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Thumbs up
Earth-sized drawing & roadtrip
Northeastern & Midatlantic USA
2003

Thumbs Up is a drawing driven by the search for hitchhikers. Over the course of 17 days, 19 hitchhikers needed a lift. I followed a route which itself offered the potential of finding hitchers: a giant "Thumbs Up" composed of interstates, highways, country and dirt roads. While in some towns my old blue van was suspect– police searches and suspicious looks – in others, the necessity and acceptance of hitchhiking prevailed. With its presence waning in popular culture, Thumbs up picks up where Arthur Fonzarelli and the Beatniks left off.

Daily Record
10/08 - Brooklyn to Torrington

10/09 - Torrington, CT to Downsville
10/10 - Downsville to Shermans Dale
10/11 - Day off
10/12 - Sherman's Dale, PA to Butler
10/13 - Butler, PA to Cumberland
10/14 - Cumberland to Clearfield
10/15 - Clearfield to East Rochester
10/16 - East Rochester to Franklin
10/17 - Franklin to Harrisonburg
10/18 - Harrisonburg to Richwood
10/19 - Richwood to Centerville
10/20 - Centerville to Shady Spring
10/21 - Shady Spring to Wytheville
10/22 - Wytheville to Suffolk
10/23 - Suffolk to Dewey Beach
10/24 - Dewey Beach to Brooklyn
Trip statistics


Day 1 : 10-8 : NYC to Torrington, CT



REPORT
2pm – Leave NYC on the Hutchinson Parkway

I see plenty of people on the streets. Many appear to be doing nothing at all... or waiting for a ride. A few airline strikers give me a lift with a collective thumbs up... but no hitchhikers.

At night, I'm prepared to sleep in the van. I park on a residential street in Torrington, CT. A car drives by slowly and parks a few cars in front of mine. An hour later I notice a big man looking suspicioiusly from his porch. Not wanting to cause distress, I get out to greet him and let him know I'll be sleeping here for the night. He cautiously backs away and grumbles that I've taken his parking spot. I offer to move, but he's not appeased. A half hour later the police arrive. I'm sitting in the back of the van with the lights on, reading a book, and drinking a beer. This doesn't bother the officer because I'm not driving. I tell him about my search, and then he has me follow him to a commuter lot on the outskirts of town. I go to sleep.

WEATHER : Lovely and warm
TIME : 2pm to 8pm
HITCHHIKERS : 0



Day 2 : 10-9 : Torrington to Downsville, NY

REPORT
10am
- I print magnets advertising a free lift and stick them on the van. The copy lady, Lisa, says that she's seen hitchhikers on Rt. 8. Her co-worker says he only sees hitchhikers when they are being picked up by the police. Lisa thinks my search will get me on Good Morning America!

12pm – Rt.8
At a hotdog stand in the country I make small talk. A young man exclaims that he hasn’t seen hitchhikers since he used to hitchhike.

3pm – Interstate 90
I inquire at every toll booth along the way. No one looks at me strange. A female attendant says she sees them once and a while. Another man says, "Never. If they were, they'd probably get picked off."

4pm - Rt.301
With afternoon waning, I stop at a pumpkin farm. The pumpkins are categorically organized in rows in the front yard. Each row has a different price from 50¢ on up to $15. The old woman of the house introduces herself as Moohouse. She reveals that she used to get hitchhikers and hoboos coming down from the railroad yard (1/2 mile). This was 25 years ago. She deliveres this piece of information as if it is sensitive information and might be helpful. The pumpkins were grown by her son. Behind the rows, there is one gigantic pumpkin which sits on a palette. It is adorned with an FFA Blue Ribbon. Her grandson won the prize for the biggest pumpkin. It weighs 245 lbs!

SCENERY :
Gilboa, Resevoir, supplies NYC’s water, completed before 1920, connected to Penacton Resevoir
WEATHER : Lovely and warm
HITCHHIKERS : 0

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Day 3 : 10-10 : Downsville to Sherman's Dale, PA

REPORT
11am-2pm
- I start wondering if this is a bad idea.
230 PM - I spot two young women walking on Rt.370 about 2-mile from the small Catskill town, Hancock, NY. There are no trails, sidewalk, or pedestrian paths. Even though I'm an outsider, you can tell that these two are not from around here. They seem hesitant to get in the van. It turns out they had gotten lost. One of the girls is from Chicago and the other from St.Louis. The girl from St. Louis is in a movie which they are shooting nearby. The other is her cousin, and for the summer, her chaperon. I give them a lift back into town. (2 miles)
3pm - evening - No hitchhikers on back roads or the interstate.

