EDWARD J. ZULKEY
THE CHICAGO LITERARY CLUB
4 February 2013
I think most people often wonder why they did various things in their life, especially when young. On reflection, it often seems we engaged in activities which later seem totally inconsistent with our general make-up.
In August of 1962, I was about to enter my freshman year of high school at Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles, Illinois and was trying out for football. I lived on the northwest side of Chicago, just off Milwaukee Avenue, as was Notre Dame. It was a straight shot, as they say. However, back then, buses did not go from one town to another and the suburban bus ran only every 30 minutes. Although there was a school bus, it did not run during the summer or even in the school year if one had to stay later.
Nevertheless, I left home for my first practice fully intending to take the two buses. I took the CTA until the "end of the line" and started waiting for the United Motor Coach bus to arrive. With no premeditation, I found myself sticking out my thumb. I must have been successful as that became my routine for the rest of the summer and every evening through the next two school years. It was also my routine to get home from my next summer's job in Maywood, Illinois. Eventually, it led to several interstate trips which I will later discuss.
Initially, however, I would like to spend some time looking at the history of hitchhiking, its place in American culture, how that may have influenced my behavior and some of the key elements of hitchhiking.
The etymology of the term "hitchhiking" is unclear. The term "hitching" usually means to tie or connect, like a plow. So it is possible that it is like connecting a hiker to a vehicle. According to Elijah Wald, who wrote a book on hitchhiking in 2006, (Riding With Strangers), long after my hitchhiking career was over, the term "hitchhiking" first appeared in a magazine in 1923 (The Nation).
The attempt to obtain free rides certainly goes back to the horse and carriage era. I seem to recall both Oliver Twist and Tom Jones obtaining free rides into London in horse-drawn carts. However, the common use of the practice really started in the United States with the advent of the automobile. Once highways were built and automobiles started driving longer distances, hitchhiking became extremely popular. In 1921, a man named J. K. Christian was admitted as a member of the Chicago Adventurers Club by hitching 3,023 miles in 27 days.
While hitchhiking became more common with the development of highways in the 1920s, it really took off in the Great Depression. The New Deal even set up a Transient Bureau for hobos and hitchhikers which established over 300 centers across the country. Hitchhiking started to be referenced in works of fiction like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men and the movie Sullivan’s Travels. However, the quintessential portrayal of hitchhiking in this era was in the movie It Happened One Night. Just as recently as November, 2012, when Ginger Strand wrote an opinion in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times entitled Hitchhiking's Time Has Come Again, the opinion featured a hitchhiking photo from this movie.
Just in case anyone here has not seen it, It Happened One Night is a 1934 American romantic comedy film directed by Frank Capra. The film was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), a feat that would not be matched until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and later by The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Spoiled heiress Ellen "Ellie" Andrews (Claudette Colbert) marries fortune-hunter "King" Westley against the wishes of her extremely wealthy father who has the marriage annulled. She runs away by jumping off their yacht in Miami and boards a bus to New York City to reunite with her new spouse, when she meets fellow bus passenger Peter Warren (Clark Gable), an out-of-work newspaper reporter. Warren recognizes her and gives her a choice: if she will give him an exclusive on her story, he will help her reunite with Westley. If not, he will tell her father where she is and collect the reward offered for her return. Ellie agrees to the first choice.
Not long after the trip begins, Ellie is recognized and they have to leave the bus and journey on foot. After sleeping in a hay field, Peter tells Ellie they need to hitchhike. She expresses total ignorance of this mode of transportation and Peter says, "typical." She retorts “I suppose you’re an expert.” Peter then says he is thinking of writing a book on it called “The Hitchhiker’s Hale.” He proceeds to show Ellie three different styles of how you display your thumb which show either your dire need or ability to tell the latest story of “the Farmer’s Daughter.” Of course, when he actually tries out his methods, he is a complete failure which even prompts Peter to say “I guess I better forget writing that book after all.” Ellie then says “do you mind if I try?” and Peter scoffs. Ellie then proceeds to stand on the side of the road and, when a car approaches, she lifts up her skirt and the driver comes to a screeching stop. As an aside, Claudette Colbert initially refused to play this scene, but eventually changed her mind rather than have a double show off what would purport to be her leg. After getting the ride, the driver eventually tries to drive off with their luggage, but Peter is successful in chasing him down. Ultimately, after some snags that result in Ellie actually remarrying Westley, she runs from the altar and Peter and Ellie eventually get married. Although this has always been one of my all-time favorite movies, I am unaware of any impact it made on my decision to become a hitchhiker.
