large 30-gallon trash bags to water-proof my stuff. I also pick up a flashlight and sunscreen. He’s hitchhiked some before, says I shouldn’t have any trouble getting rides in the area, as long as I don’t get discouraged. Think I’m all set for some corporate-free traveling!

July 4th –

This was easily my most adventuresome day. Rode 250 miles with 5 different drivers, with an average waiting time of just 15-20 minutes (being in a hitchhiking-friendly area on a holiday weekend probably helped out). All different types of people gave me rides—Amy, a college student, took me to Gunnison. I get a quick 5 minute ride out of town from a couple in their 30s. Next Marcus, a 21-year-old born in Germany but has lived in the US since he was 11, then Hashish and Nidan, graduate students at UF who have a rental car in Colorado for the holiday. (Hashish mentions Into the Wild, and we cover as much ground in our 15 minute conversation as any other ride I have.) Finally, Jeff and Pat, both over 50, give me a lift into Pueblo, where they are meeting some friends to watch fireworks.

I needed a couple of supplies in Gunnison, so I relax there for the morning. It’s a very cool town, about 5,000 people, but basically all of them are coming to the park downtown for 4th of July festivities. The city is small enough to walk wherever you need to go, so the shops downtown aren’t sprawled apart by parking lots. The result is a very welcoming feel to the city. Would love to come back sometime!

After I am dropped off by Jeff and Pat, things get interesting. Turns out to be a bad intersection for rides. The best intersection would be the last one at the edge of town, but I don’t know if this intersection is near the edge of town or not. I stand there and hope to get picked up, but it doesn’t happen. Finally it starts raining a little, then a lot. Still haven’t gotten picked up. Now I’m worried; I break out a poncho, put a trash bag around the outside of my bags, but by now it’s pouring. The poncho isn’t doing a great job of keeping me dry, and I’m worried about my stuff. I’m on the wrong side of the road from nearest shelter. I can carry all my stuff when I can wear my bookbag, but not when things are in trash bags. So I have to carry one bag at a time across the highway, up to a dry area within a carwash right across the street. Drop bag one off, and go back for the other. Fireworks are still going pretty well by now, and I rejoice at at least having found shelter for now and pull out a book. After 15 minutes or so, still enjoying fireworks, I check my stuff. And it’s dry! The trash bags worked completely! Even against the torrential downpour! Total joy! (well maybe some boo-ya pride too—“I am the best homeless person out of all my facebook friends!”) I settle in, read my book, and enjoy the fireworks show going on all around me (apparently no ordinance against fireworks in the city in Pueblo).

The rain stops, the weather’s not too cold or anything (it is July after all), so I walk down the highway a couple miles, and find a suitable area for camping.

July 5th –

Foiled! Got 400 miles in one ride from Pueblo, CO to Wichita, KS, asking to be dropped at the public library at 3 PM, well in time to go online before the 5 PM closing time, hopefully find a craigslist rideshare headed toward TN, GA, or AL. Problem: the Wichita library is closed July 5th because of the 4th of July! Apparently July the 4th is a multi-day event.
Damn! Realized I rely on the internet for basically all of my information and am terrible at getting information from actual people. Took me 35 minutes to figure out there is an I-35 through Wichita. I had been told I must mean highway 135, but finally looked at a map in a gas station. Part of it is I have 2 medium-large bags and one medium-small—fine for walking around if you have an exact place to go, but not good for exploring/trying to gather information about a place.
In the rainstorm, I was still pretending—this is by far the more authentic feeling—“how in the world has life taken me to here?”

It’s harder to stay enthusiastic in the face of an unexpected crisis. I decide to try and talk to some people, get to know about the city. There’s a skate park on Broadway and Kellogg Parkway underneath the overpass. It’s hopping with people, many look high school age. I decide the crowd at the library is probably the better, less dangerous source of information, a conclusion I am later told is correct. I head to the park across from the library where people were earlier. One is still there, sleeping. When he gets up, I start up a conversation—Paul tells me he was there for a weekly pizza dinner that a local church gives out for free to the community. Paul is eager to talk, and I’m eager to listen.
Paul tells me about a few areas where I might sleep. “Best not to let me or anyone else know. Just find a spot out of the way, where you won’t be noticed, and you’ll be fine.” He also talks enthusiastically about other services that local churches provide for the homeless—as Paul put it later, “there’re helping hands in Wichita”—there’s coffee and doughnuts in the morning, a weekly lunch. “They bought me these shoes for free,” he says. “I walked in, someone asked me about the shoes I was wearing, then drove and got me this pair.” Carl walks up and listens in on the conversation. He’s less enthusiastic about the lunch—“Those folks don’t stay around long.”
The Salvation Army will buy you a ticket back to where you’re from, I’m told.
“I mean, I have enough to buy a ticket and all,” I mention.
“But you didn’t tell anyone that,” Paul says without blinking. “People will rob you if they think you have money; not me, but you still shouldn’t let me know.”
“They got someone three weeks ago down a few blocks from here for 75 bucks,” Carl adds. “Popped him when he came around the corner. He was always bragging, talking shit ‘I can afford this, I can afford that.’ He didn’t have to be down here; his parents would have paid for him to live wherever.”

