Well, the first drafts. You had to, because that was your fantasy of what was the best and the worst that could happen. Once you hitchhiked for real, all those fantasies go away. The drudgery of it, the daily shock of waking up in those hotel rooms and thinking, "I'm really doing this — this is no longer a book pitch, this is no longer an abstract, funny, high-concept pitch, which is what it was. This is reality, and I have to do it every day."
Now that it's over, I look back on it as a great adventure in my life. But the tedium of it during the day. … Every time I got in a car, I was desperate, I was so excited, I loved every person. The minute I got let out, the frightening tedium of it started again.
Not frightened of people, or that I was going to get murdered. I was going to spend the night in the woods one night, I almost stayed with a trucker in his cab one night. That wasn't scary to me; I figured that would make the book even better.
But … four or five hours of waiting. One day, it was 10 hours, standing there over and over and over. I'd keep saying, "It only takes once car." Which is true, it only takes one car. And then one stopped, it was [the rock band] Here We Go Magic — a great ride. And the Kansas couple that took me so far.
What's the longest you ever waited for a ride back in the day?
Not 10 hours. Although … there were times, trying to hitchhike in and around New York City. I remember standing near the Holland Tunnel. What was I thinking? No one, even at the height of hippiedom, would pick you up standing there.
Even the cops stood there. … I'm amazed they allowed it. But no one had ever seen that, really. I don't think, even then, anyone hitchhiked right there by the Holland Tunnel.
I don't think it gives away too much to say that, all your fears about run-ins with the cops? Nothing happened.
Not in real life. They stopped me a couple times and checked to see if I had warrants, but [his assistant] Susan had prepared for me a "Fame Kit." My favorite thing was pulling out my Directors Guild of America card. Or, better yet, my Academy of Arts and Sciences card. "Look here, I vote for the Oscars! Will this get me out of prison?"
One cop gave me some trouble, but it was the end of the day, I could tell he just wanted to go home. I said, "I'm writing a book," and he just wasn't expecting that. He said, "All right, all right."
Then, the second one, I kept seeing while I was there stuck in Ohio. And finally, he pulled over, checked my warrants, did the whole thing. I gave him the "Fame Kit," … and he said, "Doesn't say anything on here about being a professional hitchhiker." And then I knew he was on my side. I said, "Could you give me a ride," and he said, "Get in."
He was great. He gave me grief for not getting a ride later, he said I wasn't shaking the sign enough. It was so embarrassing, to have a cop give you a bad review of how you were hitchhiking.
How long ago did this idea start gestating in your head?
About three years ago.
I got the idea a lot from hitchhiking in Provincetown, because there was a beach I went to. And I hitchhiked in Baltimore. I hitchhiked when I'd come to the train station in a blizzard and there was no cab. I'd hitchhike, and people would take me right to the house.
But that's different, because they'd recognize me.
I wanted an adventure. I said to everybody, it's a midlife crisis. My life, I know what I'm doing a year from today, it's in my calendar already. I wanted to give that up a little bit. … I wanted to test myself, not get too comfortable here. Things are going pretty well; let's go back to being a little frightened.
I just wanted to test myself, I wanted to see, could I do it? Dare myself.
And not a single person that you knew seemed to think it was a good idea?
Most everyone that works for me thought it was a terrible idea. My young assistant, Jill, I thought [she] thought it was a good idea — until the end, when she said, "Maybe somebody should follow you."