Friday, June 23, 2006

these days i'm an illinois', i love the place. it's a lot like iowa, only more so, i like to say. or, it's a lot like iowa, only it has a city in it. but it didn't always used to be this way. back when i lived in iowa, illinois seemed like a huge state, very urbane, very crooked, very long. eastern iowa was hilly river valley, green, full of people i knew, welcoming, but the minute i crossed the river, it seemed more crowded, then it would flatten way out, into a stark, windswept, extreme-weather kind of reagan-territory, and then, worse, after a few hours you'd come to chicagoland, where everything turned six-lane, gray, diesel-fuelish. coming back west, i was always grateful to cross the river again, back into the fresh air and the uphill slope to sanity.

but one time my sister was visiting me, and missed her bus back to bloomington indiana- a trip that would take a person down the long way, through the heart of illinois, through galesburg, spoon river, peoria, and champaign, to indianapolis and beyond. i agreed to hitchhike with her down to bloomington, where i would drop her off and return, as i would not want her to hitchhike alone, and for some reason waiting an entire day for the next bus was also out of the question. i was vaguely aware that she admired my tendency to hitchhike, and, being a single woman, was unable to just pick up and do it like i did, but, being with me was somewhat of an opportunity to experience it first hand, if only for an evening, so, i let her talk me into it. she may have an entirely different take on this entire trip, you must understand, but i'm telling it from memory, as i saw it. and, besides, it didn't matter to me- i had the day to kill, but not the car or the means to get her home any other way, and she is, after all, my sister. it was about three in the afternoon when we left, and i don't even remember what the weather was like, but we figured we could make it down there by about ten in the evening if we hurried, knowing full well that such things can be out of your control when you're relying on chance and other people.

we did ok until we were way down in central illinois, down around bloomington illinois, and it was getting dark, and it occurred to me that it was a weekend, maybe a friday, and some of the traffic might be a little on the cutting-loose side. this brings out one of the dangers of hitchhiking, namely the drunk or near-drunk who seems to need to impress a person, and somehow complete strangers rank much higher in desirability in terms of needing to impress someone, than, say, someone they've known for years. and so it happened that a pickup truck stopped with three guys in it, and the driver insisted that both of us squeeze into the front with them. i'd never do this now, since it's quite dangerous, but this being the seventies, it didn't seem as bad as it does now. they scrunched up and made room for us, insisting that neither of us should have to ride in the back. but no sooner did we get in, than the driver started to make vaguely suggestive comments. i can't remember exactly what he was saying but he was kind of leering at my sister and driving at the same time, and i began to get nervous. there were three of them, and only one of me, and in a truck like this (just an old pickup, mind you) there was always the possibility that they were armed or whatever. he went on for a while, tried it several times, me getting more and more nervous. but the other two guys, between the driver and my sister, finally told him to shut up. told him he was being rude, which he was. and then they pulled over and dropped us off, and we were back on the highway.

the next incident brings out both the other major danger of hitchhiking (besides just the danger of standing by the road, being a traffic hazard, which is bad enough)- and the beauty of the midwest, where people sometimes seem to be able to just see through it when someone is ok and when they're not. a policeman stopped us, and i remember sitting in his car- i'm not sure if my sister was there too, or if she was still standing back on the road waiting. friday night was happening all around us. He was checking my id, and it was taking a while. i knew i had a warning in illinois- i had gotten it a while back, and decided to go around next time, rather than go through the state, but it just hadn't worked out that way. i had to just tell him what we were doing and hope for the best. told him i knew i shouldn't, but i couldn't let her do it by herself, so i came down this way with her, to make sure she got there all right.

finally he gave back the license and told me he was letting me go this time- because my birthday was the same as his. He didn't say anything else. He just let us go, and left.

the delay kind of did us in though. maybe it's because we were hungry and got something to eat, but in any case, when we finally got down to the last little road into bloomington indiana, it was about 2:30 in the morning, and the traffic had dried up altogether- the crickets were chirping in the forest, and there wasn't a soul around. this brought up the final hazard of hitchhiking- and my sister, if she wanted to see it, got to see it all- and that is, sometimes it's just too much to walk the last ten or fifteen miles. and it can be a long wait- though, in this case, it wasn't that bad. as it happened we got there right around daybreak, time for me to turn around and go back, after an early breakfast somewhere. it occurred to me on the way home that this time, if i were stopped, i had absolutely no excuse that anyone would believe, but it didn't happen, i sailed right through, and made it home in plenty of time, having lost only a night's sleep, which is nothing, when you're young- it just gives a kind of sheen to the cornfields, and a vague sense that, in fact, consciousness itself is but a fleeting thing- now you're here, and soon enough you might be home, sleeping right through to the next day.


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