On August 18th 1976 I was hitching north through Georgia and South Carolina. I was spending a few weeks in the USA after flying in from Ecuador.
Two days earlier the plane had crossed the Caribbean islands and banked round Miami just missing a tropical storm. There was a long wait for immigration and the man in customs gave me a good going over; I guess he thought a longhair with a beard coming from South America might produce something, but he did it with good humour. I didn't feel like taking a bus downtown and, seeing on a map that the airport was to the north of the city, I just walked out of the airport and put out my thumb amidst the bright reds of the sunset. Three lifts took me to Daytona for about 4 in the morning and I curled up for a rest.
The next day was hard going with very little progress. I had a couple of lifts early on which took me to the Flagler Beach area, but then I got stuck. I spent much of the day near a petrol station where I could get something to drink. It was very hot and humid after the high, thin air of the Andes. There were other hitchers too and that made things more difficult. The cops were keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn't go up on the freeway. In the end I got a lift to Jacksonville from a man who kept telling me that he didn't want to give me a lift. It was now the late afternoon and the next ride offered to put me up at his home in Jacksonville; I gladly accepted and I caught up on a bit of sleep that night.
In the morning I made a reasonably early start in the middle of rush-hour, and I got a lift out of the central area of Jacksonville. But then there was another wait and I felt the previous day's pattern emerging again. I went into a truck stop for a second breakfast and got talking with some freak truckers heading for North Carolina. They took me through the Georgia swamps and then we stopped all afternoon at a riverside just short of Savannah. I had a swim and heard some heavy truckers' stories, watched people diving off a bridge and talked with the Georgian kids. Then there was a catfish supper and peach pie and beer and I felt better. We began the journey north at about eight when it got dark and the mosquitoes came out. We passed through the old part of Savannah, with its old large wooden buildings, because they wanted to give me a tourist's view. I fell asleep as we entered South Carolina.
I awoke for the last time as it got light and we were entering North Carolina. They tried to get me a lift on their CB radio, but this failed and they put me down near their home town of High Point. I got a few lifts from black drivers to get me past Greensboro and then it was easy to get on to Durham where a friend I'd met the year before in Ecuador had invited me to stay.
|The Blue Ridge Parkway, 2008: Picture by numbphoto, CC|
After a week in North Carolina another friend drove me to stay the night in his parents' house on the edge of the mountains in Mount Airy. We spent the evening sitting on the front porch having stilted conversations and my friend's father showed me his gun which he carried at all times. I slept in an antique bed in the hundred year-old house surrounded by wonderful woodwork. In the morning my friend drove me up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Roanoke. I enjoyed the views from the hills when the mist cleared. I appreciated the trees and the flowers and the way the road had been landscaped - a planned environment. Getting a lift was easy, first just a few miles with a guy in a VW then with a friendly guy to Natural Bridge. There I had my longest wait, maybe 20 minutes, during which I went on the freeway, and got a lift right out of the mountains and round the DC Beltway. Then there was a final ride from a longhair in an old Citroen DS all the way up the New Jersey Turnpike. He took me right into Manhattan around midnight to Broadway and 80th and I walked to the place that had been arranged for me to stay in.
I stayed with my friends in New York City for two weeks while I waited for a flight back to the UK. Finally a cheap Loftleider plane took me via Reykjavik to Luxembourg. I got back home on the overnight ferry from Ostend and stayed with friends in Oxford as the long hot summer of 1976 drew to its slowly drawn out close.
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