WEATHER: Morning, Heavy fog; Warm afternoon & night
ROUTE CHANGE: Shrink and tighten trajectory of route
HITCHHIKERS : 2

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Day 4 : 10-11 : Sherman's Dale, PA

Day Off

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Day 5 : 10-12 : Sherman's Dale, PA to Butler, PA


REPORT
I begin the morning by stopping at an Applaichain Trail crossing. Having grown up near the trail, I know that hikers appreciate a ride when they can get one. I wait for 30 minutes while reading the newspaper. No luck. I drive to a KMart close to Camp Hill where I buy a compass and other niceties for the van. The compass should come in handy in western PA where some roads are not marked. The niceties include a drink holder, cigarettes, and an air freshener.

1130 AM - I head out on the road. Almost immediately, I spot a hitchhiker. His name is Charlie or Chuck. We ride together for about 15 miles. Along the way, I spot another hitchhiker. Charlie appears to be more or less homeless. He appreciates the cigarettes which I had just bought. I'm appreciative of the air freshener. He wants a lift to his sister's, some 100 miles North. This would take me off the Thumb. So I drop him off in Duncannon where our two roads split and then turn back for the other hitchhiker. His name is Dale and he's hitchhiked off and on for 25 years. He's a good companion and we drive together for 114 miles. Dale had been released from the hospital just one day earlier! A few days ago he thought he was having a heart attack outside of a bar. An ambulance was called and rushed him to the hospital. Now, only a few days later, he was back on the road with only a plastic bag of medicine and the clothes on his back. This time he was headed to a men's rehabilitation center more than 100 miles up the road. It had taken him nearly a day to travel about 8 miles. No one offered him a lift. He was an encyclopedia for hitchhiking stories. Along the way we stop for ice cream at Dairy Queen. After 2 hours, we reach his destination in Clearfield, PA. I then set out for Butler, PA. 

TIME : 830am to 8pm with 2 hours spent at KMart and parking lot
WEATHER : Lovely & warm
HITCHHIKERS : 2

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Day 6 : 10-13 : Butler, PA to Cumberland, MD

REPORT
After many nights in the van, I wake up in a hotel. After a shower and breakfast, I take the van for a wash. Perhaps a clean van will be both more attractive and comfortable for passengers. During the previous night, I had driven down a strip mall en route to my hotel when I spotted a woman. I pulled over with the best intentions. She did an abrubt 180 and walked way. If the van wasn't dirty, I sure felt that way.

During the day, I don't see any hitchhikers. At night, I park outside of Cumberland, MD. I'll go back into Cumberland in the morning.

TIME : 12pm to 8pm
WEATHER : Lovely & warm
HITCHHIKERS : 0

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Day 7 : 10-14 : Cumberland, MD to Clearfield, PA

REPORT
Again, no hitchhikers. I drive familiar roads not far from my hometown, but the weather is not ideal. Otherwise, I had expected to find at least a few. It was orchard country. Orchards typically employ migrant laborers who migrate from one job to the next. Unfortunately, it was also apple season. If it wasn't the weather, it's safe to say that everyone was busy. To break the monotony, I stop at the Adam's County Library on wheels. It's a big bus with a books inside and two pleasant librarians.

In the evening, my route takes me back to Clearfield, PA, the same town where I had taken Dale. This town completes the forefinger on the map. I have two things which I must do in while I'm here: 1) post newly printed signs advertising a free ride 2) drop off a drawing for Dale.

