Thursday, August 02, 2007


Fastest Thumb in the West

Back in my hitchhiking days, as related in this earlier entry, mainly in the early 1960's before the hippies ruined it, I used to be able to outrun the Greyhounds on my thumb. I did so many times. Often, my rides came from truckers who wanted a conversation to help pass the time. Sometimes I'd ride in a truck all night long, talking with the driver about roads, cities, past adventures and even politics. He'd often spring for breakfast to boot, even though I'd try to talk him out of it. 'Twas I who owed him, and sometimes I'd manage to talk him into letting me take the tab.

Once, when hitching from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Waukegan, Illinois to Grand Forks in winter, I was dropped off at about midnight in the outskirts of Bemidji, Minnesota (Curling capital of the United States). It was cold. Very cold, and still. The air was so cold it couldn't move. I was in Navy blues (wool) with just a peacoat. I knew that if I didn't get a ride soon, I'd have to find shelter or I'd freeze.

There was very little traffic.

I kept my eyes on a nearby building, a meeting hall of some sort. It was all lit up. The plan was to go over there if I got dangerously cold. Or, if the lights started going out.

After about an hour, I knew I couldn't last much longer. Did I mention it was cold?

A truck appeared and I shifted to make sure I was in his headlights. He stopped!

Man, did that warm cab feel good! I thawed. Soon, I could move my knees and elbows without hearing the creaking of my joints.

There were two drivers in the truck--one in the coffin and one driving. They were Canadians. Because of the relative quality of American highways, Canadians often opted to use them instead of braving the northern highways, even with the additional miles. These guys were coming from somewhere near Ottawa and headed for Winnipeg.

The driver said he thought I might be in trouble. I told him I was about to start knocking on doors.

The guy in the back joined in, and we talked about Canada. I was kind of interested in Canada, because Grand Forks is only 75 miles from Winnipeg and I'd go up there once in a while. They had some great coffee houses there, in which there was poetry reading and folk singers. I never could understand beatnik poetry (I think I was too rational to get it), but I liked the folk music of the time. The Kingston Trio were among my favorites, and this one coffee house had a copycat trio.

I digress.

In the end, the guys said that I could visit Canada as much as I want, but I should stay in the US. They stopped at a truck stop in Crookston, where they were turning north. After a break and a hot cup, I bid the guys thanks and farewell, and they drove off as the first glow of morning appeared in the east.

Crookston is only about 15 miles from Grand Forks, and I got a ride pretty quickly. I hit the streets of town at about 8am Saturday, according to the First National Bank's time/temperature clock. The clock also flashed 30 degrees below zero (F).

Later, the tv declared that it had been 56 below in Bemidji overnight.

Little wonder that Babe is a blue ox!

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California

5 comments:

Mike said...

Saw John Stewart a couple of times at the Golden Bear in Surf City, now just a distant memory thanks to urban renewal. Wow, what a show. Besides his tenure with the Kingston Trio he had a big hit with Stevie Nicks called Gold. People out there turning music into gold. Now he's old and I'm wondering what ever happened to Alice. Last I heard her place fell down in the Wittier earthquake. I know what happened to Ruthie. Skank. Obscure, I know. Got dam.

Great truck story, but eclipsed slightly by the near death experience (for you, not the truck driver) in Tn.

The Wine Commonsewer said...

Oh sorry, that was from the Wine Commonsewer..........

Col. Hogan said...

I guess, with every adventure, there's some risk of injury or death. I've been both lucky and good. Either one works.

As Neal Peart once wrote, and Geddy Lee sang, "We're only immortal for a limited time....."

Daphne said...

I have a nephew living in Bemidji. It's interesting to find someone else who's heard of that faraway little town. You must be made of steel to have withstood that cold! Brrrrr. The furthest north I've been was Milwaukee and that was too cold for my system.

Nice story.

Col. Hogan said...

Thanks for the compliment. I occasionally like to write about one of my little adventures, partly for those who know me, and partly to show how much more free we used to be. Many of these things couldn't be legally done today. Others, well, one would be a fool to try hitchhiking in today's world.

There's a lot less respect for the individual, his sovereignty and his property than there used to be. I mostly blame government--the government's children's prisons.