Paul was very insistent that I not trust someone like Carl. “I don’t know him, maybe he’s an honest guy, but nothing’s for free with guys like him. Before long he’ll be asking for money, looking to buy alcohol.”
“You shouldn’t trust anyone down here. People here are always looking for something back, dollar here, dollar there. I’m not like that, I’m helping you because… I dunno, I’m just like that for whatever reason…”
Carl asks me for a couple bucks later. I give it to him. He’s friendly and all, but suspect Paul made a good read.

After Carl leaves, Paul says something that really hit me, changed how I saw my whole journey. He tells me he sleeps beneath a bridge (“open area, public land”) near what society considers a nice neighborhood. “Some of those people, they’re crazy. They’ll get drunk, be cursing, fighting with each other, just mean-spirited. But society accepts them. For people like me, though…”
Police drive them out of parks, businesses don’t let them use the rest room, (well they have one freebie at each place).

Without corporate assistance—here I was purposefully avoiding any corporate assistance, and I run into Paul who is denied the option. Our society’s corporate structure rejects people like him. And that’s the bottom line, despite a free lunch here, free pair of shoes there, people like Paul are perpetually without corporate assistance. What else does our society really offer?

It’s the top-down nature of corporate commercialism that scares me most—the security of the monthly paycheck, and the superficial relevance created by infotainment media. Homelessness is the observable, tangible lack of community, but how about sections of our society? How many of our interactions are like Carl’s, dependent on “getting something back”? The lack of community that characterizes homelessness is the reality that commercial corporatism tries so hard to cover up for the rest of us. It largely succeeds.
The movie Network states it better than I can:

From Network (1976) –

HOWARD BEALE: “We are right now living in what has to be called a corporate society, a corporate world, a corporate universe. This world quite simply is a vast cosmology of small corporations orbiting around larger corporations who, in turn, revolve around giant corporations and this whole, endless, ultimate cosmology is expressly designed for the production and consumption of useless things.”

NARRATOR: “It was a perfectly admissible argument that Howard Beale advanced in the days that followed; it was, however, also a very tedious and depressing one. By the end of the first week in June the Howard Beale show had dropped one point in the ratings, and its trend of shares dipped under forty-eight for the first time since last November.”

It worries me that I think he is right…

Corporate Assistance—addictive, hypnotic, and quite enjoyable. But is it real? Can it be the foundation for meaningful communities?


I wasn’t very tired that night, plus had I lot of thoughts I wanted to digest, so I decide to just stay up until the library opens. Pretty unreasonable I guess, but my options were either that or to hitchhike to I-35 S from downtown. Difficulty is I didn’t really know where I need to go. “I need a ride to a better spot for getting a ride out of town” basically. Or I could read a book sitting near the library until it opens tomorrow at 10AM, 14 hours from now. This is probably more of a rationalization and I’d probably be alright hitchhiking, but like Paul advised me “don’t do anything that would attract attention to yourself down here.”
The deciding factor was that I simply felt more enthusiastic about staying up and reading even though it seems far less reasonable. Authentic enthusiasm is very important to my decision-making, I like to believe, at least.

When the library opened, I bought a ticket home from Greyhound. ($128 because had to be routed through southern Illinois, making a 20 hour drive out of what google maps says is 12 hours). A good writer would have hitch-hiked all the way, probably, not betrayed the loyalty of the reader and all. Or better yet, I could have rode a Greyhound part way, and hitch-hiked the rest of the way in.
But Colorado was an amazing hitch-hiking experience, possibly partly due to it being a holiday weekend, everyone being in a generous mood, and just the overall outdoorsy nature of the state. So perhaps it’s better not to risk being let down by other states, just yet at least. I’ll do the Southeast some other time, when I have lighter bags!

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