Excerpt from CHAPTER 5 THE ROAD RUNNER page89Published June 4, 2017
Truck stops were more than just a place to get a cup of coffee and a
hot meal, they were also transient think tanks. Here, folks could
exchange ideas and ideals about current events in friendly and lively
discussions. With its ever-present country-and-western music, guys
with big rigs—wearing cowboy boots and big belt buckles—would
light down on stools and chairs, philosophizing about all sorts of topics.
I was usually the only black face around, but few acted as if they
minded. Some of the truckers paid for my sandwiches or bowls of
chili. Others helped me secure rides further along my route.
Indiana faded in the rearview mirror as I passed through small
towns and open spaces. Crossing the Wabash River into Southern
Illinois, I noted that the level lay of the land never changed. I was
making good time, and for January, the weather was still mild. I had
barely any contact with local police or state troopers, except occasionally,
when I was told not to hitchhike along a certain stretch of
road. I looked neat and carried myself like I knew where I was going.
Most importantly, I was always respectful.
During the mid-sixties, the hippie movement came of age. Many
citizens in that first wave of “baby boom” children openly rejected
American society and its values. College and university students
were in the vanguard of the movement. They claimed contempt for
the growing “military industrial complex” of the United States;
although it gave these students all they cherished and protected them
when they rebelled. Student protests against the war in Vietnam grew
louder. The Midwestern states were dotted with colleges and students;
hence, one “colored” boy, hitching a ride, wasn’t unusual.
I boldly asked small-town police chiefs or sheriffs for permission
to stay in empty cells overnight. They granted permission, if they had
a bed. Most officers didn’t ask questions, and I didn’t answer more
I wondered, years later, if people were kind to me, because their
sons or daughters were away from home. Perhaps they hoped their
kindness to a needy soul might somehow ensure that their loved one’s
needs were being met by a helpful stranger.