STATUS UPDATE: Daytona to Orlando, and the Joys of Hitch-hiking
Ok, so my apologies for my absence from the blog as of late, but you know the holidays... As I left off…
Me and B.O. had rested our bodies enough after a desperately sore week in Daytona Beach, and as it was beginning to become monotonous- we decided it was time to go. The urge to depart from our camp within enemy headquarters had come suddenly, and as a result of boredom and paranoia. We woke up around 6 am when the fog was still thick in our seemingly endless field. I was mentally preparing to depart Daytona Beach after a wendy’s breakfast sandwich, and a half hour phone charging session. We still had to break down the hidden ‘camp’ we had occupied for nearly a week, and I was not looking forward to sorting through all that mess.
Like animals we had nudged, hoarded, and sorted our corners into a warmly nestled cradle of sweaty boy-filth; establishing all the necessary borders and systems that humans naturally configure to determine ownership or placement of ones self. This all occurs within the confines of a tightly fit two man tent, and I knew that when I re-crammed my pack, I might have to lose some things to make this load bearable. Notably, the thick but heavy comforter I had rolled and brought from Marks house, that was about to be replaced by my 5 dollar fleece blanket from Wal-Mart. It was a sacrifice of comfort that I had to negotiate based on the lack of comfort that soreness had caused me when I first arrived in Daytona. Anything I could do to lighten my pack, even at the expense of comfort- was a necessary loss to me.
Wendy’s opened at 7, and as it was the closest establishment to our hideout, along with the seven eleven- we were there by seven on the dot to get our fix of cheap greasy sausage and egg burritos.
When we got there, the place hadn’t opened their doors yet, and as we took a seat on the nearby bench, I began to notice the people who nervously dropped off morning employees, watching us carefully; as if we were wild animals- as their passengers entered the staff door in back. It was a confused paranoia I had been developing due to peoples general reactions to us with our bags, or with our greasy hair and layered sweatshirts; or whatever it was exactly that identified us as homeless or hitchhiking. It was a feeling of being watched and ignored silmutaneously, or maybe better put- being watched out of the corner of their eye. There was a misplaced sense of worthlessness that came with this new stigma I was developing, and it was something I had been contemplating heavily since we had arrived- a feeling that like an old filthy sweatshirt, became comforting in the depths of isolation, and still unnecessarily shameful when exposed.
After about ten minutes, the manager opened the door to us, and we ate our fill of burritos while charging our phones and reading the paper. I was excited to leave Daytona, but dreading the pain in the ass it would be to pack up.
The question, ‘what does it truly mean to be free?’ had been on my mind ever since I had dreamt up this journey and at first, I suspected the answer would be near the absence of obligations and responsibilities. I was beginning to re-think this possibility recently though, and I found myself wondering what the significance of these possessions in my massive pack really meant. Was I really any different than other homeless people, or was my pack the only thing separating me from them? Was I just a traveling hobo, or did my artistic intent somehow raise me from that category?
I didn’t know the answer, but I did know that even the “moderate” amount of gear I had packed, had made me fearful of its very own loss. Even if you have barely anything, you still find something to cling onto and make sacred- in this sense, my backpack might be no different than a home; and my camera, no different than a car.
With full bellies for our departure, and under the warmth of the morning sun that shone through the dissipating loft of fog- we headed back to our camp to begin breaking down the evidence of our stay. We were overstaying our welcome it appeared, and as I did my best to fumble through packing as fast as possible, Brian watched my pace with annoyance and nervously peeked from our tent to see a cop car stopped near a yellow range-rover in the far distance on the closest road. It looked like the range rover had spotted us and was pointing us out to the cops, and with that possibility in mind, we picked up the pace. It turned out to be purely coincidence, and once we had everything in our bags and tied up, we laughed with the satisfaction of knowing we couldn’t be fucked with. What could they do to us really? Give us a 1000 dollar fine for trespassing (like the sign said)? They couldn’t even prove that we had slept there with our camp gone, and if they wanted to stick me or Brian with a fine, it would just be a joke. An officer would take one look at either one of us, and know we’d just assume live in Mexico for the rest of our lives than pay those bastards a dime. The appearance of being homeless can work to ones advantage in this way.
As both bashful newbies to the hitch-hiking game, and general problem children as well; we shot-gunned a 16 ounce beer each before setting off for our next trek. Although it seemed like a bad idea to even me at the time, it turned out to be a good move- shyness is the last thing you need when trying to hitch-hike from the East coast to the West coast. Patience and optimism are also helpful, and these are traits unharmed by a slight beer buzz early in the morning.
