Read the whole story in California to Ohio (Unabridged).
Friday, December 15, 2006 (continued)
When a shiny red car pulled over on the side of the entrance ramp, I picked up all my stuff and looked across the street to wave goodbye to Walter. He waved back at me, then I made my way to the passenger-side door to assess the situation. As I spoke to the driver, he told me he was going to Palm Springs, which is only about 20 miles up the road from Banning. Nevertheless, I put my gear in his back seat and joined him in the front.
As Pedro Chacon drove me toward Palm Springs, the conversation flowed. After I told him I was ultimately trying to get to Columbus, Ohio, he told me about a girl he'd dated from Columbus. Like me, she was a Buckeye football fanatic, from what I recall. But that really doesn't matter. What does matter, then?
This is what matters:
Riding with Pedro, exchanging friendly chit-chat, I began to realize that people who stop to pick up hitchhikers are the kindest, friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. Not just because I was hitchhiking and these particular individuals happened to pick me up. No, it goes way deeper than that. What I found over and over with the people who picked me up is that they possess a special kind of concern for their fellow human being that drives them to commit random acts of kindness most people would never even consider doing, beginning with stopping to offer a total stranger a ride. They didn't just do something nice for me; they do nice things for lots of people, on a regular basis.
After the relatively short ride, Pedro dropped me off in the parking lot of a truck stop near Palm Springs. I immediately walked to my home away from home: the interstate on-ramp. The weather in Palm Springs was much nicer than it was in Banning, only 20 miles behind me to the west. The difference was that in Palm Springs there was no wind. None. (That seemed kind of strange because I was right next to all those huge windmills you've probably seen in movies.) And it was probably a few degrees warmer, too. So, fortunately, I did not have to deal with any extra unpleasant intangibles beyond the usual stuff like standing in one place, keeping my head up at all times so everyone could see my face. (More about those aspects of hitchhiking later.)
Within about 20 minutes, a guy stopped to ask me where I was headed. He said he was going to La Quinta, which I think is about 30 miles from Palm Springs. Needing to make a quick decision, I decided to pass on this opportunity because I felt like I was in a good spot to find the ride I was looking for. About 15 minutes later, another guy stopped to ask me where I was headed. He was only going about 10 or 20 miles down the road, so I had to pass on this opportunity, too.
One thing you learn right away when hitchhiking in this manner is that you need to make a lot of very quick decisions. Some questions you need to ask yourself every time someone stops to offer you a ride:
- Does this person seem like a safe driver?
- Is there any chance this person might try to victimize me in any way?
- Does this driver have a personality I can deal with for the next three or four hours?
- Even though this driver might get me down the road a good ways, will he drop me off in a decent place to find another ride?
- Where the fucking hell is La Quinta?
- And so on and so on...
There is so much information to process that you simply cannot make an informed decision. You just have to go with your instinct. But you have to do it instantly, for at least a couple reasons. First of all, you don't want to keep the driver in a hazardous position, as is usually the case when someone pulls over on an on-ramp, due to the on-ramp's narrow width and the fact that most on-ramps don't have much shoulder area. (Many of them have no shoulders at all.) The second reason you have to make such quick decisions is out of courtesy for the driver. You have to assume that they expect you to make a pretty damn quick decision. After all, they are trying to get somewhere themselves, and they really don't need your assistance to get them there.
After the second driver stopped to offer me a ride, I stayed at the on-ramp for maybe another half an hour. By then it had been dark for a little while. Because of the darkness, I figured many of the passing drivers couldn't see me at all, and the rest of them probably couldn't see me clearly enough to decide whether I appeared safe enough to pick up. So I headed back over to the truck stop, where people would be able to get a good look at me without having to make an instant decision. At the truck stop I plopped my ass down pretty close to the main entrance on the "four-wheeler" side, where I then pulled out my spiral notebook and wrote, with a Sharpie:
I AM LOOKING
FOR A RIDE
FOR A RIDE
It looked something like that, anyway. (I usually write in all capitals.)
I placed the notebook on top of my book bag and situated it so people entering the store could easily read it. I didn't bother anyone because my objective was clear for everyone to see and because I didn't want to give the management a good reason to run me off.
After waiting patiently for probably about two hours, a man walked by and asked me where I was trying to go. I responded, "Ultimately Ohio, but right now I'm just trying to get to Quartzsite."
His response at first seemed to be heading in the direction of, "I wish I could help you, but I'm just not in position right now." However, I could see the arrow in his mind turning back the other way. He then said, "Well, I wasn't planning to go all the way to Quartzsite. I'm going to Lake Havasu City, and usually I head north quite a bit before Quartzsite, but I suppose I can take you to Quartzsite."
So I was all like, "Sweet, man" (or something to that effect), as I stood up to follow my new ride, Rudy Montez, to the street, where he had parked his heavy duty pickup truck and trailer.
To continue, read California to Ohio, Part III.
Or read the whole story in California to Ohio (Unabridged).