Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

You just never know.

You never know what might be around the next corner or who you might meet along the way, but there’s one thing I know for sure, you have to make an effort and go where new things have a possibility of happening, good or bad. The world isn’t coming to you.

When I was growing up, I saw young men walking down the highway with their thumb out. I asked my dad, “Why are they showing us their thumbs?” He said, “They’re ‘hitchhiking,’ they’re asking us to stop and give them a ride.” “How come we don’t stop?” I asked. “Sometimes I do, but not with you kids in the car,” he replied. My mother, on the other hand, was always stopping to give someone a lift. She said that during the depression era and the war years, everyone helped everyone else the best they could. If you saw a young person hitchhiking, it was probably another returning soldier who had no other means of getting home.

I started hitchhiking when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My friends and I would grab our inner tubes and hitchhike to the Verde River where it crossed the Beeline Highway, jump in, and spend a few hours floating down the river. After a bit, the Verde would wind its way to the Salt River where people were picnicking and camping. From there it was easy to find a ride back to Scottsdale. It was always a fun day.

In high school the kids with means usually flew to Europe for the summer. They’d buy a rail pass and travel the countryside staying in youth hostels along with other kids from around the world. I would have loved to do that too, but I was not someone of “means.” I always had an after-school job. My goal was to earn enough to have a social life and a little extra to “bum around” domestically. It’s funny though, so many of the kids I met during my travels were from Europe. They were here, bumming around, trying to discover America.

By the Spring of 1967, I was a senior in high school, not quite 18 years old. I decided to take a few extra days off before the Easter break, head for Colorado, and drop-in on an old girlfriend, the next-door neighbor, who I dated a few years earlier. We kept in touch after she moved to Colorado during her Junior year. We weren’t “an item” anymore but she would always make room for me when I would show up from time to time. This time there was no-one home. I decided to head back to Scottsdale.

I caught a ride to the Colorado Springs exit on I-25. I hiked back up to the interchange and started walking south on the freeway. Just in front of me on the overpass were a couple kids, a guy, and a girl, who were also trying to catch a ride. The fellow approached me and asked me if I would be so kind not to “hitch” there and just keep walking. He explained that they had been standing there for over an hour and they should be the next ones to get a ride. I said fine and continued to head down the freeway. After about a half hour a car pulled over to give me a lift and the two kids from the bridge were already in the back seat. I got in. The car was crowded. There were two fellows in the car with all their gear plus the two other hitchhikers and all their gear plus me and my backpack all stuffed into this small BMW. Once the conversation started, I learned that the two kids were both Freshmen at CU on the way to Phoenix to “hook up” with a friend before they continued on to Mexico for a week. The two fellows who picked us up were also from Boulder. They were headed to Trinidad to meet a group of friends and go camping for the weekend.

Appearances do matter. It helps you figure out what you’ve got yourself into and it also lets the people who bet on you have a measure of who you might be. The two CU students were dressed in typical counterculture garb. They weren’t “dirty,” but I could see why they had trouble getting a ride. The two fellows who picked us up were just the opposite. They were both well-groomed and well dressed. As for me, when I was traveling, I always made myself presentable. I never hit the road without finding a place to “clean-up” first. I usually wore Levi’s, tennis shoes, and a button-down shirt. I never let my hair get too long or my clothes get too dirty.

The sun was getting low in the sky as we approached the freeway exit just north of Trinidad. The driver of the car said, “If you kids are hungry, you can tag along with us if you like. It’s dinnertime where we’re going and theirs always enough for everyone.” The two kids said yes immediately. I said, “Sure, that’d be great.” We pulled up to what can only be described as a surreal scene, a landscape of brightly colored geodesic domes. As we got out of the car several people came over to greet us and welcome us to their home. Amidst all the handshakes and hugs we were shown some of the new art projects they were working on. One fellow approached me and asked me if I knew anything about motorcycles and could I help him fix his Vespa. I told him, “I’m sorry. I have no idea how to fix your bike but if I could, I would.” He hung his head looking down at the parts in his hands and said, “Oh, that’s okay.” While looking at one of the big domes under construction, a triple dome, a resident told me how they were built. “We liberated a few ghost towns of their usable lumber along with a whole bunch of car-tops from the junkyards and used them to build these domes.”

