’66 Stingray

One time in 1966 I was hitch hiking home from California. I was down in the deserts of eastern California. 

A 1966 stingray, navy blue , brmbrumbrumb downshifted and stopped just a few yards behind me. Usually cars would pull off much farther up and I’d have to run to get to it. Sometimes the drivers who were just full of haha would wait until I got my hand on their door handle and pull away. Ha ha, shit head.

Now this guy, pulling up neat and comfortably for me, held great promise. Were the hitchhiking gods with me again? I put my pack on the floor and slid into the seat. Wow, ’66 convertible! It was a lot like the one in the picture there except it was blue and had the top down. 

“I’m going to Chicago,” I say. 

“I’m going that way,” says the driver. Uncommitted, you see. Reserving his chance to get rid of an unwanted passenger with a bit of, “I’m getting off here, so you’d better get out.” Then take off. 

He was a young guy, maybe 25-30, hair slicked back. Not a hippy type like me, but he picks up hitchers—that’s a good sign.

“Used to hitch quite a bit myself,” he says. Another good sign, and probably the single line that I heard more than any other in my years of hiking around. I almost always say it now myself when I pick someone up. 

“What’s in Chicago?” 

“Oh my family, but I have to get back to get to college on time.” 

“Where are you going?” 

“Beloit,” I tell him. “Little school in Wisconsin.”

“What you studying?” and so on with the small talk. I am happy with a ride and cheerful enough to keep it up and make a few small jokes that he laughs at. 

So did I tell you this was a 1966 navy blue convertible stingray? And it was 1966. I was in heaven there. We are in the desert and there is no speed too great. Almost never saw troopers out there, which is why I hitched on the highway instead of up the ramp like required. Got lots of rides that way, sometime long rides. Go up the ramp and you get little hops here and there forward, usually not long. 

So there we are, making small talk as he is tearing down the California highway at 85 mph and laughing at my jokes. After maybe an hour he says to me, “Don’t be worried here,” he says, and reaches down under his seat and pulls out a .45 automatic and I am all, holy shit. “I can tell I won’t be needing this,” he says, and puts the safety on, and places it back under the seat. And we keep chatting, and did I tell you it was a ’66 stingray convertible with the top down and we didn’t care a bit about the sun beating down on us.

He tells me how his brother drove across the whole USA without ever paying for gas because he had only a $100 bill and in those days gas was less than a dollar a gallon so when he tried to pay for it the place never had enough change and sent him on with a promise of getting paid in the mail later. 

“I can get you to St Louis,” he says. Yow, fantastic! That is most of the way.

Now I used to always hitch all night, so with his permission I take a bit of a nap and when I wake up we are out of California cross the deserts of Arizona and we stop to get something to eat and he pays for my burger. This could hardly get cooler. But it could!

The sun is falling and its getting dark and he says to me, “Are you rested? Think you can drive for a while?”

“Yes Sir, I can,” suddenly ultra glad I knew how to drive stick so I’d not embarrass myself. We pulled over and switched seats. He stayed awake a bit to make sure I knew what I was doing and after a while curls up against the door and is out.

And I am driving 120 mph through the desert of Arizona on Interstate 40 and the stars are as bright as streetlights and there are a million more of them that I normally would see, and did I tell you it was in a 1966 stingray, navy blue , convertible with the top down? 

Well, it could not be cooler than that for me then. Heaven. Zoooooom. Heaven in a car. Those hitchhiking gods were with me again.