Going Solo by wheatpenny ()
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Here is the latest installment of the autobiographical story I began in "Getting Started" (posted earlier in my gallery).
This chapter picks up where "Getting Started" left off. It's not really complete yet, and is not ready for publication, but I thought I'd put it out here and see what people think of it so far.
“Oh, you’re back,” John said as I re-entered the Culvert I had been out walking around Kingman. I spent a short time sitting on a bench in a park with an old steam locomotive in it. We had been in Kingman for about a week.
“Ready to leave town?”, John asked. We had been debating whether to go to Vegas next, or head either east, to New Mexico, or west, back to Los Angeles.
“Sure,” I said. “Where we going, Vegas?”
“No,” Duke said, “me and John want to head west, to L.A.” When we were discussing it the past few days, I mad it clear I did not want to go back to Los Angeles. I had set out to travel around to other places and that was precisely what I intended to do.
“Why L.A.?” I asked.
“I haven’t been there in a few years” Duke said, and John wants to put in a few days work and make a little money for travelling.
“Well I definitely don’t want to go back there,” I said. “For one thing, I don’t want to go back when I haven’t done any travelling yet, and for two, I have a couple arrest warrants there for unpaid fines, and I don’t want to get arrested.”
“It’s not definite yet,” Duke said, “but we’re pretty sure it’s what we’d like to do for now.”
“Well,” I said, “If you guys are going to L.A., then I’m going to set out on my own and head east.” I said.
“Well, if you guys are sure that’s what you want to do then I’ll go ahead and head east this afternoon, “ I said..
“You sure?” Duke asked. “You don’t have much experience travelling alone.”
“I’ll be ok,” I said.
I spent the next couple hours going through my backpack, getting rid of a few things to lighten the load, to make it easier to carry, while Duke gave me some advice about travelling alone.
“Never get into a car if you see alcohol anywhere in the car”, he said, “and don’t get into a car if you feel you don’t trust them for any reason. And never try to jump on or off a moving train until you get enough experience to know what the hell you’re doing.”. He continued like that the whole time.
About 6 PM or so I picked up my backpack and slung it over one shoulder.
“Well, I guess I better get going now”, I said
“Good luck” John said.
“And one more thing,” Duke said, “When you toss things to lighten your load, whatever you do, never get rid of your Bible. You always need that. No such thing as a person that doesn’t need a Bible.”
After saying our good-byes, I walked out of the culvert, and made my way to the nearest I-40 onramp. I set my pack on the ground and took out a piece of cardboard and wrote “New Mexico” on it, then stood by the roadside. After about half an hour a black Dodge Aries stopped. In the front were two younger guys. . “Where you headed” one of them said. “Albuquerque” I said.
“Hop in” he said. I got in the back. “So where are you guys headed” I asked.
“Fort Riley, in Kansas”, the driver said.
“You’re in the Army?” I asked.
“Yep” he said. “we’re headed for our new assignment.
You were stationed in Arizona?” I asked
“Nope. I’m originally from Lake Havasu City; we stopped there on the way to Kansas. That’s where we just came from.”
“Me, I’m just traveling around,” I said. “After Albuquerque I’ll head north to Denver and then I’ll decide when I get there where to go next.”
We stopped for coffee at a Denny’s in Flagstaff. When we were getting ready to leave, I fumbled through my pockets and pretended I couldn’t find my money, so the driver said he’d pay for my coffee.
After we continued, I fell asleep in the back seat. I woke briefly when we stopped at a gas station in Gallup, then I went back to sleep.
Next morning at about 7:30 AM they let me off in Albuquerque, near the University of New Mexico campus. From there I walked to downtown, and asked directions to the public library. I arrived at the library at about 8:30 so I had to wait half an hour before it opened.
In the library I used a phone book to find a rescue mission where I could eat and possibly spend the night. I didn’t know of any specifically,, so I had to guess likely names for it. My first guess, “Albuquerque Rescue Mission”, yielded a result. It was located on 2nd Street in the southwest part of the city. Then I got a map of the city and located it. It was a short walk to the Mission, about 8 blocks. It was in a tan building with a red cross on the wall, and a red sign that said “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation – JESUS SAVES”. The words “ALBUQUERQUE RESCUE MISSION” were on the wall in red letters next to the cross. Remembering its location I went to explore the city. When I saw an autograph dealer’s shop, I remembered a book in my backpack that I had brought with me from home, in case I needed to sell it for more money. It was autographed by Charles Lindbergh. I took it out and took it into the shop “Do you buy autographed books? I asked.
“Depends on the book,” he said, “What do you have?”
