only in nightmares

I feel bad that I don’t have as much to say about hanging out with friends and family as I do about hanging out with strangers. But, what it comes down to is when I’m with people I already know, I am content to do absolutely nothing for days. Because I’m in the presence of people with whom I am already completely comfortable, and whose presence I adore. Sorry friends, it’s not that I don’t love you or am not impressed with you. Quite the contrary.

Actually though, my time in Geneva was pretty eventful. Cassiopeia took me to several of her favorite restaurants, and the girl has fine taste. We indulged in a chill pizza and cookie and movie night. We had breakfast with Todd and Hope, very dear friends from Naples. Whom I also spent my Sunday with, on my own private tour of lovely Wheaton. I got to see the Wheaton campus and their church. We went for a drive to admire the local, so charming architecture. And for lunch and a stroll around the lake. I got to see their home and hang out with their dogs. I love how many dog friends I’ve had on this trip. Also the diversity of the people I get to see. The last time I saw Todd and Hope was in Seattle a few years ago. Traveling by hitching has definitely allowed for a broader itinerary than I could have managed by plane, bus, or train.

Cassie and I also stopped in at her family’s house and biked from Batavia to Geneva. It was a really nice visit. But I miss living with all of my ex-roommates. I love that I have the opportunity to have these moments with people I care about, but it always makes me a little sad, too. 14054448_10157361749315581_6707912444237403548_oScreen Shot 2016-09-04 at 12.20.24 AMIMG_4950
It was a bit of a hassle, getting me to the interstate. Cassie lives an unfortunate distance from both the road I took to get to Geneva, and the road I needed to get out of Geneva. She had to bring her nanny kids and half her family (thanks to all!) to drop me off on I-88. It was a later start than usual, but I’m beyond getting anxious. Everything happens, and all. I got a ride with a posh guy in his thirties. He candidly informed me that he had no license, but it was okay, because he has good lawyers, and it’s not a big deal. Well, at least he wasn’t taking me very far. Interestingly he, too, had lived in Olympia for several years. He even had an Oly tattoo to prove it. I asked him to let me off at exit 136, just before our roads split. But he told me there was an exit for my turnoff. Even better. However, despite him having hitchhiked in his youth (at thirteen!), he didn’t know what he was talking about. The ‘exit’ was literally just a fork in the interstate. He dropped me off with 65mph traffic thwushing past. Lovely. I consulted google maps, and determined that the exit behind me was closer than the exit ahead of me. So I started walking, illegally, backwards. It ended up being a pretty inoptimal on-ramp. But, I didn’t really have much choice. A couple pulled over to make sure I was okay. They approached me as if I were a wild animal; I can’t shake the look of apprehension on their faces. I wonder if they thought I was on drugs, or out of my mind, or perhaps a criminal. Regardless, it made me feel disgusting. But I’m glad to have all these miles under my belt, from Washington until here. There’s some substance to your defense of hitchhiking when you’ve traversed almost the entire width of the country.

The couple left, but were replaced pretty quickly with flashing red and blue lights. I’ve had a fair amount of police pass while I’ve been hitchhiking, and it’s always a mixture of relief and satisfaction when they just keep driving. This one didn’t. I felt calm. No quickened pulse, no anxious thoughts. He rolled down his window and I approached with a smile.
 The officer was very friendly. But he told me that hitchhiking was illegal. Which, was news to me. I had researched the hitchhiking laws in each state before I embarked upon this trip. I said as much, in the least argumentative way possible. I asked him politely about the specific laws, and he said that yes, hitchhiking is illegal on all roads in Illinois and had been for some time. This didn’t sound right to me, but I wasn’t about to argue and escalate the situation. I wasn’t being treated like a criminal, and I responded in kind. A female officer had shown up in the meantime, and she more or less took over. She ended up driving me away from the highway to a nearby mall. She had to search me before I got into the car. I was curious about what passersby made of the situation, but I wasn’t bothered. This is my third time ‘hitchhiking’ with a police officer, but the first in this country. The officer, who wasn’t much older than me, was very curious about my trip and my life, and was extremely polite about the whole ordeal. She dropped me off, apologetically, and repeatedly made sure I was alrightIMG_4958I sat on the bench outside of Macy’s for quite some time, trying to determine my next move. My first thought was to try to find a rideshare on craigslist. But there was surprisingly not much happening in the Chicago area. I looked into buses to Indiana (after thoroughly re-checking the hitchhiking laws in both Indiana in Ohio). There was a $6 Greyhound bus from Chicago, IL to Gary, IN. I’ve heard only bad stories about Greyhound experiences, but, it seemed like a decent option. It was nearly noon, and I felt more than a little defeated. I was thinking of heading back to Geneva and starting again the next morning. That was my plan, until I realized that I am not so easily defeated. This is hitchhiking, this is traveling. Things happen and you figure them out and you keep going. Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with going backwards, in fact that was one of my favorite experiences with the Birthrighters, when we had one of two failed hitching days in Europe. We spent a bonus night with our CS host in Salzburg (whom we were all slightly in love with), and started fresh in the morning. And not that I would ever be opposed to spending more time with Cassiopeia. But I just felt like it was important, in this instance, for me to move forward. I’ve grown far too accustomed to my comfort zone in the past few years. I google maps-ed it, and found a bus headed towards Chicago leaving in less than five minutes. I took a bus and two trains to get to Gary, Indiana. It cost $11.

