Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hitchhiking East to West

This is another story that I can't place an accurate date on.  Logically I think it had to occur in 1979 after my fourth escape, but there isn't enough time available for it to have happened then.  So I'm at a loss as to when it was.  All I'm sure of is that I was a young adult, somewhere between 18 and 21.

This story begins with my hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast.  I went west because I'd not seen the Pacific Ocean and felt slighted.  Early in the east to west trip I was picked up by a friendly trucker.  He wasn't going too far, but when our ride ended he stopped at a truck stop then got on his CB radio looking for a west bound trucker willing to give me a ride.  A trucker came back saying he was going to Los Angeles, but said he was too tired to drive and asked if the hitchhiker could drive.  The guy helping looked at me for the answer.  I shrugged then shook my head.  He told the guy I could and that I'd meet him in ten minutes.  In those ten minutes the guy taught me to drive an eighteen wheeler.

When the guy going west said he was tired he hadn't exaggerated.  He was completely fried.  When I got into his truck he stuck his head out of the back sleeper and said, "Your turn.  Go west.  Wake me in six hours."  He pulled his head back into the sleeper and was snoring in minutes.  I crawled over into the drivers seat and studied everything.  It was similar to the truck I just received my instructions in, so I was ready to go other than the wee little issue that he'd not showed me how to start the thing.  With the guy in the back sleeping I took my time studying everything.  When I felt I knew where everything was I started the engine.  I ground the gears horribly when I tried to put it into second gear, but didn't wake the sleeping trucker, so revved the engine as I was taught and tried again.  More grinding, but it went in gear this time.  Getting out of the truck stop's parking lot was frightening, but I managed without swapping paint.  Once on Interstate 70 it was easy, fun even.  In six hours when I woke the guy up I was exhausted myself, but a competent trucker.
He dropped his load in LA.  I made forty bucks unloading the truck for him, something known as "lumping". When we parted company I felt like I'd learned a new way to travel the country and a way to make spending money while doing it.  I could have went back east with this guy except I'd traveled this far to see the Pacific Ocean, something I hadn't accomplished yet.  I asked for directions to the ocean then walked in that direction with my thumb out.  The first guy to give me a ride was trouble.  I don't recall his name or even how the conversation evolved as it did, but in no time he'd explained that he and a few guys had some stuff going on and were looking for another guy.  He wouldn't tell me what it was but did invite me to stay at their place for the night.  It was getting late so I agreed.
They had a nice rented house in an area of LA called Woodland Hills.  There were five or six guys who lived there but I only met three of them.  The house was littered with guns and drugs.  I asked again what they were into and was told they'd tell me after we partied.  There were pills, which I didn't know anything about and pot.  I was given my choice of pills.  The three guys were eating them like candy, so I took a handful, pretended to swallow them with a beer, but dropped the pills in my shirt pocket instead.  When a joint was passed around I took it and faked an inhale.  I didn't do any of the drugs because I honestly didn't want to do them ever again.  (Thinking it through, this must have been after I was married in 1977, because before that I'd have smoked the pot.)  After the three of them were thoroughly stoned I asked what they were into. This time the guy who was their leader said armed robbery.  He said they had robbed everything from banks to drug dealers.  After that revelation he pulled an automatic pistol from behind a couch cushion.  He handed me the gun and said, "Welcome to the crew.  Get some sleep because we've got a job tomorrow."
I acted like I was asleep on the couch until an hour after they'd all gone to bed.  Once they were out I left. As I was leaving I noticed a motorcycle helmet upside down on a table near the door.  Inside the helmet were a set of keys and a wallet.  I took both.  The motorcycle was a nice Harley-Davidson.  I pushed it for half a block before cranking it and riding away.  It was three in the morning when I viewed the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  I parked the bike and walked across the sand and touched the water.  I wanted to stay longer, but felt the need to be gone before those guys woke.  I threw the gun I'd been given far into the ocean then rode north to San Francisco.  I dumped the Harley there.  From there I hitchhiked all the way to the Washington border, got bored with the west, turned around and hitched south again.
