There's a maxim about how getting there is half the fun, and for our trip to Kingston, it holds true. Alison tells me that although hitchhiking is illegal, we'll probably only have to pay a fine if we get picked up by the police. Round-trip Greyhound bus fare to Kingston costs 90 bucks, and she doesn't know how much the fine is.
We take the TTC all the way to McCowan and keep moving east, out of the mall to the streets and toward the highway. We walk onto the snowy ground next to the on ramp and stick out our thumbs.
My socks are already wet. Alison tells me to put my hair down. In five minutes we have our first ride, with a construction worker in a Dodge pickup truck heading toward Markham along the 401.
Near Markham, we get another ride right away from a young guy who blasts dance music too loud to talk over. From his glove compartment he pulls a Polaroid of his girlfriend lounging against the hood of his old car. He yells to us about how much he loved his old car.
He drops us near Oshawa, where we have to wait. My feet begin to freeze. There's only a trickle of traffic. Finally, a family in a minivan pulls up and we get into the far back seat behind two little kids in booster seats who won't talk to us or look us in the eye.
They've picked us up to save us from perverts, the mother tells us. Hitchhiking is dangerous, especially for two young women. The father asks us about our lives in Toronto. When we tell him we're U of T students, he doesn't believe us. He asks us the name of the university president, and when we can't come up with it he nods his head knowingly.
I lean my forehead against the cold glass of the window, staring at a view of naked tree limbs, pencil-lead grey sky and old snow. When I open the window to stave off my car sickness - and to taste the country air - the mother tells me to close it. I get to taste the air when we're dropped by the side of the highway.
The next ride's a woman who talks a lot. She works on a military base. She's had bad boyfriends. I have to look interested because I'm sitting in the front seat. In the back, Alison slips on her Discman earphones.
The driver complains about her commute, her shitty car, the quality of her most recent haircut. She doesn't ask us any questions.
An empty school bus from the Brighton school board picks us up next. It smells like elementary school: wet boots, packed lunches and heated air.
Our last ride's in an oversized Silverado SS pickup truck. The driver says he travels a lot for business but won't tell us what his business is. He's overly friendly and has hairy hands with big knuckles that look incongruous wrapped around the expensive leather steering wheel. He says he'll drive us right into downtown Kingston. We ask him to drop us off at the Lone Star Texas Grill because Alison has a friend who works there.
As we cruise into town, he tells a homophobic joke. I wait for Alison to tell him off, but she doesn't. We both just sit quietly, feeling awkward. After all, it is a free ride.