Gary, Indiana is probably the sketchiest place I’ve ever been. The eastbound on ramp adjacent to the metro station was closed. Of course. So, I shouldered my bags and walked a mile to the nearest entrance. The houses I passed looked abandoned, but I realized that they were not, in fact. Maybe people were just terrified of their neighbors. Yikes. The people were friendly enough. But back in Oak Brook I had considered sleeping here, and that was hopefully not going to happen. This was literally the worst hitchhiking location I’ve encountered. There were two separate on ramps and there was nowhere I could stand to catch traffic from both. Indiana actually has the most strict hitchhiking laws of any state I’ve been through, and I was not interested in being picked up by the police twice. In one day, no less. Also problematic was the depressingly infrequent traffic. Literally about two cars passed every ten minutes. But I had been through a lot today, and I refused to cave in to negativity. It was dusky, the weather was nice enough, and I was here. A car stopped, and the driver took me further than he needed to in order to leave me in a decent location (it’s really refreshing when people actually consider hitchability.) It was a truck stop that was closed except for truck parking. I considered spending the night here, and trying to get a lift in the morning. All of these trucks would be here for the duration of the night. But I decided instead to walk into town, get some tea and internet, and try my luck with the interstate entrance there. Portage was grand in comparison to Gary. I scanned the area for camping spaces as I walked. There were plenty of good options. This was going to be a fine night. Starbucks is not my favorite, but it suffices in a pinch. I was happy to spend a few hours there.

The sky was black when I finally left. I had scoped out a forested area just by the interstate, but upon exiting Starbucks, I noted a small grouping of trees to my right. I checked it out and decided it would do. After feeling the ground for dampness, and deeming it satisfactory, I curled up with my backpacks and laid there for awhile before falling asleep. The frogs, crickets, katydids, cicadas, and the like were in full swing. The noise from the interstate sounded quiet in comparison. I was pleasantly surprised to see the rhythmic glow of fireflies illuminating my personal forest ceiling. Finally assured that I wouldn’t be disturbed by local hooligans or animals, I pulled out my silk sheet, slathered on some bug balm, and got a pretty decent night of sleep, really. That said, I was awake by 4:30. So I headed to the interstate and camped out in the grass of the Holiday Inn. I’ve never been keen on hitchhiking in the dark, and I didn’t want to take any chances of someone calling the police on me. So I made a breakfast of the madras lentils I had been carrying with me since Olympia, and waited until sunrise. I had known before I started out that I would end up camping somewhere, and to be honest, I was excited about it. I could do this more often.

I had to wait an hour and a half, the longest wait of this trip. Not so much as a stop headed in the wrong direction. Was this how it was going to be, eastern US? I was offered forty bucks for a bus ticket, which I declined, obviously. Finally, I heard a shout from behind me. There was a man saying he would be headed east in a few minutes. I thanked God and grabbed my bags. Not only was he heading east, he was driving all the way to Mansfield, Ohio. Half an hour from my destination! I settled in for a five hour ride. He was pretty quiet, and conversation was sparse. Even though I consider myself a mostly quiet person, I pride myself on being able to elicit conversation from people, particularly strangers. Hitchhiking and couchsurfing will do that for you. I was bomb at getting anyone to engage when I first started at TJ’s. But this guy I could only get excited about his three cats back home. Oh well, I’ve never minded silence. He had been in the military, and now worked on railroad signals. It just so happened that the exit where his road and mine split was the exit for Strongsville, which rung a symphony of bells in my mind. He was going to drop me at a gas station, but on the way I saw a promising sight: Rockne’s. I was pretty sure my uncle owned a Rockne’s in Strongsville, and I called my mom to check. He did, and it was possible that someone in my family would be working. She immediately called my aunt who ended up coming to acquire me. It had taken a lot to get here, but Ohio, here I am.

