When I woke from my car nap I was still soaked from hitchhiking the night before as I went cross country to meet him. I had a deadline to reach the west coast. By such and such a date I had to be in Menlo Park to meet with JP and his buddy to cruise up the west coast as he looked for some land to build on. In front were two college girls who had just decided that life was about more than college and they were going to go out and see the world, drive around from state to state, camp out, and see the world. They were discussing their camp in Denver.
“No, I don’t know how to set it up either.”
“Maybe we could find someone to help us do that.” The driver was glancing at me in the rearview mirror.
“I’d let someone sleep with me if they set up our tent.” They were both pretty.
“Me too. Sleep with two girls.”
Holy crap. Here it was, a promise of dry place to sleep and a Penthouse Letters event for a nineteen year old hippy. She was looking at me in her rearview. I was of course sorely tempted. Two girls.
But I’d made a promise. “There’s an interchange up here. I need to get off and head north on 25.” They both turned around and looked me, then at each other, and started to pull over to let me out. Hey, I had promised.
It was dawn, slowly warming up as the sun rose. A piper cub buzzed slowly around in the sky. The prairie to my right looked very strange—like the whole surface was moving. After staring for a while I realized that it was prairie dogs getting their dawn calisthenics or something. Hundreds and hundreds of them.
My regular hitchhiking routine was to stand on the highway or freeway, hold my thumb up, and try to look the driver in the eye so he would be disarmed by my big hippy smile. It usually worked pretty well—I would cover 2000 miles from Chicago, where I lived, to California. That is faster than just driving it because I never slept except in cars that picked me up. I kept going day and night, skipping meals too so I wouldn’t have to leave the road to crap. I could make it to New Orleans in 24 hours, and to New York City in the same. I had great hitchhiking luck.
I heard a car approaching—the only car that I’d seen since leaving my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (idiot!).
It was creeping along way, way below the 65 mph limit, and driven by a little old lady who returned my smile and stopped right behind me. She was going so slow that I didn’t have to run to reach it. It was right behind me.
She unlocked the door, I threw my pack onto the floor in front of the passenger seat, and got in.
She smiled at me a grin missing half her teeth and pulled out to creep up the road some more. “Shouldn’t be hitchhiking here. State troopers’ll pick you and the local police too. See that airplane out there? It was probably calling your location.”
“Well, thank you ma’am.”
Then she turned my way and leaned over to look me in the eye and said, “Have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?”
“Why, yes I have,” I said. Not that I was a liar, but it seemed like this might be the only way out of here.
“YeeeeeeHA,” she howled, “YeeeHa. Bless us lord I knew it! I KNEW it!!”
“What’s your name soldier,” presumably a soldier of Christ. She certainly wouldn’t mistake me and my afro hippy haircut for military.
“Uh oh,” I said, motioning ahead where we were driving on the shoulder and heading off the road. She didn’t even look away but yanked on that steering wheel so we fairly jumped back into the lane.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Frank,” I said, which was my hitchhiking alias. It wasn’t a lie—my first name is Francis, which is long for Frank.
“Well God bless us, Frank,” she said, back to staring at me. “Where are you going today, Frank?”
“Heading for California ma’am.”
“That’s a long way off you know! Good thing I picked you up before the police did. You know in Colorado the state trooped will pick you and so will the local police.”
“Well, God provides.”
“YYYEEEEEEHAA,” even louder than before.
“Um, the road…” so she glanced ahead and once again yanked the car back into the lane. It was hard enough to throw me into the door.
“How about you, Ma’am? You from around here?”
“Yes, from [some town whose name I didn’t recognize and can’t remember now.] I live on my Social Security and write up tracts for delivering them around.”
“Yes, you know like preachers give out on street corners to lead sinners back to a good life.” And yes indeed I knew what she was talking about.
“Oh yes, I do know.” Hitchhiking around sometimes made me word-hungry for something besides highway signs and window displays, so I cheerfully accepted every tract I’d even been given. Some were entertaining, some tried to scare the bejeesus back into you, and some were functionally illiterate except for the Bible verses that I imagined had been carefully copied from the Good Book. “Have you got any here?”
