It was a long process finding a place to camp. After walking back to the main road I was trying to decide between three different spots when from the woods, I spied a car driving by-- very slowly. This woods was between the two ramps leading to 220, and the car proceeded to stop just before the entrance to the southbound lane. I was on the phone with Laina, and slowly crept out of the woods to see what he was doing, thinking at first that he had somehow seen me. The car just sat there, lights on, for about 10 minutes. No activity that I could see or hear, so I figured he was lost or waiting for someone.
I hung up and continued to go about my business when another car drove slowly by; slow enough for me to see in the limited light that it was the Sheriff. I dove for cover then, when I realized that he was pulling in behind the mystery car, I crept closer to play the role of spectator thinking that I may see some high- drama from the woods. This was weird, not your typical stealth- camping experience!
I watched as the cop cautiously approached the driver’s side of the car, and spoke with the driver for what seemed like eternity. Odd. Cops are generally to- the- point and it went on so long that I re-entered the woods and decided where I was going to sleep for the night while periodically peering out to check in. Cars would drive past regularly, yet still no flashing lights.
Just as I was getting ready to set up, I heard voices. Even from the woods, it was obvious that the cop was giving him a sobriety test. It was Saturday night; “typical” I thought. Just as I went back into the woods, the lights came on- scaring the hell out of me. The cop was back standing at the driver’s side door indicating the operator was back inside. This, again, went on for what seemed like forever. I just wanted them to leave so I could stealth in peace!
By now, I had gotten used to the scenario, so I went a bit deeper into the woods to be certain of avoiding detection. Just as I removed the bivy from the backpack, I heard a car start and take off—fast. I assumed it was the cop, but as I hunched back toward the road, I saw the other car FLY past me, heading east toward Randleman. Then, I heard the cop-approaching, siren blaring. Hot Pursuit! The driver had gone loco, and was trying to escape! I had visions that I would see the drunk (I presumed) crash and burn, but no such luck. The chase went directly past the intersection and through the red light that led to Walmart, and into downtown Randleman. I sat by the road and listened to the siren for quite awhile. First to the north of town; then south. This chase was obviously dramatic. I could still hear the siren fading off to the south as I climbed into the bivy at about 2am, laughing at this day! I never learned anything else about the chase, and thankfully saw no more of law enforcement.
I slept quite nicely after that, in what I thought was a very secluded area beneath some pines. When I awoke Sunday morning at about 10:00, I was shocked to see that I was actually in plain sight. Under the cover of darkness I was fine, but only 75 feet off the road, and the pines had less coverage than I thought. It was too late to stress it and I figured that everyone was either sleeping one off or in church.
I thought I had been prepared the night before, bringing extra water so I would not have to walk back toward Walmart and restock first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, I had lost the Gatorade bottle searching for the spot, and since it was already hot…back to civilization I went, loading up on water and on- special Gatorade figuring that it was going to be a long day just sitting.
I began to contemplate the wisdom of continuing to hitchhike after the experiences of the past two- days, and the results I had seen from walking. I knew Old 220 went all the way to Greensboro or, with some creative navigating, could take me around it to I-40 skirting the city all together. Again, I could not bare the idea of walking back to where I had just come from, so I settled for another day of hitching hoping that with some luck I could get into Greensboro early, swing another ride OUT of the city, and get through Raleigh.
This ramp was much better than the others in North Carolina. It was long, wide, and had a natural pull- out for people to use if they took pity on me sweating in the sun. Just as the last two days, I laid out on the pack, strapped on the headphones, and prepared to wait all day. I knew that I had NEVER gone a day without at least ONE ride, so I was relatively certain I would see Greensboro again by day’s end.
I sat on the ramp for 3-4 hours, only moving to heed Nature’s Call, or stand to awaken my sleeping--posterior. As I was returning from a nature break, a rickety old van pulled over and a woman who looked to be in her mid 50’s jumped out and asked if I needed a ride. “Hell yeah!” I said, trying to seem “confederate”. It is rare for a single woman to stop, and I was glad that I did not look threatening enough to scare her away! As I recall, this was only the fourth woman to pick me up, and the first since the bus stop in Portland.
Jo opened up the rear doors, and warned me to be careful as I loaded the backpack because she was charging a car battery back there. Something I had never seen before. Jo seemed outgoing, and a bit odd. She resembled a few aging hippies I have met; the original ones that I respect. I immediately liked her, and we began a vigorous, mostly one- sided conversation immediately after I settled in the van. Stop me if this story- line seems familiar…
Jo was nearly 60, and a few years back had a stroke. And guess what. She had been fighting health insurance companies, the state, former employers… you have heard this before, right? I laughed aloud, shook my head, and told her that she would be amazed at the number of people I had run into with similar story lines. The insurance companies and the State had essentially thrown her away after the stroke, despite the fact that she had lost use of the left side of her body, the ability to speak, and much of her short- term memory. However, Jo was different. Jo was old school. Jo had lived through the 60’s, and on the right side of them. Jo had never sold out. Jo was a fighter.
