Commerce, Georgia
December 16, 1998

On The Road (Still)
'World Traveler' Spends More Than Two Weeks
Camped On I-85 Exit Ramp Awaiting Ride To Next Stop
Gary Brinkman sat on the exit ramp at Banks Crossing for over three weeks, waiting for a ride. Brinkman, a native of Norway, said he spends his time "studying languages and the origin of man."

From just before Thanksgiving until last Thursday, Gary Dee Brinkman lived just off the southbound exit ramp onto Interstate 85 at Banks Crossing, where during the daylight hours he awaited a ride to his destination. At night, he camped just off the road.
If you saw Brinkman, sitting amid his luggage of two suitcases, a travel bag, duffel bags, eight or nine crates similar to those formerly used to carry milk bottles, an ice chest, a 10-gallon bucket and a couple of large water jugs, all painted a sort of blurred camouflage, you'd call him homeless.
If you looked at his attire, from the hard hat painted white with reflective tape and a flashlight upon it, to his multi-layer collection of shirts that includes two vests festooned with a multitude of implements, to his home-made all-weather boots, you'd be likely to brand Brinkman some kind of modern-day hobo.
You'd be wrong on both counts.
He's a "world citizen-traveler" stranded at Banks Crossing, but no stranger to the area.
"I've been here several times, but I've never been here this long," he said last Wednesday. "I've been here twice going north toward Virginia and this is my second time going south toward Alabama. And I've come through a couple of times going toward Athens or North Carolina."
Brinkman is home wherever he is at the moment, and one place is as good as the next. About 100 feet down the exit ramp, Brinkman would sit all day atop a chair he recently made, waiting for someone to give him a ride. A hand-lettered sign lists his destination as Atlanta. Earlier, it said Cartersville.
"I may change it to Gainesville to see if I can get a ride," he confessed. "Has something happened? I wonder what's made this different. Is there anything going on?"
He sat just below the DOT sign warning against pedestrians on the interstate. "I'm not a pedestrian," he pointed out. He knows just exactly where he can stay to remain within the law.
A discussion with the traveler shows he's educated; he can speak about hitchhiking laws in America and Europe, and his knowledge of geography and history gives credence to his claims to having visited 21 countries in 30 years of wandering, though his insistence that he has been involved in "foreign service" for the United States in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala requires a bit more faith. His English carries little accent, he says he can speak Spanish and read most European languages.
Brinkman, 50, says he is from Norway, but was given U.S. citizenship by the U.S. Nicaraguan Embassy as a reward for his service to the U.S. in trying to negotiate peace between the Sandinistas and the Contras. He is not allowed to talk about his foreign service, and says he has "top secret" security clearance. His education came "from many universities in many countries, in military schools and church schools," and he participated in a panel teaching about traveling at the University of Quebec.
As for his presence at Banks Crossing, the traveler is in the midst of a tour of the Southeast. It is his third trip to America and has lasted 10 years so far. Although he has had trouble getting a ride, he likes the area.
"It's nice. No one hassles me," he said.
It amazes him, though, that people see him as destitute.
"I know people think I'm starving to death, but I'm not," he says. "I don't know why people drive by and hand me a sandwich, but I take it, and I try to make them feel that they are appreciated. I've thrown away more food on this trip."
He does not ask for food nor money. He is not to be confused with the "will work for food" man who used to frequent the interchange and who actually just wanted money and not work. Brinkman buys groceries, clothing and equipment as needed, he says. He is deliberately vague about money, but said he has "learned to always look like I'm spending my last dollar."
Indeed, one might think his last dollar was spent months or years ago.
On Wednesday, he wore a baseball cap, a stocking cap and the hard hat, and yellow-lensed glasses. He sports a full beard and at least four, maybe five layers of shirts. Attached to his vest by straps, clasps or other devices, are four watches, a compass, flashlights and what appears to be a very miniature Bible. The pockets hold pens and pads, a pocket knife, and various slips of paper. Under his jacket is a two-way radio. Stretch cords hold various items in place, including two on each leg to hold his homemade rain boots (rubber from an inner tube super-glued to the top of old boots) at various levels. Pants and shirts all have many and large pockets.
That leads people to make assumptions and guesses about him. He says he's been pegged as an agent of the FBI and the CIA, as a drug dealer and a terrorist. He is rousted often by police, usually because citizens call. And while he thinks highly of the local officers, he confesses to being "sick of police in this country."
He is even less enthusiastic about store clerks. They have an "attitude," he says. He complained that while eating breakfast at the nearby Waffle House, "the waitress didn't think I had the money to pay for the meal." He talks of showing up at an all-night Wal-Mart in Mobile, AL, at about 4 a.m., intent upon purchasing $600 or more in clothing or equipment, only to be harassed by employees.
"In the Southeastern United states, people in stores are ruder than anyplace I've ever been. They are more open about it and more vulgar in what they say."
Brinkman says he has a case before the Alabama Supreme Court stemming from an incident in which he said someone tried to kill him by running him down. All of his gear was destroyed, and he sued for reimbursement, he says. The hand-written document to the court appears to rely heavily on his status as a "foreign service worker," but a call to the sheriff's department in Heflin confirms that "a drifter" matching Brinkman's description does indeed have a suit on file.
The traveler is prepared for any season. In the winter of '93 in New Hampshire, he was camping in the White Mountain National Forest and a citizen trudged through the snow to his camp with food and clothing, only to find Brinkman warm, cozy and quite content.
"He told me all of the churches in the community were praying for me," Brinkman noted. "I told him 'I never suffer; it's a policy of mine.'"
What does he do during the long days of awaiting a ride?
"I study places and people," he says. "I read my books on the origin of language and I have a study Bible."
Brinkman stopped short of saying he is a Christian. "I believe in what the King James version of the Bible has to teach," he explains, adding that anything more specific seems to encourage argument and debate.
His long wait ended Thursday. Brett Antwine and Chuck Ayers of Commerce Chrysler gave Brinkman a lift to Rome, luggage and all. But if the traveler continues his tour of the Southeast, chances are he'll show up again one day.