There was also a famous hitchhiking drama that I saw in late grammar school that should have played a discouraging role in choosing to hitchhike at all. It is The Hitch-Hiker (not to be confused with a movie by the same name which I will mention later). The story is quite eerie, to say the least. I know it as a Twilight Zone episode (Season 1, Episode 16, 1960, to be precise). However, the original was done on radio in the 1940s on several occasions with Orson Welles always in the lead. I re-watched the Twilight Zone episode in preparation of this paper and it still gave me goose bumps.
The story begins with Nan (or Ron in the Orson Welles versions) Adams having her tire changed on the roadside. We learn there was a blowout and Nan is told she's lucky to be alive. Immediately after she continues on her journey, she sees a hitchhiker who does nothing at all menacing, but somehow frightens her. She drives on, but continues to see the same hitchhiker at different points on the road. She eventually believes he is trying to kill her. She wonders how he can always be ahead of her. At one point, she picks up a soldier on leave and offers to drive him far out of her way just for protection. However, when she keeps asking the soldier if he sees the ghostly hitchhiker, the soldier abandons the ride rather than stay with her. Finally, she calls her mother, only to learn from a nurse who answers the phone, that her mother had had a nervous breakdown as a result of her daughter's sudden death from a blowout. Nan now realizes she was in fact killed from the tire blowout. She is now reconciled that she needs to seek out the hitchhiker and, in the final scene, the hitchhiker is seen sitting in the back seat and says "I believe we're going the same way."
Back in 1960, I doubt I pondered over what the metaphor was for this hitchhiker. After all, "77 Sunset Strip" came on immediately afterwards. Now I realize that the hitchhiker is the Grim Reaper, who severs the last ties of the deceased from the living and guides him or her to the netherworld. Nan was resisting this trip by passing by the hitchhiker, but it was inevitable that she pick him up. I think we can agree this story would not have encouraged me to embark on a hitchhiking career.
One source, however, that may well have had at least a subliminal impact on my decision to try hitchhiking could have been the classic "beat manifesto" On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, On the Road describes events in the late 1940s. It was written in 1951, but not published until 1957. The New York Times immediately hailed it as the most important utterance of the "beat" generation.
Not to digress, but, until preparing this paper, I never really thought about the derivation of the terms "the beat generation" or "beatnik." To my surprise, there is no agreement on their derivation or meaning. Some say "beat" refers to weariness. Others say it refers to either music itself or answering to its own beat. In any case, the movement's main credo was to break from social convention.
Although On the Road is written as a novel, it relates the actual adventures of characters who are all identifiable in real life. Apart from Kerouac, the most recognizable is Alan Ginsberg. However, Neal Casaday, who was himself a prominent member of the "beat" movement, is the main character under the name Dean Moriarty. Time Magazine ranks On the Road as a top 100 novel for the period 1923 to 2005. However, not everyone liked this book. Truman Capote said it was not writing at all; just typing. In rereading it for this paper, I confess it is difficult reading. However, its fame derived from its feeling of exuberance and adventure. I still recall what captured me reading it as a young man and it related directly to its title, On the Road.
In the early part of the book, many of the adventures involve hitchhiking and spontaneous road trips. Indeed, apart from the "beat" aspect, no novel is more connected with hitchhiking than On the Road. Some quotes give one the flavor of the book.
First, Jack Kerouac's character describes the people he likes:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
As to the road he says:
"Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
"There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars."
"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
In the final analysis, however, I have no idea to what extent reading On the Road influenced me to hitchhike, but reading it certainly did have an impact. It was cool; I may have thought it made me cool.
I would next like to focus on various aspects of hitchhiking. Those are motivation, technique, safety, legality and quid pro quo.
Why does anyone hitchhike? The most obvious reason is economics. It saves the cost of other modes of hired transportation. However, inaccessibility of other transportation, impatience and adventure all figure in as well. While it often takes great patience to hitchhike, it often is impatience which leads one to thumb. I think impatience is what caused me to first try it; my impatience waiting for the bus. Still, there is nothing like the adventure. I hitchhiked for adventure on several occasions even when I could have received a ride with someone I knew. Overall, I would say that inaccessibility to convenient public transportation was my main motivation for local hitchhiking. Economics and adventure were the drivers, so to speak, for my interstate hitchhiking.
