Reading Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway.  He’s talking about hitching from Arizona to Pennsylvania, and it brings back old memories.

I did a lot of driving, birding, in college, with Frosh.

But I did a lot of hitching (and some picking up) in college too.

I remember two pickups in particular.  The first, someone jumped out at me on the highway, standing in the middle of the road.  Turned out to be a high school friend (who’d been dumped there, and was getting desperate.  Only something like 10 or 15 miles from home for him.  The second, in the middle of nowhere, some guy (who was making me nervous from the time I picked him up) who told me, about a half hour later he was a serial killer.  Though I doubted him, it did make me more nervous.  I made it a point, about a half hour ahead of time, to make sure he knew I was going a different direction than he was.  And I really insisted I drop him off when we got to the parting of the ways.  And I got picked up once by an older woman (maybe late 20’s) on her way to Escalon (who told me I was the first clean-looking hitchhiker she’d seen all day — when I’d been on the road, without a shower or a chance to comb my hair, for three days).

Most of the time hitching wasn’t so bad.  I had some interesting rides.  Like the woman who had breasts about five times as large as I’d ever seen before.  (She seemed nice.  And I really tried not to stare.)  And the guy who picked me up who wanted to have sex with me (for money).  He dumped me immediately when I was not interested.  (I really didn’t see why he couldn’t still give me a ride to where we were both going.)

But some rides were scary.  I had one friend (female) who laughed in a guy’s face (and asked him if he wanted and STD) when he threatened to rape her.  He dropped her right off.  But I had another friend who wasn’t so lucky.  She was raped (and had a scar on her face from getting cut with a knife as an added souvenir).  I hear later that another friend, Steve, hitching with another guy, got picked up by some guys in a van — who beat the crap out of them and dumped them in the road without their gear.  Nothing that bad ever happened to me.

I did get picked up by a women and her (I think) young adult daughter in a pickup with a camper in back.  I rode in the camper, where some guy who’d been traveling with them for about a week told me he’d cut me with a knife if I tried to interfere with his action.  Really, I wasn’t interested — though he did make me quite nervous.

But my worst ride ever was on my 21st birthday.

I buried my mom that day.  The guy from the cemetery saw my uncle as the main mourner, and enlisted me as (as afterthought) convenient additional pall bearer.  (He had no idea who I was.  My uncle, kindly, had made the arrangements.)

Then my uncle dropped me off at the SF airport to catch the redeye back to LA.  From where I hitched — ending up in downtown Long Beach (in front of a lighted store window).  I was there a long time.  Some really strange people drove by, checking me out.  And I was hoping to see a cop — until one drove by.  He seemed even more squirrely.  I finally got a ride out of downtown.  Maybe it was only half a mile.  But I was grateful.  Only, I was in the middle of a dead residential area with no traffic.

Finally, a Caddy came by and offered me a ride.

The guy was drunk on his but.  he was driving through red lights (and stopping at green lights).  But it was a Caddy.  And there was no traffic.  So, on the whole, I liked my chances of surviving.

I may have told this story before (though, if so, I can’t find it).  But as we drove, the guy told me he was a mobster from New York, who’d won the car in a card game.  (He had to pull a gun to get the guy who lost the car to actually sign it over to him.)  The part about the gun made me nervous.  The fact that he seemed totally unfamiliar with the car made me believe him.

He stopped at a gas station for gas.  And when we left, the attendant was yelling at him.  My impression was that he not only didn’t pay for the gas, but he stole the guy’s toolkit.  But at that point I wasn’t asking any questions.

Driving south along the coast, he picked up another hitchhiker.  It was maybe ten minutes later that the penny dropped for him.

“Are you a G*dD*mn Mexican?!”

When the guy replied yes, he pulled over to the side of the road and told him to get out of the D*mn car.  I hopped out too with my backpack.  He asked me what I was doing, and when I said I was getting out too, he told me “YOU!  Get in the D*mn car.”

Thinking about the supposed gun (they guy was totally out of control) I got back in.

About the time we got to Newport Beach (where I lived) I figured out he was trying to get to LA from Long Beach — totally turned around.  I tried to give him good directions, as I had him drop me off at a gas station the other side of the highway from where I lived.  But I was sure he wasn’t tracking.  In fact, he seemed to want me to put him up at my place.

So I waited at the gas station (he didn’t want to leave, and he circled back) until I was confident he didn’t see me.  Then I crossed the highway, ready to hide in the bushes if I saw him coming, and walked a couple of blocks to where I lived.  I got home without seeing him — I think it was 5 or 6 AM.  And I wished myself a happy 21st birthday as I tried to fall asleep.