If you missed Westside Story – On The Road 75 Years Later – Part 1, please consider clicking the blue link to catch up.
My roommate, Jim Singer, and I combined walking and bus riding for our daily commute to and from work. On one fateful day as we made our way home, we were swept up in a racial protest down in the Loop. We did not fully understand what was happening, nor did we wish to protest. We tried to escape the fracas by entering a nearby jewelry store. The owner quickly slammed and locked the door and would not let us in. He must have thought we were protestors bent on pillaging his store.
Had we been mistaken for a couple of protestors we could have faced arrest, injury or death. Instead we abandoned our normal bus ride and escaped on foot without a scratch. Chicago proved to be a wild city at times.
While that was 50 years ago, the stress of that unwanted protest rally is still burned into my memory. To this day, I do not like being inside an unpredictable crowd.
For a boy from Washington State, Chicago was hot, hot, hot. I spent the entire summer fighting the heat by drinking gallons of red Hawaiian Punch. Upon returning to Washington State at the end of the summer, I immediately stocked up on Hawaiian Punch. I quickly discovered that once I was back in Washington, having escaped the heat of Chicago, the cooler environment took the punch out of Hawaiian Punch. I never drank Hawaiian Punch again.
At the end of my last segment, I promised to tell you about my failed attempt to hitch-hike to Washington D.C. on the 4th of July weekend in the summer of 1965.
There I was with a long holiday weekend ahead of me. I calculated there were 731 miles between Chicago and Washington D.C. Because I had never been out of the state of Washington before, I thought it a shame to not make it all the way to the East Coast.
Starting when I was age 15, I had always confidently enjoyed the independence of owning my own car. That same confidence eluded me when it came to hitch-hiking. Originally I had thought to myself, “How hard could it be to hitch-hike?”
I dressed up with a nice looking polo shirt, pressed slacks and black leather shoes that included a military spit shine. I wanted to look wholesome to passing motorists as opposed to looking like a serial killer.
With a large poster board upon which I had drawn a hitch-hiker’s hand with giant thumb sticking up, I hit the road. The sign read, “From Seattle, Washington to Washington D.C.”
Down the road I went into the hot Chicago sun punctuated by thunderstorms. Boy oh boy, hitch-hiking was a lot tougher than I had imagined. No, I need to be honest. When it comes to hitch-hiking, I proved to be a dismal failure. While I was successful as an independent car traveler, it turns out I possess no talent for depending on others to get me down the road.
Instead of riding down the highway, I ended up walking for miles and miles. It was dreadful. Finally a car stopped and I had my first ride. I was excited. Washington D.C., here I come. Not so fast. This driver was some kind of traveling salesman and he was a heavy mouth breather, if you know what I am saying. “Hey kid, I have a motel reserved up ahead. We could travel together and you could spend the night in my motel”.
I admit to suffering from some naivety as a 20 year old from a small town. In the 1960s Puyallup was so small they rolled up the sidewalks and turned off the Puyallup River as soon as it was dark.
Luckily I had enough street smarts and common sense to recognize that my driver was not providing a comfortable and safe invitation. I thanked the driver but told him President Lyndon Bains Johnson was expecting me at the White House and if I did not show up in time, he would send the Secrete Service to look for me.
I managed to escape the driver’s offer of dubious generosity and there I was again out in the hot sun hiking down the highway. I walked more than I rode and I have to tell you, I was beat by the heat, head to toe.
I made it to Elkhart, Indiana, the home of the woodwind instrument. Elkhart was the end of my hitch-hiking effort for the day. Actually when you get down to it, Elkhart was to become the end of my hitch-hiking effort for the rest of my life.
I remember walking up a beautiful tree lined street through a residential area of Elkhart to a small bus depot at about 5:30 in the morning. I had been on the road all day and night and only had 108 miles to show for my effort.
As I sat on a wooden bench in front of the bus depot, I asked myself, “Should I press on to Washington D.C. or should I give up and return to Chicago?”
As my question hung in mid-air, I was instantly provided with an answer from above. A seagull, apparently suffering from a serious gastrointestinal problem, flew over and dropped a big white seagull bomb on the right leg of my nicely pressed grey slacks which made for quite a distracting color contrast.
I said aloud, “That’s it! I’m done.”
When the bus depot opened, I asked how much for a ticket to Chicago? The ticket agent said, “That will be $1.85.” With that my hitch-hiking days were over for ever.
At the end of the summer, because I am tenacious, I followed my failed attempt with a second effort. My friend Jack Hannon and I travelled together to Washington D.C., but there was no hitch-hiking involved. We took a jet-plane.
In my next segment, I will tell you how I escaped the Chicago coroner’s cooling board after two thugs were given orders to kill me.