As the Clark Gable incident in It Happened One Night indicates, getting a ride is not always easy. You need traffic and the ability of the car to stop. However, the movie also raises whether technique plays any role in obtaining a ride.
In regard to technique, I doubt how you hold your thumb matters much in terms of hitching success and, while “the leg” technique worked for Ms. Colbert, I doubt it works for most and exacerbates the safety issue we will address in a minute. However, there are certain ways a hitchhiker can enhance his or her chances of getting a ride. The first is to look presentable. The driver wants initial comfort that you are not a serial killer. I tried to always have some identifiable school logo information and I usually carried the book I was reading at the time in a manner that the driver could see. Next, if hitchhiking cross-country, a sign was extremely helpful. It may eliminate a short ride or two, but it greatly increased the odds of the long ride, the hitchhiker’s dream. However, I should add that signage is controversial in that some say it discourages the short ride. The author I mentioned earlier once recommended adding the phrase to the sign after destination "but no ride is too short." I believe the sign should simply state the destination in letters easy for the driver to read.
This raises two other issues: refusing a short ride, and should you walk while hitchhiking? My philosophy was to never turn down a ride, no matter how short. Sometimes, you needed multiple rides and never could know for sure if the long ride would ever come.
As to walking while hitchhiking, I always felt this was a mistake unless you were prepared to walk the entire way or wanted to reach a strategically better location for hitchhiking. Walking suggested you were not really committed to the ride. In the case of cross-country hitchhiking, on the interstate, I believed in getting out at the last rest stop before the current ride was exiting and hitchhiking there with my sign.
While not a technique per se, the amount of hitchhikers greatly impacts success. Not surprisingly, being alone is best and two is second best. I once hitchhiked, as I will describe below, with two other friends from New York to Boston, and do not recommend it. However, from the hiker's perspective, it is the safest.
The worst situation is to have a competing hitchhiker. Sometimes I would come to a rest area and there would already be someone hitching. I recall several times on the street seeing someone ahead or behind. What can you do? Are there ethics involved? Is there honor among thieves, so to speak? When this happened locally, I would usually move on, at least past the next stop light. This left the territory to the first hitchhiker, but I would at least get the benefit of turners from the crossing street. On a highway rest stop, you could either move to different sections of the rest stop or just wait your turn.
Of course, going back to It Happened One Night, having a pretty girl with you would not hurt in getting a ride. In that regard, my final hitchhiking foray was in January of 1979 during the great blizzard. I am sure my wife’s obvious pregnant condition was a definite asset in getting a ride. No, it was not a pleasure trip, but trying to get to the train.
I would next like to take up safety, both from the perspective of the hitcher and the driver. By safety, I mean both the condition of the car or how fast one goes, but primarily actual intent to harm. Oddly enough, I actually never experienced the latter and recall only one time when the driver raised the issue. I will later relate one time where the safety of the car was an issue.
In one of our rides from New York to Boston, the driver kept saying "you guys better not try anything funny" and said he had a gun in the glove compartment. Since one of us was directly behind him and another next to him directly in front of the glove compartment, we assumed he was just saying that and nothing ever came of it. In other words, this incident says more about driver safety than hitchhiker safety. One has to wonder why would this guy ever have picked three of us up? The answer is likely some combination of loneliness and wanting to stay awake overcame any fear. Or maybe he was just a nice guy. I will take this up again when discussing quid pro quo. In terms of the driver’s safety, the safety factor of having only one hitchhiker is one reason it is more successful. It is also one reason why appearance is in and of itself a technique.
In terms of the hitcher’s safety, here is one occasion where more than one hiker helps. I liked to think I would have evaluated a high risk. However, maybe I was just lucky, but I actually never recall turning down a ride. Indeed, my wife did remind me of another occasion where we were forced to hitchhike and desperation won over common sense. We were out on a Sunday night when co-eds still had a curfew and it turned out my parked car was totally blocked by another car. She was in danger of a curfew violation so we hitchhiked. We were offered a ride by some "young adults" with open liquor in the car and loud music playing. Partly, we were desperate to get back and partly afraid what might happen if we did not accept. It turns out they were nice guys and the trip went without incident.
In terms of driver safety, however, there are two famous incidents which demonstrate the risk a driver takes on in picking someone up.
In In Cold Blood, Truman Capote relates the stories of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock and their cold-blooded murders of the Clutter family in Nebraska. They are on the run after killing the Clutter family. They needed to travel and needed money. Therefore, they hitchhike with the intention to murder and rob whomever picked them up, which they did. It was totally random.
Similarly, there is the case of Billy Cook, a psychopathic murderer who savagely murdered six people on a 22-day rampage between Missouri and California in 1950-51. This included a family with three children. It involved three separate hitchhiking events.
On December 12, 1952, Cook was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison. At the time of his execution he said "I hate everybody's guts and everybody hates mine." Cook was known for the words "H-A-R-D L-U-C-K" tattooed on the fingers of his left hand and for a deformed right eyelid that never closed completely. This story also became the subject of a movie called The Hitchhiker.
When I think of Messers. Perry, Hickock and especially Cook, two points come to mind. Even though the driver makes the initial decision and selection (i.e. does not have to stop), it is still the driver who is normally more at risk than the hitchhiker. Second, what were these people thinking when they picked these guys up? Once again, appearance, circumstances and common sense should play a big role in the decision to stop or get in.
The whole issue of safety also raises some issues about the legality/illegality of hitchhiking. The law has evolved over time and differs from state to state. Initially, hitchhiking was unregulated, but by the late 1930s some states had outlawed it for "safety reasons." One rationale was to protect the driver. Another was to protect the hitchhiker. Some statutes simply ban "hitchhiking." Typical of most statutes, most hitchhiking statutes use obtuse language to ban the solicitation of a ride alongside a road. In this regard, I was told in my day that one could not hitchhike along the road or close to a highway entrance or exit, but it was permissible in an oasis. Some laws only restrict solicitation on highways. Some limit the wrongdoing to conduct which impedes traffic. Today, the restrictive laws all ban the act of hitchhiking, not the conduct of the driver in picking up the hitchhiker. What was true in my day, and, from what my research discloses as today, law enforcers generally do not care or bother to enforce hitchhiking prohibitions. The paperwork and inconvenience of removing the hitchhiker to another location are not worth the bother. I had two incidents with the police which I will mention later.
I would like to turn next to the concept of quid pro quo. What does the rider get and what does the driver get? Why does someone pick up a hitchhiker? As I alluded to earlier, the term hitchhiking implies a free ride. That eliminates a formal fare. However, it does not eliminate all forms of compensation. In thinking about this, and taking into account the risk factors, one has to ask again what motivates a driver to pick up a hitchhiker? In thinking about what benefit a driver obtains, I would list as follows: assisting with driving, conversation to stay awake, curiosity and good feeling. I have heard of drivers asking for gas contribution, but never experienced it. One might say, to paraphrase Blanche Dubois, a hitchhiker always depends on the kindness of strangers.
As for assisting with driving, I encountered this only twice and will discuss in more detail later. Going back to my experiences, I would say keeping the driver awake was a major factor. Finally, as to curiosity and good feeling, that is hard to measure, but is definitely a factor. And that happens to segue nicely to a brief discussion of one other book where hitchhiking plays a prominent role: Into the Wild, also a true story.
Into the Wild traces the wanderings of a young man, Chris McCandless, who suddenly drops out of society after graduation from Emory University with no communication, even to his parents. He ultimately ends up in Alaska and tries to "live off the land." He accidentally fatally poisons himself. Along the way, he hitchhiked quite a bit and, from a hitchhiking perspective, it shows how driver and rider can develop a strong personal relationship. The book is researched by the author going back and finding people Chris encountered. On at least three occasions, Chris ended up staying with the people for days or even weeks. He ended up briefly working for one individual and another offered to buy him better outdoor gear.
Although I read this book thirty years after my hitchhiking career had ended and had never developed the type of relationships Chris had with his drivers, I nevertheless could really empathize with what occurred. When you are given a ride and are sitting next to the person who picked you up, it is not like sitting next to someone on a plane or train where you can open your paper and ignore each other. When you enter that car, you are at least committing to a conversation.
Now, if you will indulge me, I would like to go over some highlights of a few of my multi-state hitchhiking experiences. There were many others within the Midwest. If nothing else, we can see how my experiences compare to what else I have passed on regarding conventional wisdom regarding hitchhiking. Of course, like so many of us, I now wish I kept a journal of some type as all of my recollections are being tested after more than 40 years.
