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Hitchhiking to California

Robert Phillips; Santa Rosa, California

To the right is a photo of me when I was in the iron lung in the mid-1950s and a photo of me with my cap gun after I stopped using both the iron lung and the device my mother called a “tortoise shell.”

Since then I have done quite a few things that the doctors told me I was crazy to even think about let alone to actually do. I had the distinction of being the first disabled student to go to Madison High School in Madison, Ohio.

In 1976, I was a student in Columbus, Ohio at the Ohio Institute of Technology (OIT). During the year of 1977, I decided with the help of a little Jack Daniels to try and hitchhike just to see if I could. I had a bet with a friend of mine at OIT that I could make it from Columbus to Cincinnati. When I got to my location, it was raining so hard that I called my friend and told him I would let him know where to send me the 20 bucks. A week and a half later, I called him from Phoenix, Arizona, and, as promised, he sent me the $20. Once I realized that I could travel around the country by thumb, I decided to continue and by the time the year was over I had hitchhiked to all the states except for Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii ( I had made arrangements to be a passenger on a freighter but got dropped at the last moment). I went back east and worked for about three months with my father at the horse race track where he worked (I cleaned harnesses for about $15-$20 a harness).

I then decided (again by hitchhiking) to head for Galveston, Texas, where I heard that there was a job available working for Ball Corporation (I had worked for them at the ball rubber plant in Chardon, Ohio, until I discovered I had a very bad allergy to talc). I made it as far as Wichita, Kansas, and again ran into heavy rain. So the people I was riding with from Pennsylvania to Wichita offered to let me continue on to California with them. I landed in Petaluma and did not want to stay there, so I moved to Santa Rosa, California, where I've been living ever since.

While living in Santa Rosa, I joined the California state military reserves as a communications operator. I was with them for a period of 12 years and three months, and 10 years of that was spent on temporary duty assignment with the 5/79th engineers headquartered at the Santa Rosa National Guard Armory. I have also served as a communications officer in the civil air patrol, an auxiliary of the United States Air Force. I served with them from 1984 until July 31, 2011, when I retired due to loss of muscle strength and control - just to name a few problems that cropped up.

This is just a bit of information about my past, so when people act as if I am not capable of doing anything due to my disability, there is documented proof should they wish to look it up. Also, I believe this shows others with disabilities not to let friends or family convince them that they cannot do much because of their disability! This was not my intention when I did all of this. I did it mostly because I wanted to help people, and the reserves and civil air patrol were good areas where I could exercise my rights.

A Travelers Tale! by Robert Phillips is now available as an ebook from Amazon.


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