Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spring Break Adventures

When I was a student at the University of Minnesota in 1969, I decided to hitchhike to Miami over spring break.

On a Tuesday morning, I called my friend Scott in Miami and told him I'd be there by the time he got off work on Thursday. He bet me $20 I wouldn't make it in time, adding extra incentive to my idiotic plan.

I packed a small suitcase, made a sign with "MIAMI" on it and had my father he drop me off on a straight stretch of highway 12 just east of the Twin Cities at about noon.

A half hour later, two guys in a beat-up Ford picked me up. We crossed the river into Wisconsin and exited the freeway a couple of miles later at River Falls.

Very few cars entered this particular ramp so I walked back onto the freeway hoping to make it to the next interchange, about a mile away, before the highway patrol grabbed me. As I was marching up the next exit ramp, a truck driver pulled over, picked me up and gave me a ride all the way to the south side of Chicago.

I had intended to head south on highway 41 but the truck driver inadvertently dropped me off one exit too early. I was now stuck in Hammond, Ind., in a predominantly minority area, carrying a suitcase, just as the bars were closing. Incredibly, a local police patrol car pulled up and gave me a ride over to highway 41.

I stood in the rain, along highway 41, in the dark, staring at a deserted road. I had driven to Miami years earlier on highway 41, but now that the interstate freeway system had been completed most of the through traffic went down I-65 instead.

Lucky once again, a truck driver picked me up out of the downpour.

At daylight, I found myself on I-24 near Paducah, Kentucky, far from highway 41. A young girl in a Volkswagen picked me up and gave me a ride two miles down the road. She left me at such a bad location I was forced to walk the two miles back to where I started.

Eventually, a state trooper came by and chased me off the freeway.

I hiked over to a state highway and stood there for a couple of hours. There was a car full of rowdy young punks that had gone back and forth past me many times, always giving me the evil eye. Just as they were about to come by again, a uniformed Army captain in a Triumph convertible pulled up and gave me a ride.

The captain dropped me off at the entrance to Fort Campbell and pointed out where I could catch my next ride, which came along shortly thereafter. I was now seated next to a young man with an open case of beer in the front seat between us. We shared a couple of beers and he dropped me off in the middle of Nashville.

A fellow wearing a neck brace picked me up in Nashville and we made it into Atlanta where we were rear-ended in a freeway pile-up.

After much delay, I drove the injured fellow to his friend's apartment and made it to highway 41 where I caught a ride with a hillbilly in a pickup who talked continuously but I never understood a word he said. At about 4:00 a.m., he dropped me off at a truck stop on a rural road in South Georgia where I eventually got a ride to an on-ramp on I-75 from a trucker who was very reluctant to take on a passenger.

A preacher in a Cadillac pulled up and drove me down to the Boca Raton exit in Florida, trying to convert me all along the way.

Next, I got a ride with hippie couple in a clunker Oldsmobile, but they were short of money to exit the turnpike tollbooth so I gave them two dollars and had them drive me within a block of Scott's place.

I found the key under Scott's mat and let myself in. Before I could open one of his beers, he showed up from work. It had taken me 53 hours to get there and I literally made it by less than 10 minutes to collect the $20 bet.

I was young and adventurous and stupid. I'll never hitchhike again, not even for $20.

The following year, I headed down to Miami in my new Gremlin during spring break. I had a collision with a deer and spent spring break in a motel near Beloit, Wis., waiting for a radiator to be delivered from Milwaukee.

Spring break is for the young at heart and feeble of mind -- if you need a break, take it close to home.

Quote for the Day -- "Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's Party.'" Robin Williams

Bret Burquest is the author of 7 books, including THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY and ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS (available on Amazon). He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where April showers bring mud.

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