In the summer of 1964, I had just turned 16 and, while I had been hitchhiking quite a bit locally, I had never hitchhiked out of the area. Some of you may remember that 1964 was the summer of the World's Fair in New York.
My brother, who was seven years older and played tackle in college, had graduated in 1962 and essentially had been away until that summer. It turned out that one of his college friends was getting married in New York City and he planned to attend the wedding. Realizing that the Fair was taking place and that the White Sox were playing the Yankees in New York in the days preceding the wedding, he invited me to tag along to New York and we decided to hitchhike one way and take the Greyhound bus back. Needless to say, I was quite excited.
In many ways, this trip was an aberration from most of my hitchhiking experiences. After my parents dropped us off at the first toll plaza, it took us four or five rides to get to New York and every single one wanted my brother to drive so they could rest. My mother had packed 10 sandwiches for us and, for the first three or four rides, I simply sat in the back seat and ate while my brother drove and the host slept.
The reference to my parents' assistance begs some comment. I have been told that many parents would have prohibited hitchhiking. I doubt I would have sanctioned it for my children. While my parents were not aware of many of my adventures, they had no problem with my brother and I going off together. Part of it may have been for my brother's girth and part liking to see us adventure together. The fact that my mother took her brother and three sisters on a trip across the country in the 1930s with her parents believing they were on a religious retreat may give some insight about my mother and her tolerance in allowing us to hitchhike.
Getting back to the trip, in what turned out to be our last ride, the driver once again wanted my brother to drive. It was late at night and my brother was simply too tired. Since I had just received my license, offering me up was not really an option. My brother said he was exhausted and would rather turn down the ride than try to drive. The driver then asked me if I was a sports fan. After I said yes, my brother sat in the back sleeping and the gentleman and I talked sports for 5-6 hours.
Many old friends claim I was a living encyclopedia of old baseball knowledge. In 1964, I knew everything about every sport and so did this individual. It was easily the most in-depth and lengthy sports conversation of my life, covering not only baseball, basketball and football, but hockey, golf and tennis. We even discussed track. I did my job and we arrived safely somewhere in Manhattan. I recently asked my brother if he recalled this incident and he said listening to us talk was like listening to a lullaby.
Since this paper is about hitchhiking and not my week in New York, I will only mention two things about our stay.
First, the drinking age then in New York was 18. While I was 16, I must have passed for 18 and especially being with my brother and his older friends, I was allowed to drink beer in various bars and restaurants. Life was good. We also went to a twi-night double header: White Sox against the Yankees. It was my first visit to the original Yankee stadium, but, alas, the Sox lost a double-header. It turned out that the Sox won 98 games that year and lost to New York by one game. Since 1964, I have been to at least ten more White Sox games in Yankee Stadium and, to this day, have never witnessed a White Sox win.
My next hitchhiking interstate "adventure" was in the summer of 1966 and, again, to New York. My best friend, Jim, and I were about to begin college and this was going to be a sort of coming of age trip. Our plan was to hitchhike first to New York and then to Newport, Rhode Island for a music festival before hitchhiking back to New York. We had a friend drive us to the first exit of the Indiana toll way.
This adventure was composed of just two segments. First, I recall the police telling us we were hitchhiking too close to the highway. As I mentioned earlier, this was one of the legal issues surrounding hitchhiking. Therefore, we had to hold our sign as people purchased gasoline. This reduces the number of chances for rides, but it allows you to at least make eye contact and possibly engage in conversation.
The second thing I remember is quite remarkable. A gentleman by the name of Taylor was buying gas and, upon seeing our sign, told us he would like to give us a ride, but was on his way to the State of Washington. We were still in Indiana. We told Taylor he was headed in the wrong direction and that he probably really wanted to go to Washington, D.C. and, in which case, he could give us a ride.
It turned out Taylor was a steel worker who received a month's vacation for achieving 25 years of employment. His wife convinced him to go traveling by himself. Both Jim and I immediately recognized that Taylor needed companionship. It was initially agreed that Taylor would take us to the point where the route to New York and Washington split. However, along the way, we convinced Taylor that he would be better off if he began his trip in New York City. Taylor ended up taking us right into the Port Authority in Midtown Manhattan.
