"Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere."
"Twelfth Night or What You Will" by William Shakespeare.
My latest jarring dream involved mixed genders and mistaken identities.
One of my favorite plays is "Twelfth Night" which was known as one of the Bard's transvestite plays. I thought of that Christmas play about gender bending and wondered if I was really dreaming about my July hitchhiking trip from Washington D.C. to Marco Island, Fl.
Gender confusion drives the plot as a boy actor plays a female twin who disguises herself as a boy. Cross dressing in Shakespeare's time was common during The Twelfth Night celebrations and the parties surrounding the Lord of Misrule.
My 1,100 mile hitch took four days and three nights, all sleeping outside during nights of intense, colorful dreaming.
Outside of Savannah, Ga., a transgender woman picked me up in her "Soul" and told me wild stories of her traditional marriage, prison and sexcapades. At first she said her name was "John" but then said her real name is April Summers. When she performs on stage as a female impersonator, she said, the other performers call her "Satan's Secretary" because of her promiscuity with audience members.
Outside Tampa, Fl., a tree trimmer picked me up in his shaky compact car, drove 90-miles-per hour and then made an indecent proposal while we careened down I-75. As we were driving dangerously close to death, he said, "How about I give you a h*nd-job!"
Outside of Hilton Head, S.C., a Chilean hotel maid picked me up and, when she offered to drop me off at a truck stop, she made a comment about how the truckers probably want her to stick around for a while. They might want to pay for some female attention.
Mike of God vs. my hat
Four days is too long for a 1,000 trip. My days were marked by many hours of waiting followed by many drivers discussing their lives. Still, one standout of the trip was not a driver.
After the Chilean hotel maid dropped me off outside Hilton Head, I stood on the onramp as the sun was declining. Up the onramp toward me walked a thin man with a white Moses beard.
"Hi, I'm Mike of God," he said. "If you get a ride out here at this time of day, I'll take off your hat and shit in it."
I said, "Hi Mike," and wanted to add that I don't want him to shit into my hat.
"Mike of God," he corrected me. "Mike of God! I've got some money here (from bumming on the corner) so you can join me. We can buy some pizza and beer. I have some cardboard in the woods back there to sleep on. You won't find a ride out here tonight."
One of my theories about hitchhiking is that people make the riskiest decisions at the beginning and end of the day. So I wasn't about to stop hitchhiking but I was tempted by Mike of God's offer because I could witness his madness first hand. I imagined that he was going to tell me he was a prophet. Whatever he said would have made a great story.
"I don't think I've ever had a kinder offer," I said. "Beer. Pizza. A cardboard bed in the woods. Mike of God telling me the truth. But I'm betting on one more ride."
In the most ragged, Dickensian clothes, he walked away talking to himself and still advising me that I didn't know this corner of the world.
Stories about long hitchhiking trips are best told when whittled down to a few short stories. This trip had so many interesting drivers I can't do justice to any.
A moving company dispatcher who moonlights as an amateur pool shark said he intended to win $200 that night by hustling marks at regional pool halls around Richmond, Va. Because he played defensive pool, he nicknamed himself "Kid Safety." It's a moniker that no doubt summons fear in opponents and admiration among the female fans.
The first ride out of Fayetteville, North Carolina, John the electrician told me that he doesn't fear hitchhikers because if I tried to rob him, he would drive his truck off the road and kill us both.
"I don't care," he said. "I'll do it."
Nothing he said before or after betrayed thoughts of suicide or of a life that meant so little to him.
After John the electrician said that, I remembered that other drivers have told me of similar scenarios. Another driver earlier in the trip had said he too would commit suicide if attacked by a hitchhiker.
I heard two stories of hitchhikers stealing the driver's vehicles. Once the driver got out to fill the truck with gas but the hitchhiker drove away with an empty tank and was later caught.
In the other, two beer-guzzling sheet metal workers outside of Tampa laughed uproariously as they told how a hitchhiker stole the driver's truck when he stopped to buy them both a beer. After a few, the driver started dancing with a beautiful woman and the hitchhiker jumped in his truck and drove away. The hitchhiker was caught but the girl got away.
Several drivers had life advice for me. A computer security expert driving a Saab convertible in Virginia told me how his wife left him and took their two daughters to North Carolina. He was depressed and living in a hotel when he picked himself up, married the hotel manager and moved them both to South Carolina to be nearer his daughters.
I told him I'm writing a book about my year working in 10 carnivals around America and going down to Mexico to see the "new face" of American carnies. But publishers have been unimpressed by my first draft and want a complete rewrite.
"I know you're broke right now but this is a test of your character," he said. "Publishers aren't the artist. You are. Don't compromise on your principles. Write the book you think you should write. This is a test of your character."
What is my character?
The Walk of Life
The computer security analyst, the tree trimming pervert and April each made me think of character and identity. April lived for a couple decades as a married man and changed jobs like a chameleon changes colors. The tree trimmer had a girlfriend and kids at home. The computer analyst lost his identity as a husband and father and made his comeback in a Saab convertible.
The hitchhikers fooled the drivers out of their vehicles. Some drivers would rather give up the life they are living than be robbed of their truck.
Kid Safety is hustling people who think he's just a dispatcher. The hotel maid has a fantasy (maybe not just a fantasy) about another sexy life at truck stops.
Mike of God isn't mentally ill, he's a prophet offering bummed comfort to the wayward with beer, pizza and a cardboard bed. Even if he is a danger to all hats.
In this season of the Twelfth Night, could this be what my jarring dream meant? I am not what I seem to be either, a fool for disguises, disguised to myself. What foolery in a journey of a 1,000 miles.
Michael Sean Comerford earlier this year completed a year of working in 10 traveling carnivals and hitchhiking more than 15,000 miles from Alaska to Florida, California to New York. He also went down to Mexico to see the "new face" of the American carnival, the Mexican carny. He is writing a book on the topic. The most recent hitchhike trip was an example of how hard it is to get off the carnival circuit, one is often broke and has to resort to desperate measures to get a job and get around. All the people in this article were told I was taking notes and pictures for my blog.