I did a lot of hitch-hiking around Shreveport before I got my learner’s permit and was able to drive my parent’s 1962 Buick Invicta station wagon. As a consequence, I’m probably lucky to be alive. Based on my experience, I can’t recommend thumbing rides; doing so was an absolute never-ever for my own children. While hitchhiking was something we did back in the day, due to the inherent dangers it has fallen out of favor. Does anyone hitchhike anymore?

When I first stuck my thumb out, usually to avoid the school bus or get to the strip mall three miles from our neighborhood, I thought it was cool. There was usually some friendly person to snag me off the curb, a free ride to wherever. Several times I actually knew the person who was picking me up.

But when I went off to study engineering at Yale in 1970 and started hitchhiking around New Haven, things changed. It had been decided at home that I would not need a personal vehicle at Yale, and I was fine with the decision. Many of my classmates were similarly without wheels, and getting around the academic enclave was not an unsurmountable obstacle.

But there were several instances where begging rides from an anonymous public backfired hard. Note: My column agreement with Liberty Island is that my work is supposed to skew toward humor. I don’t know how funny the following vignettes will strike readers, but it’s hard to be hysterical all the time. On highways and byways characterized by the good, the bad, and the ugly, I will add the miraculous. I will start with the bad.

*

I was hitching home from a night class when a prototypical Volkswagen Beetle stopped. In the driver’s seat was a grungy hippie with a straggly beard and a Native American dream-catcher hanging from his rear-view mirror. You wouldn’t think a patchouli oil-scented individual would have malign intent, so when he asked me if I wanted to smoke a joint, in the interest of holdover sixties camaraderie I agreed.  The joint didn’t taste anything like any marijuana I’d ever smoked, and the effects after only one hit were immediately devastating.

I felt as if I was submerged in putrid water, and the franchise strip we drove down lost all distinguishing characteristics. I looked over at my driver and he had become a grotesque ghoul.

“That’s…not…pot,” I managed.

“No man, it’s PCP,” I heard him reply. I could not decipher whether he thought he was doing me a favor or trying to fuck me up. I would find out later that I had been dosed with animal tranquilizer.

It was the textbook “bad high.” As we drove along, I was paralyzed, and it seemed as if the hippie (in retrospect probably a low-life wanna-be) was darkly amused by my intoxicated state. I could be wrong about this; my perceptions had become separated from any semblance of linear reality. Finally, he said, “I have to turn off here, have to drop you off.” Looking back, I understand now that he feared that I was going to pass out in his car. He didn’t want that.

As I got out of the car, the world was swimming around me. Vehicles were lighted beasts, department stores looming windowless edifices. For the life of me I could not figure out which direction on the garish arterial would lead me home. At some point I thought I saw a New Haven PD squad car roll past, but cannot be sure.

Behind me was a low-rise grass berm that I would eventually come down enough to realize was part of the landscaping at a Shell service station. I climbed up, sat down in the grass, leaned back against the sign pole, sucking in great draughts of reasonably fresh air, until slowly, in shadowy increments, my sensibility returned.

I walked home, two miles, and fell into bed.

*

Good? Other than lots of blessedly uneventful rides, there was only one really good one. Actually, it was great.

Anyone familiar with the Eagle’s classic song “Take It Easy” knows that the second verse mentions a dude standing on a street corner and incudes the lyric, “It’s a girl my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.”

That happened to me once while hitchhiking. It was not a Ford the woman was driving, but an old Volvo. She stopped and picked me up.

It was late spring, a crisp, warm, sunny day, and youthful sap was rising all over the Yale campus. I was hitching downtown to a used textbook bookshop having located a hard-to-find volume required for one of my classes.

She was honey-blond with the part in the middle, and a halter-top knotted under a pair of bra-less and agreeably pendulous breasts. There were lots of proto-feminists on the campus in those days, but “Holly” seemed the perfect antithesis of a Gloria Steinem ball-buster. She was friendly, asked where I was headed, and proceeded to joke around in a flirtatious manner.

I was more than receptive, and we agreed that after she’d dropped me at the bookshop and she’d run her errand to pick up some wired cash from Western Union, that we would meet back up and have a drink together. Yes. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been if “Take It Easy” had randomly come into rotation on the Volvo’s radio.

I jokingly stuck my thumb out in front of the bookstore as she cruised up, and she stopped again, laughing. Over Tequila Sunrises at a local fern bar we became ever more entangled. I imagine that some of our fellow patrons were thinking, “Get a room, already.”

Holly must have come from decent money because her place was a nice one-bedroom apartment just off-campus with a picture-window view of Harkness Tower.

Writing sex, as every writer knows, can be perilous, and have exactly the opposite the intended effect, respectable literary eroticism. OK, so I had drunk two Sunrises. Our first go-round was nothing to write home about. Holly was cool, and lit a joint, a real joint.

Our second interlude was not just good, it was great. That honey-blond hair? You guessed it, natural.

As dusk fell upon her formerly-sloshing waterbed, she claimed a night class—her major was psychology, of course—and we parted after exchanging phone numbers and noncommittal early-70s-style promises to meet again.

I called her number a few times, no answering machine, just endless rings, and then stopped trying. That’s the way things rolled back then. Holly would henceforth and forever be the “take it easy” girl, and I figured, “easy come, easy go.”

I continued to hitchhike.

Next month: Hitch-Hike Baby: The Ugly and the Miraculous

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Check out the previous adventures of Carlos Stranger:

Part 1: Back in the Saddle

Part 2: I Am Joe’s Elevated PSA

Part 3: Driving Toward Gomorrah

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Photo by Wild0ne (Pixabay)