A few years ago, I found myself hitchhiking from Brownsville, Texas, to San Antonio for a bus connection to Arizona. I'd just returned from a year in Oaxaca and Chiapas, it was Sunday, banks were closed, and a predatory border capitalist with his trigger finger on the exchange-rate had ruthlessly siphoned too much of my funds; hence the hitchhiking to San Antonio, where I could afford a ticket at least to the border.
I'd sent a heavy sea bag full of books and notebooks ahead to El Paso, where I hoped to pick it up, saving myself from lugging a year of writing across half of Texas, but costing a lot too. In addition, I rolled a 40-lb suitcase and wore a 40-lb pack. It took 24 hours to reach San Antonio, during which I had to defend myself with a two-by-four at 3 a.m. in gangbanger country, against a disturbed pit bull. Later that day, in scorching, desert-like temperatures, thousands of newer cars and trucks filled with white Texans sped by me with jeers, hoots, obscene gestures, and other insults. Some threw cups and cans, and one or two even swerved threateningly toward me.
Now, I've been hitching easily and fearlessly since I was 12 in Lake Charles, La. It was always easier and a whole lot cheaper than buses and trains. Although I've owned a dozen vehicles, I've been hitching occasionally, from necessity, for a long time. I was 72 at the time. Finally, with the timely help of a black over-the-road trucker and some dough from an old friend in New Jersey, I made it to San Antonio, had to hang on the streets for 24 hours, and bought a ticket to El Paso, picked up my sea bag, and then to the first town in New Mexico, where everything changed for the better.
In more than 60 years of hitchhiking all over the United States of America, I had never encountered the hatred, scorn, disrespect, or gratuitous insults that I experienced in 2013 in South Texas. And I was clean, well-dressed, and only trying to get to San Antonio.