I handed him the book. He looked at it, then went to a shelf behind him and got out a book. He opened it and compared the signature to one in the book, then said “Yep, it’s genuine all right.. I can offer you $25”
“Sure,” I said. I didn’t know if that was a fair price or not, but the $25 sounded awfully good right now since I was nearly broke. I put the money in my wallet then thanked him and left.
About noon or so, I headed back toward the mission. I saw a man standing outside the mission.
“What time do they serve lunch?” I asked.
They don’t”, he said, “They just have dinner later on tonight.”
Rather than wait around I decided not to go back to the mission, and to continue on my way instead. I made my way to Interstate 25. Near the Interstate was a Howard Johnson restaurant where I ordered a cup of coffee. There were unlimited refills, so I sat in the restaurant for about 2 hours drinking coffee. About halfway through, I ordered an ice cream cone for which the girl forgot to charge me.
Finally I paid for my coffee and left the restaurant. When I got to the onramp, I set my pack down and took out a cardboard sign on which I wrote “Santa Fe”. Then I sat on my pack, holding the sign in my lap. I pulled out my pipe and lit it
After about half an hour a beat-up blue Ford Galaxie stopped. It was driven by a man and a woman with two kids in the back seat. I got into the back.
“So where you headed?” the driver asked.
“Denver for now,” I said, “then when I get there I’ll decide where to go next”
“So you’re not headed anyplace in particular then?”
“No, not really. I guess I’m just following the road to see where it goes, I said, smiling.
“So what’s a kid your age doing out hitchhiking alone like this?
“I found myself homeless so I decided to take the opportunity to go out and see the country while I have nothing tying me down. I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and I figured that if I don’t do it now, I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing I had, and wondering what would have happened if I had done it.”
“So where you from originally?” the woman asked.
“California. Before I started out, I lived in L.A.”
“We just moved out here from Massachusetts a couple years ago”, he said.
“So which do you like better, here or Massachusetts?” I asked
“Well, the climate here is better and the cost of living is a bit lower,” he said.
They dropped me off at an off-ramp near an overpass, outside Santa Fe. It started raining, so I took cover under the overpass till the thunderstorm was over.
A tan pickup stopped. The driver leaned over and rolled down the passenger window. “I can take you to Glorieta” he said. The entire truck reeked of alcohol, and there were several beer cans in the seat, and I decided not to take a chance riding with someone who was drinking and driving, “No, I’m trying to get a ride all the way to Las Vegas at least, I said (referring to Las Vegas, New Mexico, not Nevada)
After a while, a Mexican couple in a white Honda stopped. They also offered to take me to Glorieta, and I accepted since they, unlike the other guy, didn’t smell like a brewery.
At Glorieta I began walking north on the interstate. Just as it was getting dark, a car stopped. “Need a ride?” the driver asked.
“Sure,” I said. I’m trying to get at least to Las Vegas by tonight.
“I can take you as far as Raton,” he said. “That’s just short of the Colorado state line.”
I thanked him and got into the car.
At Las Vegas we stopped for a soda.
Around 2 AM he dropped me off at an off-ramp in Raton.
I looked around then decided to sleep under the overpass. I walked back down the off ramp and over to the overpass. Stepping over the guardrail, I went behind the supports, and then set my pack on the ground. I took off my glasses and slipped them into my jacket pocket, then lay down on the ground, using my pack as a pillow..
I awoke about five o’clock, just before it got light, and walked back to the off-ramp and up onto the overpass. Looking around, I spotted a small restaurant not too far away, so I walked over to it. I went in and sat at a table in the corner. A waitress came over and I ordered fried eggs and toast, and a cup of coffee.
“Where you headed to?” a trucker sitting at the next table asked.
“Denver for now” I answered.
“Well if you need a ride, I can take you as far as Trinidad.
“Where’s that?” I asked between sips of coffee.
“In Colorado, about 20 miles from here. Just over the state line” he answered. “It ain’t far, but…”
“But it’s 20 miles that I don’t have to walk” I said.
When he finished eating we went out and got into the truck. A few minutes later we passed a brown wooden sign that said “Welcome To Colorful Colorado”.
We stopped at an off ramp in Trinidad. I opened the door and picked up my pack.
“Hold on a sec” he said. He opened a large thermos and poured some coffee into a large Styrofoam cup. “here” he said, handing it to me.
“Thanks” I said, and got out of the truck. The truck roared away. I walked back down onto the interstate where sat on the guardrail and watched the traffic go past as I drank the coffee.
After I finished the coffee I threw the cup behind the guardrail, then unzipped my pack and took out my magic marker and a piece of cardboard and wrote “Denver” on it and then set my pack down and sat on it holding the sign.
