Home > Stories > Chapel Hill, NC to Gainesville, FL

One Cold Ride
12/28/02

The first night I was in Chapel Hill, I met Kristina, who manages the local independant bookstore. She lives in Durham, but she arranged for me to stay at her friend Phill's house in Chapel Hill.  We drank to the cold weather in a friend's bar, then played some pool in a place called Hell.

Phill's house was a place for home-made soaps, a livingroom with a giant granite rock coming through the floor, and a morning of warm bagels over live accordian.  I left for a morning of snow, sleet, and snow.

icy roads
cold heart pumps slush through my veins
snow storm in my shoes

The Against Me! show was that night, and I met some kids there who were in a similar situation. We ended up having to stay at the local shelter after the show, since it was WAY too cold to spend the night outside.  That's a rough memory of sleeping on a urine-scented lynoliam floor under a noisy water fountain surrounded by a sea of home bums.  

After our short jarring sleep and 5am wake-up call, the collectively reactionary objective was to get the hell out of Chappel Hill and end up some place warm.  The whole town had shut down, though, so there was no real way to hitch hike out of there.  We spent all  morning worrying about what we were going to do and where we were going to stay.  Eventually, we decided to forget about it and go sledding. We managed to climb into a cardboard dumpster and get some big cardboard peices, then started walking through the UNC campus towards a big hill. Along the way we tried to convince people to take us to Florida.

As we were walking across campus a guy named Terrance started talking to us. We told him what we were up to and invited him to go sledding with us. We stopped at his friend's dorm room and he announced: "I found some hitchhikers, can they stay here?"

So all of a sudden we had a place to stay and food to eat. We were constantly introduced as "Terrance's Hitch Hikers" and taken to the UNC dining hall for a feast of epic proportions. We lined or pockets with fruit, bread, and vegetables for the journey ahead.

Friday morning we set off for Rocky Mount NC, where we hoped to catch a Florida-bound train.

Hitch hiking with four people didn't seem feasible, so we split up. Sarah came with me and Rene went with Matt. Sarah and I had the best string of rides I've ever known. We never spent more then two minutes with our thumbs out, and we made it all the way to Rocky Mount in 4 rides. The last ride we caught was the most absurd. We were standing out on 64 in a bad spot, trying to catch traffic two lanes over. In no time at all we heard a distant whistling, and turned to see that some guy had seen us from a mile away and stopped a mile down the road.

"Where y'all headed?"
"Rocky Mount!"
"Hail! That's where I'm goin', hop in!"

This guy sold meat door to door in order to support his 1/4 ounce a day pot habit.

"The only thing I'm afraid of us laaawww."
"The law?"
"Yep, laaaawww."

He dropped us off right at Key Foods, which was our rendevouz point. Matt and Rene didn't have such great luck, so Sarah and I were stuck outside the Key Foods all day. We were so cold that we even tried to build a fire, with limited success (the rain didn't help). We got to Key Foods at 1:30, and the rest of our party showed up at 6pm. Matt and Rene even had to walk the last 8 miles.

We headed over to the train yard. It was eighteen degrees, and my feet were so cold that I couldn't tell where the earth ended and I began. The visible vapor of my breath carried on for miles before dissipating. We clung to the cold ground of the rail embankment, hiding from the yard bulls and waiting for a train that might never come.

We were hiding in the woods between some drug dealers and the rails. Eventually, the drug dealers noticed us and were none too pleased with our presence.

"You guys can't be here, you'll get shot."
"Who's going to shoot us?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"Right."

We moved up the yard and continued waiting. Eventually a junker south-bound train rolled in. As soon as we heard the brakes air out, we were running. Our feet crunched along the gravel as we sprinted down the line. Tanker, Grainer, Tanker, Tanker, Boxcar... sealed, Tanker, Grainer, Grainer, Boxcar... sealed, Boxcar... sealed, crap crap crap no ridable cars, Boxcar... sealed, Boxcar.... open!

We threw our stuff in, hammered a railroad spike into the door, and hid in the back corner of the car. Unfortunately, both doors were open - so we had a hell of a time hiding from all possible angles. Eventually the slack action jolted us, and we were moving. We watched the night-time scenery roll by and gazed at the clear night sky.

