Hitchhiking San Francisco
I woke up in a boxcar in the Fresno train yard practically peeling my eyes open with every last bit of energy. I never made it to Stockton, hoping the train might roll on through, but when I came to the realization it was a low priority work train, I expected nothing more than to stay dry. It worked, for the most part, sleeping in 30-minute spurts in tons of metal, bouncing along 2-inches of steel slowly rolling along the tracks. It was less than ideal, in fact, quite nauseating. But waking up in the yard took me by surprise and a sudden fear enveloped my body. I hid in the dark shadows of the boxcar, lurking in the corner, for the upwards of an hour. From my peripheral vision I noticed the bull drive by the train in both directions after some time, waiting for any train hoppers to exit the unit. I stood there still and shivering from the cold steel walls blanketing my body. No matter how many layers I felt a tingling sensation electrify me, my hairs shot up on their ends, spreading Goosebumps everywhere as I mustered the courage to peep out of the boxcar. I leaned out as the rain pelted my naked face; the only area of my body not covered in jet black material, and made a run for it between the trains. I knew nothing of the yard, other than the low priority of my train and noticed nothing stopped on the main lines for a crew change. I desperately climbed the ladders to get through each string of trains, safely looking both ways on the track for any slow moving trains, as I shuffled my way towards a bundle of steel I-beams for cover. I heard too many horror stories of broken ankles or even death from precarious situations of hopping over pressurized couplers. I took my time and safely found an exit from the yard as I peeped out towards the roadway. Vehicles cautiously squeaked by on the back country road as they drove to work and I patiently waited to break free of trespassing charges as I found my window of opportunity. Gripping my hands against the perpendicular fences, I forced my body between the “T” for just a split second. I stood there just long enough to hop over the barbed wire fence, hitting the ground with a loud thud. The slippery fall soaked my pant bottoms and shoes in the process. I stood up from my squatted position and casually walked down the street as the rain laughed at me.
I tramped through Fresno for several miles until I hitched a ride with a Chukchansi Indian, one of the Chukchansi Casino owners. He told me how they recently renamed the park down the road to Chukchansi Park for the cost of one million dollars. The short hitch took me out of the rain to the bus station where I found a cheap ticket to San Francisco for $30. My body covered in wet grime and grease latching onto the pores of my skin as I wandered in front of the station. Fresno felt like communist China. I walked the streets with my backpack flung over my shoulders dodging large puddles on the sidewalk while Big Brother watched me from every security camera on every street corner and building. I heard stories about the violence in this city so I steered clear of any bridges, homebums and junkies, keeping to myself as I waited for my bus to arrive. Fresno sucked. It felt like San Bernardino with more cameras and police than any city I ever traveled through in the United States.
The bus arrived late, as usual, and I chose two empty seats in the back, sprawling out into the isle, sleeping with my neck jarred against the cold glass window. I awoke unaware of my location forgetting I set foot on the bus arriving in San Francisco well past sunset. It sprinkled outside like walking through the mist of a powerful waterfall so I lay down in the station across a row of chairs, hoping to catch some “zzzzz” to wander the streets in the morning.
“Sir, EXXXCUSSE me…SIR,” cried the security officer. You can’t sleep here sir…station closes in ten. Do you have anywhere to go or anyone pickin’ you up?”
“Nope…,” I said in an irritated voice.
The rain ceased despite the stormy cluster of thunder clouds looming overhead. My feet scuffed along the sidewalk as I wandered looking for a place to sleep along the dead roads. I roamed around randomly, seeing nothing but corporate buildings, and secure parking garages until I hit a stretch of sidewalk following the San Francisco Bay. The tide softly whispered to me with faint waves slowly kissing the shoreline as the Bay Bridge stood tall in the distance shining bright with twinkling arches. The subtle sound of humming whirs from automobiles faded exiting the bridge. I saw few people lurking about as I moseyed along the promenade towards the Golden Gate Bridge. My walk felt long, but tumultuous like I owned the city. I saw no one for hours as I roamed the streets in the early morning, poking along up the sudden hills looking for a place of refuge.
I stumbled upon the path of a peculiar man who carried a single trash-bag flung over his shoulder. He looked confused, homeless, and needed help. He tried to read a map of the bus routes while searching the street signs for the correct stop. Circling the street corner, he moved his head quickly, shaking his head and muttering to himself in a crazy schizophrenic manner. He stopped me curtly.