TIME : 8am to 8pm
WEATHER : Lovely autumn turns into rain and wind by noon
HITCHHIKERS : 0

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Day 8 : 10-15: Clearfield, PA to East Rochester, OH


REPORT
I visit Dale in the morning. The cops visit me a few minutes later. Around 1030 AM, I pull over on the outskirts of town to secure my video camera. A squad car pulls in front. Not thinking about the roll of black gaffers tape stretched between my hands, I step out to greet the officer. As I step forward a voice booms behind me to put my hands in the air. He repeats it again even though my partially tape-bound hands were already there. He approaches and directs me to put my hands on the van and keep them there. They go through the routine: frisk and search. While searching the van, he asks, "What's this between the seats, sir?!" I can't see between the seats, so I say, "I don't know, sir. Does it look like a remote control?" "Yes, sir!," he replies. And I respond, "Yes, sir, then it's remote control." Eventually the cheif of police arrives. I'm then permitted to enter the van and provide documents that detail my project and search. Apparently, the signs I posted the previous night raised supspicions in town. The second officer also told me, cryptically, that there had been some recent abductions.

After I leave, the weather improves and the country side turns beautiful. I eat a delicious lunch at the only restaurant in Pigeon, PA on Rt. 66. A little way down the road at 1245 PM, I pick up a friendly man named Jack. He had come to town to buy a part for his riding mower. He has me take him to his friend's, Jim's, hosue. He says that Jim can drive him the rest of the way home. He invites me in to meet his friend, Jim, and have a cup of coffee. But it turns out that Jim doesn't want to see him or us. Instead, he greets us at the door with his dog. So I drive Jack the rest of the way home. (5 miles)

Jack and I say good bye. The next 20 miles may or may not be on the map. They are logging roads North of Pigeon. My compass provideds reassurance. Deep into the forest, I come to a juvenile correctional facility. It's on Lynch Road off of Rt. 666, otherwise, in the dark heart of the woods.With the keys still in the ignition, I go into the office and ask for directions. Through the waiting room window, I spot someone getting into my van. It turns out to be a plain-clothed officer who was preventing a possible prison break. He scolds me and tosses me my keys.

At 530 PM, in New Castle, PA, I spot an older man, Lee, whose truck had broken down on the highway. I give him a lift to his home (4 miles).

TIME : 10am to 9pm
WEATHER : Cold, gray, windy morning turns into balmy, sunny, windy day
HITCHHIKERS : 2


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Day 9 : 10-16 : East Rochester, OH to Franklin, WV

REPORT
Central West Virginia is beautiful. I notice that most, if not all, houses have personal bus stops– 3-sided wooden shelters. At 1 PM, I pick up Delvin along Rt. 20 outside of Wallace, WV. We drive about 5 miles down to the Dola Dairy Mart.

TIME : 8am to 730pm
WEATHER : Lovely autumn
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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Day 10: 10-17 : Franklin, WV to Winchester, VA to Harrisonburg, VA

REPORT
Slow start, stop at a library to get in touch. Library in Franklin doesn't have an internet connection so I drive to Harrisonburg. Route 33 is nice, but no hitchhikers. Around 2:30 PM I focus. Almost immediately, I find a hitchhiker named Bill. Actually, Bill found me. Parked at a 7-11, he saw the "Need a Lift" sign on my van. We ride all of a quarter mile down to his house. The distance is just longer than a block. I then head to Skyline Drive, a national scenic highway running along the Blue Ridge moutains. I don't expect to find any hitchhikers, but possibly some hikers. A truly beautiful road with many more deer than pedestrians. Rain hurt my chances. By late afternoon, I reach Winchester where the forefinger meets the middle finger. I then double-back to Harrisonburg where the middle finger meets the ring finger.

At night, I stop at the Harrisonburg Truck Stop. I see a CB in the shop and decide that it could help my search. Many people hitch rides at truck stops. With a CB, I can inquire with truckers both at the stop and on the road. A trucker named Tim helps me hook it up.

TIME : 1230pm to 9pm
WEATHER : Cool and partly sunny in the morning growing darker through the day with rain starting at 5pm
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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Day 11 : 10-18 : Harrisonburg, VA to Richwood, WV

REPORT
I start the morning with my first inquiry over the CB. "Mornin' Drivers! I'm looking for hitchhikers! Is anyone looking for a lift going Southbound?" For 10 minutes, there is no response. Then I realize that the volume is turned to 0. Duh. I turn the dial and enter the middle of a conversation discussing what it is that I'm really looking for.

- "I don't know what that was. Sounds like that guy wears woman clothes!"
- "Sounds like some kind of mating call to me."
- "Yeah, some kind of Bill Clinton matin' call."