The temperature on a moving boxcar was even lower, so we had to get into our sleeping bags. Even then we were freezing, and we had to constantly get out and hide as we passed through switching yards. Once we thought we were screwed when we woke up and the train had stopped in the middle of the woods. Just as we noticed, a cop drove by real slow in his truck. It seemed impossible that he wouldn't have seen us, but eventually we started moving again without any trouble.


Boxcar Self Portrait

[Me freezing to death on the boxcar.  I'm not smoking, that's my breath.]

When we woke up in the morning (after a night of almost freezing to death), we were in an unknown switching yard, surrounded by strings of cars. We debated on what to do until we saw a breakman walking down our string. We tried to hide, but it was no use. He found us and laughed.

"Ya'll are in the receiving line! Outbound trains are over there! Let me take you over in my truck and we'll see what we've got going south."

He pointed us towards the number nine train, and we searched it for ride-able cars. There were no open boxcars and not enough grainers, so we ended up climbing into a bucket. Eventually they hitched up a unit and we were off. This was a slow cold ride, and we couldn't help but stick our heads out the top of the bucket and watch the scenery roll by.

Bucket Into Chester County

[Rene, Sarah, and Matt waiting for a ride in to Chester County.]

Someone in one of the towns we passed through saw us and called us in (why would you do that?). They stopped the train outside a lumber mill to search for us, and it was too late to jump off by the time we figured out what was happening.

Finally we heard someone climbing the ladder, and a true south-carolina cop poked his head up over the side. He smiled with a cigar in his mouth: "Ya'll best come out here ands talk to me."

We threw down all our stuff and climbed out. He had us line up against his car while he searched our pockets and questioned us. When he'd confiscated all our weapons, he had us throw our stuff in the back of another cop's pickup so we could pile into his car on the way to the station.

When we walked over to the other cop's pickup, we were shocked to see a giant dear carcass with no head sitting in the bed. For a second we stood with open mouths until the other cop announced "Ya'll ain't never seen one of those electronic decoy dears before?" Aparently, he sets this up on the side of the road and waits for people to shoot at it as they drive by (this happens fairly regularly according to him), and then he arrests them.

"Isn't that entrapment?"
"Yeah prolly."

At the station they questioned us for hours. The arresting officer kept threatening us with a ten year jail sentence and a 10k fine, mandatory minimum.

"Yep, I've got to decide what I'm going to do. Federal tresspassing is a 10 and 10 minimum. Yep, what shall we do."

Basically, they really liked us and got a kick out of talking to us. By the end, they had everybody in the station sitting in the questioning room listening to our stories.  Eventually they drove us to the county line and set us loose. One guy even gave Matt a pack of cigarettes (that was after Matt had stolen several from a pack someone had left in the office).

"Now, you guys go that way, ya hear? Do not come back into Chester county."

We walked a few miles up the road to a gas station, then hitched a ride up to Jonesville, SC.

We wanted to make it up to Spartenburg so we could hitch down I-85 to Atlanta. We had to spend the night in Jonesville, though, so we decided to sleep on the roof of the Piggly-Wiggly. We walked around back and piled a bunch of pallets up to about 9 ft. high, then climbed up the pallets and boosted each-other the remaining 9 ft. to the roof.

It was really nice on the roof, it wasn't too cold, and the sky was clear. We settled down for a night's rest under the stars. I even took most of my clothing off and crawled into my sleeping-bag with only my long underwear.

I woke up sometime in the middle of the night, freezing, shivering, and encased in ice. A fog had rolled in, then the temperature had dropped, and the fog had frozen over. Everything was covered in a layer of ice, including the clothes that I'd taken off. I was totally fucked and borderline hypo-thermic. I couldn't stop shaking, so Matt unpacked his emergency blanket and I put it in my sleeping bag. That stopped my shivering, but I still couldn't feel my feet at all.


A Piggly Wiggley Morning

[The roof of the Piggly Wiggly after a very cold night.  Notice the frost.]

Finally the sun came up and we managed to get out of our sleeping bags and off the roof without injury (quite an operation). We booked it across the street to the open Hardee's, where we started to warm up.

