Chapter 44 – The Hitchhiker

As a single father, I couldn’t afford to travel after my divorce. I took my children skiing in upstate New York and to the beach. Long Island beaches and the ski slopes up north were destinations people traveled to from around the world, so it wasn’t a hardship. But, I hadn’t seen much of the US, other than when I was a boy. When I started my journey in the RV, I hoped to find adventure anything that would provide something different to look at or photograph while I was walking. I was also living out a bucket list of sorts albeit one on a minuscule budget. Most days on the road were like that of a professional athlete. I had my good days and my bad days. I never knew what my tomorrow was going to be like as my health roller-coastered daily, sometimes even hourly.

What I did know was that I couldn’t walk on Long Island or in New York City any more. Everything started to look the same. I felt as if I knew every blade of grass, in every park and every beach on Long Island. The City, was too noisy. Life seemed like an endless treadmill. I felt like Bill Murray’s character in “Ground Hog Day.” Incidentally, I met and photographed him at the Forest Hills US Open quite informally. When I left New York, one of my life-long friends helped me pick up the camper and attach it to my car. He was so much better at things like that and I wanted to see him one time before I left. I thought I might never see him again. We went back decades. I was the one who introduced him to his wife. They spent a month in my waterbed. I couldn’t get rid of them. But, we were like brothers, so I didn’t want to. I was happy they found love. They have three boys now and have spent decades together.

I was on my way to anywhere USA. I was terrified of leaving everything behind and going to God knows where? The day I left, my daughter called me crying. She wanted to see me one more time, but it was too late. I was already hours away. I contemplated driving all the way back to New York, just to give her one last hug. I couldn’t bring myself to see her. I was crying for hours, knowing that I might never see her again. It was as if my heart stayed on Long Island, with her. I was trying to convince myself that it was for the best. The doctors had been telling me for many years that the stents were failing. There was nothing they could do. I never told anyone and especially tried to keep it from my children. At that point my health was deteriorating rapidly in ways I could never have predicted and I didn’t want my children to see me suffer.

I don’t know if she will ever forgive me for leaving without coming to see her. But, my heart was torn and broken, both literally and figuratively. My son was studying in Sweden so there was some distance between us. I truly believed that I would die on the road. I was going to make the best of the last chapter of my life. I would film everything, so they could see what a fruitful life I led. I was writing my manuscript and this book, so I was going to leave them a documentary about myself…their dad. I thought, what more could a father do than to leave a complete account of his life. I wanted to end it happily, as opposed to miserably, locked inside, not being able to venture outdoors all winter.

By the time I got to Nashville, my little puppy Buda was peeing all over the car and the RV was not working properly. The owners of the RV company were generous and thoughtful. I was booking flash-mobs all over the country, even though I was getting too sick to shoot them. I thought, wow, all I have to do is produce one in each state. It would only take a few minutes to shoot. I produced one with Toderick Hall, the musician and it got millions of views. I thought it was a viable plan. I was completely wrong, as producing flash mobs was a hit or miss adventure. Eventually, I started to film documentaries and edit them at night, in the RV.

By the time I got to Nashville, I learned how diverse people are around the country. I couldn’t believe how big the USA is. I was driving six hours a day and walking three to four hours. It seemed like I was getting nowhere fast. Most of the time I would stay overnight at truck stops. In 2011 and 2012 the fallout from “The Great Recession” was still plaguing the US. In Nashville, street and honky tonk musicians who were working for tips, were barely surviving. I took a lot of photographs and hooked-up with several musicians to make a documentary. Then, I left and went to see Elvis’ home. I always admired Elvis. When I got there, it was not what I expected, so I didn’t even go in. I headed west to the Grand Canyon, but not before I picked up a hitchhiker, a female who was making her way to L.A.

