The Great Race

We did not hop trains; it was much too dangerous. The railroads took the concept of private property to extreme levels, and the cars themselves were unsafe. Bill’s choice of travel techniques might have seemed a sort of road bum purity of method, but it was all carefully planned. It was the weekend of the Great Race. Four teams of hitchhikers set out from the Harvard Gardens’ barroom at the foot of Boston’s Beacon Hill at precisely midnight. The first team to enter the taproom of Cicero’s bar in Baltimore won. We were the defending champs two years running. 

The shun path along the tracks was our secret sauce for winning. Back in the “War Room” at the Harvard Gardens, the planning team had carefully laid out a string path between pins on gas company road maps, measured distances with calipers, and calculated mileage. The team consumed much beer planning the route. The “brain trust” said that this was the route that would get us from one not-so-good hitching spot to a perfect one. A ten-mile slog, for a hundred-mile gain. Everyone was sworn to secrecy regarding the victory plan. sitting around the barroom before the race, we’d toast – “Here’s to the secret sauce!”

On race day, we stopped at the cafe near the tracks for breakfast. We were reviewing our route and having breakfast when we noticed a uniformed gentleman overlooking our packs and my guitar. “You guys hitching through?” We smiled and replied, ” Just passing through, officer, we’ll be out of town ASAP.” He smiled at us and casually mentioned, “that’s right you will, but don’t let me catch you puttin’ a thumb out in my town.”

Having cleared the air, he sat down on the next stool and reviewed the map with us. ” The last place you want to be is on those tracks; it’s an electrified line, and those trains whip right through there. Whoever planned this route was either smokin’ funny weed, drunk, or both.” We thought back to all the beer stains on the map at the local bar during planning sessions. “No,” he said, “after you clear my town, your best bet is to jog down county 128 for two miles to here.” His substantial thumb indicated the exact spot we were headed. Unfortunately, we’d now have to walk out of town and hope that officer Blake did not feel mean enough to report us to the next town’s police. After this, he got up and left us to our breakfast.

After eating, we walked out of the cafe and began walking, officer Blake’s patrol car slowly pacing us. After a mile or so, he flashed his lights, and we walked back to the car. “Hop in the back.” Figuring we were busted, we silently put our stuff in the car and got in. Pretty soon, we were out of town in the countryside. About ten minutes later, he pulled over and told us to get out. We waited while he finished talking on the radio. Then he looked at us and said: ” This is where I turn around. That right ahead is County 128. By the way, two of your teams have already gotten stopped a few Townships over. They were hitching on the Interstate, not too bright.”

We thanked officer Blake for his kindness. He offered us a business card and said. “Now, when you get to Baltimore, call this number and tell the dispatcher the time you arrived. A bunch of us have a pool going on if and when you guys make it there this year.”

We made it. Back at the Harvard Gardens, the brain trust toasted their excellent route planning capabilities. We silently sipped our beers, except to announce that now that we were Aces, we would retire and allow others the honor of winning. We made no mention of the actual secret sauce that secured our victory.

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