dinsdag 10 juni 1980

Country roads

Written by Marjan & Ytzen in 1980, lightly edited in 2021
Translation from Dutch

Sunday 8-6-1980 Charlottesville, Virginia

We departed Sunday morning, June 8, 1980, from Charlottesville, Virginia, where we spent three weeks with Bob and Dale Searle, who had a baby during our stay there. We waved goodbye to the parents-to-be when they went to the hospital and were able to babysit the young teenage daughter. The father came home after the baby was born, but we had to wake him up in the middle of the night when the mother called from the hospital that the boy needed urgent surgery. (See also my blog 6/6/2004). A week later we were able to welcome the baby into his own home. Thanks to the endless American hospitality, we apparently did not get in the way during this very exciting family expansion. 
How would William (Bill) Searle be doing now? He must have turned 41 this year - 2021. 

Putnam County Pickers
We hitchhiked all Sunday, heading west from Virginia to the neighboring state of West Virginia, sung by John Denver as “almost heaven.” Mostly short trips. We get the first lift from a man who had passed by before but then couldn't stop. He made a special detour for us. The last lift of the day brings us to a group of musicians who form a “commune” in the woods near the town of Culloden, not far from Hurricane in Putnam County, West Virginia. We'd surely be welcome there, he said. It turns out to be a group of about thirty people who do many things together but live in separate houses. We are taken care of by Ron and Sandy Sowell. We are very welcome there. They have coffee and a bed for us, the toilet is a wooden shed outside, there are cannabis plants on the veranda. Sandy is a singer and recently bass guitarist for the Putnam County Pickers co-founded by Ron. He is the singer and songwriter of the band.

Monday, June 9, 1980 Culloden, West Virginia
Slept under four blankets. Strange, because in Charlottesville it was muggy and we usually slept under just one sheet. Ron arrives with a 'surprise' tray with coffee for us and a little later breakfast. A large bowl with buttered toast, surrounded by strawberries and of course delicious scrambled eggs. Cozy breakfast. Among other things, we talk about how they all live there. It is not a commune, but they do have a vegetable garden together and the door is always open for each other.

Learn more about the Putnam County Pickers here.

The Pickers with Sandy Sowell sitting in the background

We leave at a quarter to eleven, after Ron & Sandy have made several phone calls. Along the way, we exchange addresses and get the name of a band and group member in Madison, Wisconsin, who will no doubt be able to accommodate us when we get there. After about ten minutes we stop behind another car. That turns out to be the other band members of the Putnam County Pickers. Shake hands, “nice to meet you”, we have a chat and then we say goodbye. Ron wishes us a good journey; if we come back past Hurricane we are very welcome. Later, Sandy repeats this one more time, adding that if we come by and no one is home, we can use their house without hesitation. If only this were true everywhere!

To the post office for stamps and the mail. They all have one postal address and whoever passes the post office takes the mail with them. Then Sandy takes us to route 64. When we stop, another car stops, where a man gets out. That turns out to be an acquaintance of Sandy. After a chat and “take good care of yourselves” he leaves. We don't know if he and Sandy had an appointment to see eachother here. Sandy says that appointments are often made on these kinds of points, because transport is so difficult. Finally she says goodbye to us with one last "God bless you'all". I think we are the most godblessed couple in the world right now. 

It's half past eleven. After a short while we get a lift from a very silent man, who takes us to Huntington, about twenty miles away. There we are trying to get a ride for more than an hour. Then we walked on and at a quarter to two we get a lift from a small truck, that takes us to the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. There we are dropped off at a nice lift point with plenty of space to stop. But no one stops. We are happy and fantasize about who will take us along and invite us this time. Fortunately neither of us get grumpy when the hitchhiking gets difficult.

Suddenly a car is coming towards us driving backwards on the hard shoulder, we hadn't seen it. A woman with a lot of clutter in the car, she is moving, but we manage to cram our things in the back seat. It's a Chevrolet Impala, the three of us can sit side by side in the front seat. She's taking us to Louisville, Kentucky. In the pronunciation you omit the 's' and when you come from the place itself you simply say Louvil. 

It's Kentucky's western border, so she drove us across the state from east to west. She is on her way to her five-year-old son who has to go to the hospital because something is wrong with his legs. She lives everywhere and nowhere. She is a stripper ("What can I say, it's work") and is now thinking about taking a job as a waitress that was offered to her. She complains about the American economy and the arrival of many refugees, she is afraid that there is not enough food in America. We refrain from entering into a heated discussion with her.

She points us to the blue grass, bluegrass, the best grass to keep horses, hence the many horse farms. The grass has a blue glow when it is short. This is also where the bluegrass music comes from. Bluegrass only grows around Lexington. The landscape is hilly, but becomes more and more flat. The flat grassland gives us both a sense of recognition of home. Overall, the landscape here changes at every state line: hills in Virginia, mountains in West Virginia, rolling grasslands in Kentucky and Indiana are flat.

