By Thumb

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, car, or bike?

From the Road-Trippers Guide, Vol2, no3, 1965- Thumbing It!

So you’ve made the big decision to see the opposite coast. Congratulations. Now comes the big choice. How? Air travel is expensive, and we’ve heard bad things about baggage handlers destroying guitars. This is a major bummer if you plan on making some bread while playing in coffeehouses, busking in bars, or on the streets.
Conversely, travel by train is not what it used to be as little as ten years ago. As a result, railroads are cutting back on passenger service to less well-traveled locations and sleeping in a coach car with old smelly upholstery stinks. So we advise it only in emergencies.
The bus remains a perennial favorite, with Trailways and Grayhound providing excellent service across the continent. Watch out, though, for connections that turn out to be locals. While picturesque, a tour of small-town America can get old over several days. Also, remember that while traveling on the bus, you are always at the mercy of the bus company for where and when you eat or go to the bathroom (if the onboard facilities are not working).
You guessed it. We won’t even suggest a transcontinental trip using your fat-tired Schwinn or three-speed Raleigh. Leave the bike at home for the kiddies. Someday they’ll have better bikes for this, but for now, let’s be serious; unless you want to take a year to cross the opposite coast, the bicycle is not a prime choice.
We are left, of course, with the easy preference of the professional road tripper, fraternal brother of the road, Pius itinerant, and kings of the road – the thumb. By thumb, you’ll discover that local diners are among the best places to eat, sunsets are more intense, and a bottle of cola at a service station more quenching of thirst. In short, you’ll get up close and personal with America. You look out at the scenery in all the other methods and wonder what’s happening. By thumb, you experience it all up close. You’ll meet people and exchange experiences.

1.) leave the stash at home. Toking up at night by the campfire is not worth a trip to the poke with officer Opie.
2.) Keep a sufficient supply of cash on hand to pay for bus rides out of unfriendly towns. Memorize this phrase: “Hi, officer! Just waiting for my bus. What a lovely town you have! I wish I could stay, but Mom expects me in LA by the fifth.”
3.) when asked about your political leanings, say that you don’t have any, but you’ll be glad to listen to theirs while driving to the next town. Nod and say Uhuhuh to make it seem like you are listening rather than counting the telephone poles.
4.) always remember to pack a towel.

Have a great adventure!

Hitchhikers Guide, Vol 6, June 1968 issue


Contrary to uninformed opinion among Brothers of the Road, it is not all blue skies and easy riding out there. There are occupational hazards to being on the road that are not obvious.

For one, there are the “sky pilots”, They are religious people who pick you up and, somewhere in the ride, ask if you’d mind praying with them or if you’d like to go to a church supper. Depending on how soft or hard the pitch was and how much of a hurry I was in, I attended many suppers, met some fantastic people, and said my share of prayers with them. As the Bible says, no vital work should be entered without prayer’s benefit. And a trek of a thousand miles can use as much grace as possible. So as long as no one was trying to forcibly baptize me, convince me of the impurity of my beliefs or exorcise my demons, I was more than pleased to cooperate. As soon as my digestion settles, I am on the road again.

I like my demons…I’ve had them since they were pups, and I’ve got them well trained.

One of the other issues was well-intentioned Townies. You’d stop someplace interesting and get offered a job for a day or two, and before you’d know it, the decision had been made that you were a pretty clean-cut guy, and Jack could fix you up with an excellent job at the mill. About that time, Velma, Todd’s sister, would decide that you were a worthwhile project. Sometime that night, you’d be checking the straps on your pack and practicing putting your thumb out – as soon as twilight hit, you’d be on the highway. Maybe officer Opie would offer a ride to the municipal border?

These are just two less obvious, unusual, but perilous hazards to travel by thumb. So take care unless you want to wake up some morning and find that you are a church deacon or in a “for better or much worse” marriage to Velma.

It’s dangerous out there, Brother!


Yes, there was a time when a few of my associates dropped the term on me– death-wish Wes. Wes was my performing name and alias in those years. People who knew me then and later became reacquainted with me had issues getting used to calling me Lou and accepting the fact that I was not always on the road and doing nutsy things. Conversely, most who’ve known me since have difficulty getting used to the staid pillar of the community (?!) having been a wild youth.

