Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

04 July 2009

On the Road . . . with Mark & Jason

To celebrate Independence Day in the New World (er, we mean the US), we thought we’d share a story that highlights a great American freedom: the freedom to move . . . any time, any place. Americans love moving: for new jobs, for better school districts, or just for fun. We think it has to do with the wind in the face, the mountains on the horizon, and the debts left behind. What follows is a true narrative of a cross-country hitchhiking adventure. Well, it hits some of the weirder highlights anyway. Don’t try this at home, kids. —MB & JS

Hitchhiking is not without its perils, but it’s the little things you remember, like getting to your destination alive. That and the people you meet.

Out on the road, you are vulnerable. You lack a buffer against the seething, infested mass of humanity. In other circumstances, you can count on a windshield, a TV set, or a loaded shotgun to provide this buffer. Not when hitchhiking. Believe us when we share this insight: the seething, infested mass of humanity somehow intuits this weakness and proceeds to take full advantage.

Years ago, fresh out of college and naively optimistic, we hitchhiked across the US, from Boston to Seattle. In Don’t Even Go There style, we didn’t take the most direct route. Along the way, we met some of most obliging, captivating, and demented people in America. This story is dedicated to them, wherever the hell they are now. We sincerely hope it’s a comfortable, confined space. With bars on the windows.

Luckily, we had exceptional weather during our trip. There’s nothing worse than a downpour to dampen your spirits and prospects while hitchhiking. We had reasonably good luck too. Our longest wait time was four hours, although in the heat kitchen of Nevada, it felt more like four days. To make matters worse, the ride that saved us was in the back of an open pickup, beneath the scorching sun and a very large drooling dog. Beggars can't be choosers.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

We started in Eastern Massachusetts with our large backpacks, our soft bed rolls, and our tiny bank rolls. We made swift work of New York, Philadelphia, and DC as we headed south. In Virginia, a clean-cut 29-year-old born-again Christian picked us up. Obviously, we thought, here was a decent human being, kind and attentive to the needs of his fellows. We soon learned otherwise. Christ, his religion was all he could talk about.

Then he changed the subject to sex. Apparently, these two topics take up most of the space in a breeding-age born-again Christian male’s mind; at least that’s the impression our host left us with. He claimed to be a virgin and fantasized about the proverbial girl next door. He could hardly wait to get married just so he could have sex. My God, he would have had a much less stressful life if only the Pope allowed masturbation. I mean, Jesus Christ! His good will ended abruptly when he tossed us out into the rain (albeit beneath a bridge), where we spent the first of only two nights of the entire two-month trip sleeping outdoors.

In Madison, Wisconsin, while renting a cheap room at the university, we stopped to chat up two girls manning a campus table. Not all the crazies are on the road, we discovered. These girls were avid members of the Socialist Party of America . . . not that it made them any less attractive to two wayfaring, hard-up wanderers. We became somewhat involved. We rode back to Chicago with them and their entourage to protest an American Nazi Party rally in Lincoln Park. Six uniformed fascists (one with a megaphone) tried to talk over the thousand socialists (and others) gathered to stop them. Eight ill-tempered, militaristic mounted policemen stationed between the two groups kept the event from descending into anarchy. Somewhat ironic in hindsight.

After that scene, we were never so relieved to get back on the road.

Next came the “Party Hearse:” a vintage automobile from the 1960s, but a real hearse nonetheless. We slouched in the back, a space never meant to be comfortable for the living. The time passed more quickly once the bottles of booze appeared. You’d be amazed at the number of concealed compartments in the back of a hearse . . . and we needed every one, since a policeman stopped the car and searched us all. He could smell our breath, knew we’d been drinking (except for the driver, thank God), but he couldn’t find any incriminating evidence.

Around Cody, Wyoming, we stopped in to view a free site proudly proclaiming itself to feature an “Historical Mural.” It turned out to be a Mormon Church front group. They gave us an apple, a Book of Mormon, and a lecture. We were glad to get the apple.

In rural California, one driver questioned us before letting us into the car: “Got any weapons? Guns or knives?” We answered, “Just pocket knives, sir.” “OK,” he said, “get in, but put the knives on the dashboard, so we both know where they are.” We spent the next couple hours staring at those pocketknives while wondering what kind of hardware he had. Luckily, we never found out.

In Oregon heading north, we were picked up by a large man in a beat-up sedan. He started talking about robbing a bank. He had a plan, but just needed some help—like a get-away driver and someone to hold the rifle. You know, the basics. What had we got ourselves into? We finally persuaded him to drop us off, with the idea of meeting up in the morning. We were far away by dawn and never did find out if he was serious or just seriously insane.

These are just a few of the fun-loving people we met on the road. If we’ve met them, you can be sure they’re out there waiting for the next fool. If you’re out there, remember, so are they.

Lessons Learned: Times have changed, and hitchhiking isn’t what it used to be. There are generous people everywhere, and if you’re open to the possibility, you might find a great adventure waiting for you, even one to write down. Of course, the other possibility always exists, too . . .
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 3
Communication Breakdown: 3
Customer Dis-service: 4
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 4
Inactivity Guide: 4
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 4/5
Vibe-Rating: 2

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Are you kidding?
Native Population: 2: you and the driver
Normal Attractions: Life on the road is anything but lonely, but it’s a cheap way to travel when you’re not in a hurry and crave as much adventure as a new Internet dater.
Final Point of Interest: We’ve had good experiences on the road, too, but who wants to read the boring stories of the person who bought us a meal, put us up for the night, or introduced us to his horny neighbor? Hmmm, stay tuned.

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