I leave the truckstop without any hitchhikers, but full of hope that the CB will come in handy. I reach Richwood, WV at 5 PM. A picture of the town does not describe it. It is an old mining town located in a small valley along Rt. 39. Houses sprawl out from the center and creep up the hills creating an illusion that it is much bigger than what it is. Today is Saturday and the town is half-closed. It will be undoubtedly closed tomorrow. On Monday, I won't be suprised if it is again only half-open. It makes me think about ghost towns even though it's not. The cashiers at the supermarket say that they often see hitchhikers.

At night, I drive a few miles out of town to a camp ground. A man in the site next to me speaks through a tube. I trade him a pumpkin for fire wood. I can't begin to tell you how many stars I see here.

TIME : 10am to 630pm
WEATHER : cold morning with sun, warming up by noon. lovely day
DISTANCE : 232mi.
HITCHHIKERS : 0

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Day 12 : 10-19 : Richwood, WV (Rt.55) to Belmont, OH to Centerville, OH (Rt.35)

REPORT
I am sad to leave Richwood. I've never been to a place like it. Before I leave town, I watch a few people who wait for a van to take them to church. Today's drive traces the ring finger. Rt. 36 between Richwood and Spencer is the curviest road of them all.

Around 1230 PM, I ask over the CB if anyone has seen any hitchhikers. One driver responds that perhaps the shopping mall will have a few. In the same moment, I spot the thumbs of Della and James. I pick them up outside of a McDonald's in Pomeroy, Ohio. Despite of 23 years of marriage, Della had left James 6 months ago. During the 6 months, she lived 6 miles away in Middleport. On this day, James and Della were reuniting. James had walked down to her, and now they were walking back. I drive them the rest of their way. Perhaps only by coincidence, we drive the ring finger together.

Later in the afternoon, I take a side trip to the state university in Athens, OH, and then roll to a truck stop along Rt.35. Hope to have some hitchhiker luck in the morning.

TIME : 8am to 930pm - long stop in Athens, OH
WEATHER : cold morning with sun, warming up by noon. lovely day
DISTANCE : 320mi.
HITCHHIKERS : 2

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Day 13 : 10-20 : Centerville, OH (Rt.35) to Shady Springs, WV


REPORT
I am always on a turn today. It is hard to find either flat or straight roads. Richwood was something, this is something else. I can't drive very far very fast. The roads play tricks on me. I get lost twice and realize it only after I am on the other side of a mountain. But each time I go off the path, I end up in an interesting place. Coal mines by the 100s, in and out of use.

The people are very friendly. I pick up two hitchhikers, Glen and Ronny, at different times and locations. They are both experienced hitchhikers. Hitchhiking seemed to thrive in this region, in fact. Glen is on his way to work. In addition to the ride, he takes me for 97¢. He also shows me where he saw a bear one week ago. Ronny is 18 and just out of high school. He says that he hitchhikes everyday to the school. That's where he's headed today.

In the late afternoon, mining truckers give me a hitchhiker scouting report: negative. They suggest going to the Interstate which is where I am already headed.

TIME : 8am to 8pm
WEATHER : cold crisp morning, lovely all day, clear skies
DISTANCE : 284mi.
HITCHHIKERS : 2

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Day 14 : 10-21 : Shady Springs, WV to Warm Springs, VA, to Pineville, WV to Wytheville, VA

REPORT
I spend the night at the Coast to Coast Motel. The attendant allows me to post a sign advertising a lift in their window. First thing in the morning Mike Meadows, caretaker of the hotel, finds me to offer tips for finding hitchhikers. I film him.

The roads today are largely country roads mixed in with a few tourist routes (going to ski resorts, hunting camps, rivers, etc.). At 130 PM, I come to Warm Springs where I had been just a few days before. This completes the pinky!

At 230 PM, I pick up Macking in Covington, VA. He is on his way to Foodland. Although he didn't expect it, he greatly appreciates the ride. He laughs for nearly the entire time.

The next line of the hand begins in Pineville, WV. To get there, I must drive the same craziness (Rt. 16 and Rt. 10) from the day before. It is nice to come back through. Like coal and Richwood, it was rich for hitchhikers. But on this day, I unfortunately did not find any.

