"If any police come by, you just got here and I never saw you."
I thanked her and proceeded to ask for rides from these northbound travelers, hoping to hitch my way to St Augustine. I moved back and forth between the car and truck lots, as I've heard that truck stops are a great place to hitch rides, though I've had terrible luck in the past myself. Truckers always tell me that they are not allowed to pick anyone up. Still, I figured it was worth a shot - and it helped me get out of view of any police or state troopers.
After two hours I was getting restless. I saw a real tough-looking older man with intimidating facial hair. As an introvert, this is always the toughest part for me.
"Excuse me," and I hope that s/he will pay me attention ever so briefly, "I'm trying to get to ____ , is there any chance you're headed up that way?"
He nodded, saying he just had to make a quick phone call first. Great!
The irony was not lost on me as he drove and explained that he worked in law enforcement for thirty years. But he's been retired in Palm Bay for some years now and still remembers hitch hiking back when it was not such a fringe activity. He was now headed to upstate New York to visit family.
He explained that the truckers would certainly pick me up if I was a pretty young woman. He was a good conversationalist and we talked much about - well, anything and everything. The most memorable topic, though, was on the end of the world. He sincerely believes that the world, as we know it, will end in December 2012. But he wasn't superstitious (maybe a little-stitious, to quote Michael Scott) - he just believes that the Mayans probably had a more intuitive sense of what is happening, or going to happen, in the earth. It wouldn't be a supernatural thing, but perhaps a super-natural thing, a supremely natural end to life as we know it on this planet. He asked what I thought about that, so I admitted that I have no presumptions about what might happen this coming year and I shared my faith in Jesus, etc. I asked whether his belief in our planet's impending doom had any impact on his daily life. He said it did not, but I wonder whether this belief disposes him to pick up weary travelers on the interstate. Thank God - or whatever might orchestrate the earth's apocalypse - if it does.
He dropped me off at the junction of I95 and US1, since he was to continue north from there. I was still fifteen miles away from downtown St Augustine, where I hoped to join the Occupy St Augustine general assembly. So I proceeded my march down the highway, flashing a thumbs-up at passing vehicles.
It wasn't too long before I got my ride, but this one was a shocker. It's rare that a young woman will pick me up, especially if she's alone; it's rarer still that she'll pick me up with a baby in the car. She dropped me off at Plaza de la Constitucion, the park in historic downtown St Augustine where the occupiers gather for their weekly GA and where busking is strictly prohibited. I planned to do both!
There was still some time before the GA was to begin, so I used the free wifi at the park until my friend and former tour partner Noah Eagle met me there. Our Eagles & Snowbirds tour had occurred exactly one year prior and we had much catching up to do! We talked over dinner at a burger joint just across from the Bridge of Lions. Mine was a veggie.
The general assembly in St Augustine felt rather short to me, though I suppose that's only because they were efficient. I tweeted all the while about how great it was to be there with them; also that the homogeneity of Florida occupations really made me appreciate the diversity I had seen in other cities. I introduced myself during the announcements segment of the GA and suggested that I would love to play some music for them once the meeting was adjourned. Twinkle fingers.
I sat on the floor of the gallery, hoping to remain conspicuous. I was not so much worried about getting a ticket or arrested, but for the sake of my audience I also did not want the show to be arrested! So I played a rather low-key set which they enjoyed so much that they called for encores. Since the show was now done, I was no longer concerned with remaining conspicuous. I played the Circle of Life - which I absolutely must sing from the belt - and a newish song of mine called Sing At The Top of Your Lungs. Afterward I sold some copies of Protest Songs (Are Dead), shmoozed with my new fans, and finally joined Noah to walk back to his place in the cold (he was wearing shorts and freezing).
His roommates told me about the Sunshine Bus which could take me to Jacksonville the next day for just a dollar. I wouldn't have to hitch hike! Then I fell in love with a cat named Scissors and asleep on the recliner chair - with Scissors curled in my lap - as Zombieland and Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke played in the background.
My friend Sydney picked me up at the last stop on the Sunshine Bus route in Jacksonville. She drove me that night to the OccupyJAX site, where I had planned to check out their GA and perform my zombie music. The occupiers were worried about the NDAA bill, which had just passed, and about the future of the Occupy movement. After some discussion about it, one of the occupiers introduced me to the GA and invited me to share some words with them. I told them that I had just come from occupations in Melbourne and St Augustine. There were two occupations in Gainesville and a strong presence in Orlando.
"The Occupy movement is alive and well in Florida." Twinkle fingers.
After the GA I played a full set of original music, this time with accompaniment! Occupiers procured their guitars and one gentleman even had a slide guitar, which sounded especially awesome on Vagrants & Vagabonds, Outlaws & Thieves. After my set, a jam session ensued.
I participated for a short while and then made the rounds, meeting more of the Jacksonville occupiers - I needed a ride to Bunswick GA the next day. I was told that the live stream was running 24/7, that I should ask the camera. So I did.
The slide-guitarist and his wife drove me back to Sydney's apartment. When I arrived I had an e-mail indicating that the sender (Dani) might be interested in driving me to Brunswick. I returned the message with my phone number and we had a late night chat. Over the phone I explained that I hoped to get to the Hostel In The Forest, a hippie spiritualist camp near Brunswick. I needed a ride and would be happy to pay for gas and/or accommodations at the hostel. She had recently lost her job and was going through a season of existential frustration. I knew that a hostel experience would be really helpful for her.
"But," she protested, "do you realize how bad this sounds? I'm going to camp in the woods with a total stranger. How do I tell my friends and family about this?"
I laughed. This was indeed an odd scenario. But I guess I sounded harmless enough, she decided to take the chance.
We hit the road around 11 the following morning, looking for a place to grab some breakfast. She ate ice-cream, I think, but I wanted something more substantive. I bought a superfood drink and a couple six packs of bagels (they were buy-one-get-one-free) at Publix. All full, we drove up to the hostel and simply enjoyed the scenery.
The hostel is made up of tree houses in the middle of the woods, occupied by a community of volunteer staff and guests that is almost entirely self-sustained. They have several gardens where they grow veggies, herbs, and flowers; they have their own chicken coop from which they get their eggs; they have a fully integrated grey-water system which returns shower and sink water to the earth; there's a beautiful greenhouse and sun room where they do morning yoga; and last but certainly not least, they compost their poo. Dani and I explored the grounds, soaking in all the natural beauty of the woods and appreciating this community's commitment to sustainability and stewardship of the earth.
I played cover songs around the daylight camp fire until the dinner bell rang at 6p. I can't remember what we ate, but it was amazing (and vegan!). After dinner I played a short original set, but folks were tired and many headed to their quarters even while I played. The temperature that night was in the thirties and there was no heating of any kind. Given the makeshift construction of the treehouse rooms, I take it there's not much insulation either. So we loaded up on blankets and comforters to keep warm through the night.
We awoke rather late the next morning, having ignored the roosters' calls for some hours. We packed our things and ate breakfast. I prepared for another day of hitch hiking. Dani dropped me off at a McDonald's near the interstate where I used the free wifi for an hour or two, hoping to catch a last minute ride via the craigslist rideshare pages. I then walked back out to the interstate on-ramp where I held my thumb out for several hours. I grew nervous as the daylight dissipated.
Finally at 5:30, the exact time I had decided to give up - yet unsure what I would even do at this juncture - a pickup truck pulled up in front of me. The driver had a southern accent so heavy that I could hardly understand anything he said. But he cleared space in the bed of his truck for my guitar and backpack and brushed fast food cups, bags, and napkins off the passenger seat. I climbed in and we headed north.