As I expelled a sequence of foamy beer belches from chugging the tall boy of High Life, I once again put on my third person perception and began to consider why a partially drunk, unemployed, hitch-hiking, artist- was any different from the partially drunk, unemployed panhandler you’ll find in any city. As the adrenaline from the shotgun mingled with the alchohol buzz to lighten my inhibitions; I had a striking notion come forth in my mind. Maybe the answer in this quest for ‘true freedom’ is closer to my overcoming this ‘third person perception’, than any sort of financial or status based anchors. Maybe, if I know and am confident in my own purpose or worth here in the streets of america- it should be good enough- to hell with what everybody else expects and assumes and judges me by! This is easier said then done of course, but the occurance of this thought was beginning to stick out in my mind, and I filed the epiphany somewhere among stacks of thoughts in my brain to be reviewed by the board on a later date for considerisation as a relevant realization in my journey.
With our sophomoric little good-bye ceremony finished, we finally abandoned our camp around 9 or 9 30 and headed to the seven eleven to fill our half gallon canteens, and rummage through the recycling bin to grab a cardboard box to make our signs. We both took our time to carefully spell out in large black letters “TAMPA/ FT. MEYERS” on our cardboard pieces, and while I fastened mine to the back of my backpack, Brian kept his in hand. This way, if we were walking along the interstate with outstretched thumbs they would be able to see my sign, and if we were resting facing toward traffic, Brian could hold his sign. We both agreed that this seemed to be a pretty reasonable strategy, although as we headed off towards the interstate on-ramp we had some disagreements in terms of our hitch-hiking approach.
Brian felt that we would be best off to wait at the beginning of the on-ramp holding our signs out to people getting on, this was largely because we knew that it was not ‘technically’ legal to be walking or hitching on the actual interstate. I disagreed because I thought that even someone who wanted to help us, wasn’t going to pull over onto the non-existent shoulder of an on ramp- maybe the interstate, but an on-ramp? I had my doubts. Furthermore, I was ready to get walking so we could get ourselves a few miles down I-94 (which goes southbound following the east coast all the way to Miami); and to I-4 where it went Westbound from Daytona all the way to Orlando, and finally the west coast, Tampa. From there we would hit I-7, or walk through Tampa to the coast; and follow either one south until we hit Ft. Meyers. I figured we had three times the chance of catching a ride once we hit I-4 and weren’t around any Southbound Miami traffic; plus we hadn’t gotten our ‘complimentary’ warning by the sheriff that day anyways, so I figured fuck the interstate law.
We decided to try Brians way for an hour or so, and if that didn’t work, we would get walking and try my way. I had no qualms with this, and we were both getting good at playing this traveling game with each other that was less about compromising and more about testing individual solutions. It wasn’t so much that either one of us thought the other was wrong, as much as it was that we both were so damn sure that we ourselves were right. Being both highly moody, and stubborn people; we had found a way to cope with our disagreements that seemed to work, and I was happy with that.
We hung out on the onramp to I-94 for around an hour, laughing jovially at what all these stiffs must be thinking as they watched us wave to them with corny smiles while we held our cardboard signs out hopefully. It felt good to not care. I began to think about how I myself had always assumed that the plight of the cardboard sign holder was a greasy one at best. How many of them in my life had I just mechanically ignored? How many Gale and Rusty’s had I wrongfully judged? I smiled to myself as I wondered- knowing I would not be leaving this journey without an enriched new sense of awareness.
The cardboard signs actually, were somewhat of a hobo loophole we had heard about through hitch-hikers hearsay. The idea was that you were indicating where you were traveling to, which is technically legal- and not directly soliciting a ride to that destination. It seemed to be a rule that made little enough sense to be observed by our government as law; so we went with it. The notion of us standing there all day holding our signs out to passing vehicles purely because we felt the need to inform all of Daytona that we were on our way to Tampa, was beyond laughable; but if that’s what I would have to tell cops through my slight grin, that’s what I would tell them.
After about an hour, we began walking down the onramp and onto the interstate’s violent surge of endless traffic. I felt so isolated from the drivers flying by, and there were so many lanes, I really doubted that we would have a chance to catch a ride here. We said fuck it, and decided to get walking towards I-4 so we had a better chance. Brian’s bag was looking noticeably debilitating, and he was walking much like a bent straw might. This worried me a bit, as it was the beginning of our day and there was the chance we might be walking all day. Having learned from pushing too hard on our last trek- preserving our strength was of utmost importance this time around. After trudging on under the increasingly hot pre-noon sun for our first mile, we stopped so Brian could re-adjust his bag and we could both take a short breather. It was nice to move at a slower pace like this, and my knees that were each wrapped tightly with an ace bandage- felt great.
