Home > hitchhiking, travel > Up North part 2: first days’ rides

Up North part 2: first days’ rides

The sedan was driven by a Korean gentleman in his 40s. A lot of people who pick up hitchhikers are internationals because frequently hitchhiking is more culturally appropriate in other countries. He was on his way to Mount Pleasant to hit the casino there. After we made small talk he gave me his card: Kim, Hyunjoo: Media and Communication Arts Associate Professor at Kwangoon University. He told me he was on a yearlong sabbatical as a visiting scholar at Michigan State where he had done his doctoral work. His research specialty was new media, the internet, cell phones and such. I told him no one on a cell phone had ever picked me up, they already had someone to talk to you. He wasn’t surprised.

He asked me if I had ever been to Korea and I told him I had heard Koreans didn’t like Americans. He agreed this was so but quickly added they were very sorry about the terrorist attacks and actually passed on his condolences. He then said that now Americans knew how it feels in the rest of the world. He talked about his childhood years, spent in air raid drills and Kim Il-sung’s threats to turn Seoul into a “fiery pit of rubble”.

I asked him about the Sunshine Policy, as much to prove I wasn’t an ignorant American as to find out his views. He spoke with a passion that surprised me denouncing it as a stupid idea as it strengthens Kim the Younger’s hand. “There are 27 million people in North Korea but he only has to make 1.3 million happy to stay in power with gifts and favors, no?”

We talked of language acquisition and Chomsky’s idea that it’s nearly impossible to learn a language properly after puberty. His English was excellent but he bemoaned the fact that he could not express the subtleties of his thoughts in English. He claimed it wasn’t a problem as a student but his thoughts are more complex now and he struggles to find a way to express them.

All too soon we were at Mt. Pleasant and he thanked me for making 70 miles very short. I thanked him for saving me from a very desolate exit. I took an opportunity to piss at the local McDonalds and quickly crossed the street to the top of the on ramp heading north. A lot of hitchhikers had worked this on ramp judging by the huge number of cigarette butts and candy wrappers.

After a short wait a long haired guy in his 20s pulled over his van and offered me a ride to Claire, The Gateway of the North. He claimed to be a welder but was on his way to Claire to install a furnace. We talked about the war after I mentioned that I thought rides had been bad because of the threat of terrorism. He claimed he had a brother in the Special Forces-Marines and he has been sent to parts unknown for at least a year. He also claimed the FBI was looking for two suspects who had been seen videotaping the Soo Locks. He offered me a Basic Menthol, which I took, though I’d rather have smoked another of my Winstons.

The Claire exit was not as busy as Mount Pleasant but still looked promising. Nonetheless I scanned the area for places to possibly bed down as the short days of October can easily leave you stranded. The 220 acres of scrubby pine looked promising and there was an array of fast food joints as well in case I came to live at this exit. Idle speculation as it turned out.

After a short while a beater pulled over with a couple of small flags prominently displayed. This poked a hole in the thesis I’d been turning over in my head about hitchhiking in a post 9/11 world. My theory was that flag waivers would not stop for a hitchhiker because jingoism is based in fear. But this guy was not your typical flag waiver. He had numerous jailhouse tattoos for example with the heart on his right cheek especially striking.

He immediately began a tweeker type spiel about how he was a trader and he liked to trade stuff. All without barely even a nod from me, he told me he had this hunting knife that he just knew I should have and he started reaching desperately under the seat in a way that was nothing short of alarming, even if he were just looking for a pack of smokes and not a knife. Not coming up with it he immediately pulled over on the side of the interstate quickly damping my secret joy at the not finding of the knife. He comes up with the knife, sees my barely restrained alarm, and assures me he is not going to cut my throat. He tossed it to me buckled safely in its leather sheaf. I am pleased to have it in my possession and in his near monologue on the sale of the knife it comes down from $10 to $5. I counted my singles, have five and buy the damn thing. I certainly wasn’t going to hand it back. He asked me if I have any drugs and I told him I had Maxalt, migraine medication that makes your joints ache and gives you a three day hangover, just to fuck with him. He asked, “what’s the buzz like?”

He is only heading as far as Harrison and he insists on dropping me off on the interstate just before the exit even as I tried to tell him I was staying off the interstate and he was going to the top of the exit anyway. I get out stuffing my new knife into my front pocket. Instant felony sure, carrying a concealed weapon, but it’s better than waving it around on the side of the highway. I pulled out my pocket size steno pad and jot down his plate number TVQ 771, just in case, as he pulled off. Of course a State Trooper then immediately rolled by slowly, but he kept on going by me and my big old hunting knife.

Categories: hitchhiking, travel
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