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Wilco Redux

On Wednesday Amy, Eric, and Sarah and I saw Wilco play an outdoor show on 9th Street. It was pretty good the third best of the four times I’ve seen them. It put me in mind of the first time i’d seen them and one of my more memorable hitchhiking trips.

I had been doing some field organizing work in Missouri and found myself in St Louis on my way to a SEAC regional conference in Mississippi. The day i needed to leave Sarah convinced me i should wait another day so i could see Wilco at Mississippi Nights. I think I was down to my last $5.00 and i really wanted to get to this conference where i was scheduled to do some workshops and I really liked Brian the conference organizer and felt for him doing radical environmentalism in the deep deep south but when Sarah said it would be a date and she would get my ticket i decided to stay. I’d had a big crush back in that era (94-95) but i knew Sarah didn’t mean anything by it we had too different views of relationships and i think she was chasing Jeff Pavlik back then and he was around and we and Jillian i think and some others caught the show and it was great. We were all really into Uncle Tupelo and Wilco was prety knew and it was a kick ass show and i drank way too much beer and i spent $4.00 but was still a little melancholy because it was certainly not a date. We were out late and i couldn’t sleep and i wanted to leave way early as i still had hopes of making Mississippi by the next day. I was crashing at Sarah’s in University City. I woke her at 4:00 to tell her i was leaving. I told her since it was our second date i deserved a kiss and we kissed a sad kiss goodbye and I gave her a Pooh Bear stuffed animal i had dumpstered from the Columbia Good Will and set out walking to the highway.

Hitching out of St Louis is relatively difficult and I had the choice between spending my last dollar on a metro link ride to East St Louis, no picnic, but i’d had good luck there it was on the other side of the city or getting a pack of cigarettes. I voted on the cigarettes and got a buy on get one free special on Mistys of all things. If you took the filters off them they weren’t too bad.

I was still somewhat drunk from the night before and stopped and puked walking toward the highway. I had an old army duffell that i’d been living out of and I had my organizing materials so I was probably packing over 100 #s but I didn’t realize i hadn’t packed any water until i puked. I walked onto the first exit which was dead at sort of pre-dawn in a light mist on a Sunday morning. I started walking down the highway under the assumption that there are more nice people than cops, I was still in Missouri a notoriously tolerant state to hitchhikers, and I was in a hurry. I ended up walking 9 miles down the highway before I got my first ride. I had found a Harley Davidson water bottle half full on the side of the highway. I’d rinsed my mouth out but hadn’t dared drink any but was greatful for the bottle figuring i’d fill it at the next exit with services. I didn’t dump it out, just in case, although I’d never hitched a day without running across a bathroom. There was no real place to pull over the lane came right up next to the raised foot wide cement shoulder i was walking down. A guy in his early 40s in an old beater pulled over and there wasn’t much other traffic so it went pretty smoothly. He was out just cruising, drinking straight out of a pint bottle of Canadian Club Whiskey. We shared his bottle and he agreed to drive me to the first decent exit in Illinois. He ran a small embroidery firm and had been a youthful radical grown jaded and feeling like a sell out. He said he had sewn the patches for the ATF that had killed all those people in Waco not too long ago. We talked a lot of politics and parted too soon at an exit with good traffic but no services. I’d put my buzz back on with the Canadian Club and was feeling pretty good about life again in spite of not getting any water. I started walking again and didn’t go but a couple-few miles before my 2nd ride a guy in his 50s with an Amish type beard in an old beater van pulled over and i was off again. Coincidentally he was drinking a pint of Canadian Club whiskey and I joined him as we cruised across Illinois and maybe Indiana. He was nice, a retired truck driver and when he learned my Pops was a trucker he hung out with me until he got me a ride on his CB. I don’t remember the rides the rest of the day but eventually i hit Cincinnati. I still had some daylight left but I was beat. I’d walked 15 miles been drunk all day and hadn’t had a drink of water. I felt I was getting old. I really needed more miles to have any hopes of getting to Mississippi but i just couldn’t do it. I knew then i was getting old. I’d always prided myself on being able to knock out 20 miles heavily packed, but not that day. I was in some kind of industrial wasteland, I stashed my gear and wandered around looking for water but nothing. I rolled out my bedroll under the overpass and broke out my little sterno stove and the last of my food a pack of ramen noodles. I managed to scare up some wild onions, dandylion greens, and this other edible plant i’d just learned in Missouri but have forgotten and cooked it all up in the Harley Davidson water i was glad i’d saved. At least it was boiled.

I slept torn between utter exhaustion and the roar of highway traffic echoing through the underpass. I was up before dawn packed up and down on the side of I-75, North instead of South. I’d written off Mississippi and decided to go home. I’d never make my conference on time and I was now flat broke. I was a little hungry, but confident. My old Modus Operandi was to stay out hitchin’ till i was flat broke and then head for home. It had never failed that my first ride of the day when i was broke would offer to buy my breakfast. After making a new sign i got a ride after a not intolerable wait though I was in a bit of a construction zone so i couldn’t walk down the interstate, plus i was in Ohio were those kind of shennanigans are not allowed by law enforcement. It was another bearded guy in a van but no Canadian Club. He was a fundamentalist Christian, an active anti-abortion activist. We had some great talks as we puttered through construction traffic headed north. He didn’t try to preach when i told him my christian background and where i had evolved since then, though we did have to agree to disagree on a lot of stuff. We shared some commiseration on our common organizing problems, group dynamics and such and debated pro-choice and gay rights and we both respected the other’s sincerity and compassion in spite of our polar differences. He asked if he could pray before he dropped me off but it was for me to see the truth and have travelling mercies so i could get behind that. He also gave me a fat peanut butter and jelly sandwich which hit the spot. My only gripe with him is he debated changing his route to get me all the way home and then decided it was too far out of the way. He should’ve kept those thoughts to himself and not gotten my hopes up.

After a few piddly rides (I’d finally gotten to some services got cleaned up, filled up my new water bottle, and i still had a few smokes so i was feeling good) i was up in the Lima area when i got picked up by this real smooth looking character in a newish lincoln. Travelling salesman type, with leather seats and in a suit. Turned out he was a gay guy doing a little cruising on his way north. I was a little flattered as he was a good looking guy but still not interested. Except for having to put his hand on his side of the front seat a couple of times he was pretty friendly if a little pushy and it didn’t get really scary. I told him about my first sexual experience as no one rides for free but was strict on the no touching thing. The story must be better than i thought as he gave me $4.00 when he dropped me off. That got me a pack of Marlboros and a Mountain Dew and a couple uneventful rides later I was home.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel
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