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The Cross Country Adventure: Igor and Me
My dad, Sean Mobley, is probably the most experienced person I know (in the ways of life, I mean). Not too many people could have survived what he has. No, he’s not a war veteran. And no, he’s not physically scarred (too much) from his ordeals. He claims he is talking to me right now because of sheer Mobley attitude. I believe him. Because my dad is not a big man. At 5’10” and 150 pounds, it would just have to be attitude that got him to the other side of the country and back with nothing but a blanket and a dog. Here is a slightly (did I say slightly? I meant hugely) condensed version of his story.
“I was a few years out of high school, still hanging around my mom’s house a little bit. My mom’s cousin David, my second cousin, who was a Vietnam vet, moved in. We had a lot of fights, many ending in violence. Needless to say, we didn’t get along very well, so I moved out. I hitchhiked to Arizona, and stayed with a friend, Michael Lindenmire.
“I worked with him for a little while, but got a little bored, so I decided to go visit a lady friend of mine in New Hampshire. I traded Mike a pair of steel-toed boots for a thick wool blanket (which I later turned into a poncho), and left Phoenix with my 9-month-old puppy, Igor. It was January 1983. I was 21 years old. Slowly I hitchhiked my way across the country. I had close to no money and very little gear: a wool poncho, a tomahawk, a few clothes, and $20 or $30. Igor and I ate what we could, and spent many nights out in the cold January weather.
“One night in Indiana, at an entrance ramp on I-70, a car pulled over about 100 yards past us. Igor knew the routine by now, so he ran up to the car and jumped up against the window, scaring the people inside. After I finished apologizing they offered me a ride. They were a young black couple from the Air Force academy in Colorado Springs on their way home to the Bronx, New York to see family. They had about as much money as I did, and between the three of us, we barely made it past the tollbooths on the highway. In the middle of the Bronx, the couple exchanged a glance and murmured something about me “not being welcome in their parents’ house.” I understood, having grown up in the middle of Denver. I thanked them for the ride, and they drove off.
“By now, it was one or two in the morning, bitterly cold and snowing. Igor and I started walking, attracting stunned glances from the homeless, and others. I asked a couple of people for directions to I-95, and eventually found it. We slept in a gully close to the highway, waiting for sunlight, almost freezing to death. First thing in the morning after an altercation with a cop who “never wanted to see me on this road again, or it’s jail for you, mister,” (only not that polite) I got a ride to Tolland, Connecticut. By pure bad luck, I ran into another cop. He also threatened me with imprisonment, so I called Eric, a friend of mine from Massachusetts.
“I waited for Eric outside of an Italian restaurant. While I was sitting on a curb outside of the restaurant, a lady came out and asked, “Honey, are you hungry? I’ve been watching you for about two hours, and you sure look cold!” (It had been snowing hard for a while). With that, she handed me a huge plate of Italian food and went back inside before I could thank her. Igor and I split the food, but I was so blown away by the kindness that I barely tasted it (although whatever I did taste was amazing). I had been living the past couple weeks watching people pass me by or curse at me when I asked for directions that I had forgotten there really are people who care.
“ Well, Eric picked me up and I went to New Hampshire to see the girl who started this whole adventure for me, but she had a boyfriend. This boyfriend wasn’t all that happy to see me, so there was nothing to do but go back to Colorado.
“The journey back home took seven days. There were some nights where we sat, shivering with cold, watching the sun go down, thinking, “God, will I see tomorrow?”
“One of these nights was outside of Kansas City on an entrance ramp. I was about to put my thumb down for the night when a truck pulled up and asked me where I was headed. I told him and was about to get in with him when a sedan pulled up behind his truck and honked. I asked the man to hold on for a moment and walked over to the sedan. Inside was an elderly couple. They asked me if I was ok, gave me a Jehovah’s Witness folder, and drove off. I shrugged and got into the first man’s truck. About 100 miles later I looked in the folder. On top of all the papers was a $20 bill. Once again, I was awed at the kindness of total strangers.
“A couple of days after that, Iggy and I slept under an overpass on I-70. The air was a frigid 30 degrees below zero and the shelf we shivered on was a solid ice blanket. Half a mile away was a gas station, long since closed for the night. Igor and I huddled under my poncho and barely survived the night. The cold ceased to be a condition and became an enemy. An enemy who was winning the fight. I don’t know how I survived that night. What really blows my mind is that I never got frostbitten. God know I tried, but I think my attitude prevented it.
“Anyway, the next morning, the dog and I crawled to the gas station. Neither of us could manage to walk from the cold and lack of food. I knocked on the door of the gas station, which was still closed. The clerk raised his head casually, and then all the blood drained from his face. He sprinted to the door and gasped, “My God, you’re still out here! I saw you last night on my way home!” He bundled Igor and me into a back room, cranked the heat up and fed us a huge breakfast. I thanked him heartily and continued home.
“I made it back to Denver weighing 117 pounds, down from 130. The first night in my hometown I was going to spend in a park, but a police officer saw me and took me home, at probably 3 in the morning. He knocked on the door of my mom’s house. David answered drowsily. When he saw me with the cop, he shouted for my mom. She was sure surprised to see me 15 pounds underweight and in the company of a police officer (but still cute). The cop bade us good night, and we traded stories, me with a big plate of food.”
And that is my dad’s story. Of course, he assures me that there are plenty more. This is only a fraction of the 30,000 miles of hitchhiking he has done. When I ask him what the experience did for him, what he learned, he replies: “I’ve been to the very bottom, at a life or death point, everything against me, but I got through it. Actually my attitude got me through it. I feel like I can get through anything now. I am comfortable with who I am. How else do you think I could do what I do?” (He is a welder that can build anything, from multi-dozen ton rock crushers to Ferris wheels; an artist; the backbone of the local band, The Rhythm of The Dons; and a tracker). Customarily, my dad grins and adds, “and 20 years later, I’m still cute!”