The Start of a New Life: D.C. to Cleveland (Part 2)

When the word hitchhiking is mentioned, 99% of the time the first things that come to mind are DANGEROUS, followed by CRAZY PEOPLE and lastly DEATH. It almost never crosses peoples’ mind that there might be a positive aspect to hitchhiking. We as a society tend to focus, as well as put all our energy into the negatives aspects of things when there is so much good happening around us.

During our hitchhiking trip from D.C. to Cleveland (Don’t forget to read: The Start of a New Life: D.C. to Cleveland Part 1), Ben and I met some amazing individuals, both male and female of all ages and ethnicity. All of whom did not overlook us, and went out of their way to get us closer to our destination. Of the 8 rides we received to get to Cleveland not once did we feel scared, nervous or feared for our lives. If anything, we were astonished at how nice people were. So, to help change people’s presumption of hitchhiking, I will introduce you to some of our drivers.

Our First Driver

After waiting a little less than 30mins on an on-ramp to I-66, our first driver pulled up. She wasn’t heading in our direction but she still wanted to help us. She drove us 15mins out of her way to the first rest stop off of I-66. Though we ended up waiting 2hrs and 15mins for our next ride, she was the person that helped us start our adventure. We later found out that she actually drove back to the rest stop later that day, but we had already left. She said she was “nervous” for us.

Meet Marilyn

Marilyn is an American women married to an European man and together they have a 9 year old daughter. Her husband is from Britain and similar to Ben and I, they are an interracial couple that loves joking around about being a black and white couple.

Though Marilyn never mentioned whether she had hitchhiked before, she told us that her cousin hitchhiked South America for a year. He starved and slept under bridges many times during his trip, but yet he still loved it and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Meet Walli our baggage carrier

The Junk Dealer

We were waiting on the corner of the I-81N on-ramp for about 20mins when our next driver, a woman pulled up beside us in her pick-up truck. She was headed just two exits out but offered to take us further to the next rest stop.

When we got into the truck we realized how dirty and messy the truck was. There were pipes, containers and other things that Ben and I would easily call junk all over the place. We soon found out there was a reason for it. She (we never actually got her name. When hitchhiking people are more likely to tell you  their life stories before they even mention their names.) was a Junk Dealer. For a living, she buys old stuff, a.k.a junk and resells them. She also used to buy old storage units that no one ever claimed or stop paying for, for  about $40. However, since the show, “Storage Wars” on A&E Network there are now hundreds of people at a storage auction, and the storage units are going for about $1000 or higher. The Junk Dealer said that paying that much for a storage unit, when you don’t know what’s inside, is too much of a gamble.

As with all our drivers, we asked the Junk Dealer why she picked us up and if she has ever hitchhiked before? Her response, “I picked you guys up because you guys are just kids and you remind me of when I was younger.”

When we got off at our exit, she drove us to a store and told us she had to grab something and would then drive us to a better spot. Now, this woman that we only spoke to for about 15mins was very trusting, not trusting because she picked up random strangers but because she left us alone in her car with the keys still in the ignition. If we were horrible people, which we aren’t, we would have had a free truck to tour the USA. After a few minutes, The Junk Dealer, came back to the truck and handed us $10. “That’s all I have right now, but please be careful and enjoy your trip”.

And just like that we were off and on our way to find our next victim, umm I mean driver.

As we waited….

Once again, Ben and I found ourselves at a horrible spot. At this point we were about 50miles away from where the I-81N and I-70W (which we needed to head to) intersect. While Ben was trying to hitch a ride, I was packing up all of our spare cardboard signs into our bags so it will be easier to grab and go when we get a ride. In my peripheral, I saw a white front bumper to a car. I thought to myself, “Nice, he was able to get a car to stop. That was easy and here I thought we were in a bad spot”. When I finally stood up and turned around, I was surprise to see that is was actually a cop car.

Ben and Jazzy pulled over by a cop
Our first time being pulled over by a cop

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel nervous, or scared. This was mostly because I knew we weren’t doing anything illegal, we didn’t have anything on us that we weren’t supposed to have and I was also feeling pretty lucky.

Anyway, the cop gestured for me to come and join him and Ben. He asked where we came from, how we got here, and where we were headed and if we had IDs? Of course we answered his questions and handed him our IDs. The cop responded “really, you guys are really hitchhiking? You know it is dangerous right? But if you’re careful, it could be fun. You guys are crazy, and brave all at the same time. Anyway, let me check your IDs. I’ll be right back.”

When he got into the car, I took the opportunity to snap not one but two pictures of Ben and the cop car. (Yup, that’s how excited I was, not scared at all. It kind of felt like the moment you check something off your bucketlist). Ben didn’t even notice until we reached Cleveland and he was checking the camera.

The cop got out of his car and handed us our IDs. Then he told us to be safe and shook his head. As he was heading back to his car he turned around and said “you’re going to have a hell of an experience”.

“Wait, did that just happen, did that cop really tell us to have fun and wasn’t an asshole? Okay this is definitely our luckiest day ever”.

The Storyteller

After the cop pulled off we figured we would change our location to a somewhat better spot across the street.

Before we put our thumb out, Ben said to me “babe, no one is going to be able to see the sign you wrote. It’s too small and the letters are too close together. I’ll just make another one.” As he knelt down to write another sign, I tried to hitch a ride with my “crappy” sign, and before Ben could finish writing North on his sign our storytelling driver pulled over.

With barely enough room in his back seat he told us to make some space and hop in.

Now, John is a really interesting guy, he talked a mile a minute and we hardly had the opportunity to say a word. We had 32 miles ahead of us and John had no problem filling the time up with his stories.

No luck at the truck stop

John travels the USA all the time, but he only hitchhiked once. “When I was younger I escaped from a juve center through a vent at 6:30am and tried to hitch a ride back home and no one would pick me up. So, I ended up walking about 44 miles towards my town. It wasn’t until I was 5miles away that someone picked me up.

You guys are lucky I picked you up, I was in one of my okay moods. I had a shitty night. I got pulled over twice by the cops for a DUI and got my license taken.” Ben and I interjected, “wait does that mean you are driving without a license now?” “Yes and No, they gave me this paper to use as my license in the mean time.” (pheww, what a relief)

The stories continued for miles, we heard stories about his three year long relationship, his road trips to Utah, stories about when he got shot, stories about his favorite and least favorite place to travel to in North America. We also heard stories to why he never made it outside North America.

In John’s car, we were never bored and he was consistently giving us advice and suggestions of place we must visit on our hitchhiking tour. John ended up driving a few more miles away from his destination to a truck stop he thought would be a good spot for us to hitch a ride from. He had so many stories to share because he didn’t just stay at home, he took risks and did things that made him happy. He was adventurous. We can’t wait until we too can tell as many stories as he can.

Motown Kind of Guy

For some reason we never have much luck with truck stops. Of the three truck stops we tried to hitch from in the past, we probably waited a total of 6 1/2 hours, and this time was no different. We were so close to where we needed to go, yet so far away. After waiting 2 hours to get a ride from either cars or trucks we were ready to call it a day, and start looking for a place to pitch our tent for the night. It was then when another John came to our rescue.

Luckily for us, he was heading to Chicago and offered to take us all the way to Cleveland, which was just 5 hours shy of Chicago. Before we got on the road, John pulled into the gas station and bought us something to eat because it was going to be a long ride to Cleveland.

John told us he picked us up because Ben and I reminded him of him and his wife who are also in an interracial relationship. Throughout our ride, he kept telling Ben to make sure he takes care of me, and do right by me and though he didn’t know me, he was very protective of me, which I found very fascinating.

Driving into the sunset

What made me enjoy our long ride with John was not only was he extremely sarcastic but he also loves Motown. If you know me, you know I am a huge fan of Motown. Somehow in the car we started talking about Motown and how his favorite group is the Temptations (I love me some Temptations) and in the conversation he asked Ben if he had ever heard of the Temptations and Ben said no. (Don’t judge him, he is from another country… plus he loves Old School Rap more than anything.)

So John’s solution was to pop in “The Temptations Greatest Hits” into the CD player to show Ben what he has been missing out on. John and I sung every single word, and Ben nodded along as we drove through the night.

Like most of our drivers, John also hitchhiked. During his time, hitchhiking was an accepted way of traveling and everyone was doing it. John hitched a ride to school almost everyday. While he was a sophomore in high school, John had a bad hitchhiking experience. “After basketball practice, I got in a car that I flagged down and the driver and passenger were all suited up so I thought it was safe. The driver asked me if I liked school and I told him it was okay and the other guy told me ‘you’re not going to see much of it anymore’. Then the driver locked the door and started speeding. At the same time, the passenger pulls out a belt and starts beating me with it. I unlocked the door and jumped out. The next thing I remember was a dog licking my wound and a little boy standing over me. The boy helped me up and took me to his mother who happened to be a nurse. She patched me up and called the ambulance.”

Though John had a hell of a bad experience that didn’t stop him from hitchhiking again, he later hitchhiked while in college for spring break. “At the time nothing could keep me from hitchhiking again, not even that”

As you can see, so far we have only met NORMAL, INTERESTING and FRIENDLY people both on and off the road.  They are people that just like us, surprise, surprise!! (key thing to remember: they value their lives too) Most times the drivers are more scared of us (the hitchhiker) then we are of them. Hitchhiking can show you that there are still nice people out there, and that not everyone is trying to duck you over.

Anyway, I hope this post helped shine a little light on the positive side of hitchhiking.

Just remember, if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the possibilities that something could go wrong, we will miss out on all the wonderful places and amazing people that are on this earth.

Have you ever done something that everyone told you is dangerous and in the end you were glad you did it? We would love to hear your story, please share below.

The Author

Jazzy is a professional travel blogger and the chief editor of Road Affair. She has been traveling around the world with her partner in crime, Ben, since 2012.

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