I know it’s unbelievable but this time I did NOT get handuffed by US police while hitchhiking.
Mennonite Psychologists from Virginia
Those two cool police officers took off my handcuff. While I was getting used to being without it, they said goodbye. I was left in a service station with Dunkin’ Donuts. Let’s forget about hitchhiking. It’s time for 50 donuts!
Just kidding. No time for donuts! It was already dark. Before the staff there kicked me out I had to find a ride either to Pittsburgh or Cleveland in OH.
A middle-aged woman came out of Dunkin’ Donuts! I walked up to ask her. She was a bit shocked, a bit reserved and a bit suspecting and said she had to discuss it with her husband.
I was patiently waiting. As I had found out, since American people were more informal than Europeans, it was quite easy to talk to them. I knew that as long as I asked nicely, even though I looked like a serial killer, they would probably say yes.
The husband came out with some hot donuts in his hands and they immediately entered the car for a top-secret discussion.
I was waiting and praying to the Goddess of Hitchhiking!
Did I tell you that I am not an atheist like most nomadic travelers? I believed in a religion called Nomadism! 🙂 In our religion there are THREE main Gods, namely the God of Traveling, the God of Couchsurfing and the Goddess of Hitchhiking. Eh…… Just to assure you my sanity, I am not on drugs at this moment.
The God of Traveling and the Goddess of Hitchhiking are a couple. They live together but never married and they have a bunch of kids, who are minor Gods in this religion.
There are no “Ten Commandments” in Nomadism. Instead there are only two commandments, namely PEACE and LOVE!
I know, right now you are already in love with this religion. If so feel free to join! 😀
Obviously the Goddess answered my prayer. Five minutes later, the couple came out of the car and said ‘Yes, we will give you a ride’.
I immediately shouted “Yeah!” and jumped about 3 meters high!
They laughed and the man said:’We had doubts but yesterday my car broke down, and a stranger gave me a ride so I simply do not have the heart to turn you down.’
I thank the stranger who gave this man a ride. The love bestowed by this stranger now passed to me, another stranger. The passing of love might be the most beautiful moment on the road.
It was pitch dark now and we started out from the service station. The air was cool, I smelled the breeze from the thick green woods, I guess that was why this place was called Breezewood?
Me: What do you do actually?
Man: Oh, we are both psychologists.
Me: Are you going to pass Pittsburgh?
Man: Eh… yes, actually we are going all the way to Michigan for a friends reunion.
Me: WOWO! Michigan?! So you pass Ohio?!
I was thrilled and took out the map of US I found in a garbage bin in Washington D.C. a few days ago.
Me: So…… could I go all the way with you to Cleveland?
Man: Eh…… we are not sure if tonight we will make it to Cleveland or even Pittsburgh. It’s already 8 PM. We might find a place to sleep along the way.
Me: Ah! No problem! You can drop me when you stop for sleep.
They were about 50-year old and both worked in Virginia. Have you heard of Mennonites? They were a protestant group originating in Europe. They were both Mennonites and the mother of the woman actually wrote a book about the history of Mennonites.
As a talkative guy, I started to pour all my hitchhiking experiences right away, like hitchhiking with a couple in Australia for 3 days and hitchhiking in Pakistani Kashmir across Taliban controlled area.
At a certain moment they realized that we already passed Pittsburgh.
Me: Ah! Then you can drop me anywhere, as long as I can find a place to put up my tent (of course free wifi and toilet will be a big plus).
Man: Ok. Eh…… you can also travel with us tomorrow. (looking at his wife questioningly, awkwardly, fearful and even embarrassedly) Right? If you can hitchhike with this Australian couple for 3 days, then we can surely give you a ride tomorrow to Cleveland.
I could see clearly on his face that it was their first time to take hitchhikers and he was very afraid that his wife would object to his spontaneous suggestion but his wife said ‘sure, he can travel with us tomorrow also.’
I was thanking them again and again.
Then they realized they had a problem, where to find a hotel to sleep.
The Drunk Receptionist of Mariott Hotel
They were trying for quite a while to find a proper hotel not too expensive along the highway. The GPS was not working properly, neither did Google Maps. With time passing, they became more and more anxious.
Me:’Don’t worry! If you can’t find a hotel, I have a TENT! I am sure all 3 of us can fit in.’
After a while they eventually located a place in the middle of nowhere called New Stanton, where there were more than one hotels. Everybody was relieved.
Me’Eh… actually I only have a one-person tent.’
