BMT

Stephen Trussel

Back then, if I said I was going to California, and someone asked how, and I answered "BMT", they'd probably laugh, because that's the name of one of New York's subway lines, and it certainly doesn't run as far as the West Coast! So "BMT" had to mean "By My Thumb", which meant that I was going to hitch-hike.

At 21, I was already an old hand at thumbing a ride, and I loved it. I'd gone from New York to Boston often enough to feel like a commuter. New England roads, bordered with autumn leaves, sparkling with spring streams, shimmering in the summer sun... When I didn't get a ride I'd just walk and walk, and I knew that if I never got one I'd hike all the way. Maybe winter was the most beautiful of all, snow changing everything to shapes and shadows, but at night it was icy cold, freezing dark, no choice but to keep on going.

I managed to see a good deal of America that way - the fantastic open fields and mountains that the songs tell of, forests and rivers and deserts and all. I got to meet all kinds of interesting people, and to hear their tales. I didn't have any schedule then, and not much of a plan. I chose the paths I knew the least about, took what came along and tried to make the best of it. It was my time of self- education, my training.

I learned a lot about patience as I walked America's roads and highways, waiting for a ride; that given enough time, I could get from here to anywhere, step by step. I felt kind of sorry for those I'd pass on the other side of the road, who stood in one spot. "Why if they don't get a ride," I thought, "they'll still be in the same place at the end of the day." That wasn't for me. I learned a lot about what it meant to be free, what it meant not to need much.

Maybe lessons were simpler then. Now, with the schedules, commitments, responsibilities - all the various obligations of "productive" life, I don't hitch-hike anymore. There are planes to catch and timetables to follow. I don't go out walking so much either, but I still remember the lessons. When I'm in a tight spot, and a stranger gives me a hand, it's like those cold, snowy, New England night roads, when nobody would stop, and my toes would start to go numb. And then suddenly the truck that had just passed would slow down, and then stop, and start to back up. And there'd be a friendly smile, and the warm cab of the truck, and maybe even something hot to drink in a thermos. "Thanks a lot! It sure was cold out there!"