Two big guys, two big packs, and two big smiles sat on the side of the road.
One with a beat-up guitar.
One with a sign.
Would you stop for them?
When you’re trying to get from one place to another with only your charm for cab fare, how do you go about it?
The boys began their journey on the San Diego coast, at the famous 101.
They ended up as far north as Seattle, Washington before the summer closed out.
There were some things, says my son, that he learned the hard way, and some things that he was born already knowing.
This hitch-hiking adventure was a hodgepodge of both, and everything in-between and they never knew what was coming down the road next.
The first mistake that became obvious long before he wanted to admit it, was his choice of shoes.
He figured if the army could march through deserts and over mountains in boots, so could he.
They ended up doing a lot of walking. And a lot of waiting. But those big army boots were the wrong shape for either. Closed and hot, his feet blistered up early on.
By the time they reached Santa Barbara, the ten pound a-piece footwear made a cross-fit workout seem tame.
It took a while to find a spot for the night. They settled on a cozy place behind a dumpster that sat behind a church.
When two police officers woke them with a firm kick at three in the morning, they were off and marching again, brushing the roaches from their faces.
Slowly, they walked the length of the town without stopping.
When dawn broke, it occurred to them that they had completely circled Santa Barbara, and were back at the street where they had begun the evening before.
They almost cried.
Legs aching, and dizzy from lack of sleep, they sat on the beach all morning. At some point they realized a soup kitchen was open nearby and joined the local bums for brunch.
Once Santa Barbara was finally behind them, the boots were traded out for cheap, light, flexible skate shoes.
My kid is an artist in general and a doodler in particular, so he was in charge of the cardboard roadside signs.
One side had crazy art, the type that catches your attention.
On the other, in big bold lettering, he put the name of the next town north.
Sometimes, his cardboard art caught the attention of passers-by, who stopped to observe his freehand and stayed to chat them up about their travels. It was obvious from the sign that they weren’t your ordinary, every day bums, but kids on a wild adventure.
It was a great conversation starter.
A couple of times, people insisted on buying the art piece on the spot, and he pocketed $20 or $30 with it.
But most of the time, the sign served it’s purpose and stopped a vehicle heading north.
Then the sign got tossed.
His buddy played an acoustic guitar, and although it wasn’t in a case, it doubled as a wallet a lot of the time, a handy place to stash small valuables.
They made up songs as they walked down the road, picking out melody lines and making up lyrics about the cars that weren’t stopping for them.
Some days, they never got a lift.
And some days, they turned them down.
A lady pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into her car, the boys saw at least eight large dogs milling around in the seats.
“They’re really sweet dogs, fellas!” she insisted.
They waved her on, sure that they didn’t want to join the circus.
An older man pulled over and offered them a ride. Peering into his car, there were a couple of red flags to consider. First, he wore nothing but a pair of tighty-whities. Second, there was a ten-inch bowie knife lying on the console.
“I’ll take ya where ever you want to go, guys!” he insisted.
“Nah,” said my son, “we’re good. Thanks!”
The elderly gentleman couldn’t hide his disappointment, but moved on.
They were already in the car with a young woman when their radar detected an unidentified flying freak-show vibe. And not just because she was tweaky. Upon further conversation, the woman confessed that she may or may not have killed someone and she may or may not be pursued by police and she may or may not be driving directly through the next couple of states, but they were sure welcome to ride along.
The boys insisted they were just fine being dropped off in the next convenient town or clump of trees, whichever came first.
A lot of the time, however, they were picked up by more or less regular folks. Sometimes it was other kids, wandering for the summer, or on their way to festivals. Sometimes it was people flat out curious, wondering what these two nomads were doing out in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes it was mom-types who had sons of her own their age, and she insisted on taking them home for dinner.
The songwriters turned storytellers once the ride began.
It was only fair to give your benefactors something in return for the favor, and as they introduced themselves, names, histories, and ancestries were made up at random by the boys. Everyone in the vehicle would exchange life information, driving down the highway and telling stories, some true, some false, and no one caring either way.
Enjoying the company, most drivers were just happy to hang out until the next town loomed on the horizon. It was live entertainment, a happy change from the radio.
Only once did a semi-truck pull off the road and offer them a ride.
It took forever for it to come to a stop, and the boys weren’t sure if it was for them, but they ran towards it, determined to convince the driver anyway.
Hopping from the cab was one of two Armenian brothers who, with the aid of very broken english and a smart phone, invited them into a cab containing a full kitchen and a set of bunk beds.
The boys went as far as Portland with them, learning Armenian folksongs from one excellent guitar-playing brother while the other put the hammer down, singing at the top of their lungs and higher than kites from a cab full of pot.
Before that, there was Ronan, the happy Irishman.
But we’ll leave him for another story.