It’s raining in Erie, Pennsylvania. I’m shut up in my hotel room playing guitar, feeling extremely grateful – not just for a dry place to stay, but that in more 4,000 miles of hitchhiking it’s the first hard rain we’ve had. Not only that but it came on the day I decided to cash in hotel points for a nice room. Actually, the weather has been uncanny throughout my entire trip. It was a cool summer, and it’s hardly rained.
Just out of curiosity I pull up the weather.
Wow. Just wow.
I’ll be flying home in just a couple days.The northern loop has been spectacular. I’ve seen a part of my own country I’d rarely visited, climbed Mount Washington, flown in a hot air balloon, and met some of the warmest people. I’m also ready for a little time in one place.
Being in the hotel also finally affords me a chance to work out an arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” that I’ve been humming for a little more than 1,300 miles.
In Burlington I met a guy named Nic Tuff at the Radio Bean open mic. Nic plays an instrument called the reverie harp. It is a small handheld harp that can be finger picked or played with “chopsticks” like a hammered dulcimer. In spite of its old sound the instrument is actually a fairly new creation, developed by musical thanatologist Peter Roberts. I had the opportunity of playing with Nic one afternoon. We improvised a couple songs.
Hitchhiking is teaching me resilience. When you’re hitching, 100, 200, 300 people may reject you at a time. They may drive by sneering, but the 301st will stop and say, “Man, this journey you’re on. I find it really inspiring. You want to get lunch?” And that one person is worth the 300, because the alternative to the possibility of rejection is a life without human connection.
“We were headed to a concert, and thought – hey, a guy traveling with a guitar.”
The T stopped running at midnight. I was too tight to get a cab, so I walked the four miles to Everett – thinking. I rarely make time to think, and when I do it’s like some sort of neurological binge.
I thought about an exchange I had in the Lizard Lounge green room tonight, when I went to put my guitar back. There was an athletic guy with salt and pepper hair tuning up. Steve reminded me of countless dads still trying to “live the dream” on the rare night they could sneak out. If I’m honest, they’re usually bad musicians. Steve was not. He played well, and I was glad to follow the green room small talk with a genuine compliment. He asked where I was from – what I was doing. He’d been in the back during my set.
I told him I was hitchhiking. His brow narrowed.
Usually, it’s in banks and cocktail bars where I watch my tongue, but in music halls I’m cheered for the very mention of hitching. It’s the revolutionary spirit of musicians calling out for the days of Guthrie and Kerouac – a time when music was not only real and relevant but a force to be reckoned with – not a bygone movement, a shadow of itself, a Cracker Barrel commemorative disk. And yes, even in this raucous reception there is a hint of defeat. Because the would-be troubadours cheer not because of what is happening, but what has been. They cheer the way the grandchildren of farmers now employed in cubicles cheer at talk of the “land” – land that is sold now – gone in the “last harvest.” For nostalgia is most potent when the thing cannot be had again. It’s a good sign the cause is already lost.
All that to say that Steve’s reaction was an anomaly.
“Isn’t hitchhiking illegal?” he asked.
“Only in New Jersey and Delaware in the East,” I said.
“So what – did you avoid those places?”
“Yes. They’re small states, so I went around them. I’ve no interest in getting arrested.”
“Well, I’m from Wyoming–”
“–It’s illegal there too. I’ve no idea why. You would think with all that space and freedom it wouldn’t matter.”
“Well, I can tell you it was different in Wyoming. I guess cops looked the other way, but you had these guys that lived way out beyond everyone else – always trying to get a ride. It was F-ing annoying.” Steve’s clean cut image looked surprisingly fierce.
“Well, you played well man,” I said, changing the subject, because I am a pragmatist not a revolutionary. “Do you gig out much?”
“Trying to, since I put out an album in 2007.”
So Steve diplomatically acted like he hated those “other” hitchhikers, and I didn’t say that 2007 was forever ago. I didn’t say that his personal annoyance wasn’t grounds for something to be illegal, and I didn’t say that his love of safety meant that in seven more years he’d still be talking about that same album.
Yesterday morning I hitched to Pinkham’s Notch and climbed Mount Washington by way of Tuckerman’s Ravine. It was absolutely gorgeous.
“HEY!! You going to Dave’s party??”
“The guy called and said he thought one of the guitarists was down the road.”
“No, I don’t know about a party.”
“You need a ride somewhere?”
“I can take you a little ways. The other band’s late, and I think they thought you were one of the dudes.”
“I’m an actor. I just came from an audition for a part. That’s why I’m dressed like this…
“I picked you up because you had a guitar, and I thought – what guy would bother to carry a guitar if he’s up to trouble. Unless there’s an Uzi in there!”