“Do you know where Harrington is…the bus stop around here…you know the shuttle…that bus…the one that goes around the city…,” he said in a stuttering tone?”
“Sorry man…I’m not from around here,” I said solemnly.
He looked roughly shaven, with dirty jeans, an old black leather jacket and white t-shirt. His hair slicked back in its own grease, covering a prominent bald spot with a come-over. He called himself Graham, a 57-year old homeless man from San Francisco trying to get his life back together.
We talked for a little and I tried to break free of his pestering questions, but in a nice fashion. He started telling me his life story of anger problems, alcoholism, abuse, drug-use, sexual promiscuity or lack-there-of I should say. I listened to him. I found listening made an enemy a friend. The subject of sex escalated quite heavily and out of nowhere he became vulgar and weird.
“You ever…you ever…you ever have sex with a man…like…would you wanna have sex with me…and try it,” he stammered in a nervous voice with dilated twinkles in his eyes?
I cringed and stepped back a few feet, “No, I don’t switch hit man and I’m happily married. I actually ought to be goin’ now…I gotta find a place to sleep,” I exclaimed with a stern look of “get the fuck away from me now.”
“Okkkkay,” he said in a soft tone, and turned away walking in the opposite direction.
Sprinkles scampered sporadically from the sky as I strolled the streets of San Francisco slowly making progress towards the Golden Gate Bridge. I stopped mid-walk turning my head to make sure Graham disappeared before continuing my trek through the rain. He creeped me out a bit with his proposition. As I made it to the high-point on the road I walked over to a hill overlooking the bay. I spotted big red arches of the bridge, barely visible through the dense fog floating below as if I set foot in horror film. “Where was the drought,” I thought? I found the only bushes in San Francisco to set up camp in, finding trash, and odd articles of clothing like women’s underwear, as I traversed the maze in the gloomy sky. Walking deeper into the bushes I found a cozy section with minimal trash and no signs of homebums. I called it a night, just as the sky crashed down its fury.
I awoke several times during the night to sirens, flashing lights and a commotion just feet from my head. People scuffled about and I heard the distinct sound of shoes slipping across the wet pavement.
“Owwwaaahh!? What the fuck just fell out of the sky and hit me in the head,” I whispered softly under my breath?
I waited, expecting more ruckus from the park, but heard only the soft sound of raindrops and leaves rustling in the wind lulling me back to sleep like a child’s bedtime story.
I awoke in the morning, groggy, distraught, hoping for a cloudless day with sunshine, but nope. It looked just as shitty as my other days bumming around California. As I packed up my gear I noticed a glossy one-hitter gleaming next to me in the dirt with resin in it. I chuckled a bit. Did I get hit in the head last night with a fuckin’ bowl? Hahaha…no way! I cleaned her out and stuffed her in my pocket.
The sun slept in that morning and the clouds started to mellow out. The fog completely dissipated while I tramped a few miles closer to the golden arches, making the bridge more visible than the previous night. Tourists flocked to this area. San Francisco jam-packed rich people in its city. Everywhere I walked I saw luxury, expensive sailboats, yachts, million-dollar homes and the further I walked, the richer it became.
When I finally made it to the bridge I wished I stayed on the beach. The congestion with tourists, bicycle traffic, and the annoying voice over the intercom directing traffic, made the memory of reaching San Francisco less than enchanting. Here I stood in, “The City of Love” and I only loved the idea of almost getting out of there. Yes, the bridge was quite impressive from an engineering standpoint. I just enjoyed the less congested paths of beauty. Not to mention the annoyance incurred from overzealous picture takers making constant flashes strike my eyes every few seconds. It felt like a rave up there without the music or drugs, just the chance of seizures. Suddenly, the idea that the bridge held the 2nd highest suicide rate in the world also felt less than thrilling, as I trudged across it.
The view made it worthwhile for at least one moment of my life, but once I crossed the bridge how would I get out of there? I knew damn right well, no family of tourists, or rich white-collar workers would pick me up hitchhiking north on the 101. I tried though, flying a sign at the on-ramp to the highway before getting shut down by a police officer relatively quickly.
He seemed nice enough, telling me to hitch out from the ramp in Sausalito, a city even richer than where I stood now, just a few miles down the road. So what did I do? I walked some more.