She told me about rehab, regaining use of her left- side, and re-learning how to talk. She told of how during all of this, the insurance companies were doing everything they could to avoid pay outs, and that North Carolina wanted no part of her disability claim, nor could she get assistance. Human Kapital.
Apparently, Jo had been quite the little radical in her day, and still was. Sufficiently recovered, she began berating the health- care officials, local media outlets, and anyone else who would listen to her story—thereby creating quite a stir, and negative publicity for the state and her insurance providers. So much so, that the local officials had told her that if she did not ‘shut up or move’ they were going to ‘destroy’ her. She told them exactly where they could take their threats and publicized them. Eventually, and I believe it was with a change in administrations, the state issues were resolved. She got limited assistance.
I was now in love with Jo.
She apparently has spoken out against more than just the corrupt healthcare system. She has radical viewpoints that make me look like Reagan. She told of how before the stroke, she was involved in ‘Economics’, and that in 1997 she had seen indications that the country was on thin economic- ice, only to be rescued by the dot coms. Then in 2000 the same thing was happening and that without a major influx of something, the country would go bankrupt. She pointed out that in 2000, PNAC had long since begun planning the Iraq invasion, and of course the next year: 9/11 and the ratcheting up of the famous Military Industrial Complex, conveniently generating untold billions in corporate revenues. She is convinced that the World Trade Center was the 21st Century Reichstag Fire, and has been outspoken enough for the CIA to add her to their “Dissenter List”. Quite an honor! She even told how she found out about that; losing her mail or having it delivered weeks late, then a friend working for the Postal Service informing her that it was due to the government snooping through her stuff. That’s our Patriot Act; protecting us from 60-year old stroke victims!
Interestingly, she was also one of the few liberals I have met who have a strong religious conviction…as the theme of religion continues. She spoke about that “Splinter”, the “Calling” (all unprovoked), and said she stopped because she sensed that I was on a "Mission from God." I left it there; I had had enough God for 24- hours. Nevertheless, the prevalence of southern religion, even amongst the heathens, struck me. This ride lasted only thirty minutes, and I did not do a lot of talking. In Greensboro, she gave me her phone number and invited me, not just to call, but stay with her whenever I was in the area. What an interesting person, and seemingly as emphasis to her memory loss, she almost left before I could get my backpack out of her van!
Jo dropped me off on the south side of Greensboro, at what they call the “spider web”, or “black hole”; I forget now, but something denoting that this is where all major highways converge. And, it was Randleman Rd./Old 220— the same road I had considered walking.
I was not exactly pleased with this spot.
It was perhaps the most urbanized setting to date, and it was nearing 4:00. It reminded me of Boise, and I tried to encourage myself with a reminder that I had been out of Boise in 20-minutes. I sat down beneath a tree at the Shell station where Jo had left me, and looked at the Atlas. In the two days, since Francesco had picked me up, I had progressed two miles. Sobering.
I was directly across from the ramp leading to I-40 east, so I crossed the street and assumed the position: lying against the pack with headphones blaring. I was encouraged because the traffic volume was extremely high and consistent. I was however in the ghetto; there were a portion of Greensboro’s projects directly next to me along the frontage road, and I was a point of curiosity. This made me a bit uneasy, not so much that I was there, but that I was attracting silent attention. Shortly after I arrived, a ragged woman joined me on the ramp, thumb in the air, shouting something to no one in particular. She kept rambling as she continued right past me, down the ramp, and on to the I-40 shoulder, her thumb still waving.
I was optimistic I would get out of there if I exercised some patience, so there I sat…and sat…and sat. I must have been quite the spectacle. A middle-age man in a Geo Tracker gave me short- lived hope at about 7:30 by stopping, but rather than offering a ride, said that he “wanted to take my picture, because I was the most relaxed looking hitchhiker he had ever seen! Bwaaaahahahaha!” I let him; he left.
At different times, I thought about following my crackhead contemporary in walking the grass next to the highway, if only to get a change of locales. The projects next door were beginning to be abuzz with life as dusk approached, and although they never said anything, it was apparent I was attracting more attention still. On the verge of moving, I remembered the ill-advised attempt Friday, and decided against it. That was a mistake.