After a while a black Chevy Nova stopped. The driver rolled down the passenger window. “I can take you all the way to Denver” he said.
“Thanks” I said as I got into the car. I noticed a “Jesus saves” keyring on his car key. “You a Christian?” I asked.
“Yeah”, he said.
“Cool, so am I” I said.
We stopped for gas in Colorado Springs and he pointed out Pike’s Peak in the distance, and the chapel at the Air Force Academy which could be seen from the interstate.
Around noon or so we arrived in Denver and he let me off somewhere near the edge of town.
I asked directions to the public library from several people but none of them seemed to know where it was (one of them said he didn’t know if Denver had a library).
Finally, I asked some kids who were playing in a park and one of them told me the location of a branch library and there a woman at the desk told me that the central library was on the corner of Broadway and 14th Ave, downtown. I looked at a map and located it then set out.
I finally found it, just past the State Capitol building which I stopped to look at before continuing on to the library. A security guard told me I couldn’t bring my backpack into the library so I went outside and stashed it in some bushes near the entrance. Then I went back inside and asked the woman at the desk where the phone books were. I found the place and got the one for Denver and decided to try to find a homeless shelter. Guessing that there might be one called “Denver rescue Mission” I tried that and found a listing for it, located at 23rd and Lawrence Streets. I located it on a map and memorized a route to it from the library then I left the library. I recovered my pack and set out to try to find it. On Lawrence Street I saw a man who looked like he might be homeless so I asked him what time the rescue mission served lunch. “Too late”, he said, “you missed it, but the VOA serves lunch in about half an hour.”
“VOA?” I asked.
“Volunteers of America” he said, pointing the opposite direction from which I had been walking “On Lawrence Street, up that way”. I found my way there and sat down outside with about twenty-five or so other people to wait for them to open. After about fifteen minutes they opened and we went upstairs to a large room filled with chairs. We sat down and after a few minutes there was a short church service after which they passed out baloney sandwiches and coffee.
About 3 PM I decided to leave town and continue on my way so I made my way to Interstate 25 and sat down at the onramp and took out my Denver sign and turned it over and wrote “Wyoming” on the back then I sat down to wait. From where I sat I could see the Denver skyline. I noticed one building that stood out because the top was shaped rather strange, round-topped with a sort of projection on the top. It reminded me of a giant cash register.
After a while a brown van stopped and the driver offered to take me to Ft. Collins which was about three quarters of the way to the Wyoming state line. I thanked him and got into the van. It was a really nice van, customized with carpet, bucket seats, and other amenities.
After a while, around sunset we reached Ft. Collins and he dropped me off on a street called E. Mulberry Street, which was apparently part of state highway 14. I started walking back toward the Interstate looking for a place to camp I came to a gas station where I stopped to use the bathroom. When I came out the station was closed. A few feet down the road I decided to sleep in a depression in the center of the median in some long grass where I couldn’t be seen by passing cars.
I got up next morning not long after sunrise and started back down the road. As I walked I looked at the Rocky Mountains in the distance ahead, then it suddenly occurred to me that if the mountains were in front of me then I was walking west and the Interstate was east. For the past half hour I’d been walking the wrong way! I turned around and headed the other way.
After a while I reached the Interstate. I decided to walk and hitchhike at the same time. I walked most of the day until a car stopped and offered to take me to Cheyenne. About an hour or so later we passed a brown wooden sign that showed a silhouette of a cowboy riding a bucking horse and it said “Howdy! You’re in big Wyoming!” (The sign has since been changed, but at the time these events happened that is what it said).
We reached Cheyenne at 4 PM or so and the driver let me off near where Interstates 25 and 80 met. I walked into town and decided to have a look around. In front of the capitol building was a statue of a woman and on the pedestal said that Wyoming was the first government in the world to grant women equal rights. I went into the Capitol building but was told by a security guard that it was getting ready to close. I left and returned to the Interstate. I decided to try to head east to Nebraska. There was hardly any traffic at all on Interstate 80. I thought how hard it was to believe that this was the same freeway that ran through northern California and was so crowded with traffic. Around 6 PM or so I still hadn’t gotten a ride. I heard a train whistle sound two blasts, which meant that a train was about to depart. I noticed an eastbound freight train with several open boxcars. I ran over to it. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, I then climbed into one of the boxcars and walked to the back of the car where I couldn’t be seen from the door. This was my first time in a boxcar so I looked around at the interior. The floor was made of boards and the walls were plywood. The ceiling was just the underside of the roof. After a few minutes the train started moving. It was sometime after dark when it finally stopped. I threw my backpack to the ground then jumped out of the boxcar and found myself in a trainyard.
