Hitchhiking from Chicago to New Orleans
The snow in Chicago helped me decide that I needed more sun and for that I was always going to head south.
Getting out of Chicago was going to be tricky, hitchhiking is illegal in the state of Illinois (yes I know, how fucking ridiculous is that?). I used Craigslists Rideshare section to find a ride. A young Filipino guy by the name of Mark took me to St. Louis for free and I hopped out in the downtown area.
Nothing much was happening in St. Louis so I decided to head for the outskirts of the city and start hitchhiking towards Memphis or Nashville the next morning. I was standing outside a Walmart in East St. Louis because of the
rain, when an elderly guy approached. He warned me about standing around in East St. Louis “Your going get trouble” he worryingly claimed and told me to head a mile up the road and camp at the local RV Camp. I didn’t really fancy walking in the rain but after a minute or so a young lady pulled over and offered me a ride, she never picked up a hitchhiker before (I wasn’t even trying) but didn’t want me out in the rain she claimed and I got dropped off at the RV camp.
I tried to then sleep at the RV Camp but the locals were too kind, I was going to be allowed stay for free and be bought a pint too. Next came a belter of a session with a bunch of rednecks in some dive bar where every guy wore a bandanna with a cowboy hat over the bandanna.
When I did finally get to the road again I started at an on-ramp to the interstate in the Memphis direction (on the Missouri side of town). After an hour of thumbing the only people to stop were two police officers wondering what I was up to. I kind of thought the whole raised thumb was a dead give-away but then I had to explain to them I was merely hitching a ride as they plugged my name into some computer then pissed off.
Just as I was contemplating jumping in front of a car, one pulls over, at last. A young, friendly guy, and he drove me a few miles to a better spot and got me some dinner at the catering place he worked. He picked me up because “I was clearly a European because I was wearing a scarf”. I generally wear scarfs because I’m cold not because I was born in Europe. I think he was gay but yea who cares, maybe wear a scarf if your hitchhiking in St. Louis and you will get picked up by him.
The next spot was an on-ramp again but further out of the city where people might trust. Still all the black folks passed by looking at me like I got two heads and an axe, one group of white frat kids blew there horn and shouted cock or something…. hilarious. Then an old banger pulls over with two women in the front and a guy in the back, very rough looking but genuine I thought. She rolled down the window “You aint got a weapon?”, nope I replied a bit surprised by the question and hopped in the back seat.
Chain smoking and complaining about the government, my kind of people! The woman in the passenger seat had a scar on her face where she had gotten shot before in a failed car-jacking, that memory will remain with me I think for years to come.
They left me off on the interstate and I began hitchhiking again, right on the interstate this time instead of an on-ramp since the shoulder was definitely wide enough for a car to pull in. An animal vet picked me up, real quiet fella who wouldn’t normally pick up hitchhikers but did today, “paying it forward brother”, a very christian guy from my impression. He left me at a truck stop and I decided to find a place to camp since it was getting dark, I strolled up some country road and went into the trees behind a house, I figured the community watch was probably watching telly or something.
I woke up the next morning (on my 23rd birthday by the way) to an angry barking dog and scrambled away quickly and back to the road. I began asking people at the truck stop for rides. The truckers are useless in the US, they always just claim insurance won’t allow them to pick you up. A guy in a pick-up though agreed to take me no questions asked. A veteran, I have found these guys to be very useful for hitchhiking in the South. He brought me further down the interstae and then my next ride took me to Cape Girardeau and I got out there to go sit at the Mississippi River and grab a coffee since it was my birthday after-all.
I got talking to some locals around the coffee shop including some eegit frat types, a cute student girl and a wealthy lady who owned shares in the towns hotel. In the end I set up a date with the student girl for later and got offered a room in the hotel for free with a buffet breakfast (which I really abused, leaving the hotel with heavy pockets). Turned out to be a great birthday really, anythings possible in these smaller towns that tourists don’t frequent with an accent.
The next morning I didn’t feel like hitchhiking though and walked to the nearest Walmart instead and bought a rubber dingy boat. Inspired by the Mark Twain tales of Huckleberry Finn I was bound for Memphis on a $30 Walmart inflatable boat.
I spent three wild days floating on the river passing barges, meeting rednecks and camping until my boat sank (in the middle of the river) and I was back to the road. I’ll write up a full report of the river happenings soon.
I meet a guy trash picking on the road outside his house, after some chatting (I complimented the hand gun he carried on his waist) he brought me into his home. I meet his wife and he recalled the childhood sweatheart story and then dropped me back over to the interstate. Memphis here I come!
After maybe a half hour standing on the interstate thumbing a grown-up family pulled over to let me squeeze in the back. They were all crazy rednecks, but again friendly enough to leave me at a good truck stop. Again I tried the useless truckers who just wanted prostitutes it seems, hanging around after dark I made some friends including two Hobos also travelling the interstate. They were pretty negative about shit though and smelled bad, I reckoned they were never gonna get a ride or weren’t even trying so I left them to drink beer under their tarp and hung about the petrol station. A worker began chatting with me, I pretended to agree with his narrow minded opinions to gain trust and my cunning plan paid off when he said I could use the truckers showers. Great! But then I spotted an old Mexican pulling in with a cowboy hat and pick-up.
Mexicans are very useful on the road especially the ones who look like they used to hitchhike to work back in their Mexico days. He didn’t speak any English, like literally none, not even hello but had been living in the US 30 years, mostly in Texas. My broken Spanish managed to get me a ride the whole way to Memphis that night. I arrived on the outskirts of the city real late and slept beside an RV Camp. When I say slept beside I mean outside the perimeter of the property under a tree in my sleeping bag so as not to pay the $25 camping fee (ridiculous price!) then sneaked in at 7am for a quick shower and over to the nearest petrol station.
The very first guy I asked for a lift into the city center was a Korea Veteran on his way to the veteran’s hospital. He had a veteran’s license plate on his pick up so I asked him straight away and no questions no problems he dropped me by the downtown. Gave me a bible too. Why do Americans think hitchhikers are automatically sinners?
I kicked it in Memphis for just one night then I was bound for New Orleans. Mark the guy I originally got a rideshare from Chicago to St. Louis with was in town after being in Nashville for a couple days (I knew because we exchanged facebooks). He was driving to New Orleans the next day. I shot down to New Orleans so on the next morning and slept out by the train yard in the 9th ward where I knew there would be other travelers. I got a great sleep on some wooden crates under the stars in the heat not even caring about the mosquitoes the slightest bit. The snow of Chicago was a long ways away.