Soon, the vibe turned VERY negative. As the sun fell, the looks from the almost exclusively black motorists went from curiosity and indifference, to something else. Then rather than ignoring me or just gawking, they began to get interactive. Cars actually began swerving toward me in an effort to spook me and force me to jump out of the way. I sat there like a stone, never flinching. I had seen this once or twice before and had come to half-expect it occasionally, but this was just different; ominous. It was not a time to sing Kumbaya, and mentally extol the merits of well-intentioned man. It was high time to get the hell out of there. There is a line between adventure, courage, faith, and naive, foolish, idiocy, and everything in my being told me I had crossed it. So, it was back to the Shell station for water and directions to the next exit.
It was now about 8:45, and almost completely dark. When I got to Shell, I was surprised to discover the doors already locked, and the cashier closing out his register. The store had closed before 9:00, even though the sign on the door said they were open until 10. I wondered why a Shell, right off I-40 in Greensboro, would close AT ALL, let alone 10…or NOT EVEN 10. Not all was lost though, as I looked around, I did see what seemed to be promising places to camp close to the interstate. I sat down leaning against the wall facing Randleman Rd., plugged in the phone, dug out the Atlas, and prepared for the employee to shoo me away when he left. Then the plan was to explore the ramp for places to sleep.
After sitting there for about ten minutes, I looked up to see five people crossing Randleman Rd., coming from the projects toward the Shell. As they crossed the median, they went in slightly different directions, spreading out a bit going toward different parts of the parking lot. One of them kept shifting their eyes from me, to the side of the store, to his left, right, then back—directly—to me. The others actively searching, but looking everywhere but at me--AVOIDING looking at me. They all looked to be relatively young, skinny, and hip- hopped out with the full, latest ensembles delivered directly from Stereotypical Ghetto Garb, LLC.
There was no conscious decision needed. I calmly, but quickly, unplugged the phone, shoved it in my pocket, and in the same motion, put the pack on and began walking toward the north end of the parking lot, directly in front of two of them, (neither of which were very large), and generally away from the others. That was the moment I knew I was not “just being paranoid.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the other three abruptly change course, toward me, while these two were sizing me up. They never said a word, and didn’t need to. I had no idea what they were after, but I was relatively sure I had just strapped it to my back. My knife was right there on my shoulder-strap, but what would that do against five? Other than perhaps find its way into my own gut? In a split- second, I realized that this was the FIRST time I had been in any real danger.
Then a stroke of luck. Two cars pulled in, both loaded with guys from Virginia. I needed friends at that moment, so I politely told them they might not be able to get gas because the station had closed early, hoping to start a conversation and open a window of escape. This temporarily stalled and apparently confused the Welcoming Committee. Apparently unable to improvise, they all began to congregate together on the far (south) side of the parking lot, leaving the north side open for me to get out of there. That is exactly what I did. I crossed over Randleman Rd. to the raised median and walked a short distance down the middle of this temporary divide. I then crossed the rest of the way over, to the east side of Randleman Rd. I looked back, and saw all five Committee Members following a measured, yet uncomfortably close distance behind me; maybe 75ft. I picked up the pace, thanking God that I had lightened the pack, and crossed over I-40. When I got to the other side and looked back, they were gone. I had no idea where, nor did I care. Just gone. Now what? I went in to a well-placed (for me!) BP station to catch my breath, grab a Coke, and process what had just happened.
Oddly enough, I would not define any of what I felt as “fear”. The decision to leave the Shell was instantaneous; instinct. The rest was adrenaline, a sharpening of senses & quickening of thought, and almost literally involuntary action.
The reality did not really set in until I got to the BP. I quickly began to realize the gravity of the situation, and realized that if I was not VERY smart about the next few moments I could have real problems. I needed to either find a place to get out of sight, or get the hell out of this area.
A quick survey showed that, on this side of I-40, there was nothing. There was nowhere suitable to hide for the night, and I had cut off my known escape route by crossing I-40. I looked up Randleman Rd. and saw nothing appealing, but by now, my survival instincts were in overdrive. Not the paranoid ‘instincts’ I'd had in Rawlins, Wyoming mind you; real ones! I was estimating everything—buildings, cars, semi- trailers, houses, yards, trees—anything I could use as shelter. However, those survival instincts also told me that my young stalker friends knew the area, and since I had no idea where they had gone, they could be watching me even then, waiting for me to make a move. Paranoia? Maybe. Justified in this case? You bet.
It was becoming painfully obvious as I was at this ghetto BP that I was in a bind. If I left this sanctuary, I had no idea what I would find; knowing nothing of the area other than what street the bus station was on. Like quicksand I realized, desperate, unmeasured, and irrational action could make things much worse. It was now shortly after 9, and this BP closed at 10. Fortunately, I had a 45- 50 minute haven where I could think.
I’d had enough of Greensboro. Enough of North Carolina. To hell with the Atlantic Ocean. It was reminding me of Ft. Morgan, where just getting to Nebraska was bordering on impossible. The difference being that, in Colorado, it was Mother Nature (tornadoes) seemingly blocking my path, rather than roving bands of Ghetto Kings. I already had the bus information, thanks to Friday’s drama, and knew I was relatively close to the terminal. I called Laina again to tell her about this little adventure and to try to get some perspective.