Truth be known, I have some issues with this as well. Just the other day, I realized that the itchy feeling I had was the urge to take off on some frolicking springtime detour. So, on a whim, depart of the nether reaches of the Hudson, northern Maine, Ottawa, Kansas- well, OK, maybe not Kansas, but maybe Alaska. Meet new people see new things, and play guitar again. When I started thinking about where my old backpack and the guitar case were, my wife called me in for dinner. This made me recollect all the awful diner dinners on the road. Maybe I’d look for the pack after dinner? Then I realized that Charlie – that’s my main ax ( guitar) needed new strings, but the music store was closed for the holiday weekend.
Afterward, I dozed on my nice comfortable bed, hardly even considering it’d be a wet night trying to stay dry on the road with the rain falling.
This morning I fed the cat and dog while I brewed coffee. But, of course, if I were on the road, I’d be searching for a place to get a cup of indifferent brew and looking out for cops seeking out vagrants.

I’ve decided to delay plans for a frolicking detour for the time being. I have to mop and broom out the carving shop first. One must have priorities.

Hitchhikers Guide To The Lower Forty Eight, June 1967, edition

How important is it to avoid hitching a ride at a toll booth? Maybe not myriad, but a very important few. First, the toll keepers resented anything that slowed the flow of traffic. Second, the drivers resented anything that hindered the traffic flow; not a great way to get a ride. But most importantly of all, those state troopers in their big automotive machines love how easy it is to snag a wayward hitchhiker at the toll plaza.

If left off at a plaza, we hurriedly scurry into the nearby town for a fast meal, ask about the best route to where we were going, and generally behave like model citizens. Those who want to smoke a joint in front of the locals or talk about how cool they are; well, that’s not us—just a couple of working dudes on the way to employment.

So what is the purpose of being hip and cool in the sixties if you didn’t display it, rub the noses of the straights into it, and generally be obnoxious? Well, I guess if that’s your thing, it’s OK. But some of us view our life as a journey. So we’d gladly talk to you about it if you were interested in that journey. But by and large, it’s our journey, and we don’t need too much external support for it. It’s nice when we receive it. Very nice. However, we know that you can’t force it.

Don’t get me wrong. We love to talk about the self-righteous jerks who’d never dream of leaving their tiny universe to look at the larger world. They are stuck in a rut of their own manufacture.
No, I’m not talking about small-town people. Lots of the residents of large cities are stuck in their little corners, without a clue that the sun is shining.
Conversely, we met many residents of small places who roamed the universe of ideas and culture from the comfort of the tiny little home in the universe.

The diversion to avoid the toll plaza is a nuisance most times. But it also can provide some of the most interesting “frolicking detours” for the wayward wandering traveler.

Hell Ride

Maybe one of you can help me? I’ve misplaced a location and can’t find it.

One of the stranger “frolicking detours” undertaken by my friend and me happened during a rainy journey to Vermont. We didn’t mean to be out hitchhiking in a driving rainstorm. In fact, on the afternoon we left Boston, it was a clear warm spring day.

I’d never been to Vermont, but we knew friends in Bennington and decided to descend upon them for the weekend; for us, this was nothing unusual. The trip started well. We got offered rides as far as the Massachusetts Turnpike. Now you do not hitch on the pike, so it was all local and state roads after that in a succession of rides, none of which you’d call decent. And the weather went from lovely to ugly.

It started to drizzle, then rain, and ultimately pour down. When it turned into driving rain, we had actively been looking for opportunities to shelter for an hour or two. In a tiny town, the police began to show an unhealthy interest in our shelter seeking. We were soaked but had no choice but to keep going.

We found an open diner in the next town with a distinctive carved stone elephant balanced on a stone ball in the little Town Green. For an hour or so, we drank coffee and dried off until officer Opie rolled in and gave us the fisheye. So it was out into the wet again. Not knowing which way to go, we wandered widdershins around the town green and then turned back the other way. We were truly lost.

A car pulled up and told us to get in about that time. Of course, if the devil had shown up and asked us to jump in, we’d have probably done it. The inside of Charlie’s car, Charlie was his name, was full of smoke and littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, a bong, and discarded donut boxes. It was dry. He told us he was going to Burlington and could drop us off in Bennington. We decided to stay for the ride; there were cigarettes, weed, donuts, and it was dry. All that two wet Folkies could wish for on a rainy night.

Within the first ten minutes, it was clear that Charlie would not use regular roads. We were on every farmer’s track, logging road, and state conservation firebreak that existed. He insisted that he knew the way better than the scars on the back of his right hand. We saw the lights of small settlements as we roared over some high point and swung down into the next hollow. Finally, around five in the AM, we called a halt at an empty place in the woods occupied by a log and tarpaper house. This was our breakfast stop with his cousins. The cousins were already up, and getting ready for a day working in the woods. Breakfast was on; French toast, pancakes, bacon, and fried eggs.

After breakfast, it was fast and furious over ridges, hills, and stream beds. Finally, sunrise found us somewhere between our destinations with a clear dry day. We said goodbye to Charlie and backtracked to Bennington, still bewildered by what had happened in the night. The weekend with friends was lackluster compared to the ride up.

