I was heading North when a guy picked me up and we chatted as we rode along, but then he topped at Howard Johnson's to eat and invited me. Knowing that I did not have much money, I begged off and instead, ordered a cup of coffee to go. When the waitress told me it cost $1.75, I almost passed out. Leaving the rest of my money as a "tip" I was back on the road - and a test.
My next ride was with three Hispanics in a pickup and they offered me a "seat" in the truck bed and we were on our way. I was joined by a dozen or more crates filled with tomatoes. Thirty miles or so up the road, their truck broke down. When I got a closer look at the three guys, I decided my best alternative was to keep moving. Fortunately, a truck came along and I flagged him down. I would admit to him, I was scared to stick around with those other guys. Probably, they would not have harmed me, but it was pitch black and I was not accustomed to being in that position. It was my first lesson - along the way, that I do really have a "friend, who stays closer than a brother".
That driver could not carry me beyond the next truck stop, but he went out of his way to get me another ride and this would carry me a hundred miles or so and he was interested in my testimony. In fact, so interested he bought me breakfast and took me up to another Interstate where it would be easier to find another ride. That led me to a fascinating experience. The next ride took me into a town and for some reason, he suddenly decided he had to turn off the highway and let me off. It was Sunday morning and there was very little traffic so I walked out of town and began to notice in the cars that were passing me by, families on their way to church. The longer I walked, the sadder I became as I really wanted to go to church. After a while, I got tired of walking and found a big shade tree with a huge rock beneath it.
Seemed like a good place to rest and was amazed to see a bird land nearby and it began to chirp - or whatever birds do, looking directly at me. So, I thanked him (or, her?) and he chirped even louder, or so it seemed. Then, a miracle - at least, in my mind, began. Birds in adjoining trees joined in. You don't have to believe it, but I was there and those sounds are still with me. It seemed to me, I was in church and the "choir" had a special number just for me.
It didn't last, but then came a string of rides until I was in Springfield, MO, an objective I had decided upon shortly after I started. The last driver I had, stopped at a restaurant and reached into his pocket and gave me a $20 bill, "Get some breakfast for yourself. You don't know it, but our talk along the way has given me a lot to think about." So, I got breakfast, located a labor place and was sent to work a few minutes after I had registered. I was sent to a place where the "boss" needed two men to clean out a house that had been vacated by people who had not paid their rent. The other guy was a bit strange. He was long on talk, but short on the energy needed to do what needed to be done. At least I learned there was a mission nearby where I would be sleeping for a couple of days. I was asked to come back to the job for the next three days and able to get some needed rest. The mission director was "stuck" with the job he claimed when his father who had started the "ministry", ran off with some woman. Welcome to a world that I had never known, but it served as an education I needed as I traveled on.
The labor "boss" told me that jobs were scarce in that area and suggested I head up to Kansas City. The first car to stop knew all about Kansas City and he was kind enough to drop me off at a Mission. It seemed to be a real blessing. It was a place to get a meal and a bed for the night. I really wanted to go to church tomorrow and so it seemed, I could. While I was waiting for "dinner" a man came in looking for help to move some furniture so I jumped at the opportunity. It was easy, the guy paid well for my efforts, but as I was jumping off the trailer we used, I twisted my ankle. No problem, I thought at the time, but it changed my plans.
The "dinner" had to wait until we learn a sermon and I will never forget the title. "God will set you free" referring to the verse in the Bible, Galatians 5:1, "It was for freedom that God has set us free". Our "dinner" was watered down gruel and then we were ushered into a room with one window and 18 double decked bunks. There were 18 of us, I was the only white man.. And then, they locked the door behind us. "What if...?' I thought to myself and tried to force myself to not think about what I had to think about. What would happen if there was a fire? Obviously, I did not sleep well.
And when I jumped down from my upper bunk in the morning, I realized my ankle was worse than I had thought. Breakfast was more of last night's gruel which I turned down and headed for the door.
Hobbling! What was a I going to do? I asked about a medical clinic, but it was a long way's off. One of the guys headed for the freeway which was close and so I decided, I would give him time to get a ride and I would follow. It was a nice day, so I chose to ignore the ankle and headed out.
I had no sooner got to the other side of the freeway so I could head East, when a sports car pulled up and asked how far I was going. "St. Louis" came to mind and with that he offered me a ride telling me he would driving right through there. What a neat guy. I would learn he was as Air Force Chaplain headed for Louisiana where he intended to reign. That opened the door to a long discussion about the military, the church, Catholics and Protestants. It was precisely what I needed as my ankle healed.
Turned out, he would be heading South off of the Freeway we were on and by that time, I had decided I would go to my uncle's house in Michigan to recuperate. So, we parted ways and I walked on, blessed to have had such an intriguing conversation. It was my day. No sooner had I stuck out my thumb and some kids who were headed for Springfield, IL stopped to pick me up and they were smoking "weed".
That was a challenge, but I decided to ride unless that were really affected by it. Turns out they were not and I had an opportunity to "witness" to them and their responses were classic. I wish that I had a tape of our conversations.
When they dropped me off, another car stopped and he was headed for a hot air balloon race and encouraged me to go along with him. Sounded like a good idea, but I did not want to change my "route".
He would turn East so he let me off at a spot where I had to walk a half mile to keep heading North. It was then I realized I had to go to the bathroom. I could see a cafe ahead so I started trying to run when I noticed I had a "friend". Apparently, I was passing a nest where a mother pheasant had some babies as she was intent on making sure I didn't bother them. She chased me for about a hundred yards when I noticed there was a "Port-O-John" right ahead of me. When I got there, I discovered it was brand new, even had a new roll of toilet paper. Had anyone been close they would have heard my laughing and my praising God for all of my "benefits".
Another ride brought me close to Chicago and the highway leading East towards Ohio where I knew of the highways heading North. Now, I found another ride and this was a real blessing. He asked if I could drive. I showed him my driver's license and he gave me his keys. He had the first GPS I had ever seen and he set it for his home address, South of Monroe, MI, and told me to follow the instructions. With that he crawled into the back seat and went to sleep and did not wake up until I drove up to his garage door. He went inside to get approval of his wife and then invited me in for breakfast and a bed that I really needed at that point.
He drove me over the highway heading North the next day and as I was getting out of his car, he handed me an envelope "from his wife" he insisted. The note inside read, "God bless you" and there was a fifty dollar bill "to help you along the way."
A few hours later I was at my uncle's address and they were not at home. I took advantage of the lounge chair nearby and that is where they found me when they got home.
I will be heading South later