TIME : 930am to 8pm
WEATHER : slightly over cast to sunny. windy and cool
DISTANCE : 307mi.
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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Day 15 : 10-22 : Wytheville, VA thru High Point and Raleigh, NC to Suffolk, VA

REPORT
Wake up at the Travel Center Truck Stop at the junction of I-77/I-81. I drive down the road very quickly over Interstates and State Highways to High Point, NC. High Point, excluding the immediate downtown, is a strip mall. A number of people wait at non-descript bus stops. But before I realized these are bus stops, I pull over for a man named Rick. He jumps in and we drive up Rt. 301 into downtown. From High Point, I quickly moved across to Raleigh and then swing up along the bottom of the hand through Northeastern North Carolina.

I talk a lot on the CB. My voice is starting to settle into the Southern drawl. I've been here long enough and I listen to deep fried chatter on the CB all the time.

After Raleigh, I drive through fields of cotton and Enfield, NC. I talk with Elmore, a peanut worker, who is walking down the road after work. He rarely sees hitchhikers. I offer him a lift, but he declines. The cotton and peanut fields are tremendous. This is a flat country, between Enfield and Murfreesboro, with a few small towns here and there. I can tell by the clouds in the sky and the flatness of the land that I'm getting very close to the coast. There is an amazing number of folks riding bikes, but no hitchhikers. After this stretch, I arrive at 930 PM in Suffolk without any signs of someone looking for a ride.

TIME : 1030 am to 930pm
WEATHER : windy and cold morning. skies absolutely clear with big clouds coming in the evening close to the coast
DISTANCE : 398mi.
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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Day 16 : 10-23 : Suffolk, VA to Dewey Beach, DE

REPORT
Not one hitchhiker during the day. Not many people who look as if they might want a ride at all. My route primarily traces a tourist route running up from Virginia Beach past Maryland's Eastern Shores to Rehobeth and Dewey Beach, DE. There's a cool air today.

After dinner, I stop for a tall man walking towards Rehobeth Beach about 5 miles further on Rt. 1. He is happy for a lift. He invites me to his hotel room. He likes the idea of my trip, but will not allow me to film or take his photo. I decline the hotel invitation. He offers me a drink of whiskey. I ask where he wants to go. He says to a party at his sister's, but can not tell me where his sister lives. I drop him off within site of my old friends, the police.

Spend the night in the van. First night of cold, winter coming. Tomorrow I'll hitch a ride on the Cape May Ferry. Looking forward to it.

TIME : 730am to 7pm with 3 hours spent in Virginia Beach
WEATHER : cool morning warming up slightly. clouds and cooler air coming in around noon. partly cloudy and breezy
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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Day 17 : 10-24 : Dewey Beach, DE to Brooklyn, NY


REPORT
Today is the last leg of the hand. It starts out great as the van hops aboard the Cape May ferry at Dewey Beach. On the other end, in Cape May, I quickly find two people needing a ride. The first, Raymond, spots me as I pull into Dunkin' Donuts. I take him to the dentist office. I agree to pick him up again at the same spot 15 minutes later. When I return Raymond is on the street with his thumb out. There is now a woman with him. Her name is Jenelle. I drive both to their respective homes and go on my way.

Driving is fast so I take a side trip to Atlantic City. I am hoping to find some free riders here, but that turns out not to be the case. So I continue up NJ's eastern shore until finally entering Staten Island. Someone honks their horn the second that I cross onto the island. No big deal, but I hadn't heard a car horn since leaving city 17 days ago. I keep my eyes open as I skirt the eastern side of the island. At last in Brooklyn, I drive by some businesses where I knew workers would be getting off. At Gilpin, Inc., I find two old friends, Peter and Craig, going in my direction. Both are artists who live only a few blocks from where the thumb began. So a few minutes after dropping them off, I arrive at where I started.

TIME : 730am to 530pm
WEATHER : cool morning warming up slightly. clouds and cooler air coming in around noon. partly cloudy and breezy
HITCHHIKERS : 1

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TRIP STATISTICS
Hitchhiker count:  19 (1.12/day) 
Days: 17
Miles driven together: 170 miles
Total miles: 3,847