Actually, I remain bewildered to this day. I’ve looked at maps of the area, and unless there were significant distorted elements to the trip, It shouldn’t have happened.

Here’s the final thing perhaps you can help me with. I’ve never been able to find that town with the elephant on the ball; if I could see that, I might be able to unravel the rest of the mystery.

Holiday Travel

Reprinted from the 1969 Road Journal – Holiday Travel edition ( copyright Lou Carreras)

Holiday travel, by thumb, can be a joyful or stressful thing. Often by turns in the same day. At no other time of the year are you likely to find as much generosity or so much danger waiting for you as you stand on the roadside. Rides with Uncle Albert on his way to spew conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassinations are especially poignant. The Albert’s of the world will use your vulnerable situation in the passenger’s seat to rehearse the rhetorical positions they plan on using with aunt Gertrude and her hippy-dippy son. Try not to offer advice on the sneers and harrumphs. Just go with the flow – Albert’s are generally not violent unless cornered.

Needing more subtle skills in deflection are the carload of guys on their way home from college. If they have been drinking on the way, you may be looking at a car wreck. Spotting tips are the glazed eyes, slack features, and the smoky interiors of their cars. Although any actual narcotics may be hidden in the dirty laundry, you’d be wise to avoid riding with them.

Perhaps the most dangerous is aunt Agatha. This older woman is on her way to her sisters with half the holiday meal in the back seat. I was asked once to keep a pot of gravy safe from spilling. Not too hard a job you’d suggest? Aunt Agatha’s idea of driving from Newark to Harrisburg was nonstop tailgating and erratic passing maneuvers. When I left her at a truck stop, I was shaking so severely a concerned state trooper thought I was ODing.

Seemingly innocuous situations can have ugly turnings during the Holidays. People are in a relentless pursuit of happiness at any cost. So turn down any offers to join strangers at their family gatherings. You either wind up being paired with a melancholy cousin who has just lost a suiter or get dragooned into the middle of a religious discussion.

The Holidays are the one time of the year that I encourage my readers to spring for the Greyhound bus or in extremis airfare. The worst that will happen is getting caught in a holiday sing-along or a sentimental conversation.

Good luck, and remember, the objective is to get there safely.

Round About Midnight

The worst hitching was those long dark passages on moonless nights. No cars or trucks, you walked for miles. If the weather put it’s two cents in, you’d be tired, wet, and cold. After a few hours of this, you’d be up for ventures you’d typically steer clear of and call crazy.
I had to stop and look at the burnt-out house several times before I took a closer look. Even desperate, it seemed too unsafe—the smell of fresh char mixed with strange odors from burnt plastics, and foam hung in the air; this was recent.
Around back was an abandoned car that might offer a windbreak till dawn. Opening the passenger side door, I eased onto the seat.
I settled in as well as I could and peeled back the wrapping on a candy bar.
I had a nervous feeling that I was not alone.
From the back came a low growl. I was heading out the door in a flash, dragging my pack behind me. A hand grabbed my shoulder. A voice croaked, “Ya gonna share some?” I heard the sound of claws scrabbling behind me and an odor that was hard to place, not pleasant.
I didn’t stop running until the lights of the police car came upon me. Two officers asked me why I was running along a deserted road at midnight like the devil was out to get me. “Cause he is.” I managed to pant out. After I caught my breath, I stood there, hands on my knees, panting while I described what had happened. I told them about the strange house, the car, the hand grabbing me, the voice, the sound of the hell hound, and the bad smell. They listened to my every word with serious intent before cracking up in loud laughter.
Now I was more than a bit upset, but I heard a shuffling sound, and down the road, I saw a thin erect form lurching towards us. At his feet was a red-eyed devil hound. I could do no more than point and scream: ” There!” The officers commenced howling in laughter. Turning to look behind themselves, they saw the figure and the hound and started to scream with mock terror. One of the Police turned and put a hand on my shoulder. Barely able to speak from the laughter that was shaking his form, he managed to squeak out, “That’s just Chester and Barney!” Worried that the locals were on familiar terms with Hell Spawn, I turned to start running again but found myself restrained. “Easy now, we’ll all just run down to the Nugget Diner and get ourselves an early breakfast. After that, we’ll get you back on the road and Chester and Barney to the station house for a shower. Boy, is he ripe tonight?
Chester turned out to be a local hermit, Barney, likes candy bars. The local Police couldn’t leave well enough alone and retold the tale to everyone sitting in the dinner. They probably retell it every Halloween.
So if you are passing through Ocala, off route 29, give the Police a wide berth. They have a twisted sense of what’s funny. But Chester and Barney are OK.

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