I am a blue striped lightweight cotton backpack boasting the brand name Richie Bags that my 26 year old owner had picked up from a luggage store in Brooklyn. But little did I know what thrilling escapade awaited me, as Steve, my owner and companion had planned on a hitchhiking tour from the city of Seaside (Oregon) to Portland, soliciting free rides from total strangers. Incidentally, even though hitchhiking in North America has a long tradition, it has suffered a setback during the recent years. Why; in some states such as in Idaho or Kansas the police are pretty harsh on hitchhikers, while in others that include Oregon and Missouri, they are just tolerant.
Nevertheless, the Day One of our cross country hitchhiking journey began as Steve strapped me on with few belongings and walked to the edge of the town, grabbed a piece of old cardboard from a wayside bin and sketched out his destination on it that said ASTORIA.
He then stood on the side of Route 101 – the cardboard sign in one hand, the thumb out with the other, with an apparent look of friendliness and affability written large on his youthful countenance, attracting the attention of passing drivers. But none of them ever bothered to halt, till a gargantuan old Chevy hotrod finally skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust behind us. Sitting behind the wheel was a scantily clad young woman named JJ, while beside her on the bench seat sat her pet, a semi-adult Bengal Tiger that started growling as soon as Steve reached the passenger side window.
‘Hop in’, she drawled out but adding with the caution that any attempt from her part-time passenger to rape her would end up in a fearful death with Ted the tiger ripping open the jugular. As Steve made it quite clear that he had no intention to end his life in such horrid fashion, the rear door was opened, allowing Steve to board the vehicle, while Ted kept on his low growling all the while.
JJ lived in the area, and was heading to the town of Warrenton, around ten or so miles away. She could drop us off at a convenient point there, while telling us that she was not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, but somehow Steve looked quite normal and so she had agreed.
From Warrenton we threw up the same ASTORIA sign and promptly landed a ride from Bruce 5 minutes later. Bruce was a retired paper mill supervisory whose family was originally from Hawaii. While discussing about local customs in Hawaii, Bruce emphasized on Beach Culture in Hawaii where environmental responsibility becomes the foremost issue.
For instance, mālama ka ʻāina or in other words, take care of the land is honored by all. Visitors are advised to respect the local beaches and land by cleaning up their ʻōpala (trash) and take care to not upset any native species such as the Hawaiian green sea turtles, monk seals and coral reefs. It is best to leave items such as rocks shells, sea creatures etc., where you found them to make sure all who visit can enjoy the natural resources. Visitors wishing to acquire shells, rocks and other mementos can usually find them for sale at many roadside stands, thus contributing to the local economy.
After a day of exploring Astoria and working a bit, Steve decided it was time to find a place to camp for the night. So he walked up into the wooded area near the Astoria Column around sunset and searched. But the forest out here was pretty damn thick with vegetation and thorn bushes, so it wasn’t easy to find a place. Even with his awesome camping kit stacked into my side packet and taken out carefully, it proved no good.
After our night in the woods, we hitched a short ride back into town with Laurie. We only had to wait for 5 minutes before Laurie picked us up. She was the Director of Nursing at Clatsop College in Astoria. She promptly told us that she NEVER picks up hitchhikers, who she assumed were all druggies. So why did she pick us up in the early morning on the side of the road in the middle of a forest? Probably Steve did not look like an addict, while Laurie seemed to be dead against drugs, etc
Plus she had to tell a few of her own hitchhiking stories from her 20’s while backpacking around New Zealand. She wanted to help out a fellow adventure seeker — so she dropped us off at Safeway where Steve bought breakfast.
Next it was time to get out of Astoria and head south. After walking to the edge of town, Steve picked a busy spot with a large parking lot for potential rides to pull into, threw up a new cardboard sign and stuck out his thumb. This time it took 25 minutes before anyone stopped.
Susan’s car was loaded up with a bike on the trunk and a few giant hula hoops in the back seat. We decided to eat lunch together at Norma’s Seafood & Steak.
Incidentally, it is interesting to witness the reactions different people display as they drive past you. Some smile and wave, others look sorry they can’t pull over. Many quickly look away like they are ashamed or feel disgusted with you.
But when grand old Scott (101 yrs) pulled over in his vintage Rolls Royce, he offered to bring us all the way to Beaverton on the outskirts of Portland (1.5 hour drive) where he was visiting his 92 year old sweetheart. “I acquired this Silver Ghost,” mused Scott “during my silver jubilee wedding anniversary ages ago”.
In Beaverton Scott bought Steve hot wings and a few beers at WingStop, where he also proceeded to kick his ass. Then he dropped Steve off at a metro station so he could take the light-rail into Portland. ★