After staying with my longtime friend Jeff Norris in Beaumont, California for about two weeks, it was time for me to hit the road once again, in an attempt to make it home in time to spend Christmas with my family. Jeff’s house is conveniently located only a couple hundred feet from Interstate 10, which was good because I had been hoping to follow I-10 pretty far east. Mostly I wanted to follow I-10 because I figured I could expect reasonably warm weather along I-10 through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, whereas I-40 or I-70 would almost certainly keep me in considerably colder temperatures. But I also wanted to follow I-10 because I enjoy the cities and sights of I-10.
Another reason I didn't want to take I-70 is that I really don't like being in the state of Kansas. In fact, I swore about ten years ago that I would NEVER set foot in Kansas again. Unfortunately, I had to break that promise to myself once I agreed to help Patrick Johnson with his illegitimate and unsafe "business venture." (As of 1/2/2007, I still have not been paid for my work. You better watch out for the IRS, Patrick, because they will be coming after you very soon if you don't pay me the full amount you promised.) Anyway, there was just no way I was going to head right back through Kansas. Not a chance.
As I prepared to leave California, I had some vague plans regarding how I wanted to make my way home. First I wanted to stop in Quartzsite, Arizona to see my pal Otis Gunn, who lives there in the winter months, operating a pizza trailer near the town's swap meets. I figured I'd stay in Quartzsite maybe a night or two, then try to head east as quick as I could, in hopes of spending a day in New Orleans to witness the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. If New Orleans was in the condition I expected, I wanted to document how little the US government seems to care about the welfare of poor American people. I wanted to see if there are still refrigerators resting on tree branches a year and a half after it all happened. I wanted to see a lot of things, just to experience what the pictures haven't been able to show me. But even if I was able to make it to New Orleans in time to spend a day there, I knew I would have to start heading north, toward Ohio, right away.
Friday, December 15, 2006
I think it was about 2:00 PM when I finally headed out the door from Jeff's house. Even though I was physically out the door, I wasn't actually gone yet because Jeff and his friend Dave Jones were about to give me a ride a few miles down the road to Banning, California, near the Morongo Indian Reservation (and casino). We all figured that particular exit would be a good place for me to catch a ride to (or toward) Quartzsite.
After saying thanks and goodbye to Jeff and Dave in the A&W parking lot, I walked a couple hundred feet to the I-10 interchange. But before I could make it to my ultimate hitching post—the eastbound entrance ramp—I was sidetracked by an older gentleman (John Martin) holding up some large print advertisements for exiting westbound travelers to see. (Apparently he was doing it for some cult-like religious group that "helps" the area's reasonably large homeless population. He did not seem homeless himself, though.) I talked to John for about half an hour before finally walking the rest of the way to the eastbound entrance ramp to catch a ride to wherever.
There was another guy holding up the same kind of sign next to the eastbound exit ramp. I didn't talk to him, though, because my path did not take me past him.
Before long, yet another fellow showed up and stationed himself directly across the eastbound exit ramp from Sign Guy #2. As he approached the ramp, I noticed he was pulling a smallish dolly or carrier of some sort. Shortly it became clear to me that he was selling something, because exiting drivers were stopping to talk to him, then making exchanges through their open windows.
Eventually, after the sign guy had been picked up by his cult masters, I decided to take a break from hitchhiking to find out what my merchant neighbor was selling. I felt it was safe to leave all my stuff at my post, but I took the camcorder with me, in case he had anything interesting to say.
It turns out that my interchange cohort, Walter Dexter, was selling fresh mistletoe, which he does every year during the Christmas season. He even gave me one. Although I had to keep our conversation pretty short so I could resume my hitchhiking position across the street, I really enjoyed talking to Walter. He is one of many amazingly friendly people I met on the road, and I think it may have been this encounter that made me start realizing just how lucky I was to be out on my own like this, living a simple, vagabond life.
After I headed back to my spot, the heavy winds began making the nice California day feel not-so-nice. The temperature was probably in the 60s or so, but that wind really has a way of making it feel a lot colder, especially as the sun approaches its setting point late in the afternoon. Not to worry, though, for two reasons: 1) Because before I left Jeff's house, Dave gave me a hooded sweatshirt; and 2) Because I'd have a ride within a half-hour or so.
To continue, read California to Ohio, Part II.
Or read the whole story in California to Ohio (Unabridged).