Drop City, Colorado 1967
Drop City, Colorado 1967

Drop City, Colorado 1967
Drop City, Colorado 1967

Drop City, Colorado 1967
Drop City, Colorado 1967

I finally met the hosts who started this community. They called their place Drop City, a counterculture artist community. They told me I was welcome to join them for dinner. I followed them into a dome, down a few steps and into a room with a long table with benches and chairs down each side. I sat down along with about a dozen or so others. Plates, cups, and utensils were placed one by one down the table in front of each one of us followed by a fellow in an apron carrying a very large stainless steel cooking pot full of some kind of noodle dish. He stopped next to each person and tonged out a generous portion of his concoction. It didn’t look very appetizing. I waited until everyone was served and had taken a mouthful or two before I tasted it. It wasn’t something I would ever order again off a menu, but I was grateful for the meal and ate every bite. Dinner conversation was mostly on the weekend’s construction plans. Eventually the two kids from Boulder stood up from the table to say their goodbyes and as they were walking towards the steps to exit the igloo the fellow with the BMW asked if they’d like a ride back to the freeway. They said they would. The fellow looked back at me and asked, “You coming?” I got up, thanked my hosts, and followed my new friends outside. The nightscape was lit by a full moon. The sculptures and domes looked even more ethereal in the dark. I can’t say it was creepy but it sure was different.

When we got to the freeway it was their turn to walk down the road a piece and let me catch the first ride. In no time at all I caught a ride with a fellow in a jeep like vehicle. He asked me where I was headed, and I told him Scottsdale. He said he could take me as far as Gallup. As I got in the car, he asked me if I had a driver’s license. I told him I did. He asked me if I wouldn’t mind taking a turn at the wheel. I told him sure, and we switched places. I told him there were a couple of friends of mine just down the road. We’d been traveling together all day. I asked him if it would be okay to pick them up too, and he said yes. I was tooling along on highway 85 heading toward Albuquerque. The two kids from Boulder were fast asleep in the back seat. The fellow who picked us up was dozing off too when a car, that I had been following, just abruptly stopped in front of me. We were the only two cars on the highway, both driving in the left lane. I jammed on the brakes, but it was obvious I wouldn’t be able to stop in time to avoid running into the back of the car in front of me, so I jerked the wheel to the right. I started losing control of the car. The jolt woke up the fellow in the front seat. I quickly turned the wheel again. This time to the left and then back to the right. The kids in the back started screaming. It was all over in a matter of seconds. I managed to regain control of the car. The fellow in the passenger seat looked at me and asked, “You alright?” I breathed a big sigh and said, “Yeah, that was close!” We turned around and went back to see if the other car needed help. There was no other car. What we found was a road heading southeast. What I did was follow that other car into a left-hand turn lane by mistake. We turned around again and continued on towards Albuquerque with me still at the wheel.

We eventually made it to the west side of Gallup on Route 66. It was after midnight. The three of us walked along the highway but there were no cars coming. We were on the border of the Navajo Indian Reservation and decided to stop for the night. The shoulder of Route 66 in that part of the world at that time in history was covered, coming and going, with broken glass. Walking along in the moonlight gave the ground in front of me a strangely beautiful effect. It appeared like a road was made of shimmering diamonds. I learned later that the shards of glass were from smashed liquor and beer bottles that had collected there over the years. Some of the Navajos who would drive into Gallup to buy alcohol would smash the empties on the side of the road as a sign of disrespect before heading back into the reservation.