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never squirrels

Megan, my CS host, was working until late afternoon. Given I had only an hour’s distance to cover hitchhiking from Minnesota, I made it to Eau Claire before noon. She had left a key hidden for me, and there was also potentially going to be a CSer from New Zealand there when I arrived. He was. His name is Peter, and this was his first time in the States. His first time off of his continent, in fact. He had come all this way to attend the Eaux Claires music festival (and here I thought Sunita and I had make quite the trek from Washington last year). He was a pretty interesting guy, rather chill, mostly quiet. I didn’t mind. Megan arrived home early and made tacos for us. We had a mostly uneventful evening, which is my preference on hitching days.

Peter and Megan were gone before I awoke the next morning. I was excited about my day in Eau Claire. This is probably the most random stop on my trip. But Sunita and I didn’t get to explore much when we were here for the festival, and I’ve been wanting to come back ever since. I walked downtown to the farmer’s market, and then meandered through the streets. I happened into a record store and decided to buy my first ever record – I don’t even own a record player! But I guess I like the idea of owning my favorite albums in vinyl. Only albums that are perfect. This first one was the self-titled album by The xx. But now I have a record to lug across the US with me. Great decision making, always. After strolling, I ended up back at Megan’s before taking a bike ride. I partook in something she said everyone should have upon visiting Eau Claire: a hot and hammy. Which is a delectable dive bar sandwich. When in Wisconsin(?). I biked around until late afternoon, through parks and over bridges. I quite like Eau Claire. Megan was home when I got back, and we went to the Lazy Monk brewery to enjoy their patio overlooking the Chippewa River. I like these tame destinations. I especially enjoyed people watching here. Eau Claire feels like a bit of an anachronism to me. It’s the type of place where small gangs of kids bike the streets without their parents; it feels small, it feels safe.IMG_4945Megan dropped me the next morning at what I felt was a strange location, but eventually  I understood why. It was a road filled with businesses, and I tried to walk past them to an actual highway, but the road turned from normal business lined street to fast interstate with no warning. I walked several miles to get to the nearest on ramp, in hopes of calmer traffic. There was calmer traffic yes, but also noticeably less traffic. I finally acquired the first in a long and tedious series of rides. This was my hardest day thus far. I definitely had to work for my miles to Geneva. There was a lot of walking, a lot of being dropped off at in-optimal exits, and a lot of patience. It did feature two notably great rides. The first was two best friends who offered for several minutes to take me to Milwaukee so I could catch a bus. When I finally convinced them I wasn’t interested, the conversation shifted to other things.

Dale: Do you tell your parents where you are?
Me: Yes.
Dale: Did you tell your parents you’re in a van with two black men?
Me: No.
Dale: Do you associate with black people?
Me [laughing]: Yes
David: Of course she does man, she wouldn’t have gotten in the car with us if she didn’t.

Around this time David gets a call, and tells what is presumably his female that he picked up a girl hitchhiking. She apparently didn’t believe him and he hands the phone to me, “tell her who you are.” I went through a conversation with this woman, explaining just why I am hitchhiking across the country. Satisfied (after reprimanding me), she asks for David and I handed the phone back. He said she was jealous. They gave me their number in case I needed anything, ran into any trouble, or was ever back in the area. They also insisted I text them upon reaching Geneva, so they would know I made it safely.

The second cool ride of the day was my first solo female. She was twenty-three, and said I just looked non-threatening (I get that a lot.) Her boyfriend called, and she, too, informed him that she had picked up a hitchhiker. I listened, amused, to her side of the conversation. He was clearly concerned, and she was enjoying taunting him from her entirely safe situation. My favorite part was the line “She’s traveling from Washington to Florida, and I’m party of her journey!” that’s exactly the spirit I hope for.