“Nope, out now. Saving up some money to get new ones printed up.”
“Well, God bless you ma’am.”
“Say Frank,” she said, and started to pinch me. I hate being pinched. “Frank, let’s pray together.” Now, I was willing to pose as a church-going man, but praying Christian prayers was way outside of my comfort zone.
“Uhh, n…The road the road!” Yank! I took advantage of the distraction and fell silent.
“So what do you say, Frank? Let’s pray together.”
“Ohh, no ma’am, I can’t do that. No, I won’t. I am sorry but I just can’t pray with strangers.” That last was the best my inspiration could do. She frowned, glanced my way and for the first time began watching the road ahead.
“Wellll,” she said. I could tell her faith had been shaken. I felt badly for her, but not as bad as I’d feel if I got dropped off here between highway entrances between Nowhere and Nowhere Else. I just fell silent and faced ahead.
It was not long before we spotted another hitchhiker ahead. His shadow reached all the way across the highway in the early morning light.
“Look!” she said, “Another one! I don’t know, I have one passenger already. Do you think I should pick him up Frank?”
“Oh yes,” I said. I was always sympathetic with other hitchhikers. We were all of the same wandering tribe. I saw it was a guy with glasses and long, shoulder-length hair. Another hippy. “Yes, let’s pick him up.”
“OK,” she agreed, and pulled off just behind him. He didn’t have to run to reach the car either. He threw his gear into the back seat and followed in it.
“Thank you ma’am,” he said. I turned around to look at him and to warn him somehow.
“Should’t be hitchhiking here, ya know,” she said, “State troopers’ll pick you and the local police too.”
“Well, I am very glad for your generosity, then.” I didn’t want to say anything overt—the state border was still ahead and I wanted to get to it. After all, I’d heard that state troopers’ll pick you and the local police too. Actually I had heard that many times from other hitchhikers who had spent time in local jails for it. So I really didn’t want to be exposed as the fraud that I was and be told to leave. He wrinkled his brow at me, clearly expressing that he didn’t know what the hell I was making faces for.
“What’s your name young man?”
“Well tell me Robert,” and she turned her head all the way around to look at him as she spoke. This only made her turn the wheel even more.
“Uh, the road!” Yank!
“Tell me Robert, have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?”
“Well actually ma’am I was raised Catholic and stopped believing in God at all.”
“WHAAAAT!” she screeched, “You are going to burn in HELL! IN HELL I tell you!” Poor Robert looked like he had been slapped in the face. He looked to me, and I could only shrug.
“The road, the road!” Yank.
“What do you think Frank.”
“Oh yea, Hell for sure,” I said calmly.
“Do ya think I should let this sinner off here?”
“Here, oh no ma’am. You know that state troopers’ll pick him up here, and the local police too. I think that a little Christian kindness is in order here. Jesus helped the sinner too, after all.”
“Mm, all right,” she said, and put her eyes back on the road as we crept up the highway. Silence reigned. The prairie dogs had disappeared into their burrows. Nothing moved out there, and we only barely did.
Eventually we reached the state border. It’s about 90 miles but it took us hours to reach it. Robert took a nap. I couldn’t sleep. Maybe from the guilt. Ha, not a chance.
Just over the Colorado borderline she let us off with a hearty “God bless you Frank!” The car crept off.
“What a crazy woman,” said Robert.
“You missed the best parts,” I said. He was going east, me west, so we split and went up different entrance ramps onto I-80. I stuck out my thumb and smile at the first car that came by and it pulled over. I ran to it and got in.
Friendly guy. We spoke for a while bout this and that. Turned out he was a policeman.
“Well,” I asked, “Isn’t it true that State troopers’ll pick up hitchhikers and the local police too.”
“Yep,” he said.
“But you picked me up.”
“We’re not in Colorado any more, are we.”
“Well, God bless.” He took me all the way to Salt Lake City.