It turned out that this Hardee's was the Hardee's of good fortune. While we were sitting there, some old folks walked over and asked if we had enough money to eat. They bought us breakfast and then gave us another $20. As we were eating, another guy asked us where we were headed. When we told him Atlanta, he said "Hail that's only a 3 hour drive, I'll take y'all."

So we hopped in his Mustang and set off. This guy had been run over by a car in the Marines and had suffered some head trauma. He was in a coma for 19 days, and had lost a lot of impulse control. So he was a little... strange. We raced other cars on the highway at 130mph. Whenever Matt fell asleep this guy would swerve across 3 lanes of traffic, hit the brakes, and hold down his horn. "HAILL! Did you see that deer! That was a 10 pointer, damn! Just running across the highway like that!" Matt was always amazed. "Oh man, I missed it."

I never like coming back to Atlanta. I grew up here, so it feels like when I visit my Kindegarden classroom. Everything's just so much smaller.

This time I tried to live as I would at this point in my life. Usually I end up doing all the things I know to do, but those are part of my past life. I don't even like pizza anymore, why would I sit in Fellinis?

But it still sucked. We stayed with Chris Mims for a while, then met some kids at a "Subversive Absurdists" meeting and moved over to their warehouse. They have a great 5000sqft place - exactly what my SF friends and I are always trying to find. We went to some local shows, discovered the flying biscuit, and played guerilla golf. But really we were just waiting to leave.

We saw the Against Me! show, and that got us going. We set off the next morning without any keys in our pocketst. Following Allen's bad advice, we hopped the MARTA turnstyle and rode all the way to the airport. Discovering that there was no way to walk to I-75, we had to hitchhike at the airport exit (not the best spot). One of the hotel shuttle guys picked us up and got us onto 85N. Eventually Sarah and I caught a ride in a pickup and split off from Matt and Rene.

Goodbye Atlanta

[Sarah, Matt, Me, and Rene.  The bench in front of the C5 Warehouse, just before we left.]

The next ride we caught was to Tifton with a guy who had a tricked-out low rider pickup with tinted windows and one of those sound systems with the subwoofer that shakes the car. At first it was kind of like one of those Magic Fingers beds, but then my head started to rattle.

In Tifton we caught a ride with the most irresponsible mother ever into Alton. This lady was alone in the car, at night, with her 12 year old daughter and her 12 year old friend!

"Now, ya'll aren't going to shoot us or nothin' are ya?"
"No, we don't shoot people."
"See Jessica, I told you it'd be alright."

It was warm in Alton, but it looked like it was going to rain - so we tried our much talked about hotel scam. I went into the office of a Days Inn alone and asked about the rates, etc... then asked to see the room. The guy gave me a key, so I walked outside and Sarah snuck up behind me. I opened the room, she went in and hid, and then I went back to the office. I inquired about the rates of other nearby hotels, then said I'd go look at the Super 8. I went outside and hid down the road for a while to make sure the attendant wasn't going to check the room. After about 10 minutes, I snuck back over and Sarah opened the door for me.

suns hand on my face
thaws my smile
and pushes me south

We woke up refreshed, went over to the Hardee's for some egg biscuits (complements of my famous "we didn't get two of these in our drivethrough order" scam), and caught a ride to Valdosta with a fireman. Finally we caught another ride all the way to Gainesville FL with a registered nurse who wanted us to find some pot for him.

Gainesville is a great town.  Warm weather, spanish moss, and every tree is perfect for a tree house.

We were squatting on 3rd Ave next to the Otto House and across the street from the Trouble House.  Our first night in town was absolutely crazed drunken debauchery at the Trouble House. Flaming "Dr. Peppers" and everyone jumping on the couches like maniacs while screaming along to punk rock as people slide down the staircase in drunken heaps on couch pillows or even a whole fucking mattress, ducking people setting fireworks off inside the house and everybody all the while making out with everybody because that's how strong friendship can be. Mad firedancing and drumming in the street under stars that blur and leave trails, and then everyone is piling into the back of Jerry's pickup so that 12 of us are hanging out and carrying on - surfing on the roof of the cab as we drive to the Arc for another great show.

But I would always stagger out into the warm morning and say hello to the sun, nap under great big branches of sadness, or swing slowly on the tire swing.

People would "You guys can't leave!" and I'd say "Why would I leave, I'm from Gainesville."

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