The weather was much better now, and hitchhiking wasn’t bad either. If it weren’t for everybody trying to do me a favor by taking me on shortcuts, I probably would have made better time. Every once and a while taking a shortcut proved interesting, though. For instance, two really straight dudes picked me up in Tennessee and insisted I go with them. They assured me, that we were going to make better time because we were taking a shortcut. They were not the kind of guys I would want to hang out with, but they seemed honest, so I agreed to go with them. They stopped at a store and bought some beer and we took off across the Tennessee countryside. At first it was fun, then, as we drove through the small towns, it became less amusing.
In the towns it was just like in the cowboy movies. The towns, all
wooden buildings lining the main street, had people sitting on
wooden sidewalks and steps, a piece of straw dangling from their
mouths, doing nothing more than killing time. In each town, at the
far end, was a section reserved for the “jig boos,” or so my friends
called the blacks. We took the liberty of cruising the jig boo
section of one of these towns, so my comrades could laugh and poke fun at the shabby living conditions of the poor blacks. The windows were rolled down, so it was easy to yell things like, “How ya doin hot mama,” but the real jive was spoken in the car. Its all been said before, so there’s no sense repeating it here.
We were in a dry section of Tennessee and everybody got a little
worried because we were running out of beer. The driver knew a
bootlegger who lived twenty minutes away, so we were off on another joyride to God only knows where. As we drove up a large hill, an old man came out of a farmhouse on top of the hill to greet us. He went directly to the driver and started talking about the weather. I guess the driver wasn’t on a first name basis with the guy because it took a whole lot of talking before the old man went back into the house and brought out two six packs of cold beer. Everybody was smiling as we waved good-bye and drove back down the hill. I found out later that the old man had quite a little operation going. He not only bootlegged alcohol, he had a gambling casino camouflaged to look like his garage. He had the local pigs paid off and if he caught anybody selling hooch in his territory he would sick his little mafia on them. Apparently, he controlled this county and four others.
My rather drunk friends dropped me off in a little Tennessee town. I walked, as best I could, to the outskirts of the place. Even though I was just outside of town, I was not far enough out because people in the town would still poke their heads out of their windows in order to get a good look at the new kid. Some even got in their cars and drove past me. I became the town’s entertainment. I was not happy with this situation, so I inquired about getting a bus and I was told, “Sorry, this town is too small for a bus depot.”
I stood in the hot, dry, afternoon sun until just before dark when a
welfare worker from New York City stopped and picked me up. The welfare worker told me that the last hitchhiker he picked up stood for three days in the spot where I was standing. He said, “You must have an angel watching over you.” Once I got back to the main highway, it was business as usual. I spent the rest of the night and the wee small hours of the morning standing under streetlights and hanging out in gas stations. I made it to Detroit by mid morning and by late afternoon I was glad to be home — more than glad. Home is where the heart is–really!