Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Archive for the category “Hitchhiking”

Sketch 3 (W&S): The Family Cow

Sometimes things take you by surprise. You might have been in a restaurant with a friend and gone to the salad bar only to return to find someone sitting in your spot and wearing your glasses. Or maybe you were traveling and had an unexpected encounter.

I think most people who have done any amount of hitchhiking will tell you that you’re about as unlikely to be picked up by someone who takes their holiday in Martha’s Vineyard as you are by those who spend their summers in the Hamptons. It’s safe to say your rides will come from either the middle or the working classes so it’s probably wise to hide that patrician accent of yours.

We had crossed our way into Wyoming and for the life of us weren’t able to get a ride. When hitchhiking, there are times of scarcity (eight hours and only eight-three miles) and then prosperity (the next ride, one thousand six hundred and sixty-six miles). We’d been on the side of the road for a spell and were just looking to get a little closer to our destination. That is not to say we didn’t periodically slip into the woods for a smoke before returning out again to brave the passing traffic.

When the old school bus pulled over, and the door opened, we were met with a decidedly unpleasant odor. I looked at my cousin with concern. He just said, “We can hardly be turning down rides.”

I took it in all very quickly and this from someone who nearly always take a very long time to register anything. The grinning driver with his Van Dyke. His pregnant wife. The young girl lying on a mattress in a feverish state. Two children playing with toy soldiers. The bus was packed with all of their earthly possessions.

All of us use our experiences to try and make sense of things. That’s why when we heard a sound we thought the kids had one of those toys where after you select the barnyard animal of your choice, you hear a cackle, grunt, or moo as the case may be. However, when we spotted something moving, we realized it was their cow.  To say we were startled would have been an understatement.

July 4, 1976

July 4, 1976
You walked slowly through the crowds
as the Grand Marshal of the Parade
and though he’d never been to war
was a hero to all
having played one
in countless roles.

At the edge of Cody
time stood still
as cars passed
by without consideration.

Although received wisdom
more often than not
brings untoward results,
you decided to separate
and at a later point

After crossing the street
you threw your backpack at your feet,
heading in the wrong direction.

You glanced to see
a pick-up pulling over
and your cousin
running towards it.

But it abruptly stopped
and a brawny man
jumped out
and began hollering
as if he were a drill sergeant
and his victim
a young recruit.

You quickly approached.

“What’s the hassle, man?”

Disbelief struck his face,
before he continued
his tirade.

“I fought in the war
and don’t like you all
in our part of the country
with your ideas.”

“My dad fought in the war!
Your country?
What in the hell
does that mean?”

“That’s it with you
and your kind.
You don’t have to tell me
what your ideas are…”

“We don’t believe in our country
is that what you think?”

Days earlier you had passed
the holy mountain
that manifest destiny defaced
in the state whose senator had won the flying cross
but was denounced as wanting
peace at any price.

“Don’t be smart asses with me.
You reds don’t know
the first thing
about country.”

“Reds? Where’d you get that idea?”

“Just you two get out of here
cause if you’re not,
I’ll be back later
with friends.”

In a huff he hopped back in
and sped away
clouds of dust
rising up.

Sketch 9: The Unbroken Circle (’76)

Our poem this month, The Unbroken Circle (’76), describes an experience I had during the Bicentennial year. It was late June, and we  were on our way to Yellowstone National Park and had arrived in the city of Cody in the state of Wyoming, a place not known so much for its progressive ideas as for its conservativeness. I mean the last time they voted for a Democrat for president was 1964.  I’m not a big fan of the Democrats or anything although they did have the only candidate in my lifetime on a major ticket I’d have unconditionally supported (George McGovern), who as fate would have it went down to unbelievable electoral defeat, and Tricky Dick was reelected:


It’s just the Republicans have gone so far right they’re well off the page and into the margins.

Anyway, we were picked up by a guy who I swear bore an uncanny resemblance to:


He told us of a concert and invited us to a party in the middle of nowhere where we were surrounded by young people whose appearance cast serious doubt on the notion they had campaigned four year earlier for Dick Nixon.  My problem at first was simple: how to open up a can of Coors.  Before you’re too hard on me, consider Wikipedia’s entry on the contraption:

“In the 1970s, Coors invented the pollution-free push tab can. However, consumers disliked the top and it was discontinued soon afterward.”

It sounds to me like a noble but doomed experiment – a little like introducing the metric system in the U.S.

For a few hours we soaked in the sun and the wide expanse of space. Then we went to see The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

We had a great time. The music was inspiring, and their encore was a stirring rendition of this song:

Take It Easy

Another classic:

Up Around the Bend

The ultimate hitchhiking song:


You will likely wait for long periods of time.

The weather will not always be agreeable.

You may have unpleasant encounters with people who although they have never met you believe they understand your complete philosophical and political belief system even if you’re absolutely sure you’re not in possession of either.

Point A to Point B

Hitchhiking is ideal for those who are not interested in getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible and believe the journey itself is what matters most.

Is Hitchhiking for You?

Hitchhiking is not for everyone.

If you can afford it, flying is more comfortable. Taking your own car or renting one is another option.

If money is an issue, consider going by bus. I am aware they have such a notoriously bad reputation that Harry Chapin once chimed they were “a dog of a way to get around.” But I imagine they’ve greatly improved, and you will almost most certainly arrive at your destination quicker than you would if you went by thumb.

Perceived risk is another consideration. Although for obvious reasons hitchhiking is not conducive to statistics,  we have all heard stories.

Come Along with Me

This is going to be an experiment of sorts.

I’m going to begin writing about my experiences hitchhiking, and hopefully eventually compile all I’ve written into a coherent whole that I’ll feel happy publishing.

Come along with me.

I Dreamt of the Road

My love of travel can be traced to my dad’s stories of far away places he had been to in the Pacific.

He talked about the heat of the jungle and the incessant rain that made it nearly impossible to stay dry. There were the bouts of malaria. However, more than anything else, I remember the wonderful things he had to say about Australia. It must have been like paradise for a twenty-two-year-old originally stationed in the unforgiving Papua New Guinea climate.

Our family trips were anything but magic. But how wise was it to travel across the Badlands with temperatures skirting 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a car without air conditioning?

My own adventure would begin in 1976. Over the next five years with the help of complete strangers, many of whom had little to their name but much in the way of decency and kindness, I hitchhiked nearly 10,000 miles.

It all began in the classroom:

I Dreamt of the Road
I dreamt of the road
when school lectures long were made
and of ways
not meaningful
to logic,
seeking to escape
a spring
spent with theorems.

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