Dan Pautler Live
I started reading about the Beat writers in 1967, probably when I was 14 or 15. When I read On the Road, what amazed me was what a lame hitchhiker Jack Kerouac was. He’d start an across-continent journey and get to Pennsylvania where he’d take a bus. I was sort of disappointed.
In Dharma Bums, Gary Snyder is more in tuned with what was coming in the 60s in terms of being a zen hitchhiker. Kerouac was more like a mad literary genius.
But I think On the Road created expectations in terms of being able to hitchhike. The technologies and the change in consciousness just sort of converged for a certain number of years…after that the technologies made it impossible again. Technologies accelerate and nobody really controls them.
Hitchhiking always existed in the American road mythos. As soon as automobiles came along it was inevitable that people would get rides. It became very popular in WWII because it was that sort of era of cooperation, the war effort and stuff like that.
Then it went out of favour in the 50s when everybody got their own car and became paranoid. With the Interstate highway system in the 60s you could travel fast across the country in 3 or 4 days. When the hippie revolution came along and the two things converged so there was a meeting in time that made hitchhiking a cultural necessity.
It was surpassed mostly because of an over-reliance on technology. Highways became unfriendly to pedestrians, highway speeds got faster. What made hitchhiking possible made it impossible a few years later. The public was given information that was overwhelmingly negative, about what could happen to you if you picked up a hitchhiker, making people increasingly paranoid.
A Couple of Accidents, 1977 Boulder, Colorado
One day I went down to the highway with my friend Salsa to hitchhike into town. It was just a sleepy mountain road, hardly any traffic. A real casual, bright day and this chick picks us up almost right away. Then for some reason as she’s going around a curve the car goes off the side of the highway.
The car rolled twice. I remember the tumbling action. We didn’t have any seatbelts which was good because of the tumbling of the car as it rolled. I remember rolling up into a ball so I wouldn’t get hurt.
The car landed on its roof in a creek. We climbed out but my glasses had fallen off. Then the most amazing thing, Salsa reaches down into the water and pulls out my glasses. Then we went back up to the highway and continued hitchhiking because we had a class at the Naropa Institute leaving the chick to deal with her turned over car.
The second accident happened the same year but a month later. I was leaving Boulder for Alma Gordo, New Mexico to get my aura balanced. I met these Sufi women in Boulder and they gave me a ride all the way to Santa Fe. Which was really nice, me in the back seat in the middle with these women at the compass points. But the hip thing was, in the middle of the night we’re passing through Leadville, Colorado and the radio announces Elvis Presley just died. Elvis Presley man. That was the night Elvis died.
They let me off in Sante Fe, the next day I’ve gotten a ride and I’m somewhere around Albuquerque, New Mexico somewhere and my driver picks up this other hitchhiker, a really weird schizophrenic guy. About this time you’d see these guys in white robes hitchhiking around the south-west. This guy didn’t have a white robe but he was weird. He started attacking this alarm clock that was in the car, really violently trying to kill the clock.
The day was getting freaky. So where the fuck do I end up? Rosewell, New Mexico. I took the ride to Rosewell figuring I could get somewhere else. In the southwest you get to thinking in blocks of hundreds of miles when you’re hitchhiking because there are only a few roads through the mountains.
So this couple of young boys pick me up, really drunk. After ten miles they’re going 100 miles an hour. And they spin out into a fence. We go through the fence and nobody gets hurt.
These French tourists stopped. Like wow, an American accident. So they give me a ride, a fantastic ride for 80 miles when a cop pulls us over. I was selling jewelry at the time and the cop had found one of my fish belt buckles at the crash scene. It had fallen out of my bag during the collision. But the cop made me return to the crash and he tells me I can take you back here afterward. So the whole night was spent driving around with this cop. It was late at night when the cop drops me off.
I finally get a ride to the Escalero Reservation. They have bars on these reservations run by Arabs, I don’t know why. But I went into this bar and had one beer. I didn’t know where to crash but I’d spotted this corn patch where I bedded down. What I didn’t know was that there was a guy’s house there and his shitter was on the other side of the corn patch.
So I’m sleeping in this corn patch and this Apache guy comes walking along in the night. He’s like 50 or 60 and gets extremely startled when he sees me jump up, thinking I’m an apparition or something. When he calmed down he told me I shouldn’t be sleeping there, that I should have checked with him first.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs