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Friday, August 23, 2013

Guest Blog: Polly McCrillis: Thumbs Up To A Lot of Mileage and No Baggage

Remember when hitchhikers decorated our interstates and highways? In the 70's seeing soldiers loaded down with duffel bags and large metal framed backpacks was fairly common. And if you were motoring around highways in the far western states you might’ve even seen me.

Yup, I was out there with the soldiers and hippies and unemployed free spirits, a thumb up hitchhiker. And Breezy was my name.

A summer job at the end of my first year of college was the gateway to my hitchhiking stint. Working in the curio shop on the south rim of the Grand Canyon I sold Hopi, Yavapai, Navajo and Zuni jewelry to people from all over the world.

A spectacular place to spend a summer, AND meet a hot Cherokee Indian named Blue who begged me to leave with him and go to "wherever the roads take us." How could I resist? It sounded so romantic. And Adventurous. And impractical. And I did it anyway.

There've been things in my life that I wish I hadn't done but that month of hitchhiking isn't one of them. When I talk about it I get, What Kind Of A Nut Are You? looks and questions: Weren't you scared? Did anything bad happen to you? What was it like?

Well, I'll tell you what it wasn't: boring. It was thrilling, unpredictable, occasionally physically uncomfortable (I don't recommend wearing moccasins to trek across the Mohave Desert in July), eye-opening and all out fun. Our first ride out of the Canyon was with a family from Alabama. Blue and I talked and joined in sing-a-longs from the back of their fake wood-paneled station wagon. The kids, one boy, one girl thought it was groovy (that takes you back, doesn’t it?!) to meet real hitchhiking hippie types. Me with my waist-length braid, feathers tucked into the ends, guitar, tie-dyed shirt, patched jeans, moccasins. Blue with his bear claw necklace, hair streaming below his shoulders. Backpacks, sleeping bags, canteens. We swapped stories about where we’d been and places we wanted to go before parting company.

On our first day of hitching I learned something that has stayed with me ever since. It’s benefited me as a wife, mom, teacher, employee, owner of a business and very much as a writer: The less you say when someone’s talking to you, the more they'll tell you. The things people are apt to tell you when you keep your mouth shut are pretty amazing. Not always a good thing, but it is when I’m doing research for a story and find someone who loves the subject I’m researching. They’ll give me enough info to use for ten books.

South of San Diego we got a ride with a family in a well-traveled pickup. We hunkered down in the back with a half dozen kids who spoke only Spanish. They shared a steamer full of delicious tamales, the first I’d ever eaten and I’ve never had any as good since.

A week passes, we’re in no rush to get anywhere, have no specific anywhere to get to. Out of the blue, Blue says he’s going on to Branson, Missouri to hang out with some friends. Didn’t sound appealing to me and as much as I didn’t want him to leave we parted company with the promise that we’d stay in touch.(We actually did for a few years.)

Being a lone female hitchhiking north on I-5 I probably should’ve been scared, but I wasn’t. The closest I came to fear was with a 50ish man in a beat-up Ford Fairlane. No seats to sit on, only blanket covered springs, cameras and tripods piled on the back seat, girlie mags on the floorboard and an hour of lascivious looks. Think Fagin in “Oliver” but cleaner. First town we came to, I took off and didn’t have to wait long before being picked up by three couples in a VW Bus painted with flowers and peace signs, lime green shag carpet, hot pink bean bag chair and uh, medicinal items. A cheerful, Kumbahyah-y, munchies-loving sextet.

Other rides from my Grand Canyon to Oregon adventure stand out but my favorite was with Chuck―CB handle “Muskrat”―, an 18-wheel trucker who picked me up north of Sacramento. Twenty plus years as an over-the-road driver made for some great stories. Chuck had a lot of them and told them well.

Nowadays, hitchhikers are a rare breed of travelers and limited to where they can legally stick out a thumb. If I hadn’t said yes to Blue’s proposal to ditch the Canyon and hitch I would’ve missed out on meeting lots of interesting people, hearing their stories and making some very unique memories.

In my “Games People Play” series, Reese Adams hitchhiked from Arizona to Denver when she was 16. I didn’t include that experience in “Charades”, first book of the series, but her life before she came to Denver is an integral part of who Reese is. “Hopscotch”, book two in the series will be released in September, 2013.

“Charades” BLURB:
A woman and her child are missing. Reese Adams is on the hunt for them, her first major case as a private investigator. It would be a lot easier if the missing woman’s brother weren’t in the picture. Ethan Chamberlain isn’t hard to look at or spend time with, if you like a man with perfect posture, proper speech and an affinity for antiques and expensive suits, but experience has taught Reese to be wary of men and she has no intention of getting to know this one or let him anywhere near her heart.

Tired of women who want him only for his wealth and position among Denver’s elite, Ethan finds the headstrong, charmingly unsophisticated Ms. Adams strangely tantalizing. Her seeming indifference to him only adds to the allure. As she and her hodgepodge of friends take control of the search for his missing sister and nephew, shocking discoveries about their disappearance are unearthed. Reese’s determination to learn the complete truth exposes facts and feelings that are best left buried. People Ethan thought he knew aren’t at all who they seem to be.

While looking for answers, Reese captures the heart of the man she is determined to dislike, and in turn, Ethan patiently peels away her layers of distrust.

If they can only avoid getting shot at, they may have a chance at love.

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Polly McCrillis, who also writes historical romances as Isabel Mere, likes the contrasts of writing about the here and now or slipping back to other eras and different countries. She owns and operates a secondhand bookshop in southwest Missouri, where she lives with her husband and daughter, two dogs, parakeet, goldfish and a very chunky kitty.

Visit Polly at
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Melissa Keir said...

I think you were brave. I'd have loved to do it but I was too scared. Blue sounds like he should have had his own cover. Hot, hunky, Native. Ohh the adventures you've had.

Thanks for sharing and the story looks amazing too. I like strong women.

Gerri Bowen said...

I loved this, Polly. The things we do when we are young and invincible!

Anonymous said...

I've done a few double takes over the years when I've seen Native American males on historical romance book covers. There are a couple out there who could be Blue's double....oh yea!

Anonymous said...

Learning we're not invincible is unfortunately something we all have to do if we're going to keep celebrating birthdays....I'm SOoo glad I didn't learn that lesson too early!

jean hart stewart said...

What a great trek you had. Wouldn't have had the nerve but glad you did.

Anonymous said...

Me too, Jean. Sure wouldn't do it now!

Sandy said...

Ah ha, Polly, you ended up in Missouri. lol I can remember picking up a lot of hitch hikers in the 60's and 70's and 80's.

Many of them were students or military trying to get home or back to school. The last couple I picked up was on a wintery, cold night, and they had a baby. They were thankful I stopped, but they warned me never to do it again. By that time it was becoming dangerous for the drivers and for those being picked up.

It was a wonderful time. My mom told me stories about her and dad hitch hiking home when he was in the military. lol That was in the 40's.

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