Super Polite Police
From where Toby left me, I started asking the truck drivers for a ride. Seriously, almost all the trucks were going on the highway and there were not many directions to go and Rochester was just a few miles away, but nope, none of them said they were going that way.
Ok, I had to resort to something else then.
I went towards the entrance of the highway, still about 20 meter from the highway. Supposedly, since I was not at the entrance of the highway or on the highway itself, I should be fine but still a police came.
He: Sir! You can not walk or hitchhike here.
Me: Ok…… but this is not on the highway right?
He: Eh…You are right about that, but sir, sorry. This stretch of road is also under the jurisdiction of the highway police, which is me in this case.
Me: Ok, what can I do then?
He: Sir, you can go on the normal state motorway, you can hitchhike or walk on it, no problem but here no.
Me: Ok. Guess I have to move then.
He: Eh… Sir, do you mind…… (he seemed rather embarrassed and very reluctant) show me your ID if possible?
I knew that in the States most of the time the police did not have the right to check one’s ID unless of course one was clearly committing a crime. Also in US they did not have ID cards like we do in China or Europe. If a person was not carrying his driver license or he did not have a passport, which most US citizens did not have, then the police had no way to check their ID. I could have refused him easily but I thought ‘since there is a possibility of me disappearing either because of crime committed upon me or car accidents, it would be good to leave a trace to let my family at least know where I was last seen. Ok!
I handed him my passports and he looked at them.
He: Oh damn! Sir, you came all the way from China to hitchhike?
Me: Eh, yes. I hitchhiked in many other countries before coming here. I know it’s not a very advised way of traveling, but it’s a great way to meet people. I have had such lovely experiences while hitchhiking!
He: WOWO! No kidding sir! That’s pretty awesome sir!
I saw that his eyes were shinning looking through all my pages of stamps and visas. My old passport was already full. However, my 10-year US visa was on the old passport while the entry stamps were on the new one, so I had to give him both passports, full of all kinds of stamps and visas, from Sudan to Pakistan, from Iran to Chile. He was browsing through it like never saw a passport. If he was a 20-something young fellow, I could still understand why he was so much in awe and siring me all the time, but hey, this dude was well above 40, with a weathered face. After much WOWOing he gave me my passports back.
He: Ok, eh… sir, you see, I really can not allow you to hitchhike here. Then he pointed to the camera on his shoulder which was obviously recording and then pointed to the cameras sticking out at the highway entrance which was about 20 meters away.
I nodded: Ok, understood.
He: However, sir, on our left there is the state highway. I have seen hitchhikers getting a ride there, although it’s really rare to see them these days. You can have a try there. Good luck sir! Thanks for your cooperation sir!
We shook hands and went our ways.
The state highway was not very busy and I found a spot easily.
Not far from me there was a road sign saying ‘carriages crossing’ and several Amish carriages passed me slowly. Again, they were on the wrong direction so no way I could hitchhike one……
A car stopped about 20 meter in front of me. I slowly walked up with some doubts and an Asian woman stepped out. She was all smiling and instead of ‘where are you going’ she asked ‘where are you from’. I said China.
She said: I am from Thailand. I stop because I think you also Thai people, so I want help. Where are you going? I can help.
Me: I am going to Rochester direction.
She: Ah! We just come from there and now we are going to Ithaca.
I thanked them and started waiting for Amish carriages again.
About 1.5 hours later a car stopped straight in front of me. A young fellow with broken T-shirt was inside. He was calm and actually even tired.
He: I live somewhere near Rochester, on the way to Buffalo actually, so step in.
I got in and we drove past the highway entrance. The polite police officer was nowhere to be seen anymore.
If I remember correctly, his name was Arwin. Arwin worked for construction and opposite where I stood there was a hotel. He worked there in the morning and afternoon, so now he was going home. He was super relaxed.
He: Most of the time I gave you guys a ride. Took a few hitchhikers before. Sorry I am broke, otherwise I could invite you for coffee.
He broke up a couple of months ago with his ex-girlfriend and started dating a super hot Colombian girl who was just here for a visit. I knew, Colombian girls could be totally super hot. However, that girl was a bit awkward in other aspects. In one of their dates she insisted to take her mother along…… So it did not work out.
Arwin was living a rather simple and boring life and he knew it. I was telling him of my philosophy about life and the joys I had along the way. Like the polite police officer, he was quite impressed. We went on and on just talking and soon we passed Rochester.