Her assessment: “You need to get the fuck out of there!”
I agreed. We discussed the ticket, and since I still had the $20 Will had given me the night before (forgot to mention that, didn’t I?), I had cash for a Taxi if I needed one.
The attendant inside was very helpful. I asked him how far it was downtown, and when he told me it would take a couple hours to walk, I asked how much the taxis would charge to get me down there. He said he could not imagine it being more than $10, so I borrowed the phone book, wrote down the number, and thanked him. We then chatted for a few minutes about the trip, as he was intrigued by where I had been, and how far to this point. I left what had just happened off my list of anecdotes. I am not sure why, other than it was the ONLY example of its kind, and it seemed like a shame to bring it up. When he asked me why I was taking the bus, I again ignored the obvious, in favor of “I’m just tired.” Not entirely a lie.
The clerk had to get busy closing, so I went outside and on a whim decided to give calls to Ken & Cesar, on the off chances that they may be in the region. A slim chance, but it was a slim chance when I called Ken from Denver the last time. I had really hoped that I could get a hold of Ken. He had made an offhanded comment on the way to Nashville that if I ever got a ticket to Tampa, I could hang out, and perhaps ride out with him. Not only would I get to see Tampa, but also the trip would continue, and the ticket would cost less than Albuquerque would! I got voice mails for both of them, so called the taxi and after 20 minutes, it came and took me downtown to Greyhound, costing me $10 even.
As I got to the desk, and began pricing different locations (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, etc.), Ken called back. Good timing! I quickly gave him the rundown, and said that if the offer was legit, I could come to Tampa and see what happened. Ken said that he was actually planning to leave the next (Monday) morning so would be long gone by the time the bus got there. He suggested instead that I go to Atlanta, where he was almost certain he would be picking up his usual load, and then heading somewhere that he would learn early Monday morning.
Perfect! I could get the same bus out of Greensboro tonight, get to Atlanta at 7am, meet up with Ken, and then ride off to Parts Unknown and perhaps continue this little adventure, with another fun, spontaneous little wrinkle in it! At the very least, I figured I could ride back toward Denver, and if that was were where I wound up, the ticket home would be a fraction of the cost. The only slight reservation I had was, what if something happened the next day, and he DID NOT pick up in Atlanta? Atlanta is not a good place to be stuck, although if I were stuck it would be at the terminal, or a truck stop. I was taking a slight risk, but the odds were heavily in my favor.
After getting some vague directions from Ken on where to meet him, I bought the $71 ticket from Greensboro to Atlanta and left at 11:40pm. I was happy that I had gotten a hold of Ken and was not just heading to New Mexico, although a significant part of me just wanted to relax, and begin to process everything that has happened over the last three months, which was daunting!
Nevertheless, with September fast approaching, and with it yet another 29th birthday, I concluded I had better keep going; make use of the time I have this summer. Again, I was astounded at the progression of the day: I had woken up in woods near Randleman, North Carolina hoping to get, finally, back to Greensboro then to Raleigh and toward the Outer Banks. 12 hours later? I was was aimed toward Atlanta.
The ride to Atlanta? Other than stopping in Charlotte, the driver being half-crazed, the bus being over packed, riding through Hurricane Fay’s remnants, and the door flying open in the middle of the night? Uneventful. Typical “Dirty Dog”. I dozed off half-hoping Ken would not show up, so I could follow Sherman’s March to Savannah, and stick my smelly feet in that damn ocean just to spite it.
In the end, these events in Greensboro did not faze me much. Ultimately, they were my own fault. I have purposely avoided urban centers for exactly this reason. I never conferred with Jo when it could have mattered, and that is no one’s fault but mine. In Colorado, Wyoming, California, Oregon, and most of Idaho, I was VERY good about this, but after pulling off my “urban stealthing stunt” in Pocatello, then getting lucky with the location in Winston-Salem, I lost sight of common sense.
Secondly, I lingered there long after I realized the setting could get dicey; long enough to where it was too late. I relied, again, too much on getting a ride, and should have simply walked out. There is a reason that this was the only significant danger I have ever found myself in on this journey, with the exception, some would say, of the freight train. It is telling that it was due to a failure of discipline and common sense.
Travel stories and the occasional rantings of an evolving cynic who's simply in search of a little human authenticity. Tales include hitching across the Rockies with an eventual cop-killer, a weekend with a terminally-ill billionaire, meeting my siblings for the first time, trips to Mexico, and scores of random people from Mass.-Slab City-Chiapas who are often even more interesting...for better or worse!
"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan