hitchhiking from newtown, ct to ithaca, ny

after a full day of thumbing on the roadside squinting into the sun to look into the eyes of hundreds of drivers in cars rolling by, basking in stories-connection-humanity of five drivers with rich lives and diverse backgrounds, and talking my throat into now-common soreness, i am now delighted and grateful to sit with romantic candlelight, steaming chai tea, warm blanket, rooftop rainsong, and my own quiet self at the end of the day, from one home back to another, happily hitchhiked and safe and home home home 

i wanted to write and share about my journey today, because i realize that i have hitchhiked so much. and often, i get asked the same questions: "are you safe?" and "have you ever been unsafe?" 

today was a good reflection of the good days 
and a solid reminder of the goodness of humanity 

"don't hitchhike," chided my friend's father, "you'll get killed." 
words like these send a cold numbing chill down my spine. 
"how have you remained safe?" spurs on my go-to answer of, "intuition." 
trusting my inner knowing. 

i am safe because i listen to my intuition, i send out and receive back good energy, and my body language says, "respect me. because i respect myself."
i have never turned down a ride, but i have once asked to be dropped off early. 
nobody has ever harmed me while hitchhiking, though i have felt uncomfortable with drunk drivers driving too fast, and should have listened to my instincts and just not gotten into those drunk drivers' cars in the first place. 
but mostly, i have met so many different beautiful people from all walks of life through hitchhiking, gotten where i needed to go, and had my faith in humanity renewed time and again, 
like today 

no big dreamy ideals for today 
i just wanted to beat the greyhound 
it takes the greyhound bus 8 hours to get from new haven, ct to ithaca, ny
it is only a 250 mile journey, which takes 4 hours to drive by personal car
greyhound takes such a long time because the usa, one of the supposed richest countries in the world, has a practically inexistant public transportation system. to get to ithaca from new haven, i'd have to catch the greyhound down into new york city, wait for 2 hours, and then get a ride up to ithaca. 
i looked at the map
decided that i didn't want to go into nyc
and vowed to beat the greyhound 
i would hitchhike my way back up to ithaca 

what a long, beautiful, heart-opening, exhaustingly delicious day 
thank you to the hitchhiking gods for protecting and making speedy today's sacred journey
and big thanks to all the beautiful people sent my way today 
and that's what i want to write about:
the people 
the people who picked me up 
people who pick up hitchhikers in general
and just, 

everyday, most people in the usa drive somewhere 
we pass by hundreds of people in cars without engaging in eye contact 
we are within arm's length of each other but never reach out to touch, or even shout over raucous hello's at stop signs 

i was driving with my elder bill, during his weekly bread delivery of day-old bread that would otherwise be trash, to his friends and people in need who could do with some extra bread, but mostly- extra cheer 
we noticed an interesting license plate on the car in front of us, from vermont 
we bantered and debated over the meaning of the obscure yet fascinating license plate 
at the stoplight, to my delight and surprise, bill rolled down my window and gestured at the mystery driver next to us to do the same 
he obliged, and bill yells over, "hey! what does your license plate mean?" 
turns out it's the name of his farm, a beautiful name, and we all smile, engage in eye contact, 
and we drive off 
the world is a better place 
hearts have been opened just a little bit more 



and today,
two thumbs 

first ride of today is pictured here, justin. he is earth; i am sky. we dated each other before i moved to asia for 2.5 years, and it's great to see each other and reconnect again. he's the reason that i lived in ct for a whole year, struggling and celebrating my way through the longest i've-been-in-one-place home since i started traveling (7 years of travel, 1 year in ct). as i return to ct, i see that i am still in love with all my community here, and wonder about this question of "home," again. sacred questions.

justin drops me off at a newtown exit, and i wait about 5 minutes before a man in an office suit and shiny new small red car pulls over. i am too delighted to be surprised. he drives me to danbury, the next large town over, the town we coined "dangerbury" and i hoped not to have to hitchhike though. this man is a truck salesman with a daughter who just graduated from college and started her first job in corporate america, doing women's rights work for a nonprofit, after a year of job-searching post-graduation, and creating a life for herself in oakland, struggling with a job she doesn't like but needs- and her dad is proud of her. i think i remind him of his daughter, which is why he picked me up. he never told me that, but looked kindly into my face, "be safe, okay?" 

