A lot of people ask if I was scared, to which my reply is always a steady, ‘at first. Then you realise people can actually be nice.’ Once you get over the fact that not everyone is a serial killer it’s all grand. Of course, there’s no denying that bad things can happen, but I’ve met the nicest people in the world on my travels. To be able to see the best in people is something I’ve always valued about being on the road.
I hitched from East to West and back most of the way. People ask about where I went, but that never mattered. I saw some countryside, some cities. They’re names on a page. In the countryside I spent two weeks in the bush with a bunch of hippies which made me realise I’m very, very far from being a hippy. It was an incredible experience, the so-called Rainbow Gathering. A must-see for anyone who thinks they’re alternative. From there, I left on a converted school bus with some houseless (not homeless) people.
This bus was painted red, leaked diesel, had a couch, two mattresses, and 19 of us left aboard. This quickly became 12, going from Walmart to Walmart parking lot holding up a sign that read ‘travelling, broke and hungry’. I’m not lying when I say you’d be surprised the amount of money you can make. I also realised the boring reality of having a real job that you pay tax for.
From this bus, nine of us jumped off and hopped freight trains. It was definitely the high point of my trip, riding in an open boxcar across the unfiltered countryside to God knows where with people I trusted for some reason I can’t explain. The freedom of these freight trains is something that words cannot describe. Waking up on flat concrete of a dirty abandoned building with your arm as a pillow thinking, ‘Goddamn, that was a great rest...’ You wonder what ‘home’ truly means.
From freight trains, I hitched by myself for quite a while, down the famous 101 from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, kicking it on Haight Street, hippy central of the United States. This street was where the fabled Grateful Dead lived. It’s literally the 60s personified in an anti-capitalist utopian rejection of society. People live in Golden Gate Park for as long as they want, camping for free. We did it too.
While skedaddling across America, I met a subculture that no media has ever gotten their hands on. It’s the ‘Dirty Kids’. These kids reject any notion you have of growing up, getting a job, nothing boring like that. Essentially, they live on the road, sometimes hitching, sometimes hopping freight trains. Completely off the grid with no one to answer to, only very rarely cops, they make money by holding up signs or busking. These guys brought me on the freights, knowing the lines backwards. They could tell you which train to hop west, which connection to get north and which yard to wait at, where to jump off to avoid getting caught then get back on, then you take one more train east and you’re in New York. They knew the freight lines across America better than I know my home village. I was fascinated, being a train nerd myself.
They taught me how to ‘fly signs’ which was holding up the sign mentioned earlier, often referred to as ‘spanging,’ which comes from mixing the words ‘spare’ and ‘change’. They taught me that homeless people are amazing and have the best stories, that you can sleep anywhere, that there’s nothing worth more in the world than trust, and that you can trust someone after knowing them for 3 minutes. They showed me a way of life that I had never heard of but that I could instantly connect with.
Travelling and living off the grid taught me, not for the first time, that there’s hope for humanity. You just have to get over your preconceived notions and see that there is decency in places you never thought of. Talk to someone who’s homeless, who’s filthy, who’s got that dirty mohawk and ripped jeans. You’ll see what I mean.
Here’s a song about hopping freight trains:
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