There are plenty of warnings out there: Don’t pick up hitchhikers! After all, the next body the cannibal hitchhiker consumes might be your own. Okay, so that rule applies to lots of folks, and of course I ignore that rule just like I ignore lots of other rules.
I’ve picked up hitchhikers from the time I was sixteen, heading up the road, looking for a party with a handful of drunk guys I’d picked up along the way, every one of them working at intimidating me as we went. I’m closing in on sixty-eight now, and except for a five-year hiatus in my late thirties, I’ve never stopped giving rides to strangers. One burly fellow carried such a cloud of gloom with him that I could barely hold up under the suffocating pressure of the thing. Another exuded dominance; he was Trouble with a capital T, and I was more than glad to see him go.
When I’m alone, I can deal with all of that. Not with my wife in the car–or with my kids, back when I had some of those critters. And not if I get a vibe from the hiker that indicates he’s hiding a rusty hatchet under that old Army field jacket. And not if I just don’t feel like it that particular day.
But other than that, yes.
So, ready to meet my Top Three Most Memorable Hitchhikers of All Time? Yes? In reverse order, then:
My Three Most Memorable Hitchhikers
3. Montana, 1967. I was on a run from Great Falls to Spokane. The hiker was a man in his thirties, a steady sort of fellow. I dropped him off on the way past Missoula, where his stated goal was to terminate either his ex-wife or her new man–or maybe both; my memory’s a bit fuzzy on that little detail. I never did find out if he succeeded in his quest or not.
2. South Dakota, 1980. Two young men who climbed into the car turned out to be two underage boys, Job Corps runaways. They were then, and are to this day, the only minors to put me at risk like that since I’d quit being a kid myself. The older one “smelled” my desire to dump them and tried to work a deal to betray his buddy, leave the younger kid behind. I managed to ditch them both at a truck stop, but on my return run eight hours later, the greener youth was still there. On a bench. Fast asleep–he’d been betrayed by both me and his supposed friend. I very quietly gassed up and bugged out, leaving him still counting sheep.
1. Iowa, 1977. That year, I had a 45-mile commute home from work and once picked up a married couple just as I hit I-29 north toward South Dakota, where I lived. The wife got in the back seat, the guy rode shotgun. It was raining; they were soaked. Along the way, he and I talked, but I kept sneaking glances in the mirror at the gal in the back. I told a story of an assistant I’d had at an insurance office in Oregon, a girl who’d stabbed me in the back when I’d tried to help her. As a result, our mutual boss had put me very firmly on his sh*t list, and I’d needed to find other employment before he found a way to can me.
But I was not upset, because I’d come to understand why she did it and because I’d learned a valuable lesson from the experience. That had been three years earlier, but I still wanted her to know there were no hard feelings. Which turned out to be possible after all.
She was the girl in the back.
There have been other memorable hitchhikers in my vehicle over the decades and will likely be at least a few more before I’m done–but those three “pickups” top the list so far. There was an undercover cop in Tennessee who tried to talk her way into my truck so she could bust me in 2002, but I didn’t fall for that one. Kept the cab locked, in fact.
So, I have a bad habit, you say? Hey, blame it on my Dad. His two ton stock truck went roaring eastbound past our ranch house one fine day, back around 1950. That was curious, but we had no phone, so all we could do was wait until he came back the other way and pulled into the yard an hour or so later.
Turned out he’d picked up a hitchhiker who’d been stupid enough to pull a knife on him, trying to truckjack the vehicle. Hah! The old man just floored it, let the guy know if he wanted to play stick-and-bleed, they could crash together. When he hit our hometown, he brought that working rig to a sliding sideways stop, right up close to the only cop car in town. The knife wielder didn’t even try to resist arrest; he was white as a sheet and shaking like a leaf.
I don’t have a personal story to top that one, but hey. There’s time yet.