A backpack filled with clothes, a tobacco roller and a box of raisins are among the few things Ray Hatch brought when he embarked on a cross-country road trip in the early ‘60s.
With less than 30 dollars in his pocket, Hatch hitchhiked from Austin to New York City, stopping only for food and to sleep on the side of the road. Hatch is now a San Marcos resident who plans on self-publishing a novel detailing his experiences in New York and abroad.
EC: Why did you decide to hitchhike across the country on your own?
RH: For one thing, I really wanted to go to New York. I was off to see the world but didn’t have any money. I left Austin with 28 dollars. In those days, it wasn’t difficult to find a room in lower Manhattan that was only 8 dollars a week. I wasn’t looking for a career. I just wanted to work. I went to school in Austin, but I wasn’t really going anywhere with my education. I was living with my mother and sister before I left for New York. I needed to get out. My part-time job was selling encyclopedias from door to door. I met a lot of interesting characters that way. I learned that it’s not necessary to have a college degree to live an interesting life. When you’re young and adventurous, it’s all about the trip.
EC: Did you begin writing soon after your trip to New York?
RH: I’d hitchhiked the previous summer to Chicago. I had read Kerouac’s “On The Road.” It didn’t have much influence on my trip to New York, but it did have an impact on the generation at the time. Lots of young people were going on such journeys. I attempted to write my first novel in my twenties, but I couldn’t finish it. I didn’t start writing books until I was a little older, when I quit drinking and started taking my work seriously. Writing is all about life experience.
EC: Could you tell me a little bit about the book you’re writing?
RH: I’m working on a novel now detailing my travel experiences, particularly in New York. It’s been difficult because sometimes when you write about your past experiences, you change things and confuse fiction with reality.
EC: Where else have you traveled?
RH: My girlfriend at the time and I traveled abroad. We visited Europe and eventually moved to a Greek island for about a year. We didn’t like where the country was going due to the Vietnam War, though I wasn’t at risk of being drafted, since I’d served 2 years in the Navy. I tried writing on the island, but I felt disillusioned. I had a lot of fun, but I didn’t accomplish much. My life has been anything but stable.
EC: What was the New York scene like in the early ‘60s?
RH: New York was at the end of the bohemian scene. Jazz was all the rage, and bar life was common. The hippie movement and counterculture didn’t start until later. I was able to adapt to both. The bohemian life was much more intellectual. Everybody read and held their own in village bars. People started wearing costumes in the hippie movement. Bohemian life didn’t involve a lot of facial hair or drugs. Bohemians didn’t strive to look different—they wanted to be different. As for me, New York bars were my graduate school.
EC: Would you recommend people in their twenties to take similar risks and travel?
RH: I visited New York last year. When you get older and go back to places of your youth, it’s nostalgic in some ways, but it can also be very disturbing. I was there as a young person, but now it seems there are more young people living in New York. I’m glad it’s there for your generation, but it’s not the same. I don’t know if I would recommend hitchhiking these days, but I still recommend going to New York. Don’t wait for it to happen because it won’t. You need to make it happen.