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My summer of 42
My first hitch hiking adventure.
In my time, hitch hiking was a simple form of travel. In the early 1960’s, before Ted Bundy a notorious serial killer who haunted the Northwest area of the United States for years picking up young collage girls hitch hiking to and from collage, and killing all his victim’s. This mad man ended up in Gainesville, Florida killing a couple collage students before he was caught and executed in Florida’s Electric Chair “ole Sparkey”. Most kids had no fear of being abducted, care free hippie want to be’s. I know this is a scary mode of travel these days, and for parents of those kids who fear nothing, I do wish them the best.
The last time we talked, I was about to hitch hike north from Tampa, Fl to Minnesota. The time of the year was mid November sometime and the weather was warm here in Tampa. Now being a young man of 13 years old with a man sized chip on both shoulders, as usual I had no regard for anyone else but me. Wearing nothing but a white T-shirt and raged old pants, a pack of cigarettes and not a penny to my name. This adventure was only one in a series of events that would mold me into the hard headed man that I would become.
My first ride picked me up just outside of Lutz, Florida, a nice man and his son traveling north that’s all I cared about. I don’t remember much about the early part of the trip my guess it was very uneventful. Like most people that try to dig up the past for one reason or another, I have somewhat of a hard time getting all my facts together.
Somewhere in north Kentucky off interstate 75, I was picked up by an 18 wheeler heading north to Cleveland Ohio. This was out of my way but the driver had a warm truck and needed to rest a little. The driver had a load of chickens packed in Ice in 50 pound crates that needed unloading. I agreed to unload the truck for $50.00 bucks and that put me a little closer to Minnesota. Little did I know just how big that trailer was, but several hours later and a sore back and freezing to death the driver paid me.
Now I faced another dilemma, cold as hell with no jacket, in a strange town, snow on the ground and I think maybe I bit off more than I can chew. Do I buy an old jacket or a bus ticket and go as far north as I can get. The bus ride was like being in heaven I was asleep within 20 minutes. Waking up next to a lady talking to me are you alright, sir are you alright. Coming out of a deep sleep is like being in a world war 11 movie guns a blazing. Yes I responded I’m ok, I guess I was sleeping a little hard. The lady replied all that you were saying is was where’s Ma. Are you a run a way, where do you live are you ok? Ok now I’m starting to wake up a little we were just coming into Chicago, IL the bus station is in down town Chicago in the business area.
Chicago was a big town somewhat like Tampa but all in one place. At the bus station with no money 1200 miles from home with only 800 miles to go I figured I would call my sister Janet or brother Larry both lived in Duluth, Minn. There was a travelers Aid station so I politely ask for some aid, with little success there I hit the streets trying to figure out the best way to get out of here. The streets were filled with snow crowds of people all going every which way and very busy. I was somewhere near the lake there was a store front with a huge blower pushing warm air out into the street. You had to pick a spot and stay there; all the bums and baggers were also there sucking up the heat.
I warmed up enough to continue on my adventure north, stopping at a gas station somewhere on the outskirts of downtown. The man was nice and suggested that I go next door and set in the foyer of the old hotel. Warming up again and half asleep, shots rang out from the gas station; oh shit here we go again. Leaving the scene pretty fast and putting some distance between us I didn’t have a clue where I was running to or from. What happened next was even worst. This adventure was turning out to be not so fun at all. Scared, lonely and hungry now on the streets of Chicago. This has turned out not to be one of my best ideas, where I was going I didn't know only I was looking for a place to hide.
I had been running for an hour or two now by this point. With someone on my tail and chasing me, I still didn’t know who, but it was an older man in a car. I had no clue why, but I figured the only safe place for me now would be back at the bus station. Somehow in the maze of streets and projects I found my back downtown again, finding the bus station was easy from there.
Entering the doors of the station I was greeted by a big black cop, is your name Mickey Gilbertson? Yes I answered; keeping my mouth shut about the last couple hours for fear that I had been involved in something that I didn’t know about. Will you come with me I have a few questions for you. I thought of running, but I was in need of a place to sleep and just tired of running.
The nice policeman furnished me with a shower and a place to sleep, but getting out again was a little tougher. Waking up in the morning with about 50 other kid ranging in age from 10 years to 17 years I was among the biggest at thirteen. The food was on time and we spent the rest of the time watching TV in the main room. The guards were all in plain clothes and were tough on the kids.
I had been listed as a runaway from Florida, so that’s why I’m here. I spend six weeks locked up in this place where I became friends with the kids from Charles Street in south Chicago. The gang life was alive and well and I had to choose sides just to get along. One of the things we did to keep tract of our time here was to make a slash in our arm for every week we spent in custody. It was no big deal using your pocket comb we just scratched away until the wound was bleeding and a scab could form, kind of like a tattoo.
One day a man called out my name and said I was going home, to Minnesota I ask? No replied the rather large man, back to Florida and you better not get off the bus until your home or at least out of Chicago or else. I guess I had been so brow beaten about the whole trip I never even got off the bus except to use the bathroom, I was given a large box of sandwiches to eat for the trip.
My Mother had borrowed $ 50.00 from Henry Frey of Frey Printing in Tampa, Fl. I had worked there the summer with my big brother. I was home now so the shit just starts all over again, will it ever end or is it just me. Not deterred from my adventure, I must regroup and try again with this gained experience under my belt