Remember when hitchhiking was kinda the norm? Back in the early '70s? I do. Seemingly safe? With a keen sense of awareness, what could go wrong?
This story comes from Sam, an old pal. Quick-witted, just like his entire family, and a funny guy. A fantastic basketball play during our teen years. Thank you, Sam, aka Slats, for sharing your story!
Here is Sam's story.
When I told my dad I was leaving in the morning to hitchhike across the country, from the New York area to California. He peered over his newspaper, glasses below the bridge of his nose, and like so many dads, back then, said: That's nice, have a good time.
My story begins, hitchhiking on US-101 in California with my friend Dewight. We could not catch a ride. In California? Of all places? There had to be a better way. So, we decided to split up. I decided to take Route 5 instead of the 101. DeWight, on the other hand, felt confident and kept his thumb out on the 101. That was DeWight's choice, to stay on the 101, not mine. We decided to meet up again in Eugene, Oregon. My older and very cool sister, Vicky, lived in Eugene. I was excited to see her.
Now I am on Route 5 and slowly making my way through California, catching rides here and there. Thinking the Route 5 Californians are much cooler than the 101 ers. While Dewight was still stuck hangin with the Redwoods on the 101, I was making good time on Route 5.
The sun had set, it was getting dark, quiet, no cars, and then out of nowhere, suddenly, a car pulled over. As I opened the truck, I simultaneously grabbed the strap of my backpack off my shoulder. I looped it in the trunk, a little airborne, with a bit of whirl and the body motion of a basketball half-hook shot. I got in.
The car, an old compact beat-up convertible with three roughneck dudes inside, room for one more, me with my thin six foot four frame. So, what do you do when you are hitchin a ride? You make small talk, and you learn something. I quickly realized these guys are sketchy. All three needed to bounce from California to avoid arrest warrants. Who knows what kind of warrants? They began the conversation, "Hey, you got money for gas?" Back then, not unusual to start a conversation this way when picking up a hitchhiker. (As a matter of fact, this was part of the incentive to pick up a hitchhiker) Their final stop, they claimed, was Ashland. Ashland is about 200 miles south of my sister's place in Eugene.
Within minutes of small talk, chatter, I realized these guys wanted to steal my belongings. I had to come up with a plan, freakin quickly. Hmmm, I know! I'll pretend I'm one of them! So, I made up a story and said: I am here because I'm on the run, I've been falsely accused of being a felony! Or something close to that.
LOL What a teenager's imagination, huh? I still can't believe I blurted out of my mouth.
(Do you believe there is a 16-year-old in today's world with this type of gumption? How times have changed.)
I could see a gas station up ahead and with more luck on my side. I declared, "Pullover, I've gotta hit the head, and full tank of gas on me!" I said with a big smile and a loud happy tone in my voice. I knew up the ante was an excellent incentive for them to stop. A full tank of gas should do the trick.
It's all set. We pulled up to the pump. I couldn't get out of that car fast enough, walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk; low and behold, backpacks crammed inside this little car trunk. I was so freaked out; who knows, it could have been twenty? Who cares? I reached in, grabbed my backpack. Casually walked inside the gas station and said to the attendant, "I hitched a ride with these guys, and now they wanted to rob me.
So the attendant let me sit put inside the station. I sat in "my chair," my safe place, while posing in that chair for a glued eternity.
It was the hustle and bustle, busy gas station. People everywhere! I sat and watched my new colleagues, the three criminals, sell the belongings owned by previous fellow hitchhikers.
"Staying here, change of plans," I said. They knew that I knew, that they knew, that I knew...(lol) Finally, the "warrant guys" got in that little convertible, and off they went. Man, was I was relieved.
It's getting dark, I've already had a hell-of-a-day (I'm a little freaked), and now I gotta figure out where to camp for the night. Looking out the gas station window, thinking of nothing, absolutely nothing, like men are capable of doing, suddenly, I see this old Dodge Rambler pull into the gas station.
Remember those cars? The Dodge Rambler? I remained glued to "My Chair." Still, with blank brain waiting patiently for it all to kick back in, as luck would have it, the driver of the Dodge Rambler walks in. A weathered traveler guy, and as he is stood at the cash register, and I still unnerved, mustered up the courage and asked if he was headed north? "Can I get a ride?" I asked. He said: "Sure, only if you can drive three on the tree" (That means a stick shift on the column) "Yep, sure can."
As small talk would have it, the Little Dodge Rambler guy told me he was from Texas & was headed to Alaska to work on the pipeline. I'm driving the three on the column now. He said to wake him when we got to Eugene. I was never so happy in my whole life. I felt safe. As that old Dodge Rambler headed up some steep inclines, chugged along, I prayed it wasn't gonna stall out.
I made Eugene two days before Dewight, which made my experience worthwhile. :)
Ah, to be a teenager and recall these stories now as a Seenager.
We all have stories. Isn't it time you share them here? It is, isn't it :) Let's share them! I'll do all the heavy lifting. Please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org