Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Hitchhiking Story

I used to hitch a lot when I was a kid. I think I've got about 50,000 miles under my belt. Just today a friend who hitched told me about the hardest working he ever did when he got picked up by a crazy lady who made him catch chickens all day and never paid him. I responded with the story of the most memorable hitch I ever got: From just outside Chicago to Los Angeles in 23 hours. Here's the story.
My hardest hitch, and also the most memorable--and there were a lot--came just outside of Chitown. I was headed to the coast to go swim in the Pacific and pick up summer work and this Ford LTD came screaming by at about 100 mph just after dusk. He stopped 500 yards ahead of where I was and peeled backwards at an insane pace on the shoulder. I determined I wouldn't ride with him. But when he stopped I saw a gun in one of the hugest hands belonging to one of the hugest drunk men I'd ever seen. "Get in. I'm headed to the coast." "No thanks...." "I said get in the car..." At the wheel was a smallish longhair, a bit older than me. "Better get in, man."
I got in the back and we took off. The man was drinking whiskey from a fifth-bottle. The hippie explained that he'd been coerced into the car the same way. The man, who held the gun on the driver and threatened to shoot him every time he dropped below 100, explained he was going home to LA and had been chased by the cops for speeding in every state since he left Florida. Why he was on the northern route I had no idea, and he wouldn't explain.
When we stopped he ordered us out of the car. I'd have to think it through but maybe it was Des Moines. He walked behind us into a bar, this 6'7" giant, stood in the doorway and demanded to know: "Who's the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in this place?"
Most of the men looked pretty tough to me and one finally stood. "I guess I am. Who the fuck wants to know?"
Our guy didn't break a sweat. "Well I am now and I want to drink. And if you don't think I am, then you are going to have to go through my friends here. And if you can make it through them, then you and I will decide who is the toughest son of a bitch here."
The man looked at us and dismissed us by looking through us and measuring the giant. He forced a little laugh and sat down.
"I knew it. You're all chickenshits. These hippie scumbags have you scared."
And then he had three or four doubles, paid and left, nudging us out in front of him. He sent the other hippie to a package store to buy another bottle of whiskey--I think he was drinking Old Grand Dad--had the tank filled and off we went, me at the wheel, the gun pointed easily at my stomach. "You're down to 90! I'll kill you if you don't keep that at 100 or more."
I'd never hit 80 in my life, so 100 felt like I had no control whatsoever. But the car was huge and heavy and smooth, even at that speed. The man explained that it had, I think, a 456 engine, which he said was the largest engine ever put into an assembly line car in the US. And he was proud of it. The 100 mark was to keep us from police notice. That sounds silly, I know, but he explained that at that speed we were through counties and into new police jurisdictions before the county cops realized we were there. And that being about 1971 or 72, there were no computers and most county cops didn't talk with cops from another county on their radios. So we'd be chased for a few miles but we'd hit the county line and the cops would stop. Thirty minutes later we'd see lights behind us and outrun them to the next county line and we did that all night. We only stopped for more liquor and drinks and gas and at each stop the giant did the same thing he'd done at the first. "Who's the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in here?" And at most places nobody even stood up. At the places where they did, they always sat after he told them they'd have to go through me and the other hippie before he'd even both to fight. He was just that big and that drunk that he wasn't worth it to anybody.
We clocked 100-plus on route 80 all the way, through Lincoln, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, and then started south to LA on 15. By about 4 AM the guy finally fell asleep. I was in the back seat by then and he'd put the gun under the seat. I reached for it and removed the shells. It was a regular six-shooter, a huge thing that weighed about three pounds it seemed to me. I put the gun back in place, glad we were no longer in immediate danger of getting killed. At the same time that danger existed, of course, there was also a certain thrill in the whole thing. It was just so insane and dangerous that it was hard to resist enjoying it at least a little.
We were somewhere on the edge of the salt flats when the guy woke and ordered the other hippie to stop the car. "No worry about cops here; there's no fucking speed limit." And then he dozed off. So did we.
We woke a couple of hours later and the guy said he'd sobered up enough to take the wheel. And take the wheel he did: he had that car's speed guage a half-an-inch past the 140 mph mark. It seemed like the car was off the ground for a few seconds, touched down and then lifted off again. I'm not saying that happened, but that's what it felt like. What a rush. The only hitch was that there were two police cars blocking the road at the end of the desert crossing. "Sons of bitches. I'm way to close to home for this shit," he snarled, then slowed to about 80 as he approached, looking as if he was going to actually stop. And then, about 200 meters before the cop car barricade he simply swerved onto the desert floor--even with the highway, drove around them and gunned it up again. I looked back at the cops and they weren't even considering going after us. I guess we were out of their jurisdiction.
We hit Los Angeles 23 hours after leaving from maybe 100 miles west of Chicago. 1,900 miles or so in 23 hours, including a three hour nap. It was evening when we arrived, same time of day it had been when I first got picked up. The house he stopped at was fairly simple; in the front yard a heavy set woman was digging in the flowers in front of the place.
The guy got out and shouted "Mama! I'm home and I have guests for dinner! Get your ass in there and make us some food!"
The woman didn't even bother to turn. "If that's my husband, he'd better apologize this minute or I'm going to kick his ass. Who do you think you are ordering me to do anything?"
The giant slumped. He knew who the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in this place was, and it wasn't him. "I'm sorry baby. I'm just excited to be home."
"Well then why didn't you say that you stupid man?"
Then she got up and he walked over and they hugged like they were teenaged lovers.
She fed us, showed us a huge garage full of chinchilas and other small animals they raised for the fur industry, and then asked where we wanted to be taken. I told him just get me to the Pacific. So he did. And I stripped to my undies and jumped into the cool water before dressing and crashing for the night on the beach. The other hippie was being dropped off last so I've no idea where he went.
I've never seen or heard of either the hippie or the giant again. But for one day, we shared a hell of a ride.


Dr. Grossman said...

Awesome story!

Arbol said...

WooHoo, sounds like a blast. This is one of the best stories so far. Would make a great movie for sure.

Saby said...

Heyyy what a trip !

Kuchinta said...

Love this story!