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At 15 I flew to Hawaii, where I hitch hiked around Oahu for a few weeks or a couple of months. My experience there was more of hitch hiking as a form of public transportation. I got my rides from familys’ and somebodies grandparents.
When I was 17 and convinced my best friend that we should hitchhike from Portland to her families house in Ohio I decided not to mention my lack of practical experience. I was well into my twenties before she found out the truth. The truth was, and is, that I am very good at instilling confidence in people when I have none of my own. That is what I did. I talked so much about how grand our adventure could be, that it seemed to her (without my needing to say so) that my thumb was well worn from miles on Americas highways.
The night before we left Portland while I was whiskey drunk with some stranger, that same best friend went in a dumpster behind an auto repair shop and found a stack of embroidered name tags that had been torn off of jackets. The next morning she picked out two and I picked out two. We became Gamblin’ Evelia and Elsi Will.
We went to a highly recommended truck stop that still stands on the 84 just barely outside the city. We wove around and between the trucks looking for drivers to ask. We had opted for this method in an attempt to find a nice long first ride. Tim was a great choice. He was small enough that either one of us could have taken him in a fight. He was nice enough, he didn’t smell like booze or tweeker sweat and he was going all the way to Minnesota.
We climbed into his cab. We were just about to pull out of the truck stop when he stalled. One of us eventually asked why we were stopped. Tim explained that he was a company driver and was only one half of a team. His partner drove another rig for the same company and they would be caravanning to Minnesota.
It was then that his partners’ truck pulled up adjacent to us. One of the largest men I have ever seen was glaring at me over the steering wheel. I watched that man reach for his CB. I heard a very deep gruff voice come over Tims radio, “Hey who you got in your truck Timmy?”
That man smiled a narly yellow toothed smile as ‘Timmy’ explained that we were his very nice female companions to Minnesota. Maybe we should have gotten out right there, but the seats were cozy and the sun was setting and it was such a long ride and we secretly hoped to be in Michigan in time for the annual shopping cart races on our way to Ohio.
It was several hours down the road when we stopped and went into a diner to have our first meal all together. Tims partner was even larger out of his seat. His big grey beard hung all the way onto his barreled chest. They offered to buy us a meal which we did not refuse.
Other than ordering hamburgers there was not much talk. Our food arrived and we began to eat. Conversation started slowly and we learned that Jim, the partner, was essentially a bionic man. His skull was ½ metal after being blown up by a grenade in Vietnam. Most of his joints and one leg had been replaced after a series of incidents when he was in the C.I.A. Most of this information came from Tim, as Jim ate and eyeballed us.
It was rather suddenly that Jim asked us what we did for a living. Truth be told there was nothing legal and likely nothing relatable about our lifestyles at the time. We told a lie we told often, that we worked with the forest service doing trail restoration.
There was a silence that was a little too long.
Then Jim dropped his sandwich and his gaze got even sharper, “Wait a minute! I know what you are! You two are a bunch of environmental liberals.”
At this, my sweet Gamblin’ Evelia dropped her sandwich and I began to eat as fast as I could. These were our different responses to the sudden feeling that we were about to be thrown out of the diner. He continued, growing louder, “What in hell do you want to do that for?! Trees are a renewable god damned resource!”
Gamblin Evelia, bless her heart, began to politely explain that old growth forests are not actually renewable. All the while I was kicking her under the table trying to send a “Don’t waste your breathe, quick and eat your fries in case we have to run soon” vibe. Nothing deterred her because in her heart she believed, and still believes, that anyone will be reasonable if given an opportunity.
There are a lot of different kinds of loggers, just like any profession. I grew up with the kind that believed activists were only good for target practice. I knew when I heard the word ‘spotted’ and ‘owl’ cross her lips, that we were in big trouble.
Jim was at his boiling point. He stood up and hit his fists so hard on the table that all four plates jumped up a foot. He screamed, “Bull shit! It’s survival of the fittest. Spotted owl doesn’t do for me,” another emphatic table fisting, “SPOTTED OWL DIES!”
The restaurant was silent. The loudest sound was my slowed chewing. Jim remained standing, bright red, long enough that the veins in his neck receded. He then sat down and the meal resumed.
From then on when we stopped, no one really talked about work anymore.