Matt Forney
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Notes from the Road: How to Cross Six States in Eight Days on Foot

Hitchhiker thumb

When I left Syracuse for the second time on Monday of last week, I fully expected I’d be stuck in State College or Cleveland right now. Instead, I made it to the Windy City eight days later. Holy wow. Oh, and it’s Independence Day. Happy rebellion, my fellow Americans! Cue the fey indie rock!

Highlights from the past week:

Benton Township, Pennsylvania

I was picked up in Binghamton by a chain-smoking cougar who left me at an abandoned highway exit north of Scranton with one hour of sunlight to go. An old guy who was going in the wrong direction not only went out of his way to get me to the truck stop at the next exit, he also brought me water, beer, Powerade, and bought me coffee and dinner at the stop (I tried to turn him down, but he insisted). I drew the line at him giving me money.

Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

The sleaziest motel in northeast Pennsylvania. For the price ($50, including tax), I’m not complaining, but the place embodied every cliche in the book. Paint peeling, ancient TV, loose bathroom floor tiles, busted shower head. They were so cheap they didn’t give me a “Do Not Disturb” sign (which lead to me being woken up by the maid the next morning) or a Bible; instead, the nightstand had back issues of Awake! and The Watchtower.

Scranton, Pennsylvania

After leaving said motel, I got picked up by a crunchy granola SWPL who practically worshipped me. When I told him I was from Syracuse and going to Oregon, he spent the next twenty minutes wide-eyed, listening to my road stories. After being dropped off in Scranton, I was politely informed by a state trooper that hitchhiking is illegal in Pennsylvania.

For reals.

Most states’ so-called “anti-hitchhiking” laws are written in such a way that you can easily circumvent them. For example, this is New York’s law:

New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law:

TextSection 1157. Pedestrians soliciting rides, or business.

(a) No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride, or to solicit from or sell to an occupant of any vehicle.

You can beat this by standing on the shoulder or the grass. Unfortunately, the Keystone State’s law is worded to close all the loopholes:

Code 601.11. Hitchhiking.

The solicitation for a ride, commonly known as hitchhiking is prohibited, and stopping or allowing a vehicle to be standing while hitchhikers board is also prohibited.

Not wanting to end up in the clink, I spent what seemed like an eternity hiking through Scranton’s Latino neighborhood (which actually exists: I couldn’t believe it myself, because Scranton is an economically depressed, white bread coal-mining town) before wearing myself out and calling a cab to the nearest truck stop.

Clearfield, Pennsylvania

At two separate truck stops, I lucked out with a couple of long-distance rides: first to the State College area, and then again to the western edge of Ohio. The latter ride was particularly eventful as I had to scramble and hide in the bunk whenever we passed a highway weigh station. I felt like an illegal alien.

Toledo, Ohio

A day later, I made it up to Toledo and straight into hell; a truck stop right by an interstate on-ramp where pedestrians were explicitly banned from walking. Lacking the stamina to walk all the way back to the turnpike, I had to get a ride and get one quick.

Erie, Michigan

After failing to get a ride at the stop, I slung my backpack on and hiked into Michigan (which was literally within spitting distance) hoping for an on-ramp with a bigger shoulder. It took me all weekend, but I finally got a ride down to the I-80/I-280 intersection, a veritable Promised Land for hitchhikers: four plus truck stops on the same block, along one of the nation’s most trafficked highways.

Steuben County, Indiana

The only photo I have of the so-so state of Indiana, as I only saw it from the shotgun seat of an eighteen-wheeler. Guy wasn’t too talkative, but he took me all the way to Chicagoland, where the Fear promptly snuck up and clocked me on the back of the head with a blackjack.

Harvey, Illinois

Advice to aspiring hitchhikers: don’t ever get left at a commercial rest area on a toll road. Not only is hitchhiking explicitly illegal there (and there are state troopers and cameras all over the place, so you can forget about circumventing this), they’re usually cut off from anything resembling civilization. I got lucky in that the specific Illinois Tollway oasis I ended up on was right next to a town… the massive, crime-ridden clusterfuck that is the the Chicago Southland. Rather than risk getting jumped, I called a cab to the nearest Metra station. An hour-and-a-half later, I was in the city proper.

The Loop, Chicago, Illinois

As of right now, I’m in Chicago looking for an apartment to crash at and homies to drink with. If you want to hang out and/or let me crash on your couch/air mattress/spare bit of carpet, hit me up via email, Facebook or Twitter. This city needs a serious fucking with.

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