He: Shit! We passed Rochester already! Anyway I don’t have anything to do tonight, I will take you all the way to Buffalo, from there it will be just 20 miles to Niagara Falls.
What a great guy!
That was one thing I learned along the way — always try to make friends. A traveler with the most friends goes the furthest.
We stopped several times for peeing, but I won’t bother you about its detail. We drove through enormous corn fields, corn fields and corn fields. The country was big and in many places there were not much happening. The boredom here drove people crazy.
Also because of this contrast, I love traveling even more. I never feel more alive than being on the road. The smell of flowers, the buzzing of insects, the passing people and the fresh air, I cherish every bit of it because I knew I would only be here once, not just on this stretch of road, but on this planet. Life is short, so short that there is no time to waste on unhappy thoughts or boring hours. Life, is to be enjoyed.
Super Nasty Police
When we arrived in Buffalo, it was about 5 PM. He dropped me in the outskirts of Buffalo, where there was the highway leading to Niagara Falls.
I went to a gas station to fill my water bottle and had an energy bar. Suddenly I heard live music playing. Across the cheap gas station there was a big parking lot, surrounded by several posh shops and bars. I went there, sat on a chair on the terrace, eating a banana, checking wifi and listening to the live performance. It was grand.
Obviously there was an event in that pub. I saw several expensive cars pulled over, some very nicely dressed people stepped out, some photographer went to take photos of them and they were welcomed to the pub. The girls there were all pretty and glistening. According to my observation, each of them took about 14 minutes and 23 seconds to take selfies of themselves before they parked their cars and some people were honking.
I sat about 10 meter from them. Those staff members organizing this event looked at me with fearful eyes, like I was going to detonate a bomb the next moment or there were massive destructive weapons in my backpack. I behaved as naturally as possible, ignoring their looks, I mean how they looked at me.
After I found out where I was and sent a word to friends, I took a bite of another energy bar and started out again. Suddenly I remembered that when I was hitchhiking in Australia, a very young dude took me and we bought some roasted chicken together for 5 Australian dollar and that was enough for like 3 meals. It was a great deal and the chicken was delicious……
I was hungry.
You see, both the cheap gas station and the luxurious shopping center were along one street and this seemed to be a main street there. I was near the entrance of the highway to Niagara Falls but there were simply not many places for cars to stop. The perfect spot would be just at the entrance of the shopping center.
I stood there and put up my sign ‘Need A Ride’. At this time, upon suggestions by drivers who took me on that day, I already cut out the part saying ‘I Am Not A Serial-killer’. You know, just in case they missed the ‘NOT’ or only saw the last word.
I stood there anxiously for half an hour and no cars stopped, until an African American lady with very cool sunglasses drove past me and had a very good look at me, almost stopping. I was full of hope for a moment! Then she simply drove away. Ok, I shrugged.
Then she went away but 5 minutes later she appeared again on the opposite direction. Obviously she made a U-turn to come back. She stopped his car just beside me and with a very sad face full of compassion handed me something, saying ‘I feel so sorry for you.’
I looked at it, it was a 5-dollar banknote. Before I realized what was happening she was already about to drive away. Then I suddenly woke up and asked ‘Madame, are you going to the direction of Niagara Falls?’ She said warm-heartedly ‘No, I am sorry. I am so sorry.’ Then she drove away.
Yes, she thought I was a homeless beggar.
What a nice lady although she was wrong! Ok, traveling via hitchhiking obviously was not something most people understood in this country. I missed Europe at that point, where people were much more open-minded, travel-minded and simply cooler. The more I traveled, the more I realized that the ideal place for me to live in the whole planet would be northern part of Europe. So after leaving the Netherlands for 4 years, it seemed that I should go back soon.
Since nobody was stopping there, I started walking more towards the city center, hoping to find a better location. Eventually I stopped in a gas station but nobody was going to Niagara Falls. One of them told me his reason ‘are you crazy? It’s almost at the border with Canada! That’s too far! and that will be another country!’ I thought ‘seriously? It’s near the border for sure, but it was only 20 miles away. Does going abroad really scare them so much?’
A car did stop but when I ran up to it I found it was a very broken car, with a driver who was even more broken inside. This was a big dude, 40 something old, with very unruly beard and hair and loads of wrinkles. He was red-faced and red-necked. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that he was a farmer. He was drunk! and with a crutch, a broken leg and a can of bear in hand.
He: Hey man! Where are you going? Where are you from?
Me: From China, going to Niagara Falls. How about you sir?