The wallet I stole from the armed robber crew had a Canadian driver's licenses in it under the name Alan Grant.  It worked well since Canadian driver's licenses back then lacked a photo.  It did have a description, but Alan Grant and I were close enough to match.  It also had several hundred dollars in it, which was useful as well.
The next interesting thing that occurred on this trip was on the outskirts of Denver.  I was hitchhiking west on Interstate 70 when a pickup truck stopped.  A guy who I assumed was a rancher introduced himself as Ruben Shaw.  I introduced myself as Alan Grant, from Ontario Canada.  (Ironic that I can remember all these names but not when this happened.  I even recall the name of the town on Alan Grant's license, but can't spell it.  Something like "Repentagency").  So Ruben Shaw asked if I had a driver's license.  I produced my new Canadian one.  He says, "Perfect.  I'll give you a ride if you drive so I can get some sleep."  I agreed and asked how far to go, to which he answered, "Until it runs out of gas."  Everyone had turned cryptic on me.  So I drove east on I-70 from Denver, having no idea how far we were going.  I had noticed that the truck had Colorado plates, so it couldn't be too far.
In two hours the truck ran out of gas.  I'd already figured out that it had two gas tanks so when the first tank was empty I flipped the switch for the second gas tank and the engine caught again.  Ruben Shaw slept through the slight change in speed so I kept going.  Colorado is a huge state.  It seemed like forever until we started getting close to Kansas.  When I realized we had only a few exits left in Colorado I woke Ruben Shaw.  He looked at the exit and said, take this one.  Ruben Shaw was impressed that I'd figured out how to switch his tanks and smart enough to realize I should wake him before going into Kansas.  He acknowledged that it was luck that I woke him at his exit, but he also said there's value in luck.  So Ruben Shaw offered me a job and a place to stay.
Ruben Shaw operated the only water drilling business in a two hundred mile range and he was good at it.  As luck would have it his assistant had quit after breaking Shaw's backhoe, which was why he'd driven all night to Denver.  To get parts to fix the backhoe.  He had a shop that also served as a barn for his horses.  The place had an apartment which Ruben liked to have lived in to have someone to look after the place since his shop wasn't near his house.  I worked for him for about a month.  There wasn't a lot to do in Burlington Colorado but I worked so hard there wasn't a lot of free time.  What free time I did have I spent on Ruben's dirt bike or his wonderful horse Black Jack.  Water drilling was an experience.  The places we put in wells were so remote it made little sense to me.  The ranches out there were measured in sections.  You never asked a man how many acres he had, always how many sections.  A section is one square mile, or 640 acres.  Those ranches were all ten or more sections.  Big places with cattle scattered all over the place.  The cows needed water, which we drilled.
I liked Ruben Shaw and his wife and young son a great deal.  I hated to leave, but I had to attend to something back home so I said my goodbyes and stuck out my thumb.  In 2001 when I was on the run I was driving west and by chance stopped in Burlington Colorado for gas.  Seeing the the place brought back memories.  I asked the gas station attendant if she knew Ruben Shaw.  She said sure, he's in a couple times a week.  I explained my connection to Ruben and said, "I'm glad Ruben's still alive."  "No," she said.  "I was talking about his son.  Ruben Senior died a few years.  You've missed him."  I'd always liked and respected Ruben Shaw.  I'd not thought of him for many years, but now that I knew he had passed it was hard for me to imagine him gone.

Sometimes you make good friends while hitchhiking.


  1. These are great stories.
    I really like it when those with adventurous lives write their experiences down and share them.
    Many avid readers, like myself, genuinely appreciate them.

    1. He has plenty of adventure stories! He is writing them all in his autobiography and I can't even believe some of the stuff I'm reading. I thought I had heard it all growing up, but I didn't!

    2. From my dad:
      "Adventurous life," is being generous. More like a life where I run from one disaster to another. I've always been a rather private person, but now that I am sharing my life's story I find it rewarding that others appreciate it. Thank for your comments. I do appreciate them.