Thursday 30th October. Cleveland, Ohio, United States.
With the Pittsburgh challenge successfully behind me, and my wad of Canadian cash successfully converted back into real money, it was time to move on. The weather forecast was for a warm spell, with daytime maximums of seventy degrees or more over the next few days. That was comforting news for me, as I was still suffering the effects of my torturous few days of hitchhiking and sleeping under bridges.
Amy gave me a ride to the beginning of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the toll road that runs directly to Cleveland. As with every other motorway junction in this fine country, there were a collection of restaurants- if you call Hungry Jacks, MacDonalds and the like restaurants. I found a Eat and Park that boasted an irresistable $4.99 breakfast buffet. Of course, by the time you add a glass of juice, tax and tip, it's an eight dollar breakfast, but I consoled myself that this would be my food intake for the day. I walked to the motorway on-ramp and was concerned to find it the whole area was under extensive reconstruction. Traffic was being diverted and redirected, and when I found the spot where westbound traffic finally merge onto the turnpike, I was hitchhiking right smack in the middle of a construction zone, with excavators and dozers operating all around me. I knew it wouldn't be long before some site foreman came and moved me along, and there was nowhere else I could really hitch, unless I moved out onto the motorway itself, which is illegal.
Luckily, it was no more than a couple of minutes before a car veered to the shoulder next to me. I bundled my gear in and we took off, myself pretty happy to be on my way. The driver Paul was an interesting guy, and talkative! He was working as a courier, and had a delivery to make just south of Cleveland. He'd been a successful realtor, but had 'screwed up' and lost everything. His natural scepticism and my postive attitude made for an intresting conversation about life and the terrific crazy world we live in. Before I knew it we were in Akron, the point where he branched off the turnpike. From where he dropped me, I had to climb a few fences and slide down a couple of grassy slopes to get to the appropriate on-ramp about a mile down the turnpike. It was the access ramp for the local university, and I figured that might go in my favour. Surely university students would be more predisposed to picking up hitchhikers, than would be the average motorist. I guess I figured wrong, because all I received were confused, scared expressions.
The Greyhound station was only a block away. I could see it from where I stood. After an hour, it occured to me that I must be so close to Cleveland that the bus fare couldn't be more than a few dollars. Did I really want to spend the day being stared at by pimply faced teenagers, for the sake of a few dollars? Not really.
The next bus to Cleveland left in half an hour and cost $5.30. I phoned my host Sangeeta, who was waiting for me. She wasn't working today, and said she'd pick me up from the Cleveland Greyhound Station in half an hour. She's been working as a substitute teacher recently, but had the day off today. Sangeeta's story is a fascinating one. She spent the first three years of her life in one of Mother Theresa's orphanages in India, before being adopted by an American couple. Her adopted parents divorced several years later, but her mother Nancy remarried and with her new husband Larry have gone on to adopt two little sisters for Sangeeta; Nina from Russia and Katyana from Romania. Sangeeta doesn't live at home anymore, but it was more convenient for her to host me there than in the house she shares with two roommates. Of course, we had to wait for Nancy and Larry to invite me to stay!
First we went back to Sangeeta's place. That is, after she got lost at every turn! Apparently, she doesn't normally drive to her suburb from that part of town. That was her excuse anyway, and she was sticking to it. She took my frequent wisecracks with good humour as we drove around and around looking for familiar territory, but when I said "Hey look at that sign; we're almost in Philadelphia!", she told me I could always get out and walk. She was still smiling, but I decided to mind my manners, for fear of spending another night sleeping under a bridge. We did find her home eventually *just teasing Sange* and Sangeeta rifled through the fridge to see what we could have for lunch. I was reminded of Jose in Boston, as she repeatedly apologized for being a lousy cook and assured me that it probably wouldn't taste any good, the produced a huge tray of delicious nachos with olives, beans, peppers and avocado. *droool*
I copied down this verse from a poster on Sangeeta's kitchen wall. It really struck a chord with me, and I was astounded to discover that it came from the pen of a sixteen year old. Once again, I questioned whether the world might be a better place if we let kids run it for a change. It'd be fun to try for a couple of years anyway!
He prayed- it wasn't my religion
He ate- it wasn't my food
He spoke- it wasn't my language
He dressed- it wasn't what I wore
He took my hand- it wasn't the colour of mine
But when he laughed- it was how I laughed, and when he cried- it was how I cried
"Underneath we're all the same" by Amy Maddox, 16, Franklin Community High School, Bargersville, Indiana.
'Twas the night before Halloween, so the kids had parties to attend. Larry took Sangeeta and myself to a newly opened 'village style' shopping mall, where we had dinner at an excellent Asian restaurant called 'Stir Crazy'. Larry and I talked too much over dinner *sorry Sangeeta* and by the time we'd finished our meals, Sangeeta was already running late for her church singing practice. Larry and I were welcomed into the group and sat back while Sangeeta and the other singers and musicians rehearsed a couple of new songs. Sangeeta was worried that it'd be boring for me, but I found it quite interesting to see the way they learn new material.
When we got back to the house, I tried to connect my laptop through their cable setup, without success. Sangeeta spoke to her parents, who were happy to invite me to stay the night.
Quote of the day... (and I don't know how it fitted into the conversation) From Larry- "The craziest thing I've done with the missus in bed lately is let her use the remote control". *I told you I was going to put that in my journal Larry*