Like Red Ford (see Stuff that people give), Rex Ingram, aka Scrappy, hitched to the New Year’s Hitchhiker Happening at Slab City. He thumbed his way from Chino Valley, Ariz., where he lives in a camper.
“I think hitchhiking is pretty aces,” he says. “It gets you where you want to go, and it allows you to meet the cream of the crop.”
I thank Rex for letting me draw him away from the hitchhiker campfire. “We’re all servants supposed to be helping each other,” he replies, sitting in the camp chair I’ve pulled up for him. He’s wearing jeans, a bright red shirt, and a copper cross on a leather cord around his neck. Reading glasses perch on his nose, which is shaded by his black cowboy hat. He chews on a toothpick.
Rex has been hitching ever since he was 17. “Some guy breezing through” talked him into hitching to Crater Lake from Central Point, Oreg. Now, 41 years later, he has hitchhiked “enough to where it’s habitually the same, yet different every time.” His digihitch.com profile says his main interests in life revolve around traveling. He has been to all 50 states and 15 countries, including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico several times.
Rex hitchhiked during his tour of duty in Vietnam, too. “As a U.S. Marine grunt (infantryman) stationed up north on the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) in Nam, life had its ups and downs. One of the ups was that when you were able to be freed up from any duty, you could get around on your thumb, because, who was afraid to pick you up? Everyone had a rifle or a gun on them … ,” he writes on digihitch.com. “I once had a full cast on my leg from my thigh to my ankle for 3 weeks, and was on crutches for 2 weeks afterwards. During this time of no-duty I was just ignored and expected only to keep out of the way. I used that time to ferry around the northern part of the country on helicopters … To get on one only took a signature on the manifest and standing in line.”
“The biggest exercise in hitching is that of patience,” the 58-year-old Vietnam vet says. Four days is the longest wait he’s had to endure. The ride that finally delivered him from the black hole of Barstow, Calif., was worth the wait. He says he even gave that driver the idea for an invention. The driver told him, “I’d have picked you up sooner but I didn’t get there until then.”
I ask Rex why hitch when he has other, more dependable options for travel. “I choose to hitch because of the people I meet,” he says, “and for its cheapness (moneywise). But mostly, because I am able to touch the lives of my rides in a positive way, where no other way would I have ever run across these good people. It is also instructive in all of life’s lessons, from the extremely bad to the extremely good.”
To protect himself from the bad, he uses his “mouth rather than the sword.” When he runs across folks “with stern comments,” he tries to smooth the situation if possible. “But some things need aggravating,” he says, twisting the toothpick between his lips.
Like Red Ford, Rex “Scrappy” Ingram has a strong faith. He believes we go the way we’re scheduled to go: “If you can squish the life out of me, then that’s the way I was supposed to go.” But he also believes that while we’re here, we’re in charge of our own quality of life, our own happiness or misery.
“You make your own movie,” he says, pointing his toothpick at me. “You are your own cameraman, fall guy, hero. The control is there inside each person. That’s the beauty of it.”