Friday August 15, 8:54p.m.
Alternatively titled: Cats, Cars, and the Con Artist
Sweetheart and I stood in the blazing hot sun on the desolate highway with our backpacks, a guitar, a trumpet, a fiddle, a banjo, and a cat carrier. Inside the cat carrier was our unhappy rescued cat friend, Ashes, with whom I had quickly become enamored at the Lakota Spirit Blockade. Hitchhiking really is stressful enough if you’re a human, but Ashes was even less thrilled.
We got picked up by a quiet older couple who drove us all the way to the mythical Wall Drug, a huge kitschy convenience store that Jordan has seen advertised on bumper stickers for years and which I have now (unfortunately?) visited four times this summer alone.
Being there with Jordan and Ashes was a blast, however. We got 5 cent coffee, tabled dived some soggy french fries, watched the underwhelming dinosaur robot attempt to feed on screaming children, got our photo taken on the Jackalope, and played music for enraptured tourists (which got us $40 and a dozen donuts).
We eventually made it to Rapid City, where we found out we didn’t actually have a show as we’d thought. Instead we played music on the street and wandered around downtown, plotting our escape to Arizona. As we wandered through an alleyway, Sweetheart saw another crusty kid with tattoos and casually said “up the punx?”, which he insists is a way for punks to identify eachother. Stranger looked confused, but he stopped, and ended up accompanying us to see Godzilla.
It turns out Stranger was on his way to a chess competition. He had packed all his things into his car with the intention of moving to a new town (unclear yet which one) and headed off from his home on the west coast to this competition. Sweetheart and I are both chess enthusiasts so we ended up inviting him back to the cave (you might remember the cave from previous entries) for a few matches.
But for some reason, while we were bantering about the many absurdities of Godzilla, train hopping, and chess, I started to feel overwhelmed and threatened. This is a feeling that comes up more often than I would like when I hang out with men. Oftentimes it’s because I’m actually being shut out, patronized, or silenced, but in this moment it seemed just to be my expectation that these things would happen. In fact, both Sweetheart and Stranger were being very friendly and attentive and accommodating.
I started feeling really competitive, and really aggressive, tactics that sometimes help me assert myself in conversations I’m not part of, but that only end up reinforcing the patriarchy that creates the situations themselves. Really, you shouldn’t have to interrupt others in order to join a discussion. Sweetheart asked what was wrong, but I realized that as much as I value direct communication, telling this new Stranger that I was feeling defensive because I expected him to be condescending was only going to make me feel crazy, and would probably make him think I was crazy too.
The stress I felt continued actually until we met up with another friend and ended up getting into a discussion in which he asserted that patriarchy didn’t exist. I unleashed a lot of opinions and feelings, and as I spoke them aloud the anxiety that had been plaguing me all night melted away. So it goes sometimes. His argument hinged on what I see as a misunderstanding of patriarchy, that patriarchy serves the interests of men. In reality, patriarchy hurts both men and women. Patriarchy is the structuring of society that gives men access to wealth, influence, and power. But access to those things does not guarantee happiness. Patriarchy also tends to isolate men from women, encourage men to suppress their emotions, and require men to compete constantly for status. All of these things hurt men, as they hurt women. But the reality is that most men don’t need to be afraid of going out alone after dark, of being sexually harassed on public transit or at work. Men are automatically given more credibility in intellectual conversations than are women. Women are subject to more bullshit advertising that leads to dangerous eating disorders. The list goes on.
Anyway, once the anxiety around my gender dissolved, I had a good night playing music by the campfire with my friends, and Sweetheart and I were able to talk about what I’d experienced the next morning. We now have a safe word I can use to let him know when these kinds of feelings come up for me so he can try and support me.
The next day, Stranger drove Sweetheart and I, now without the cat (who we left at the animal shelter) toward the on-ramp. Unfortunately, Sweetheart ran into some trouble he had to resolve, and so Stranger and I waited most of the day playing Scrabble and drawing comics by the river. When Sweetheart was able to meet up with us, we got a call from someone heading down to Flagstaff! We had three days to get to Tuscon for our next show, so we were overjoyed. We hugged Stranger, our new Friend, goodbye and climbed into the back of our craigslist ride’s converted paddywagon.
The driver was a nice guy, a traveler living out of his van who had newspaper clippings of himself twenty years ago when he was backpacking and bicycling around the country.
We thought we had it made.
But things got weird when we asked how much to chip in for gas. Our driver told us he didn’t want any money for us. But he had a part for us to play. He explained that he travels the country making up elaborate stories to tell at churches and police stations to scam people into giving him gas money. He wanted us to play hitchhikers and troublemakers whom he would leave in town if he wasn’t provided with the money. What should have been a 4 hour drive to Wyoming took us about 8 hours, and we had to watch as he scammed church people, strangers, and a woman he was having an affair with out of $20 or $30. Sweetheart and I felt really uncomfortable with the dishonesty. We asked if he ever just asked people for money outright. He laughed and said no, he loves making up stories. We decided he was probably a sociopath.
So we had him leave us in Cheyenne, WY.
We camped at the truck stop and set out the next day, looking for a ride to Arizona. But the spot was overrun with hitchhikers! Some were Rainbow stoners, some were old homeless ramblers, some were crust punks. But after hours of hitching in the rain with a sign that read “WE ARE FUN!” and still having no luck, Sweetheart and I were feeling desperate.
Huge RVs would go by, trailers hauling multiple cars, folks who clearly had plenty of room but were not about to stop for a couple hitchhikers. An truck pulling an RV pulling a Jeep pulling a golf cart passed by in the rain.
“Excuse us,” Sweetheart said. “Excuse us, we observed you are hauling a golf cart. We would like to steal that golf cart and drive it to Tuscon, AZ. Would you mind paying for gas?”
Finally we got a call from someone who was leaving that night from Cheyenne, bound for Phoenix. He insisted we would have to pay him $200 for the ride. So we pulled out our instruments and busked at the McDonald’s by the truck stop with a sign reading “SONGS FOR GAS $” until we made almost $100. We would have a ride!
The ride here was a total shitshow. Our driver turned out to be a total jerk, hardly speaking to us at all, yelling at other drivers, swerving between lanes, swearing constantly. I watched as he unwrapped twinkies and shoved them into his mouth, tossing the wrappers casually out the window. But, in the end we made it to Phoenix, where Stranger’s good friend is hosting us. I’m now more convinced than ever that hitchhiking is the best way to travel. Craigslist rideshare was a bad idea.