A few other things come to mind about our dealings with Taylor. First, he bought us coffee at a rest stop. This is the only time in my hitchhiking life that this ever occurred. Second, we drove for Taylor and we discovered Taylor's car had very worn breaks which scared the heck out of us. This shows the safety of the vehicle can also be relevant. Finally, although we enjoyed talking to Taylor, we had no intention of "hanging out" with him once we arrived in New York. He was at least 30 years older with other differences that would have made being together quite awkward. However, his desire was that we stay together. With some guilt then and still today, we were able to introduce Taylor to someone else in the Port Authority, said goodbye and headed to the Sloane YMCA at 34th and 9th near the Garment District where we enjoyed a double room with bunk beds with the flashing YMCA sign flashing outside our window. I should also add that the Sloane Y was the largest residential YMCA in the United States. It was torn down in 1993. To say it housed a diverse collection of people would be a vast understatement. It was also a short walk to Times Square which, in 1964, was inhabited by prostitutes and drug dealers. That week was quite an experience. At any rate, the ride with Taylor was my closest to a potential relationship like Chris McCandless' in Into the Wild.
On that same trip we hitchhiked to and from New York to Newport, Rhode Island. This was a colossal misadventure. Our intent was to go to a festival, but it turned out it had already occurred. Our intent was to sleep in a YMCA, only it turned out it was not a hotel. After passing by many of Newport's magnificent mansions through a foggy, drizzly mist, we sat on the stoop of the locked up YMCA to avoid the rain. While sitting there, Jim ran out of matches and asked a sailor who was walking by for a light. He seemed to be holding his stomach. He very matter-of-factly stopped to let Jim use his lighter. We then noticed he was bleeding profusely from an apparent knife or bottle wound. He gave the light and kept walking as though all was normal.
In the morning, we went to the Catholic church and essentially slept during a couple masses. I got the idea to go to the church from watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the concept of sanctuary. We then went to the beach, slept, got sunburned on one side of our faces and immediately hitchhiked back to New York. The only hitchhiking event I recall from this trip was being dropped off in Harlem and being quickly told things might be safer across the bridge.
My next hitchhiking adventure occurred in May, 1967. It was an unusually warm Thursday night in Evanston, Illinois and I was studying in my dorm room at Northwestern University. I had no intention of going out that night when some guys down the hall knocked on my door and announced they had a case of beer and were going to the rocks which form the barrier between the landfill and Lake Michigan on the north end of the campus of Northwestern University.
It was a very sedate gathering. We had known each other since school began. I cannot recall how many guys were there, but I would guess five or six. However, I distinctly remember one other participant, Peter. Peter was from Rochester, New York and did nothing but boast all year about how great Rochester was. He was constantly comparing it favorably to Chicago and I had found that irritating all year.
For whatever reason, I found him particularly irritating that night. With the combination of sufficient beer and listening to Peter run on about Rochester, I finally said something like: "If Rochester is so great, let's go there." Comments went back and forth until I challenged him to hitchhike to Rochester right there and then. We went back to the dorm, packed a couple items and left immediately. I remember only two aspects of this trip.
First, I recalled how we got to the toll way. Earlier I said that could be a challenge. Well, on this occasion, our plan was to take the L as far south as possible and then hitchhike from there. We had no sign. We got off the L around midnight and started hitching. We were not there long when a police squad car passed and picked us up. The police officer said: "Don't you guys realize you are right in the heart of the turf of the Blackstone Rangers? Get in." We explained what we were doing and the police drove us to the first toll way plaza. That was a first and a last.
The second thing I recall is that a trucker saw us and drove us the entire way to Rochester. The driving distance from Chicago to Rochester is 600 miles and about 10 hours driving time. We made it from that toll plaza in about that time. I recall very little about the driver or any conversation. I remember we both sat in the front and it was tight. I remember almost nothing about our short stay in Rochester other than Peter's parents had just finished building a beautiful home and they were quite mad at me for allowing Peter to embark on this adventure as he was not doing well academically. He was very bright, but never opened a book. Peter did flunk out that June, but returned a year or two later and eventually graduated. This was my only ride ever in a semi.
My final hitchhiking escapade was in the summer of 1968. We flew standby to New York, but three of us hitchhiked to Boston.
As I mentioned earlier, hitchhiking with three people is not recommended. Danger to the driver and room problems greatly diminish the odds of getting a ride. Nevertheless, we made it in not too bad a time. I can only recall two rides from this trip. The first I mentioned earlier. The driver told us he had a gun in his glove compartment. We did not comment and the conversation continued in a normal manner. The second memory was riding standing up from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston in a Boston Herald delivery truck. I remember like yesterday that one second we were bemoaning our plight and inability to get a ride and the next thing we are non-stop from Providence to downtown Boston. There is a great feeling of exuberance when this happens.
