Once in a while I come across an old old song by Bobby Bare.(This is an old, old, old song in blobfish years.) The name of it is "500 miles from home". This song became a favorite the instant I heard it in the 1960s. It struck a chord with me because I had hitch-hiked a lot when I was a kid. A whole lot more than my parents ever knew about! Living in La Sal, near Moab, I found that "thumbing" got me into Moab or Monticello much more easily than trying to arrange rides. (Thumbing could be pretty tense. I remember being stranded near Church Rock, 20 miles north of Monticello, for many hours one Sunday afternoon with NO traffic and a snowstorm blowing in, and me in a t-shirt.)
I yearned greatly for my old home town of Alma, Co. In about 1956, when I was about fifteen, I announced to my parents one day that I had saved almost enough money in my baby-sitting account to ride the Trailways Bus from Moab to Fairplay, Co. and back again two weeks later. All I needed was a few dollars for spending money. They agreed and my plans were made. Jack and Margie said they they were looking forward to seeing me.
Problem. The bus came through Moab at 3:30 a.m. Dad woke me up at 2:30 and we were on our way. We got into town soon after three o'clock on a warm July morning. Dad offered to sit with me 'til the bus arrived. I said "oh, no, I will be just fine." As his taillights disappeared around the corner I broke into a run. I was danged if I was going to waste 13 dollars and a few cents on bus fare!
I got to the north end of town in really good time, heavy suitcase and all. Ten or fifteen minutes went by. Here came the bus. The wind-draft off that big old thing 'bout blew me over. I felt some real remorse as I stood there in the darkness.
I absolutely cannot remember who picked me up and dropped me off at Crescent Junction. My next ride was with a trucker. Hmmm... Maybe he picked me up in Moab! Hey, this happened 53 years ago! I should remember everything?? He told me to be ready for a very sudden jolt at any time. He said it was his policy to slam on the brakes full blast if he saw anything that remotely resembled a cop-car. People who gave kids like me rides were in great need of someone to talk to. He dropped me in
My next ride was with a guy who was having some car trouble. No surprise. 63.28% of all cars had trouble in those days. We made it through Montrose before his car boiled over. He told me to watch the car while he (A looked for a large tin can and (B walked down to the river to fill it. I was silently cursing my luck as he wandered along the highway and then down to the river - a river that I couldn't even SEE! Being a stupidly loyal kid, I could not jump out and flag down the next driver.
I sat there wishing I had elected to take the north route through Glenwood Springs, but being trapped on Hoosier Pass with NO traffic didn't appeal to me. I knew that feeling. We chugged into Gunnison without further incident. As I stood there on the east end of Gunnison, my heart sank. Here came an older car pulling a large trailer house. Being a stupidly caring lad I could not say "go 'way. Move on!" The auto was filled with a huge family of Hispanic people. They spoke more English with their hands than they did with their mouths. There were at least four of us in the front seat and who knows how many urchins in the back. I thought I could see about ten legs and eleven arms back there, all moving randomly about. A very happy family indeed. The driver, whom I shall call Pepe, cheerfully regaled me with nonstop chatter as we crawled along.
My mood was a strange cross between despair at our turtle-pace and my growing admiration for this beautiful family. If there were ten people in the car, and if you multiply that by thirty two, then there had to have been 320 teeth smiling at me the whole way. I knew nothing of heaven but this seemed pretty close to it. They told me they were off to Saguache. With heavy heart I saw Monarch Pass coming up. Being a stupidly selfish boy, I said "my aunt lives here in Sargents. I'd better stop and say hello." They dropped me off and I sadly watched them drive away. Really, I could have run beside them for the first 300 feet. That car was that slow.
My next ride was with a guy who introduced himself as a rodeo performer. About 500 yards up Monarch Pass, we went flying around the old mobile home. I ducked my head to avoid being recognized. This rodeo guy was driving a '50 ford. Remember those old '50 fords? They could HAUL. As we raced across South Park (yes, THAT South Park) this guy said he traveled North America on the rodeo circuit. Broncs, bulls, he rode 'em all. He made belts and other leather goods to pay the bills between events. He may not have been a real person. He may have been a country song posing as a person. He told me all about his endless injuries; broken teeth, broken arms, broken legs and other broken appendages. I wished like crazy that I could have gotten one of his belts, but my thirteen dollars and a few cents was very precious to me. The belt would have become a useless lifetime momento. I was a size 32 at the time and I'm an expanding 42 these days.
I didn't have a watch, so I must have asked each benefactor fifty times what time it was. He dropped me off in Fairplay at 4:30 p.m. The bus had only beaten me by about 15 minutes. I felt like the king of the world as I trudged through town, savoring all those familiar sights.
Six miles to go. I'll bet you have never heard of a PlymFord. Warren Good was an eccentric genius/handyman/mechanic/inventor. He had done something nobody had probably thought of. He had combined a trashed out old Plymouth with a thrashed out old Ford. The Good kids (yeah, for the most part, they were good kids) called this thing a PlymFord. Warren went sailing past me heading up Fairplay Hill doing about forty mph. He cleared the top doing about 30 mph, which is a testament to his ingenuity. Soon he reappeared, having finally recognized me.
The whole trip was almost exactly 500 miles. From my house at Cal Uranium in San Juan County, Ut. to my brother Jack's house in Alma Co. in less than 14 and a half hours. No freeway in those days. Two fun-filled weeks later I was on the bus heading for home. Well, I couldn't have fibbed to Jack saying I had to leave at 2:30 a.m. when he knew the westbound bus left in the afternoon.