JIM CREES: Hitchhiking and Captain Kangaroo

While watching a TV program the other evening, the host mentioned hitchhiking to the beach when he was young. What may have been odd to some viewers was the fact he told his folks he was going to do so and they answered, “Have fun!”

It’s one of those things, I guess, just another one of those adventures young people today will probably never enjoy. They can’t. The world has changed that much... and that quickly.

When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, I hitchhiked everywhere.

I hitchhiked from high school to work at the butcher and bakery shop a couple or three miles away. I always got a ride and was never late to work!

And I never had “a problem.”

I hitchhiked to my girlfriend’s house and home again.

I never walked. I never took a bus.

I hitchhiked.

I doubt I could do it today and I would’ve screamed if my kids were hitchhiking when they were in school.

I hitchhiked all over the country... and beyond. Overseas, hitchhiking is often called “tramping” as in “I’m going to tramp to Athens.”

I hitched to Churchill, Manitoba. (It’s a long story — and it wasn’t all by car!)

I hitchhiked to Brownsville, Texas. (It’s a long story, too!)

Heck! My wife hitchhiked to the hospital to give birth to our son. (That’s an even longer story, but 100 percent true!)

I hitched through the deep south when things weren’t exactly... um...healthy for long-haired hippie kids. I never had a problem.

The longest single hitch I had was from Dallas, Texas, to Ann Arbor. One ride!!! This was with a captain in the Navy, his wife and their baby! He was traveling to Ann Arbor to get some advanced degree in mathematics. I helped with the driving.

And then... I met Captain Kangaroo.

Once upon a time I left home thinking it would be cool to hike through Texas. Why? No idea.

I ended up hitchhiking in Arlington, outside of Dallas, thinking to head south.

An older gentleman in a HUGE Cadillac picked me up and began questioning me. “Where are you going?” “Why are you hitchhiking?” “Do your parents know where you are?” “Do you think your mom is worried?”

And then he took me home.

Not THAT kind of “took me home.” He was simply a good, decent, God-fearing man.

Turns out, this gentlemen owned a cardboard carton factory in Dallas and was simply rolling in dough. He took me to a stunning home outside Dallas where his wife greeted me like a long-lost son. She made me food and took all my grubby clothes to be laundered. They gave me a room with my own bath and shower — for six days!

This wonderful couple had a son who was severely challenged — cognitively and physically. He was 22 years old but had the capacity of a 3 or 4-year-old, and was completely wheelchair-bound. In their backyard they had a huge swimming pool — much bigger than any standard pool. It sloped gently down from one end so they could wheel their son into the water while in his chair.

They were devoted to this kid. It’s odd, but they never thought it strange to bring a complete stranger into their home for a week with all they had going on in their lives.

One morning, I walked out of “my” room and headed into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

There, sitting at the kitchen table, was Captain Kangaroo.

THE Captain Kangaroo... Bob Keeshan... in full dress uniform, enjoying his morning newspaper, a cuppa joe and a smoke. (I later read the Captain quit smoking following a heart attack!)

I was poleaxed. I couldn’t move.

The Captain looked up and said, “Good morning.” That’s all.

I was confused.

Turns out the couple’s son was absolutely gaga about Captain Kangaroo. This was a couple with BIG money, so two or three times a year they would hire Captain Kangaroo to visit their home for weekend and just be around the house and visit with their son.

It was amazing. Captain Kangaroo just “dropped by” to visit his buddy a couple times a year.

So... I met the good Captain. The real, bonafide, original, one-and-only Captain Kangaroo. We enjoyed lemonade by the pool. Had some HUGE ham sandwiches.

And then he was gone.

It was surreal.

The time also came for me to hit the road, much to my hosts’ chagrin. They thought they were letting my parents down by allowing me to continue my hitchhiking.

The morning I left, the man took me aside and handed me a silver dollar. He asked me to always keep this silver dollar with me — for as long as I still had faith in humanity.

It was a very touching gesture. I kept that silver dollar for a lot of years. A long time.

I don’t have it anymore. Hmmmmmmmm...

Times have changed.

Kids really can’t hitchhike anymore.

So... they’ll never wake up in the morning to Captain Kangaroo in the kitchen, or anyone else as cool as he was for that matter.