I quickly grabbed my backpack and shouldered it then started running across the trainyard, jumping over the rails. Two tracks over, my way was blocked by a string of cars. I walked alongside of it till I came to a boxcar, the doors of which were open on both sides. I placed my hands on the bottom of the door and heaved myself up, then swung my leg up and pulled myself into the car. Then I hurried across and jumped out the door on the other side. I stumbled slightly, and leaned forward to steady myself, allowing the backpack to act as a counterweight. Then I ran across one more track. The next track was occupied by another string of cars. This time, they were plug-door boxcars, all the doors of which were closed. (Plug-door boxcars are designed in such a way that the brakes on the car cannot be released unless the doors are closed and locked). I walked between two of the cars and took hold of the grab-iron on the end of the car, then stepped up onto the coupler. Pausing briefly on top of the coupler I jumped to the ground on the other side then continued on my way. Then three tracks further over I was again blocked by another string of cars. I approached the nearest car, .a tank car. I climbed up the short ladder on the end of the car and crossed the platform then hurried down the ladder on the other side. Then running across the last 4 tracks, I finally reached a six-foot chainlink fence that marked the edge of the trainyard. Taking off my backpack, I tossed it over the fence, then grabbed hold of the metal bar along the top of the fence. I looked around myself and saw in the distance the glare from a flashlight. That only meant one thing. Trouble. A railroad cop (commonly referred to as a ‘bull’) was patrolling the trainyard, looking for, among other things, hobos and other trespassers. Placing the toe of my boot into the mesh of the fence, I quickly pulled myself up, so that my waist was level with the top of the fence, then doubled over the top of the fence and pulled my legs over and jumped down to the ground.
Now safely outside the trainyard, the bull posed no further threat, so I was able to move at a more leisurely pace. I lifted the backpack and set it upright on the ground then brushed the dirt off of it, and inspected it for damage. A small rip that wasn’t there before, (probably from when I had thrown it from the boxcar), but no serious damage. I lifted the pack and put my arms through the shoulder straps, then started walking along the fence, and decided to look for a place to sleep. I turned off the road into a field where I slept in some long grass.
Next morning I woke up as sunrise and ate two baloney sandwiches for breakfast then made my way into the town. I saw a water tower which identified the town as being called North Platte.
After a few hours of searching thru the phone book I couldn’t find a homeless shelter or a mission so I decided to leave town. I found my way to the Interstate. There was a sign of a thumb crossed out which I assumed to mean ‘No Hitchhiking’, but I decided to try anyway. By noon I still had not gotten a ride so I decided to try to catch a train instead. I walked along the tracks looking for an eastbound train, but found none so I decided to try to get back to Cheyenne instead. I headed west along the tracks till I came to the trainyard. I skirted the edge of the trainyard. Just on the other side was a train that was coming out of the trainyard. It stopped just outside the yard so I ran up to it. It consisted of boxcars and piggyback cars. The boxcars were all closed so I climbed aboard one of the piggyback cars. Sometime in the middle of the night the train stopped in a small town whose name I didn’t know. After about half an hour it continued. In I dozed off and woke up with a start when the train stopped. It was just starting to get light and so I got off the train. Looking around I realized that I was back in Cheyenne, not far from where I had boarded the other train two days before. Just up the interstate was a roadside rest stop where I sat down at a table inside a little shelter that looked like a sort of hut, where I made some baloney sandwiches. I spent the day walking around Cheyenne and looking in the phone book for a homeless shelter. I was unable to find one so at sunset I went back to the rest stop. There was a sign there that said there was a four hour time limit to stay in the rest stop, so after I used the restroom and ate a baloney sandwich I left to look for a place to sleep. I walked south on Interstate 25 for a few yards then crossed the road and wandered into some shoulder-high grass where I curled up and went to sleep.
Early next morning I was still asleep when I felt something on my ear that felt like a dog or something sniffing me. I ignored it at first then after a few minutes I sat up quickly. The sun was just rising. The grass around me was trampled down a little. I stood up and looked around. About 500 or so feet away was a herd of antelopes. Apparently they had passed through where I was sleeping. I got up and walked back to the Interstate.
I crossed the Interstate and went back to the rest stop where I ate breakfast – baloney sandwiches again - then I went back down to the Interstate.
Image Comments (1)
I'm so glad to see you posting another installment of your story! You're giving me a peek into an unfamiliar lifestyle, and I'm enjoying it very much. We drove from Kansas City through the middle of Nebraska and then west on 80 all the way through Wyoming a couple years ago, and I can picture your landscape quite nicely. I'll look forward to more. You've lived an interesting life!