Traveling. It is a multigenerational thing with me. I could barely stand up when I first recalled my grandparents sending letters with exotic stamps from all over the world. I started collecting them.
Soon enough, the staff and other correspondents at Pacific Travel News (where my grandmother was a writer) started sending me their stamps. Tonga. Japan. New Guinea. Monaco. Germany. Hungary. Brazil. Every-stan. HA
Then there were books. Books about Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. And newspaper articles about Alaska. My grandparents were globetrotters (my grandfather was a Million-Miler with TWA in the 1950s)–and they were more than happy to share their adventures with their eldest grandson–going to school in suburban Portland, Oregon.
It was no surprise that I got the travel bug early. But my parents weren’t set up to subsidize my wanderlust. My father was a newly-minted clergyman and my mom–well, she was a minister’s wife.
So, doing my best to fit the role of a preacher’s kid, I grew my hair out and stuck out my thumb. First, it was just around town…much to my parents’ consternation. Then, it was up and down the Willamette Valley between Eurgene (where we later lived) and Portland.
When my good friend moved to New Mexico, I stuck out my thumb and made my way down the California coast and across the desert. Along the road I discovered many things: the amazing qualities of coffee, sleeping by the side of the freeway and the art of the hitch-hiker’s sign.The highlight, tho’, was meeting all sorts of people in their cars.
I rode with hippies, businessmen, drunks, farmers, cowboys, dogs and cats. Many were travelers themselves. Some were “not all there” when they picked us up. A couple of times, I simply waved them on–and elected to wait…in the dark…for the next ride.
Almost all of the folks were generous and curious about where I was going and what I was doing. Some were more open than others about what they were up to. A few times, folks would ask us for gas money. Sometimes I had money to offer…sometimes I didn’t.
I hitch-hiked thousands of miles–all around the Western U.S. many times, up into Canada, around western Washington and as far east as New Mexico. My favorite route was between Oregon and San Francisco–where my grandparents lived. Later, they moved to Santa Barbara–and it always was great visiting with them. They, of course, were more traditional in their travel habits–but they put on a brave face as I wandered off to the freeway entrance.
Coming back from California one time, I ran into a particularly troublesome situation. Stuck at a freeway entrance in Burlingame, the sun started to set behind the coastal hills. The wind was blowing and the buses in San Francisco were shut down due to a strike. I was feeling none-too-confident when the wind whipped my artful “Oregon” sign from my hands. I turned around and there…glistening in the afternoon sun…was San Francisco International Airport. “A sign,” I thought. “A message from God,” I uttered softly.
I walked up to the United counter and convinced the nice lady to take my check for a one-way ticket. “Please,” I said, “I need to get back to my college classes tomorrow,” I said. It was true, of course.
Ticket in hand, I waltzed through the airport like the cat that ate the canary.
Three hours later, my United 727 touched down in Portland. I had discovered another way to travel. And I slept very well, thankful that I didn’t have to find a flat spot by the freeway in Vallejo that night.
Photo: Hitch-hiking through Los Angeles, 1973. I stopped in to visit my aunt, Meredith Burch. Her beau, Declan Haun, was photo editor at National Geographic. He snapped this shot of us having lunch in a park. It’s a great memory. Afterwards, they dropped me off in Santa Monica on Highway 1, where I got my sign out, stuck out my thumb…and headed north.