I just got back from a hitch hiking adventure with my friend Adam Leech who owns the Leechpit in Colorado Springs (www.leechpit.com).
About a year ago, he and I discovered we shared a similar interest in hobo nickels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobo_nickel). He carves ‘em and I collect ‘em and we hatched a plan: the idea was to hitch hike from Colorado to a huge coin show in Tampa, of which the Original Hobo Nickel Society (OHNS) was a very small part. We wanted to trade hobo nickels for rides and document the whole thing for a to-be-determined future project.
We ducked out of Colorado Springs on a Greyhound in the middle of a blizzard on New Year’s Day and spent the first night of our adventure in Sante Fe, NM.
We started hitch hiking from there and went:
- from Sante Fe to Cline’s Corner (where, Adam likes to say, Patsy Cline’s bus broke down back in the day)
- to Albuquerque (which was 60 miles in the wrong direction but Cline’s Corner was dead)
- to Amarillo
- to Oklahoma City
- to Houston (we originally wanted to take a more northern route through Nashville but the bitter cold and being stuck in OKC for 12 hours convinced us to take a ride south)
- to Beaumont
- to Baton Rouge
- to Biloxi
- to Mobile
- to Daytona
- to Orlando
- to Tampa
It took us a little over five days and we traded hobo nickels for rides the whole way.
We rode almost entirely with truck drivers except for one ride with a cargo van full of Mexican migrant workers who spoke no English but gave us beer and dropped us off at a Waffle House in the middle of nowhere (doh!).
We slept in ditches and trees in 15-degree weather, ran into some rain in the South, and walked from truck stop to truck stop as we got kicked out.
We shared so much time with one trucker who drove us a few hundred miles that he took us home to meet his family and have lunch with them. He had never picked up hitch hikers before and said that, when he picked us up, he kept waiting for “the dental floss to come around my neck.” He was a younger ex-marine who we nick-named “Supertrucker.”
We also rode with Ernie (who couldn’t stop texting and facebooking on his phone while he drove), Chris (a Tennessean with a thick accent and a taste for herb), Cornbread (a young Alabamian who gave us a crash course in new country music) and a host of others.
When we arrived in Orlando, we were picked up by Rollie Taylor (the president of the Original Hobo Nickel Society) and his girlfriend Wanda and driven back to his house where we stayed for the next four days along with Dave Boulay, an ex-steel worker and current nickel carver from upstate New York. They cooked food for us, bought beer for us, made sure we had everything we wanted, and we now regard them as family.
The coin show was insane, with MILLION$$$ of rare coins and currency, gold and silver bars, and jewelry stuffed wall-to-wall in the Tampa convention center. The Original Hobo Nickel Society had a small booth in the corner of the convention and it was constantly packed with curious onlookers. All of the hundreds of other booths at the convention were occupied by dour-looking middle-aged men in suits who just sat there waiting for somebody to negotiate deals for coins and currency with.
But the hobo nickel carvers were a motley group of guys who were hacking into nickels with Dremels and chisels and vices and pneumatic air tools and gravers and hammers. They were making noise! It was, by far, the most interesting part of the convention, if you don’t include the heist that happened on the last day. During the hobo nickel auction, I saw a carved nickel sell for $7000.
Adam and I were embraced by the entire OHNS crew. The event organizers, however, eyed Adam and I suspiciously and eventually had security follow us because they thought we were “casing the joint.” Once they learned what we were doing, they interviewed us for their website with the hopes of “drawing younger people” to the convention.
While on the road, I documented our journey with a weird pile of recording devices, including my iPhone, a Ricoh GRD digital still camera, a second digital still camera that shot SD video, a Samson H4n audio recorder, Sennheiser wirless lavs, an Audio Technica 4073a shotgun mic, and an old VHS video camera that only worked when it was plugged into a wall (or an inverter in a vehicle). I shipped my Panasonic HMC150 HD camera out to Florida and used that to shoot everything once we got there.
It was a great adventure and I am now a member of the Florida United Numismatists (FUN).