Red Ford, also known as Frank Redford, stands out. Literally, he stands 6 foot 7 inches tall. “Two meters if you’re from Canada or anywhere else in the world,” he says.
He fashioned his road name after his first car, a red Ford Mustang. “I like Fords,” he says with sort of a shrug and tee hee scrunch of his nose. At the moment, however, he has no car, Ford or otherwise. In 2005 he sold his motorcycle, and he told his fraternity brother/business partner to take over their Ocean City, Maryland house as well as the business, a little yacht club with a “triple f*ck lease,” where they paid rent, taxes, and upkeep for the building.
Knowing his fraternity and business background, I’m not surprised that Red Ford double-whammies me with bad boy stories told in the kind of commanding voice you need in order to be heard in either a frat house or a restaurant kitchen.
“I like cooking,” he says. “It’s easy, and there are drugs and young women.” He shrugs and gives me the tee hee scrunch again.
After 20 years in the business, buying restaurants, revamping and making them profitable, then selling them, the 39-year-old burned out. In March 2005 he was hiking, “just walking,” on his way from Maryland to visit family in North Carolina, when he saw an elderly couple in their car broken down on the road. No one was helping this couple, who, it turned out, had been married 80 years. So Frank Redford changed their tire, and they insisted on giving him a ride. An off-duty cop gave him the second ride on what was to become a life-changing trip.
The next to pull over for Redford was a corn-rowed African American guy, who turned out to be a bounty hunter: “Incredible stories.” After the bounty hunter came a man who worked at a camp for blind children. “I thought that was so cool,” Redford says, nose-scrunching. “Cool! Blind kids playing in the woods!”
At a truck stop on the Maryland/Virginia border, a trucker was amazed to see someone thumbing a ride. “People still hitchhike?” the trucker asked.
“The next thing I knew, I was two weeks south, in West Palm Beach, then another two weeks to San Diego, and another two weeks to Eureka (Calif.),” Redford says. “I was still learning (how to hitchhike) as I was going.”
From Eureka, it took him 13 days to return to Maryland, his starting place. After two months on the road, he returned to the restaurant he had been running for eight years. “It was two months later,” he says. “But I was right back in the middle of the same conversation.” The restaurant was the same, same, same. But Redford had been living on the road, which was different. Every day, different, different, different.
In May 2005, he took out a coin and asked God for a sign: “Heads, I go north. Tails, I go back to my old life.”
Red Ford has been on the road ever since.