Me:’However, as none of us is too big, I am sure we can squeeze in 3 people.’
They laughed even more.
After asking 2 hotels, they decided to stay in one of them and told me to meet them the next morning at about 7 AM.
We said goodnight and now it’s my turn to worry where to sleep.
I surveyed the whole New Stanton, basically consisting just one street. There were some bushes I could use to hide my tent but they were too thin to cover the noise and dust.
Opposite to the hotel they stayed, there was a Mariott Hotel. I put down my backpack outside, tidied my attire a bit and confidently walked in the lobby. While I was asking the receptionist if I could use the toilet, I noticed that she was in high spirit with a red face and I smelled alcohol.
She was DRUNK.
There were not many guests and none of them minded. Her being drunk actually made her more friendly, relaxed and approachable, totally positive.
After returning from the toilet, I started chatting with her and
asked her: ‘Could I set up my tent on the lawn in front of the hotel? I will keep things neat and quiet.’
She: Oh hell yeah! You can even use the lawn at the back! That’s quieter and there is a cover for rain!
Me: WOWO! Thanks a bunch! You are such a great person!
I know, I say that a lot but every time I mean it. 😉
I walked to the back of the hotel and found this lovely lawn with a pavilion even! WOWO!
After setting up my tent, eating two energy bars as dinner and starting my laptop, I found that I even had pretty good wifi connection there.
Free toilet, free wifi, delicious food, clean lawn without dog shit and frequent visits of friendly mosquitoes, WOWO! Life was so beautiful! 🙂
NOTHING Happens in Cleveland
I woke up early, half by the cold and half by the noise. Although it was not next to the motorway, the tent still could not block all the screeching noise of early departing cars. Because of that I even did not need any alarm clock.
Before i started wild camping I always thought that the nature was full of silence. However, then I realized that almost NOWHERE can escape from artificial noise. The nature is never quiet anymore. To tell you a wonderful business idea —- low-cost sound-proof tents.
I know! You are welcome, just don’t forget to mention me when you become a millionaire.
When I arrived in the hotel where the couple stayed, they were still nowhere to be seen. I picked up some newspaper and started reading, of course at the same time eating another energy bar.
Yes, energy bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
About 40 min later the couple finally came down to the lobby with some apologies and had their breakfast.
Soon we were underway again. The sun was shinning. I felt that in US summer the sun was always shinning, sometimes even too much.
I know. You would say that is how summer is supposed to be. I guess you have never lived in the Netherlands! I remember clearly that when I was living there, normally summer sunshine only lasted two weeks and then heavy rain would be pouring down, just to remind you that ‘THIS IS THE NETHERLANDS’!
However, the Netherlands are really not the worst. I often hear from my IT friends that Scotland constantly sends amazingly well-paid job offers to them. Eventually one of them was naive enough to take such an offer and went to work on a 2-year contract there.
After 3 months he already thought of quiting but for financial and humanitarian reasons (the poor Scots, if you leave who would work for them?) he did not and actually made it to the end of his contract. As he said, that was the MOST AMAZING THING he had ever done in his whoooole life.
You got the idea. The weather in Scotland WAS the WORST! It is not just cloudy or rainy. The horror of Scottish climate has reached such a degree that it was described as ‘SUPPRESSIVE’ and ‘SUICIDE-INDUCTIVE’. Hearing of this, my Dutch friends would immediately sigh and feel hundred times better. WOWO!
Ok, enough digression.
We talked and talked and when we were about 1 hour away from Cleveland I used their phone to call my uncle, who was working as a biologist in Case Western Reserve University. I already warned him of my coming with hitchhiking days before.
Ok, another digression…… You see, I grew up in the northern Chinese countryside, where most of my family still live until this day, with their wheat/corn/spinach fields, goats, chicken and pigs. Among all my family and extended family included, two people went abroad. This uncle of mine and well, myself. The rest of the family never went abroad or have a passport. Therefore, since my uncle, who was actually a cousin instead of brother of my father, moved to USA 15 years ago, NOBODY from the family had ever come to visit him yet!
Yes, he thought everybody had forgotten about him and was devastated and eventually decided to never eat corn/wheat/spinach again as retaliation.
Just kidding. 😀
My uncle had always been a legend of success in the family ‘mythology’. He was said by my parents to be heard-working, dedicated and living happily wth two cute daughters and a job he loved to his heart.
Never believe this kind of shit from your parents!