The other thing I remember about that ride was that I thought I was going to die. I was the closest to the door and the driver drove with the sliding door open. I did not feel I had a good place to hold on in the event he made a sharp turn. I held on very tight to whatever I could grab and was tense the entire time. However, we made it without incident.
We returned from that trip by flying standby. There was a brief period where younger people were allowed to fly for an extremely reduced price if there was room. You purchased the reduced ticket and then took your chances. Normally, for routes with a lot of flights, like New York or Boston, it was usually not a problem. However, we returned on the Sunday preceding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the flights were quite crowded. It took several flights before we made it.
We all know what occurred in Chicago during the Democratic Convention of 1968. My father worked for the City of Chicago and he took me to the Convention at the International Amphitheatre. It was the only presidential convention I ever attended. Mayor Daley wanted supporters to cheer him. I also remember getting on the convention floor. I witnessed Hubert Humphrey's acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee. Most importantly, afterwards, my dad took me to The Saddle and Sirloin Room of The Stock Yard Inn where I had filet mignon for the first time in my life. I would say it was the best I ever had.
For those "new" to Chicago since 1970, The Stock Yard Inn was a Tudor style hotel at 42nd and Halsted, next to the International Amphitheatre and the Union Stock Yards. Cattlemen would train in from the West with their herds and stay at the Inn, negotiating business. Many conventioneers stayed there as well. The restaurant was also once famous for allowing you to pick your steak and, to be sure you were served the one you picked, you first branded your initials on it. While the stock yards closed in 1971, the restaurant lasted a few more years until the Amphitheatre ceased holding significant events.
Many historians mark the 1968 Democratic Convention as a turning point in American history. The civil disobedience over the Vietnam war was to become common place until we finally withdrew in 1972.
As to me, I went back to college and started to worry more about getting into law school, how to deal with the draft and, last, but not least, my then girlfriend and now wife of 40 years. I certainly do not recall ever saying my hitchhiking days were over, but the Boston 1968 trip was to be my last cross-country trek.
Before relating my happiest hitchhiking experience, I should next briefly mention the current state of hitchhiking. I have no empirical evidence, but I rarely see a hitchhiker. With nothing to back up her contention, Ginger Strand blames the decline of hitchhiking on an FBI conspiracy with local law enforcement to prevent civil rights activists from getting to marches in the 1960s and 1970s. I can only speculate as to the causes, but I believe it is far harder for a hitchhiker to get a ride today. I do not think safety is the key. I think it is technology. Back in the 1960s, you essentially had AM radio which was hard to pick up on the highway. Today, we have CDs, audiobooks and hands-free cell phones. It is easier for the driver to stay awake, be less lonely and, in fact, not want his world intruded. Interestingly, Ginger Strand, in her opinion piece Hitchhiking's Time Has Come Again, points out that technology makes hitchhiking safer today as both driver and hitchhiker can forward photos of each other. This might make it safer, but not more likely to get a ride.
Finally, I would now like to end with the ultimate fantasy of a hitchhiker and how I experienced it.
The ultimate fantasy of most male hitchhikers is to get a ride from a beautiful woman and, you know the rest. Indeed, there was a famous rock song by the group "Heart" that encapsulates this concept. Well, in a better way, I lived it. I earlier mentioned how I hitchhiked back from my apartment to my now wife's sorority late at night and then again in the blizzard of 1979. Well, we had one earlier episode.
In the spring of 1967, my wife, Janice, was a commuter at Northwestern University and I was a boarder. We knew each other from grammar school and had somewhat reconnected during the summer before school started. As was my daily pattern, I was hitchhiking along Sheridan Road from north campus to south campus to my board job at a sorority. After a period of waiting, a car stopped and I could tell an extremely attractive girl was picking me up. I could tell she was attractive, but in the dark, could not recognize it was Janice Buren. She, of course, recognized me in advance. In the short ride, we had a great time talking about our brief college experiences and it led to our dating in Sophomore year. That was 45 years ago and we just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.
To paraphrase the fictional character, Chico Escuela, from the early years of Saturday Night Live, "hitchhiking has been berry, berry good to me."