I’m not the poster girl for adventure. But when the dude in the karaoke bar told us that there was no way we could hitchhike from Osaka to Tokyo that was all we needed. “Not in Japan—definitely not girls,” he slurred, stumbling to the stage to scream Devo’s “Whip It.”
How could he know that by saying that, he had essentially turned our drunken idea into a challenge—a challenge that the three of us girls had to take? You see, the thing about girls that dudes just don’t get, is that nine times out of ten when the challenge is up, us gals are gonna take it. Even if it means ending up in the middle of Anywhere, Japan, right before dark, praying that anyone—save a mass murderer—stops and whisks us to Tokyo.
Getting to this point was easy. We caught rides with a generic-looking Japanese couple that wanted us to go to Kyoto with them. A family who looked like they were sponsored by Billabong. The green-haired-raver with his disco ball hanging from the rear view mirror, and the Japanese Leonardo Dicaprio in a lowered Nissan, blasting Celine Dion’s Titanic song. Our friend Leonardo, thought he was doing us a good deed by depositing us in the center of wind-blown tumbleweeds and confused drivers, kilometers from any sign of civilization.
We must look like a sight. An Asian-American hip-hopper, a New Jersey punk-rocker with pink hair, and moi—a combat-booted blond with a lot of teeth, holding out our thumbs, as the sun plays hide and seek behind the mountains. Thirsty and miles past starvation, Jenn, the effervescent punker decides to cross the intersection to ask the dudes in the truck stop to hook us up with a ride.
She screams, “There’s no way in hell that I am crashing on the side of this highway, with big-rigs blowing dust onto me all night.”
The beanie-hatted mechanic tells us we need a sign. His English perfect. His fingers reeking of oil. Retreating into the office, he appears minutes later with rice crackers and a foot-long sign written in Japanese characters. He claims the symbols read, “Tokyo”, bows, and stands watching as we frogger back to the north side of the freeway.
Our shadows, no longer visible, our sign held high over Sara’s head. Our hopes renewed, as a Ford, filled with guys, screeches to a halt. I pray our sign doesn’t say “mail order brides” as they laugh at Sara’s plea for a ride to Tokyo. Zooming off, trailing laughter and exhaust. Exhaust that tastes like the entire day. Leaving us hopeless, frustrated, exhausted.
None of us notices the stopped four-door sedan. Not until he whistles, waves, and swings open his door. We pile in before he can count to ten, using our fledgling Japanese to thank him. Giving up after realizing that his English is worse than our Japanese is, I breathe a sign of relief as the North Star wakes up.
The lights of Tokyo wake me around 2am. He stops on a hill in Rappongi, buys us fruit-flavored water and Snickers from a vending machine, drops our packs on the sidewalk, refuses money, and sails off. Leaving us, alone, in Tokyo. If only Karaoke guy could see us now, exhausted, famished, in Tokyo. It might have taken us 16 hours to hitchhike 250 miles of Japan—the fastest moving country in the world—but we made it, and we deserve a beer.
As we enter the empty Milwaukee Bar, Sara sleepily tells us, “Driver-guy was going to visit his parents a couple hours outside of Tokyo—but he couldn’t leave us in the middle of the night on the highway. Not American’s, he said, and definitely not girls.”
A note about the From the archives series. In order to show how a world traveler gets bitten by the travel bug early and continues her adventures with kids, I am digging up some of my early experiences from the road to share with you.