While hitchhiking around the country, I heard many tales told as a means of giving advice, often with a negative slant. A common one warned that Columbus, Ohio was vigilant about prosecuting those caught hitchhiking. It would certainly mean a spell in jail. Additionally, anyone caught without money, would be charged with vagrancy. I accepted these stories but resisted internalizing them, as I felt it was possible to have a different and positive experience. This fall it came to pass and I had such a dissimilar experience. I left St. Louis and headed to Toronto.
This meant I had to pass Indianapolis, Dayton and Columbus Ohio. I arrived in Columbus late at night and seeing it was drizzly and cool, spent the night in the “bridge hotel.” This was a fond term given to the concrete shelf under a bridge overpass that was large enough to accommodate a couple of folks and their gear. Early next morning I awoke to a clear but decidedly frosty day. It was Sunday and hardly any traffic. To stay warm, I walked along the highway, not seeing many chances for a ride. Eventually a car pulled over for me. I got in and recognized the uniform of an officer of the law. He was heading to work as a dispatcher in the local station house and dropped me off at his exit. In the time it took to walk from the exit ramp to the entry ramp, not a single car passed. As soon as I got stationed at a good place to thumb, the first car approached and stopped-- a police cruiser.
The officer motioned me to get my belongings and get into his car. He asked for my ID and called in the particulars. I heard the voice on the radio ask, “Is the suspect wearing gray overalls and a plaid jacket?” That exactly described my garb. I did not like the sound of the word suspect. But he answered, “Affirmative, that’s him. I‘ll give him his coffee and take him out of here.” He handed me a fresh go mug and we took off. Evidently he had been dispatched to be my Guardian Angel and St. Christopher. He informed me he could only take me to the edge of his patrol area and not all the way around Columbus to where I-77 headed north to Cleveland.
He let me off right in front of the landing strip for Columbus airport. There was still hardly any traffic. While, I was standing admiring a plane landing, I noticed something blowing across the highway. I went out and picked it up -- a bumper sticker that read, ”Support your Capital City Police.” I felt that a good sentiment and tucked it into my pack. No sooner had I closed up my pack when my next ride, another police car, stopped. As he was checking me out, I proudly showed him my recent find. He quickly informed me that was not his department, but one downtown. Nevertheless, he offered to deliver me the few miles to where I could be certain of getting a ride to Cleveland and if I was lucky Buffalo. When he let me out, I thanked him and Providence that had helped me skirt any trouble getting around Columbus.