The Hitch-hiker

A blustery wind tears at the trees which thrash about in their efforts to escape.  A gentle cradle-hand rocks my six-wheeled boat.  The sound of rain pelting the skylight over the shower imagines my Redding rest stop is a cabin in the forest.

At eight a.m. at a break in the weather, I walk to the travel store intent on buying a directory of truck stops and to see what other RV candy they have.

Near the entrance a dark-haired, young girl squats, a kitten between her legs and a puppy along side—neither more than a month or two old.  Beside her a sleeping bag oozes from a backpack. She wore layers of working men’s clothes, rough, durable, the colors of mud and the forest in winter.  She was not shivering.  Her sign said.  “Need ride down I-5”

She did not stare.  When I did, her face brighten by a small smile and she became a cute child.

“Where’s home? I asked.

“Where ever I am.  My parents have a home in San Diego.  That is where I am heading.  It is one of my homes,” she said.

I gestured toward the sleeping bag.  “I guess you were warm enough in that.”

“I didn’t sleep.  I was hoping for a ride,” she said.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Twenty-two,” she is responsive without offering extra facts nor the subtle colors of facial gesture.

I learned she has been here since 5 p.m. last nite.

I was heading south and could go via I-5.   “I have a motor home over there.  I just made a pot of tea.  And the furnace is on. You are welcome to a hot drink and a warm place.  I don’t know how I feel about picking up a hitch-hiker, but I will think about it.”

“I have a hot drink.”  She motioned to a paper cup of take-out coffee.  Her comment was not dismissive but neither was I feeling persuasive.

The rain started up again.  Unlike the girl it had an in-your-face attitude.

My morning chores called from the motorhome.  I went back to my vacuuming and tidying—clutter and tracked-in dirt never sleep.

I made some journal notes and thought about the young girl.  What to do? Only a damned fool picks up hitchhikers these days.  I’ve watched too many Forensic Files, Cold Case Files and other cop shows in the last few years not to have serious second thoughts about putting myself in a situation that could turn dicey.  Nor do I know how wise it would be for her to get into a vehicle with a lone, granitic-faced man.  Or whether I’d feel right about letting her take her chances with some other lone man.

Yet, one reason I am on the road is to find the stories that challenge my soul.

I got out my binoculars and spied across the parking lot through the veil of gray rain.  A young woman is leaning over the scene, getting some puppy-luvin’.  I see a hand gesture and the bright flash of a cigarette lighter.

I follow the woman as she walks back to her sporty red car at the gas pump.  She wore blue jeans shredded at the knees and thighs according to the latest fashion.  She got in and drove away.

For twenty minutes I talked to myself between housekeeping tasks

What do you think would Steinbeck have done?  What would you have done?

I decided to go get the young girl.  I would offer her and the foundlings a dry spot in my coach and try to pry her story from her and trust my intuition about whether to carry her down the road.

I got out the binocs again and she was gone.

In her place was standing a man.  A solid looking guy of about six feet wearing a wool watch cap, and a jacket of the type that would sport the name of a sports team.  He had a suitcase with a pull handle elevated.  And a cardboard sign.

Posted November 8, in Citrus Heights, Ca. on Day 32 at milepost 1934 of my Year on the Road.

12 Responses to The Hitch-hiker

  1. Michael and Marsha Joyce says:

    A wary man makes for safer travel with an open heart. They are not mutually exclusive.


  2. Pingback: Welcome | AL's Blog

  3. mal patterson says:

    Your a good man charlie brown, what has this world come to when one see’s a fellow human a little down and out, but we are afraid to offer help……or have to think about It.

    However, surfing the web the other day I found http://www.single rv’ not sure if It’s any safer, but? stay safe but don’t lose who you are.

    may you continue to have fair winds and your decks stay fairly dry.

    Cheers Mal

  4. Doug &Vera Clark says:

    We appreciate your stories and can see you in the picture.

  5. Dave LaRoche says:

    Another example of no or slow decision is actually it. She may have declined but I wonder how an adventurer can hesitate in front of adventure? Certainly one of the opportunities you buy, when cashing in for a journey like yours, is the people you meet and their stories. I put my money on your picking up on the next one — after thinking it through.

  6. Linda Brown says:

    I have so many fond memories of hitchhiking through Europe and to Istanbul for six months in 1968. I always hitchhiked with a guy except down the Berlin Corridor. I was safer and he was less threatening when with a woman.

    I never had a problem, except for one ride with speeders enroute to Istanbul. I cherish all those memories and the people I met.

    In six months, only one woman on what was called the Hippie Trail had an attack problem. She separated from her male companion when both got on separate motorbikes in rural Greece. She also was able to fend off the attacker, so just tremendously scared.

    I am also aware of more dangers today. That said, I have picked up, and ridden with, strangers when either party was stranded with car trouble on the road, including three wild teenagers.

    Follow your gut–have a plan, e.g., only pick up people if you are driving where you will be among other vehicles, limit the pickups to one person, and know what you will do if you get uncomfortable for any reason, and what you will do if they pull out a weapon.

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    I would say not picking her up was the way it should happen, since that’s the way it was. You will have other choices – and you made a choice here. Sounds like the Al I know. I liked Michael’s comment.

  8. leanne says:

    Really compulsive reading. Great descriptions – loved when you got the binoculars out, and the line about “clutter and tracked in dirt never sleep.” What a great quandry you had, that I could see myself having as well, weighing and measuring the pros and the cons of inviting this stranger along. Great story telling, Al. Now I am living vicariously. Thank you. =)

  9. Gene Morita says:

    Nice to hear about your travels. You wonder what’s will happen when she gets home. Do her folks know where she is? Is she 22 or maybe she’s 16 or 17? You write well Al. Stay safe.

  10. Vivid story that brought back memories of a drive south to Mexico in the 1960s with two other US Marines in the car. It was about 3:00 AM driving south somewhere near Palm Desert.

    I was the driver and the car was cruising at about 100 mph. Saw in a flash a lone hitchhiker then he or she was gone — lost in the darkness.

    Went back, picked him up. After all, three Marines should be safe from one guy hitchhiking at 3:00 AM.

    Back to driving at 100 mph or faster to get to our destination south of the border faster. First gas stop, the hitchhiker, who looked rather white at speeds above 100 mph, said he had to visit the bathroom and never returned.

    The next time I picked up a hitchhiker, I was driving north for a weekend liberty in LA with three Marines (all Vietnam vets) in the car and we were drinking beer. Back then, the cans didn’t have pop tops and we didn’t have a can opener so one of the Marines, a guy names Kelly, tore the tops off with his teeth. In Nam he used a file to make his teeth razor sharp for close combat.

    That hitchhiker pulled the same vanishing trick the other hitchhiker did once we stopped for gas. He also looked rather white. What’s wrong with driving 115 mph in the rain drinking beer with cans chewed open?

    I stopped driving fast decades ago, stopped drinking booze and beer and I don’t pick up hitchhikers anymore. However, Vietnam still lives inside my head.

    Al, it’s probably better that you didn’t give the girl a ride. What would you have done if the cat and dog came with her and they made a mess inside your motor home? What if she vanished and left the cat and dog behind?

  11. I would say one of the best investments you have made is those binoculars. Keep them around your neck. They could be useful as a defensive weapon too. Lloyd is right about her leaving the puppy and kitten behind in your cruiser. I enjoyed his story as well!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s