The Hands of God, Plus a Spare Thumb

I’m visiting my friend Ike at his grandparents’ house in the Finger Lakes, in upstate New York. One of my discoveries along the way was that hitchhiking in Ohio sucks. Growing up in Ohio, I thought it was flat and dull and full of uninteresting people. Then in Korea I had enough time to get nice and homesick for Cincinnati chili and the Ohio River and everyone in the family, and Ohio started to seem pretty okay after all. Now I’ve been back for long enough that I’m no longer in awe of being back home, and also I’ve got way more perspective than I did before I left, and I’m coming back around to the opinion that Ohio really doesn’t have a lot going for it. I waited in two perfect spots for three hours apiece to get only as far as Cleveland. That gets old. In other states (except Texas), the people have been way more trusting and adventurous. Maybe I was having bad luck, but it seems to me that I can deduce that Ohioans are extremely conventional, look askance at anyone doing something out of the ordinary, and aren’t nearly as friendly as I would hope for.

Of course, it can’t be all bad. I visited my friend Dan in Columbus, and he took me to a swing dance. He started dancing at Grinnell and now it’s one of his favorite things ever—and at this point you should take a moment to visualize him, a guy with long brown hair, a neatly groomed beard down to his chest, and often a plaid fedora—and he tells me that the Midwest has a terrifically good swing dancing scene. I wouldn’t have expected that Columbus, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh would be hives of such a quaint activity. My expectations would have run more along the lines of tailgate parties and NASCAR enthusiast clubs. I didn’t dance myself because, at least until I decide to seriously work at it, my dance moves are mostly reminiscent of a convulsing monkey, but I had fun watching him.

With the help of a couple very well-placed rides after I got out of Ohio, I made it here to Ike’s grandparents’ house, and we started hanging out. We decided it would be a very good idea to buy a bottle of whisky. In this manner I discovered that whisky is the devil himself. I felt perfectly fine, all up until I was lying in the grass trying to will the contents of my stomach out. This morning we slept through lunch in the nice, dimly-lit basement, and then moved very gingerly for several hours. But we’ve had some interesting conversations, about language and philosophy and jokes. We both know a lot of groaners. How many flies does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, but you have to get them in there first. His nana makes awesome quilts; his papa offers deadpan punch lines and history lessons about the area.

The Finger Lakes (the eleven of them), as I’d expected, are largely where pretty well-off people come for the summer. But the nature around is beautiful. The wildflowers are showing off white and purple by the roads, and the forests are big and dense behind the farms. It’s Mennonite country up here besides being rich-people country, and I saw a horse and buggy in the traffic while I was walking through town. There are a few things that I want to learn before I decide where upstate New York (and Pennsylvania, which was beautiful yesterday morning from the seat of the car of the guy who picked me up) stand in the where-to-live rankings, but I’d say they’re definitely in the running, which is a step up from a few weeks ago when I hadn’t even considered them.

Tomorrow morning they’re dropping me off on the highway on their way to Rochester, and I’ll probably make it to Toronto without too much trouble (he said jinxingly). I think I’ll even take a little while to admire Niagara Falls for the first time on the way.

File under: Year of Adventure, friends, hitchhiking · Places: Northeast, Midwest

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We lived in Syracuse, NY for 7 years in the 1970s. You haven't seen beauty until you have canoed the interconnecting rivers and lakes in the Adirondacks. Uncle Chuck


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