Brian adjusted the tent that was hanging awkwardly from his bag, and grabbed his pair of shorts and went to change un-shyly behind a pair of trees. I ate an apple and went to the shoulder of the interstate to hold the sign while Brian did his business, and as he returned, he challenged me to lighten my load of remaining tall boy’s by shot-gunning another each. I was naturally hesitant to do it on the side of the interstate as we were, but after seeing the disbelief in Brian’s face after suggesting we duck back behind the trees to do it- I gave up on my inhibitions and agreed.
We continued down the interstate for the next few hours, our quest being to make it to I-4 where we would take a nice rest, hold our signs out, and take a look at our map if need be. It was disgustingly hot, and the sun was beating down on our faces relentlessly. My shirt was completely soaked in hot sweat- particularly my back, and the places my straps hugged my chest. I chugged at my coldly perspiring canteen with envy, and tried my best to straighten my posture as my back was beginning to be the major pain I was feeling.
I was beginning to realize the formula for these adventures we had been having. You go through periods of great enlightenment, realization, and inspiration- immediately followed by depleting notions of vulnerability, suffering, and worthlessness. Of course this could be something to do with Bi-polar disorder, but I really doubt it. Between the two of us, usually only one person was feeling inspired, and it was this persons job to help the other one keep going without complaints. A system of checks and balances is really what it was, and at that particular moment, I was on the lower end of the ladder.
I-4 was in sight, but when your on a straight stretch of the interstate- ‘in sight’ can still mean damn near a mile away. I was running low on enthusiasm and as my back pained more with every step, I wasn’t sure I would make it all the way there without needing to rest first. I was feeling pretty hopeless about us catching a ride, and as we were finally getting out of any sort of ‘developed’ area of the Daytona suburbs; I began to fear for the terrible swamp type side-roads we could possibly be stuck camping in. We wouldn’t be able to just hop into the woods on the side of the road and pitch our tent, if it was purely diamond-back infested alligator territory- what would we do than?
Brian could see the desolate look in my eyes, and even more noticeably, he could hear it in my tone. I told him I needed to take a rest for a minute, I just couldn’t make it to I-4 unless we stopped for a bit. We both agreed that there was to be no hesitation if either one of us needed to rest, even if the other person was good and ready to march with the might of a thousand men. Brian agreed without complaints, and we put our bags down about a half a mile from the I-4 on-ramp. I took a nice gulp from my canteen, and as soon as I took a seat on my pack; I saw an enormous black pickup truck pass by in the right lane of the road, he seemed to be slowing down.
Just less than one city block away from us, the black truck had pulled over all the way onto the shoulder- could it be possible? Were we being picked up finally? He put on his emergency lights, and I quickly looked at Brian with a fanatical glow upon my face. With newfound strength, I grabbed my bag while jogging toward the truck, and hoisted it up and onto my back. We approached the vehicle, and Brian opened the enormous doors of the cab that stood several feet from the ground, and peered in asking,
“Where you headin’?”
The man replied with a low raspy cajun-esque clump of words, tightening his lips as if he was tasting the faintly formed words after they were being said-
“Imonno O’lando, if youfellaswann, ahhh, Iken getcha ‘s fars that”
Brian looked back at me blankly for a moment, as we both quicly reworked the sentence in our heads. He looked back saying,
“Yeah were headed for Tampa, but if you could take us to Orlando, we would greatly appreciate it.”
He threw his right thumb over his shoulder motioning to the back of the truck,
“Jus throwyow bags ‘nshit inna back.”
Me and Brian walked back to the rear end of the enormous pickup, and after we both lifted our giant bulky bags above our heads with grit teeth and trembling muscles, we dropped them into the back of the cab with a sigh of relief. We walked back around the huge truck with ecstatically charged grins as we looked at each other. Not because of this crazy guy who came along, but because this was it. This was somehow a major part of what we had come out here to find, what we had really been looking for out on the lonely american highways.
A feeling that far surpassed the draining reality that you were passed by 10,000 fat fellow americans that had been too lazy, or too selfish, or too busy; or that maybe, were just too damn scared after being force-fed a media buffet about the dangers of hitch-hiking;
a feeling that we were right after all- that there were still people out there that would pick up some damn fool kids who refused to be told otherwise about their dreams, their country, or the way of the world;
some damn fool kids, who knew that they could demonstrate determination at the very least, and revolution at the very most- whatever may lie in between, would surely be fertile for growth.
Having come a pretty far way already, I can say that I have found great moments of enlightenment, while still among the burning billboards advertising hope, freedom, and Jesus in this country we call ours; but I found hope in something different at that moment of my trip- I found hope in america.
Until we meet again…
Joseph R. Reeves