The woman drops us off at the truck station, but first the three of us go there for dinner. After exchanging addresses, we go on. We are tired and doubt whether we want to hitchhike any further today, but we do it anyway. After half an hour we get a lift. To Chicago!

500 miles commuter
Our driver Tony lives in Nashville, Tennessee, but works in Chicago, 500 miles north. He lives there during the week in a hotel room. He is a pipefitter and closer to home there is no work for him. Originally from Texas, they moved to Nashville for his wife, who is a country singer. There is more chance of a breakthrough for her. Tony mentions many times that he is a believer, he does things not for himself but for Jesus, who protects him in return. He asks how long we've been married. He doesn't mind that we aren't, but he does recommend it to us. We should also say to each other “I love you”, because he can see that we do that.

Sleeping on the floor
He first wants to drop us off 20 miles outside of Chicago, because the city is too dangerous to walk around there at night. In the meantime Marjan thinks it's getting pretty scary, he also starts talking about rapes and stuff. Then he offers us to sleep in his room in East Chicago. We accept the offer and arrive at his room at half past one in the morning. It is a very small and uninviting room with only a bed and TV. The two of us are sleeping separately on the floor, after turning down a present from Tony, the Bible he wants to give us for protection. The floor is very hard.

Tuesday, June 10, 1980 East Chicago, Indiana
Tony gets up at a quarter past seven. We thank him again and lie down on the floor again for a while. We consider getting up off the hard floor and laying on his double bed, but consider that he may not like it. We get up around half past nine and we are outside at ten o'clock. No idea where we are. Today we want to travel to Lake Forest, north of Chicago, Illinois. That's where Pam & Michael live, whom we've met before in Charlottesville, Virginia, and where we're welcome.

Chicago or Chicago?
Nearby is a shop, run by two old men, where there is a 'public phone'. There we call Pam, who then calls Michael at work and we arrange a meeting point where Michael will come and pick us up. We tell the two old shopkeepers that we succeeded and what the plan is. But then there appears to be a misunderstanding. We're on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Grand Boulevard in East Chicago, Indiana, but Chicago, Illinois, which is northwest from here, also has a "Michigan & Grand." I try to reach Pam again, but she is always talking and only after an endless series of contacts with operators - there is an operator in every telephone in America, it seems - I finally manage to reach Pam and so her her husband Michael just in time, so that we no longer will go to meeting points in different cities and states.

Wooden shoes
We are going to have lunch in a restaurant. It is very busy with workers. We are helped by a smooth waitress in a yellow blouse, who works quickly and also is connecting to people very quickly. She points to my Dutch wooden shoes with which I travel from coast to coast through America. We order an omelette, sandwich and coffee. A few tables further on, a man settles the bill and before he leaves he comes walking towards us. He shakes our hand and asks: "You're from Holland?" (My wooden shoes may have been a hint.) He makes no further conversation, but it turns out he paid for our meal.

South Holland
After lunch we walk back to the highway. Before we even have our thumbs up, a truck stops, the driver has to check his tires. He also has to go to highway 94 and drops us off about ten miles away in a town called South Holland. With a feeling of home we hitchhike further. After a while a camper van stops. The driver is a South Hollander with Dutch ancestors four generations back. He is almost 40 and only recently started taking an interest in his Dutch roots. He drops us off at the exit 130th Street, a dangerous point, where we almost see a collision happening right away. After a while we get a lift from a black driver with a pickup truck with iron waste. He's heading for downtown Chicago, about 15 miles away. We hesitate, everyone warned us to avoid Chicago, but we go with him anyway. His route comes close to a train station and we decide to get off there; from there we can also take the train to Lake Forest, Illinois.

Lake Forest Next
Before each station, the conductor walks through the compartment and calls out the next station, eventually our destination follows: “Lake Forest next!”. That phrase will become dear to us later, because it is also in the movie Ordinary People. Ordinary People is about life in the filthy rich Lake Forest, where a wealthy family struggles with the trauma of the loss of a son. It is the first film that the actor Robert Redford has produced and the film crew has just left the town when we arrive, but memories of the filming can still be found everywhere.

Ordinary People
From the station we get a lift in a giant limo. On the way, the man explains to us that Lake Forest is a rich town. We agree when we see the big houses. He says, “Oh, these are just the slums of Lake Forest”. The man takes us to Pam and Mike's kitchen door. He rams into a garbage can and apologizes for that. When we look concerned at the damage to his car, the man says: “Oh, never mind”. He's more concerned about someone else's garbage can than his own car. 

It turns out that Pam and Mike are temporarily living with Pam's brother, they are looking for another house, so it turns out that we are guests of guests. Pam is about to get a job, Michael recently joined a law firm in Chicago's business district. Before that he was a teacher and that is a job that is not much valuated in America. - I must often think of this. In 1980 as a teacher you were still a respected notable in the community, only later did we follow America and the profession was less and less appreciated. - As a teacher, they had a drive-in movie theater in New Hampshire to earn some extra money in the summer. This cinema is now for sale. At some point they suggested that we would run the cinema for them this last season, but in the end that did not happen.

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