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
PATIENCE A VIRTUE:
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
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
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,"
It amazes him, though, that people see him
"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
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
"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.