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Friday, July 20, 2007


We consider hitchhikers to be the vagabonds of the highway. You never know what you are letting into your car. It's a like a risky fortune wrapped inside a stale fortune cookie. Whatever it reads...it always raises an eyebrow and makes one wonder. Years ago, I picked up a hitchhiker in Dothan who said that he was on a mission from God. He was 3 times the size of me and had this massive red beard that made him look particularly like a highway Viking. Instead of wielding an axe, he had this huge thumb which he held out cutting the sky in half. His red beard fluttered in the wind as a passing by semi made it flap like the cape of Superman. And he did have his WWJD bracelet slapped around his wrist, which made me feel a little bit better about the whole thing. I remember my car rocked as he sat down in my passenger seat. He turned out to be a nice and gentle, Christian artist who went around by foot making artistic quilts to bridge the gap between the lost ties between the two generations of parents and their children. Why? you may ask. Because God sent him. -Or at least that's what he told me.

But as far as the guy from just the other day goes, where I left off in my story, he was of the more ordinary types of hitchhikers. You know very typical, rugged and sweating in the sun, a dignified redneck who was just trying to get from point A to point B, and if he could have a beer while doing so all the more wonderful. But I’m sure I disappointed him on this one. After, I clean out my passenger seat, an introduction is made. His name is William and he gave me a firm handshake, all the while exasperating how no one this day and age picks up hitchhikers, “I guess they think they’ll be robbed or killed. Yes, that’s what they think they’ll be mugged or killed.” His redundancy on this thought and the way he kept repeating “killed” didn’t settle to well on my ears. But I brushed it off. “He just communicates like that”, I thought to myself. He was on his way to South Bend, Indiana, and had left Florence, Alabama that morning. He hoped to be at his destination by that night, which was very, very unlikely. I told him I could only take him as far as I-840, before I had to turn off of I-65 to go to Murfreesboro.

For 20 years of his life William had been a first mate on a river barge on the Mississippi. He had rode the Missouri, the Ohio, etc. all those rivers that are branches of that one great flowing body of water that severs our nation in two. I asked him that he probably had some stories like Mark Twain who had a similar job back in his day; at which I believe he misunderstood me, or worse he didn’t know that Mark Twain was probably America’s greatest author. For he started saying that, yes, Mark Twain is everywhere at some city in Missouri.. Or maybe it was just the fact that him and Mark Twain and the spirit of the Mighty Mississip, heck , the spirit of America, were so close-knit , sort of like the Holy Trinity, that he could refer to Mark Twain in such a nebulous way. But I don’t know. I’ve never ridden on a boat on the Mississippi and who knows what it does to your mind and spirit.

I asked him to tell me some stories. He only mentioned that he had seen several people killed. I couldn’t get a real story out of him with details and all,( The kind I like as you can tell) until our conversation fell on the subject of New Orleans and he began relating this bar brawl he was in. Him and his opponent were fighting over beer. Not even, a woman.

He found out I was a church boy, pretty quick, and then he brought up the subject of how he had prayed only 10 minutes before I had drove up that some one would pick him up, and sure ‘nough, I stopped. He said, “God bless” as I dropped him off after only an hour of driving and he refused the water I offered him.

But the hitchhiking tales don’t end there. Today, I picked up this lady. It was in central Cincinnati, and she wasn’t really hitchhiking. She was just walking along the road right before a thundercloud burst and rain began to fall, so being in the hitching mindset, and striving to be the gallant gentleman that I wish to be, I offered her a ride and she got in right as the rain broke through the heavens. She smelled like alcohol, bowling alleys, more alcohol, Waffle House, still more alcohol, a Chemical plant, and still a drop or two more of alcohol. Her name was Beth and she apologized for her smell and admitted to the partying she had done the night before. She was about 40 and probably once upon a time was a cute. But not necessarily age, but other substances had made her wrinkles stand out a bit more noticeably. Where she was going, I couldn’t really figure out. I think to her house. But she only wanted me to drop her off at a store nearby where I was going. About midways through the short drive, I look down to where I usually keep my wallet ….in one of my drink holders. Seating lopsided in a car seat because your wallet’s in a back pocket is horribly uncomfortable. But when I glanced down, there was no wallet there…only two bottles. She notices my search and asks what I am looking for. And of course, I am thinking what you are already thinking and what she was thinking. I’m already getting my speech together of how I was going to lock her in my car until she gave me back my wallet. –But she looked behind my seat in the backseat where I threw everything that was in the passenger seat in a hurry to make room for her, and she handed me my wallet. Even after she handed me my wallet, I really believed that she had stolen it and seeing that I knew, she had given it back to me. But thinking back about it, I now think that she was honest and that I had thrown the wallet back there myself. For that is what I do when I don’t have any room for my wallet in those cupholders. I guess I will never truly know. But it shows a person’s paranoia about hitchhikers. She then went into this spill about how she understands not trusting people, that she had been back-stabbed many times. And that only the night before her own sister-in-law and her roommates had stolen 60 bucks from her. After, this bit of information relayed to me, I was sure that the asking for money was about to occur, but it never did. Me and my stereotypes. I dropped her off and she pointed me to the next Walgreen’s store.

However, hitchhiking has not entirely been on one side with me; I have been on the other side. And that’s when you suspect the person who picks you up. One time, I wanted to hitchhike from Dothan all the way to Arkansas. I got as far as my hometown’s Walmart, and then decided that hitchhitching is very, very stupid if you have a car. So I hiked back to my house and drove to Arkansas.

Another time, I was in Colorado and the guy who picked me up, was from New York and as things turned out, we ended up hiking Mt. Elbert (the highest mountain in Colorado) together, sharing life stories, and just having laughs. It was the best hitchhiking experience I’ve had and I don’t think it will ever be topped


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