He dropped me off in downtown Savannah, where I hoped to connect with occupiers. I didn't know where their occupation was, so my first objective was to find a place where I could again use free wifi. I found a cozy little diner and ice-cream shop where I sat til close, using the Internet service and patronizing their establishment. To my great disappointment, the Savannah occupation wasn't camping anywhere and they only stayed at their site til 8p each night. It was already too late for me to meet any of them there. I didn't have anywhere else to stay the night, so I desperately sought last-minute couch surfing accommodations, even after the restaurant closed. I sat on the sidewalk outside, in the cold, still using their internet and praying that someone might respond to my inquiries on CS or the Occupy Savannah facebook page. No dice on either count.
It was much too cold to sleep outside and I couldn't afford to stay at a hotel (the cheapest in that part of Savannah started at $100!). Plus I would need a ride toward Charlotte first thing in the morning. Their GA started at 3p and I hoped to play for them afterward.
I needed to get to the interstate, about a ten mile hike from downtown Savannah. I figured it would take me all night. So I got to walking around midnight.
There's a gas station and food mart about half an hour's walk from the interstate. I was nearly at the starting point for my day's hitch hiking journey, but I needed to give my feet some rest and get out of the cold. It was four in the morning as I wearily walked in and dropped my guitar and backpack at a dining booth, making my way to their bathroom facilities. Again I used the Internet, still hoping to snag a rideshare toward Charlotte. I also charged my dying phone. This rest stop was much needed.
As I packed everything and stood to leave, an employee asked whether I was to be on my way again. She offered - even insisted - to buy me a cup of coffee for the road. This would be her act of kindness for the day, a discipline that she keeps. She gave me three bucks, which I used to buy a small coffee and a donut. I gave her a CD in return.
The sun was beginning its slow ascent to the east as I posted myself beside the I95 northbound onramp. I got my first ride around 8:30a, but it didn't get me too far. I was left at a gas station near the interstate, where I patiently stood again for a northbound ride. After several hours my patience ran out and I began walking up the interstate, holding out my thumb at passing cars. Finally around noon a car passed and stopped just ahead of me. I ran up and asked where he was headed.
Asheville. Well, that wouldn't quite get me all the way to Charlotte, but it would be much closer than I was presently! So I hopped in. He was a real nice guy and we shared great conversation for a few hours til he dropped me off at the junction of I26 and I77. I was near Columbia SC, still about an hour and a half south of Charlotte. And for a pedestrian, I was in the middle of nowhere. I would have to do some more walking.
It was now 2:30p and I was worried that I would not make it in time for the GA. I'd had some poor luck hitching from Charlotte in the past, but I was yet hopeful I'd make it before the GA ended. I hiked down I77, sticking my thumb out. This went on for some hours. Finally I stopped along a guardrail beside the roadway. I stood on top of the rail with my guitar, playing and singing to cars as they zoomed past. I smiled big for a while, but it was increasingly difficult to feign joy as the hours continued to creep by and night was beginning to set. With each passing moment and each passing car I grew discouraged. In my extreme exhaustion (you may recall that I had not slept for about 30 hours and during this time had also walked at least fifteen miles) I spun through every possible emotion, like the ticker on the wheel of fortune - disappointment, joy, anger, thankfulness, sorrow, hope. I nearly bashed my guitar on.. Something.. Anything.. I pulled on my hair, danced, jumped up and down in a frenzy, screamed at the top of my lungs, cursed the passing cars, held up my arms at some points in complete frustration and at other points in praise to God. I think I nearly had a panic attack too. These hours were rather bizarre.
At the end of it all I was standing in the cold and pitch blackness of night, still by the side of the highway. My friend Jessica was on her way from Charlotte to pick me up. I had lost much hope in humanity and I would not be sharing music and solidarity with Occupy Charlotte after all, but the hitch hiking leg of this trip was finally over.
For this I again thanked God - or whatever might orchestrate the earth's apocalypse.