There was a railroad that paralleled the highway. We decided to camp there for the night. The two kids from Boulder pulled out a small tent from one of their packs and disappeared inside. I had an old sleeping bag that I rolled out on the desert floor. I zipped myself in and fell asleep. I was awakened later by a small furry creature curled up at my feet inside the bag. It didn’t immediately register but I finally realized that that furry creature shouldn’t be there. I jumped out of my bag, turned it upside-down and shook it. Whatever it was took off in the darkness. To this day I have no idea what it was. I moved my sleeping bag closer to the apron of the railroad tracks and dozed off again. This time I was awakened with an earth-shattering noise and rumble. I opened my eyes. There was a train flying by a few feet from my head. Needless to say, I was done sleeping for the night. The sun was coming up anyway. It was Easter Sunday.

We all quickly caught a ride to the south side of Flagstaff. There was very little traffic on the road. No one was stopping to pick us up. It was my turn to head on down the highway and give them a chance to catch the first ride. I walked for a few miles. The air was crisp and clear. The views of the mountains were spectacular. It was the kind of alone time I used to enjoy so very much. A young woman driving a pick-up truck pulled over to give me a ride. My new friends from Boulder were already in the cab. She told me to hop in the truck bed. I did. Wow, it was cold. I pulled out my bedroll, but it wasn’t enough, and I sat there in silence, freezing my fanny off for the next few hours. As we approached Phoenix, I was asked what exit I wanted to be dropped off at. I told her Camelback Road would be fine. The kids from Boulder said they had an address, but they weren’t sure where that was. I asked them to show it to me. I told them, “Yeah, I know where this is. You want to get off at Thomas Road.” The fellow then asked me, “Then what?” I told him it was a few blocks in over by the park. After a little more discussion I said, “Why don’t we all get off at Thomas Road and I’ll show you.”

It was already early afternoon. The three of us walked the mile or so down Thomas Road until we came to the side street where their friends were waiting for them. As they walked up the driveway I said, “It’s been fun. You guys were great. See you on down the road” The fellow said, “What’s your hurry? We’re heading out right away. I’m sure we can give you a lift to Scottsdale.” I said, “That’ll work.”

We rang the bell, and a well-dressed lady answered the door. She smiled and said, “You must be ‘so-and-so’ and ‘so-and so,’ please come on in.” She apologized and explained that her son and his friend had already left for Mexico that morning. “I guess they thought you weren’t coming,” The two kids from Boulder were quite dejected and started planning their next move, should they continue on to Mexico or head back to Colorado. The lady of the house said that she would be hearing from her son in a few hours. She urged us to stay at least until we could connect with her son. I say we because mom thought I was part of the group going to Mexico. In the meantime, she suggested that we all rest for a bit and join the family for lunch. It turns out lunch was an Easter feast with Mom, Dad, Sister, and all the trimmings.

The dinner conversation was all small talk about school in Colorado and the relationship that the kids had with each other. I excused myself from the table and asked, “Would it be alright if I used the phone?” “It’s right in the hallway, dear,” she replied. I called my mother and told her I was across town and asked her if she wouldn’t mind picking me up. She said she would, and I gave her the address. It was only about 10 miles away. I went back to the dining room and took my seat. As the conversation turned from school to our recent encounter with Drop City, mom started coming to the realization that I had no idea who her son was and started quizzing me about who I was. I confessed right away that I’d only met the two kids from Boulder the day before. I was a senior at Arcadia High School and lived about 10 miles down the road. To say she was shocked would be an understatement. Between the “Who are you(s)” and the “How dare you(s)” the doorbell rang. I said, “I think that’s my ride.” I thanked the lady of the house for her hospitality as she was, I can’t say screaming, it was more like forcefully admonishing me to “Get out! Out, out out!” I picked up my pack from the porch and as I walked to the car with my mother, she asked, “What did you do now?” “Nothin’, just another day at the zoo,” I replied.

It was “just another day at the zoo.” From the time I met those kids from CU on that bridge in Colorado Springs until my mother picked me up in Phoenix, it was barely a 24-hour stretch. I’m sure, after the lady of the house calmed down, she probably told the story of the “stranger who came to dinner” over and over again at each Easter dinner from then on. I hope it was with a good laugh. You just never know.

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