This was one of our most informative rides, at least about one particular topic: traveling kids and their societal counterparts. One of our drivers had traveled extensively by many means. She had hitchhiked, train-hopped, driven around in a van and crossed the country several times over before she turned 16. She didn’t consider us true travelers because we have money to support ourselves. Therefore, we will never really be “traveling kids.” Traveling kids are young people who just have an itch to travel and when they hear a train whistle blowing, they want to hop on that train. They don’t think about how they’re going to get by, they just go. What I am writing is not necessarily my opinion, but what I understood from what she was telling us.
Regarding how she decides whether or not to pick up hitchhikers, she said she is much more likely to pick up two people traveling together. Amongst traveling kids, the term for your travel companion is “road dog.” She is also more likely to pick people up if they look basically put-together. That is, if they have bags, and their stuff seems compact and packed away and isn’t too raggy looking. But mostly she goes by intuition when deciding whether or not to pick someone up.
She warned us a lot to think of all the potential bad situations we could get into while hitchhiking, so that we would have a plan in place in case something happened. She gave us several possible scenarios of things that could go wrong pretty quickly and easily. She didn’t tell us any horror stories, but from her indications I gathered she had many. She told us we looked pretty fresh, or something like that. She said her nickname on the road is Mama, because that is the role she tends to take.
I take her advice to heart. I want to be prepared for the worst, just in case. Having a plan in place for how Brendan and I will get in touch with each other or find each other in case we get separated is a good idea, and it isn’t something we’ve talked much about. But I also think that because of the way we look, we get treated differently than traveling kids. Several people who have picked us up told us that the only reason they did is because we looked normal, or because we looked like them (read, clean and white). The peace corps volunteers even thought we looked like European travelers and that helped determine their decision to stop. I’m just guessing on this, but I think our encounters with police have been more positve than most traveling kids’ encounters with police for this same reason. Our driver said a lot of young people who are traveling are wanted in some way back in their home states. That would automatically make them incredibly wary of police. But when police stop to ask Brendan and me questions about why we’re hitchhiking, we come across as innocent because we don’t have anything on our records, so they just tell us to move or to be more surreptitious, or they drive us to another spot. We are travleing by hitchhiking because we want to legitimize hitchhiking for the masses. We are not doing it because it is our last resort or in order to gain any street cred.
The other member of the couple giving us the ride is a writer. Her girlfriend said she is a great person to talk to about publishing, and I’m hoping we can keep in contact with both of them in the future. They dropped us off at the exit before I-5 meets 405. We stood by the northbound entrance and made a sign that said “405” because people getting on could be doing one or the other. About 10 minutes later, a young man driving towards the southbound entrance across the street pulled over and yelled across four lanes of traffic, “Where are you going?” We said, “Huntington Beach,” and he motioned for us to come over. Turned out he was just off work and was almost home, but he saw us and wanted to help us out, so he drove us directly to the address we were trying to get to. It was so nice of him. We’ve encountered so many people who have gone out of their way to help us get where we’re going.
So cool! The one sidewalk star we got a closeup on was “Spanky" McFarland. We thought that might be a porn star name, but it turns out he was one of the characters on “Our Gang.”