The lovely virginian couple got off the highway to bring me to a place easier to be found by my uncle, which meant that when they went back on the turnpike, they would have to pay again. As you can imagine, to not trouble them too much, I told them that they could drop me just on the highway and I would find a way to the city. Then I told them I was handcuffed the day before when I was walking on the highway, so they insisted.
They dropped me in front of a hotel next to a restaurant. Since it was near the highway and far away from the city, both places looked quite deserted. I could not see even a single customer and I doubted if they were open. Went to have a look. YES, they were open…… just no customers.
20 minutes later, my uncle spotted me and stopped his car. We hugged each other with huge smiles. To be honest, last time I saw him or his photo even was 15 years ago and I did not remember much but vaguely his face. I did go to his wedding but the only thing I remembered then was that the food was great and we kids had a lot of fun.
For the next 3 days or so I was properly paupered. Besides eating, relaxing and sleeping, I basically did NOTHING. One thing to note, my sleeping bag finally got washed since I set on this journey in January, 2007.
Just kidding, I mean 2017.
My uncle was a much more traditional person than I was. He got married before 30 and had two daughters. He was never jobless or homeless. No, he had never hitchhiked or wild camped, also never got handcuffed or detained by Taliban. For this difference of values I decided not reveal all my adventures to him.
There was not much to do in Cleveland except it was on Lake Erie. That was my first time to see the Great Lakes. WOWO! I intended to wade into the water and take a swim, regardless of the ships, ducks and garbage. There was a pile of stones in the lake. The moment I stepped into the water, i saw this long snake slithing through the stones. It was thick, dark and rather disconcerting.
I shouted ‘Scheisse’ and immediately jumped back ashore.
So that was the end of sightseeing in Cleveland.
Just kidding. 😀 I was not really that afraid of the snake. They normally would not hurt human beings unless they felt threatened. However, seriously, there was not much to do in Cleveland except the Rock Museum.
I went to the campus of Case Western, which had several more than 50 years old buildings, pretty amazing for American standard. most amazingly, there was an apple tree!
I know what you are thinking, ‘so the cheap hitchhiker finally could pick up some free apples to feed himself’. NO! That was no ordinary apple tree, but a tree said to be the descedents of the legendary apple tree whose apple hit Issac Newton on his head, if you believe such stuff.
I even went to the lab where my uncle worked to take a nap. When I turned off the light and was dozing away on the comfortable chair, a short and slow figure came in and ‘Ah!’ he was startled to find a stranger sleeping in his lab.
That was Dr. Zheng, the boss of my uncle, an old man at least 55 years old. So I thus unceremonially met the professor of this research team.
He was Chinese and not just that. He was even from the same province (Shandong) as all my family. There was another young girl in the lab and guess what? She was also from the same province. I knew that USA boosted a bigger Chinese population than Europe, but seriously, my uncle could just speak our dialect at work, without a word of English?
So I rubbed my eyes and started talking with Prof. Zheng. You see, my way of traveling, or even just the concept of traveling without a job-related purpose, was unthinkable to many Chinese, especially this old professor. He was totally shocked and amazed and stood there for hours talking with me, asking all sorts of questions with eyes wide open.
He:’WOWO! It’s extraordinary!’ He exclaimed, not realizing that his glasses were slipping down his nose.
Before i could return a comment……
He:’With such experience, you can ANY job you want! ANY! WOWO! You will become the president! WOWO! You speak so many languages, WOWO! WOWO!’
The reality was that not many employers would like such WILD employees. Seriously, now I am looking for a job. At this very moment, I am sitting behind a computer screen, browing through Linkedin for the 100th time, to see what I can find. I had to lower my expectation again and again. I am not a EU citizen and I am already 30. Although I never lost hope I am frequently dismayed.
However, I am a person who reflect a lot. I saw the trajectory and current situation of my uncle and Dr. Zheng. Did I envy them? for having a stable income and a stable roof instead of a rain-non-proof tent over their heads, not to worry where to sleep the next day or how many energy bars still left?
I would say yes. I envied them for their material possessions. However, I could also see that they envied me for having so much freedom, so many spirits for exploring. I guess one could never get both sides at the same time. The only proper answer to this dilemma would be ‘as long as you have made the choice you do not regret’.
Three days later, I became restless. Despite all the delicious food my aunt cooked, there was something more attractive, out there, ON THE ROAD.
So on the fourth day, I woke up determined and told my uncle
‘Tomorrow I am going to hitchhike to New York City!’
To be continued