There was a handful of other rides, but the final one I’ll detail was the last. I was dropped at Cassie’s exit on I-90. On my map, I could see she lived just off Randall Road, but what I didn’t realize was that it was fourteen miles away. Ugh. I was ready to be done for the day. I walked a bit down Randall, looking for a place where cars could conceivably pull off, but knowing I had no chance. Already defeated, I stuck my thumb out and tried to pretend like I was happy and hopeful. This lasted for about ten minutes before I gave up and trudged to the 7-eleven nearby. I bought a tall, cold tea and was ecstatic about consuming it. As I was exiting the store, a man coming in stopped me. “I saw you on the street…do you need a ride somewhere?” Astounding. “Uh, yeah, I just need to head down Randall for like fourteen miles.” He didn’t even get anything at 7-eleven, he just cleared out his passenger seat for me and drove me all the way to my destination. People are the best, sometimes.

less like soup and more like heaven

So I forgot to mention that on the way to Ohio Corvin’s check engine light came on. Again. After just being fixed hours prior in New York. My parents insisted upon switching cars. Which we did, gratefully. But it was sad to pull out of my grandma’s driveway and leave Corvin pitifully, brokenly behind. But my parents’ car is much fancier. Volume control on the steering wheel, a CD player that works 100% of the time, seat warmers (not something I enjoy, but still), an honest to goodness clock, and admittedly much more room. Luxury. So Corvin was soon all but forgotten. Well, that is until we were about ten miles from Cassie’s family’s home and we filled the tank of our new vehicle. I think my heart changed its rhythm as the dollar signs increased. Little Corvin had been averaging about $27 per tank on the trip so far. My parents’ reached $66. I was not impressed. But I reminded myself 1) that their tank was larger, and 2) that we were incredibly lucky to even have a vehicle at this point. Thank God for my overwhelmingly generous parents.

The very blue house in Batavia became quite full when our party of four merged with the usual six residents. Between receiving numerous gifts and much adoration from the two youngest, and catching up with Beth, whom I’ve not seen for several years, our arrival stood in stark contrast to the past several hours of driving. I’ve realized road trips are a good balance of calm and [hopefully] uneventful stretches of driving past miles of gorgeous scenery, and periods of concentrated and vivid interaction with the people where and with the places in which you arrive. I appreciate both, but what I really appreciate is their harmony.

The events of Chicago (or, in my mind The City of Revolving Doors) sadly did not mirror Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as planned. But I still very much enjoyed the day. The Sears (or Willis, if you insist on being current) Tower was skippable in my opinion. Especially after just having been on the Empire State Building. But, whatever. The Bean in Millennium park was enchanting, however. I could have stayed and regarded it for hours. We stopped at a grocery store/vegetarian cafe called Kramer’s, which was a great decision. I’ve had this vegan Cuban sandwich in my mind for months now, seeing as Cuban sandwiches are the only form of pork I enjoy, and are the main situation in which I actually miss meat. But I haven’t gotten around to actually realizing this idea. Well Kramer’s beat me to it. Their Cuban sandwich was good, but I still think I can do it better, and I plan to.

There were non-food related events between lunch and dinner, but they weren’t especially noteworthy, so I’ll move right on to Gino’s. It had happened four or five times that when I mentioned the word ‘Chicago’ in relation to our itinerary, people responded with “go to Gino’s!” And so we did. Despite the fact that for the majority of the trip I’ve reduced myself to two meals a day, I consider both my vegan Cuban, and my deep dish pizza worthy investments. Not to mention, our server Dane! was one of the best waiters on the planet. We skipped out on the comedy venue we had planned on going to that evening in favor of spending more time at Gino’s and also stopping by the very fancy Grand Lux Cafe for Cassie’s dessert. By then we were exhausted. Three out of the four of us slept on the train ride back to Batavia.

Chicago Ginos

I really like the aesthetic of Chicago. It has interesting tall buildings and a lot going on, but it has a lot of space. Just walking through, there are pockets of air and sky filled places, the streets feel wide, and the people walking about don’t resemble some sort of human sardine run. It is has a sense on non-oppressive muchness.

My favorite part was the Tribune Tower. I started noticing these odd pieces of rocks here and there that didn’t seem to belong to the smooth facade. There were engravings of place names beneath each protrusion. As I walked along, I realized that these were collected from famous structures from across the world and then displayed in the walls of this building. It was fascinating. I think I can safely say that the Tribune Tower is my favorite structure in the US. I love that it wasn’t even an intended destination of our visit, we just brushed past it. You can’t even begin to imagine all that you’ll encounter on any given day.