Several weeks ago I experienced the ride of my life. Or, I should say “rides” of my life, as I dared myself to get up early on a Sunday and hitchhike as far as I comfortably could. Then try to return home (in one piece) within 24 hours using just my thumb.
I’m sure your parents stressed till blue in the face that hitchhiking was stupid and dangerous. That weird, deranged people roamed the highways and byways looking for innocent kids with backpacks and signs that read “Los Angeles or bust.” “You’ll wind up dead in a dumpster someplace,” my mom used to say. Perhaps. But I think mother just watched too much late night national news.
Anyway, I packed drinks and high-energy snacks and fruit. Put some cash in my pocket, and went in nontypical hitcher fashion. Instead of looking scruffy with jeans and boots, bandana and backpack, I donned slacks, and a suit and tie. Albeit with running shoes. I packed all my stuff in a briefcase; I figured people would be more apt to pick me up if I wasn’t looking down and out.
It worked. Within two miles an elderly couple in a Chevy Traverse stopped. “Where ya goin’?” said the gray-haired woman out the passenger window. “Oh, anywhere, I guess,” was my reply. “Well then hop in,” said Grandpa Walton. “Anywhere can be a pretty big place,” he said to me. “Let’s find out,” I said. Lonely couple they were, rambling on about a boring retirement, insensitive neighbors, and ungrateful grandkids. By the Pennsdale exit on Route 180 East, I was history. At least to them.
Back to hoofing it. I bit into an apple then a banana. I thought about where I have been in life, and where, with some luck, I might be going. Suddenly a cute gal in her 20s with pert ponytail and more body art than a museum pulls over and asks if I need a lift someplace.
“You run out of gas?” she inquires. “Nope. Just going east. Against what Jimmy Morrison believes,” I said. “How’s that?” her puzzled face staring me down. “He said the west was the best,” I grinned. She laughs, asking if I liked music from the ’60s. She slides a Smashing Pumpkins CD into the slit. She texts while speeding. She tailgates and swears. What can I say — a ride is a ride. And I may not die by slit throat in a landfill, but rather an overturned VW Jetta engulfed in flames while hung up on a twisted guardrail. If I remember correctly, they can identify me through dental records.
Her low fuel warning light glows. I give her $10.00 for gas. She invites me to dinner. I say no. She asks if I am an activist. “Of course,” I tell her. “I run or bike or do weights every day!” As I get out, she says, “Great meeting you and peace out.” America’s future just gave me a sneak preview. I can wince later.
It was getting warmer, and my arm and thumb were getting a decent workout on route 80 East. Look at this; a million dollar motorhome is pulling over to give me the once over! The driver opens the side door like a school bus and invites me into this mansion on wheels. Not often do you get a couch, TV, perfect climate control, AND a restroom when hitchhiking. The big man upstairs was looking over me. Or so I thought.
I forgot to mention amongst all the elaborate features of this motorhome were — puppets. A blonde haired girl in the far back was playing ventriloquist with a bunch of dummies! The girl put one next to my ear. “Why you so sad mister?” the red puppet says to me. “Your car broken someplace?” Before I could respond, the other puppet (no dummy) chimes in, “I bet you just robbed a convenience store because banks are closed on Sunday. Your briefcase is packed with cash. You have running shoes on! Call 911!”
I calmly explained I was just “highway hiking, interstate surfing.” However, the puppets (and parents) didn’t buy it. I got the boot before enjoying a fine lunch with them. This was near the Bloomsburg exit. I suddenly realize I think that was Darci Lynne Farmer and crew! They are going to the fair, but where am I going now?
A long-bearded trucker (Jackson) hauling chickens (me not one of them) gives me a ride to Stroudsburg in his 18 wheeler. An elderly man in an Escalade gets me into New Jersey. Treats me to lunch! But when his hand went over my state line, and I realize this isn’t in my best interest, I ask him to stop and let me out. Pronto.
I hastily walk to a rest area and sit at a picnic table. Not bad thus far. I have never had to go more than 20 minutes before getting someone to give me a lift in their vehicle. I also come to the conclusion that turnpikes and interstates are like singles bars; women of all ages were determined to pull over and offer me a ride. ZZ Top was correct: women love sharp dressed men. Even ones kicking stones or trash on the side of the road! Many thought I was just a hapless executive who had a breakdown. Not mental, but automotive in nature. The old lady in a purple dress was on her way to a peacock convention in the big apple. The young one in a bikini top and camo britches asked if I wanted to smoke some weed with her and her friends. Marvelous Mable proposed to me near a toll plaza. She knew me a mere 15 minutes.
A family in an old, red minivan decides to help me out on their way home from a church outing. What ensues is a rolling bible study on four wheels. Three kids quote me scripture and the parents, Cletus and Euphora sing hymns to me. The father asks if I believe in a higher power. “That new Jeep holds five and has over 700 horsepower,” I tell him. The mother asks me to pray with her. I tell them I have to pee. They let me out and drive on. As they say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Rides that is.
I’ve gotten to Clifton, NJ by 2 p.m. That’s about 3 hours more than if I drove myself. But remember that weird guy in the ritzy SUV stopped for coffee, tea and — me. That zapped time. If I keep going, I can get to NYC. But, no, I want to head home. I cross the median to go back 80 westward.
That’s about when a NJ state trooper pulls over and confronts me. Lights on. Tells me hitchhiking is prohibited in his lovely state. Asks if I can call anyone to pick me up. “Sorry officer,” I explain, “I did this as a dare to myself.” He asks me for ID and inquires what’s in the briefcase. I open it to reveal a map, an old Webb Weekly, some fig newtons, a half-eaten orange, and some Gatorade. He looks upset because no contraband was found.
I begin to freak out! Was I going to be impounded like a lost dog at the SPCA? Who would come and get me?
Suddenly, I woke up. Not from the police barracks, but in my bed with a cold sweat at 3:08 a.m. EST. I was shaking. Ranting retirees, pouting puppets, the bible belting Berrigans, tattoo Tina and her jet speed Jetta, a truck with flying feathers, and an unwanted advance. Oh, and a marriage inquiry with an open sunroof. Mom was right, hitchhiking isn’t worth it.
The doctors were also on the money. Certain cancer-fighting drugs can have some bizarre side effects. Crazy nightmares being one of them.