She was down to earth. She carried the traditional European style back pack. I could tell she was “living off the land”, because although she was beautiful, she had a certain toughness to her. She was young and must have been on the road for a while. We drove about ten hours while she told me her life story and kept me company. I was concerned that I could be held up, but it didn’t matter at that point. I said screw it and pulled over to get her. Later, I would realize how dangerous the roads were, but not because of hitchhikers. I had no idea how to drive, towing a 4500-pound trailer behind my car. I drove past tornados without knowing it. I blew a tire in Arizona and was fortunate to have help from the local police who changed it for me. I took every kind of risk one could take, without much thought. I was going to see America first-hand. The most important aspect of my journey, other than trying to walk my way back to good health, was the people and nature.

I made a documentary about the Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico. I was up close and personal with the wolves. I told the handler about my health and she let me in their enclosure. She went in with me, but until you see a pack of wolves stalking you, circling you, you have no idea how fortunate you are to not encounter them in the wild. I was also up close and personal with bobcats and mountain lions for the first time in my life. I even watched a mated pair of American Bald Eagles build a nest. I photographed them many times. My bucket list was turning out to be quite an adventure after all. The backpacking hitchhiker made it even more eventful. We were not together all that long, so she was not like my “co-pilot.” She wanted to walk and backpack from Tennessee to L.A. She had a car and said she was from a great family, so she wasn’t in a desperate situation. It was serendipitous that I found her, as I needed a distraction at the time. At one point, I was lost. My car’s navigation was choosing poor routes and often I would get stuck in terrible traffic. When I met her, I was on some mountain, in the middle of nowhere. But, it was a beautiful nowhere.

As we were driving through the mountains, she started to change her clothes, in the front seat next to me. She then asked me straight out, “would you like a blow job.” I was completely taken by surprise. I hesitated, thinking she was going to ask me for money. I looked at her as if she was just screwing with me. Before I could answer she unbelted my pants and went down on me. I was driving down the mountain and trying to lay back in my seat. I didn’t leave LI thinking I was going to find love, or even a chapter of love. I was focusing completely on my health. She was determined to get me off. I didn’t even know if I could. It was way too dangerous. I hadn’t tested my “gear” for quite a while. But, as I drove down the mountain, she went to town. As I came, she kept sucking until I was completely drained. At that point I was driving erratically, but who wouldn’t have been? After I came, I asked if she wanted to stop at a campground, shower and stay the night with me. As the mountain became hills and then eventually flattened out, she said thanks for the ride and got out as fast as she got in.

We had talked for hours. I had met another down-to-earth “mid-west farmer’s daughter,” reminiscent of my neighbor in the city, years earlier. I will never forget her , or that matter the blowjob, despite the fact she was in and out of my life so quickly. This was going to be a great bucket list. After I dropped her off, I went to see Hollywood and Beverly Hills. I met with an investor, but he decided not to sponsor the feature films I wanted to produce. He knew I was too sick. We made a deal before I drove from Nashville to California, that if he didn’t invest, he would pay for my gas and costs to get back to New York. He kept his word. He gave me a few thousand dollars and I did head back. The shit hit the fan health wise as soon as I arrived in California.

I drove to Vegas, The Grand Canyon, literally all over the United States on the way back, zigzagging my way around the country. Not because I wanted to, but because that damn navigation kept taking me on the craziest routes. In retrospect, it was great that it did, as I saw so much more of the USA than I would have otherwise. Interestingly enough, when I drove through Detroit I was shocked! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It looked like the Bronx, back in the seventies, with all the windows missing or boarded up, on the buildings and stores. It was unbelievable that this was the United States. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was in Beirut.

I made it back and had my surgeries. I went back out again and hoped I would run into my soul mate. While I had given rides to many hitchhikers on Long Island, I had never picked up a female before. I certainly never expected to have a short chapter of love with a girl I met wandering alone in the mountains. I often wonder where she is today. I know most people would think she was easy and think less of her because we had just met. The truth is, we were fascinated with each other. I often wished I would have convinced her to stay with me longer. Maybe one day she will read this novel and reach out to me. I know in my heart that one day my soul mate will find me; God knows how long I have searched for her.