todd pulls over in a clunky dark red car, the kind of clunky car i'm used to climbing into as a hitchhiker. his voice and energy reminds me of my high school art teacher, mr burgan, which puts me at ease: he's an artist. he works with wood, making timberframe construction, and is passionate about beauty married to functionality. "i love my job!" he proclaims, and i howl with joy, as we rattle down the interstate at 60 miles an hour, passing exit after exit. he forgets where he is going as we talk about everything from deer beds to art school. i quickly fall in love with this brother who is following his heart, living his dream, working hard, and loving all of it. he is living with presence, and i appreciate that. "i've traveled across the usa 3 times now," says todd, "and now, i'm back." he's a native ct man. "wherever you go, there you are," he says. i mull over his words, savoring stories from a fellow traveler, now grounded back in his motherland, while i still float over the road, coming closer to grounding, still uncertain of what earth tastes and feels like, but eager to try. todd quotes pete seiger, "just find a good place, and dig in!" he acknowledges that life has been difficult, following his heart and doing work as a traditional craftsman, "but it's so worth it. i love my job. i love my life." i think of justin, struggling along financially yet soaring in all other ways, following his heart, working so hard, making his life uniquely his own. i think of my own life with all its twists and turns and invisible bends that topple everything that came before. i think of the lives of my parents who came to this country knowing nothing and no one, then got stable jobs, committed relationships, and have walked down their career paths with one foot right in front of another. joy is what you make of it. and i am accept this dance. 

todd drives me all the way to new paltz. our rich conversation decreases the distance, and i jump out- jerry picks me up next, and drives me a few exits down to newburgh (new york, now!) where he lives- he's originally from down south, but is now a newburgh landscaper who "does everything" for his job. he talks with a strong southern drawl, eyes crinkly from smiling, skin browned from long days in the sun, and large strong hands that open the door for me, help me with my bag, and gesture widely as he speaks, deep vocal tones like milk chocolate. "my nickname is nightcrawler," he says, "they also call me old gizzard... what's your nickname?" "crow," i answer, "my wilderness school students call me crow." he takes me to the bus station to inquire about tickets and rides for the future, agrees with me that public transport in the usa is strongly lacking, and drops me off on the off-ramp where, before i can even get my pack on my back again, i am thumbing at the first car that passes by, and it actually--- this time, i am very surprised--- it stops! 

i didn't even have to wait for this ride, and this ride is gorgeous: a shiny new luxurious jeep with black leather seats, the smell of cigarettes, and a stylish blonde woman my mother's age with a name tag labelled HOSPICE and her name, helen, underneath. what a lucky day. my elder bill was one of the first people to do hospice work in the usa, and i hope to one day do this work, as well. i am fascinated by birth, life, sickness, death, and healing: for this is life. in all its richness, gross rawness, and plain majesty. this is life. helen takes me to her office to refill my waterbottle and go pee. she introduces me to her fellow workers as, "you won't believe this new friend that i just met. i picked her up off the side of the road." and they really didn't believe her. she has three children (always end up learning about peoples' children, in great detail, and to my fascination- i wonder how my parents talk about me?) helen's children are: skydiver, tattoo artist, Ph.D student. she explains that she has always told them to follow their heart, and that the most important thing in life is to "respect yourself." "because," helen adds, "if you can't respect yourself, then you can't respect anyone else, either." i ask her if she ever worries about her skydiving son. "well, he said to me, 'mom, you always taught us to follow our hearts, and do what gives us the greatest joy. if i ever died falling out of the sky skydiving, then i would die with my heart singing and joyful.'"