He: Seriously? You are from China? WOWO! So how was China? You have beers there? Do you want a beer?
Then he massively burped.
Me: Eh…no thanks. I actually do not drink. But are you going anywhere?
He: No problem! You should have a beer!
Me: So, you are not going to Niagara Falls?
He: Yes, a beer, please!
Then his hand started to shake and looks like he was going to throw up, so he started to shake his head in a way to stop the rising up beer level in his stomach. The smell of a stomach full of acid and beer mixture flowed up in the air, quite unpleasant. At that very moment, the sun started to set and his hair was lit up , golden as fire. I had a look inside his car and realized that all his possessions were in the car. I just needed a ride, while he, he needed hope.
I remembered an old Jewish saying I read somewhere in a book about Jewish mysticism, to despair is the only sin.
He had sinned and I was not intending to. Never lose hope! Even in the most difficult possible situation.
I said good luck and left him and his beers.
There were several traffic lights along the way, I put up my sign while walking along the long line of cars waiting at traffic lights. Nope, no one seemed to give a shit. Actually most people were first just curious what was on the sign and they would look very carefully and once they saw it was ‘need a ride’ on it, they would freak out immediately and pretend I did not exist and when the light turned green they rushed away.
Such a cycle of ‘curious-freak out-rush away’ repeated several times and from golden the sun became orange and then reddish. Suddenly a car approached me while I was still walking with my sign on the pedestrian lane. It was a police car.
The officer inside shouted to me: PUT DOWN YOUR SIGN! NO HITCHHIKING HERE!
The thing which shocked me the most was that he shouted with so much HATRED, not anger, neither severity, pure HATRED! Seriously, when I was there walking with my sign several police cars passed and none of them actually bothered to do anything. I was not on a highway or even near any. Obviously this officer was really bothered. I said ‘Ok’ and put down my sign and walked towards the shopping center again. This police car actually followed me slowly, as slowly as my steps, just to see if I would put up my sign again. After about 15 minutes or so, he finally drove away. Even when he was following me, although he was not saying anything, I could feel clearly the hatred radiating from his car. Seriously, I would not be surprised if at a certain moment he pulled out his gun and shouted to me ‘stop hitchhiking or I will shoot!’
That was the most nasty cop I ever met in North America.
Now I had no choice anymore and really had to go on the highway. I went to the narrow ramp leading to the highway. I still put up my sign behind me while walking. I never lost hope. And guess what?
A car stopped! Without seeing my face, a car actually stopped by just seeing my sign! That could be called a miracle for hitchhiking in US!
A smiling old man with baseball cap and glasses was in his little car. We did not have much time to talk and I stepped in the car as fast as I could, as the ramp was narrow and more cars would be coming soon.
That was John, a college math teacher who also sang in a rock band. What a spirit!
John: I saw your sign saying ‘Canada’ so I thought I live in Niagara Falls and that’s pretty near Canada!
Me: What? You actually live in Niagara Falls?! WOWO! My plan was to first visit the falls and then go over border to Canada!
Then we started talking and soon we passed the bridge to the run-down town of Niagara Falls. Seriously, the American side looked so poorly developed while the Canadian side looked so much more shinny.
At a certain moment the problem of where I would sleep emerged and I asked bluntly if I could sleep in his place. He hesitated, smiles disappeared and obviously had his doubts but after 10 seconds said yes.
We parked the car, walked around the magnificent Niagara Falls, the American side I meant. Since Canadian National Day was July 1st, they celebrated on that day with huge fireworks! Now it was already one week ago but there was still huge firework on the Canadian side. We ran to see the fireworks, took a photo with the statue of Nicola Tesla, got totally wet by the falls and went back to his little cottage where he lived alone.
It was like a house from the 60s. There was no wifi and the phone was a dial phone. He loved music so he had a record player. Well, I guess record player were actually from before the 60s. Also there were 2 cats who were quite shy of strangers and on seeing me immediately jumped away. They did not look 60s.
I started to tell John about my experiences along the way, hitchhiking, couchsurfing……
John: I am used to sleeping on the couch actually, so you will have the bed.
What a lovely man!
I used the dial phone to call my friend in Ithaca telling her I was alright.
The house was next to a river and above the river there was a line of tall trees and a cool mist. Lying in bed, I heard birds mumbling in the dark, like some old grandma complaining about the coldness of the night air. Outside the thin window wind was playing with the trees, leaves falling into the water, like oars brushing upon the dreamy water.
To be continued