Yesterday I hitchhiked from the seat of Yamanashi prefecture to Nagoya, so I didn’t have much time to write. By the time I finally made it to my capsule hotel I was too tired to do much of anything other than idle synchronization.
I travelled 285 kilometers via five cars in seven hours, though about half of it was waiting to get rides. The campsite owner dropped me on the state route 139 in front of the Yamanashi Wind Cave. Lots of trucks drive by on that route but I have yet to have any luck with semis.
After about fifteen minutes an American who was working as a farmhand picked me up in a utility van. His hair was sandy blonde, and his gray marked teeth hung out from his mouth with the same curve as his rounded large shoulders. He hunched over the wheel and talked amicably about the the drafty farmhouse he lived in, and his limitations in tolerating Japanese cuisine. He seemed kind-hearted and simple, trying his best to make a living and save up money to fly back home at Christmas and visit his mother. I only had a chance to ride with him for fifteen minutes or so before he had to turn off the byway. He was cheerful, but he laced normal conversation with self-directed mutterings from time to time that showed his social frustrations in relating with people. He reminded me of a co-worker I used to know, and I thought about all the different kinds of people that make up the tapestry of society.
My next ride took over thirty minutes to get, such that I started changing tactics and bought a magic marker and wrote a sign on the back of some cardboard from behind the convenience store. No sooner had I done this, however, that an Englishman and his wife approached me from behind and offered a lift to the highway interchange in Fuji City. Like a lot of hitches, they passed me, proceeded for about a kilometer and then looped back to come pick me up. The decision to take a hitchhiker is not a light one these days. To be honest I wouldn’t pick up one myself unless it was a girl or an incredibly benign looking guy. So of course I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to give me a lift.
The husband had been an English teacher but quit and now was looking, unsuccessfully, for better work. He strongly recommended against teaching as my next profession due to the lack of advancement potential. They were a nice couple and I didn’t feel like I had to talk to earn my ride, which is something you have to sense. Personally unless I really hit it off with someone I dislike chitchat and prefer to just take in the scenery. However I’ve learned from experience that antisocial hitchhikers rarely get far. The couple was kind enough to drive me up to the highway tollbooths, but hitching from that point is near impossible since the cars are coming directly up the ramp and only the highway, besides the fact it is illegal and all of the security cameras would surely have the police after me in short order.
So I walked down the highway bus access tunnel and a kilometer back to the entry point of the highway on the state road. After about fifteen minutes an elderly woman in a small car pulled over and offered to give me a lift. She had no plans to get on the highway, in fact she lived about five minutes from where I was standing, but she offered to drive me to Shizuoka. I was a little hesitant at first, but since getting actually on to the expressway is quite hard, I accepted. She had to run an errand first and return home with her shopping. I was leery not for my safety, but of wasting a day keeping a lonely old woman company.
After we went to her house she tried to offer me in for tea, but I politely declined and waited outside while she carried in her groceries. A small dachshund on her porch playfully rolled on its back begging for a rub. After we started out driving she took the state route west away from the highway, either she planned on driving to Shizuoka via local roads or thought she could lengthen her time with me by taking a roundabout route. Though it chilled the atmosphere a little, I restated that I needed to get on the highway as soon as possible and after that we got to Nihondaira in short order. Along the way she told me of all the foreigners she had helped and set up homestays for, naming each in turn with nationality and remarked how they all came to visit her on the holidays. At the Nihondaira service area she bought me a container of dried fish and awkwardly said goodbye. I then had my lunch and talked with some drivers before finding a light trucker who would take me close to Hamamatsu.
He had delivered supplies to Nijima in the night, and was on his way home from work. To keep from falling asleep he tore through a pack of foul-smelling cigarettes but I wasn’t one to complain. He was gruff, oily, and as disheveled as his cab but kind and seemed empathetic to the difficulties of hitchhiking. When he let me off at Enshutoyoda he gave me a wet wipe as a farewell present, half-laughing as he did.
Up until this point, things had gone rather well, but at Enshutoyoda it seemed to run out. I spent almost two hours trying to get a ride, smiling so much my face muscles started to get sore. It is illegal to walk out of the highway, so until I could get a ride I was stranded. Fortunately just as dusk began to set in a young businessman my age took pity on me and gave me a lift into Nagoya. He was easy to talk to, it felt like we had been friends for a long time. We joked about girls, baseball, and traveling around. I got some really lovely pictures of the sun setting over Nagoya as we rolled into town. At first he was going to drop me near Nagoya station, but on a whim I asked him to take me to Osu Kannon which we were passing by. I had only been to Nagoya once and didn’t know the area very well.
We said our goodbyes and he drove off. As I shouldered my bag I turned to my left and glanced at a restaurant. The name of the place was Smashhead, and across the building was spray-painted, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” I had just started re-reading Pirsig only two days ago. The coincidence of a somewhat minor western novel being plastered across a random shop in Nagoya, let alone one I just happened to be dropped off in front of, was staggering. I thought about Yabe-san’s remark about nothing being coincidence again and grinned. Maybe there were such things as signs.