helen drops me off at the road i need to change onto, 17. i give her a huge hug, and am back on the road again, chill wind blowing, warm sun on my face. it's an intersection with few cars, right next to a hotel, and police sirens screaming around (mystery emergency). i guzzle down my lunch, weaving my thumbs through the air enticingly at passing cars. no bites for a full half hour. feeling tired, getting ready to listen to some ingwe stories to rejuvenate myself when, KSSSHHHH a big black SUV parks a few feet past where i am standing, doing my thumb dance. today is a lucky day indeed. his name is john. he's driving a long ways. he doesn't mind passing through ithaca. hell, he could even just stick my address on his gps and we could go straight there. we do that. 

john is my final ride of the day. he has a furry head with hair that runs down his neck all spikey, and i can imagine it continues jogging down his back all the way down to his feet. he sits solid and earthy in his seat, with solid arms that could wrestle a bear, and a big full laugh that fills the SUV with merriment. turns out he's an army veteran, and is now working with fiber optics. he drives around often as part of his work, and is also familiar with travel. "but my greatest passion in life is fishing," he says, eyes lighting up. we jump straight into deep water, as i plumb him for war stories. the reality of these tales move me to tears: war is ugly. death is real. most soldiers are young. they are fighting for some unseen political figure that hasn't grown up and is moving around these human beings as if they are faceless chess-piece killing-machines, playing legos with bodies and artillery. it disgusts me. i cried as john relays the story of how he pulled a friend out of landmine right after the landmine blasted off both his friend's legs. "did he make it?" i ask, knowing the answer. "no," john replies, "and his bright demeanor dims, just for a moment, "he died within 15 seconds, in my arms. and he wasn't the only one." i weep. "i have held dying people in my arms. i have killed." this is so real. "i have been so close to death that it makes me more appreciative of life." we have only one life to live and it is so precious, so transient. we start discussing spirituality and our belief systems. john is hurt. he hates wars now. i can't understand them either. i ask him his solution to war, what's the best way to resolve issues between countries? "easy," he responds, "just put the political leaders in a fighting ring, and let them have at it." i like this idea! if only it were that easy. how does killing, maiming, hurting, destroying solve any problems? it only makes them worse. john doesn't have a solid religious belief. it sounds like he is constantly questioning and reexamining many things. he reflect my question back to me, regarding spiritual orientation. "i don't follow any particular faith," i answer, "but i adore nature." this sparks a delighted flurry of fresh stories from john, who bangs the steering wheel and shouts, "yes! yes! yes! i find God in Nature, too!" he relates a powerful story of being in his small boat, pulling in a stranger's much larger boat in to shore through a massive storm. he reflects on how alive he felt in that moment, and how he felt close to death too. "you're a hero," i say. he says that makes him feel embarrassed  "well, you are," i say, "you did something that nobody else would do. so own it. you're a hero." he has a plate in my hand with multiple pins, like me. we discuss accidents, and i ask him for the story of his wrist. for the first time, he visibly grimaces. "i don't like this story," he says. "i saw my friend stepping onto a landmine, so i pushed him off of it..." he trails off. "...and it blows up on you, instead," i finish for him. his hand was blown to pieces by the landmine. "the worst part of war that you never hear about or see in the movies is the smell. it smells like burnt plastic, burning metal, roasting flesh, dangerous chemicals, and worse." 

today, i hitchhiked with a medium-aged practical truck salesman, a young timberframe construction worker/artist filled with heart and reality, an older landscape designer/gardener with a wicked twinkle and strong accent, a hospice nurse/ mother/ healing-hands practitioner middle-aged woman filled with love for the world and belief in goodness, and a veteran of many wars/ fisherman/fiber optics technician who many people talk with on the streets because of his warm smile

today, i renewed my faith in humanity by dipping into the stories and lives of five love-giving, life-affirming, car-sharing humans

i am so grateful 

and now, 
tea time
yin yoga slow practice
and then 

this is life 
so sweet
yet bitter
sharp yet smooth
just the way i love it
dark chocolate 
this is life

Jiling . 林基玲 
    . wild . creative . spirit .
    skype: Lin.JiLing
    usa: 626.344.9140