Back in August, of 1980, a friend of mine and I decided to hitchhike to Wisconsin, from Georgia, to go to a keg party. That sounds fairly insane now, and it was not quite insane then. My father had thumbed his way from Athens Georgia down to the bottom of the state when he was going to college, and back then, in the 1950s, it was not only a safe way to travel, it was reliable as well. Thirty years later it was getting iffy, and because of the Interstate, you could travel faster, because of more people, but there is nothing that is made better by more people.
This was my first trip as a hitchhiker, and when we caught a ride in Tennessee that took us all the way to Madison Wisconsin, nearly the whole of the trip except for two hundred and fifty or so in Georgia, I was sold as a true believer in never owning a car again as long as I lived. This was the only way to travel, and at nineteen, I thought I had it all figured out.
The problem was we picked up a couple of good rides, but then we got this one guy who started telling us about this woman he met at a bar. Remember, “at a bar”. It got a little creepy, and a little creepy is something that usually means more creepy is forthcoming. He started telling us what he and this woman did back at his place in more detail than I would have liked from a porn movie with subtitles for the hard of hearing or deaf.
I’ll spare you most of the particulars because I want you to come back next week, and I don’t want Jon to fire me. [Editor’s note: ALOL]
Anyway, we’re closing in on our exit, and getting there fast, all is well, except for Porn Boy getting more and more explicit, and suddenly he tells us this woman was nine months pregnant. My friend and I exchange looks, and my friend says, “Hey, look, there’s our exit up ahead, we really appreciate the lift, man, but right here will be good.”
I can honestly say that watching that exit come up and having this guy drive past it was one of the weirdest sensations ever. At this point, we were in a car being driven by someone we didn’t know, being taken somewhere we did not want to go. “I’m not finished with my story,” the man said, and kept driving. Faster.
We had talked about carrying weapons and decided not to, but I did have a small knife. We had also discussed what we would do if this very situation came up, and it was here, now, right there in front of us, and the guy was not going to stop.
“Sir,” I said, “I cannot express to you in more certain terms that you have to stop this car right now.” I looked at my friend in the backseat and he nodded. I was going to take the wheel while he dragged the dude back if he could.
“Now,” I repeated and reached over and grabbed his arm. It felt surreal and scary, that I was about to have to fight for control of the car, and maybe my life.
He braked hard, pulled over, and started talking about going to the party with us, and we agreed that was a great idea. But as soon as the car stopped we ran like hell, crossed over the interstate, and then crossed back over when he took off. I remember running, and running, and hoping that guy didn’t shoot us.
“Come on,” my friend said, “off the road.” And we hid in the woods for about an hour or so but didn’t see him again.
We got back out and after three or four more rides made it to LaCrosse. The party was great, it was a lot of fun to be around people who loved my accent, and I eventually moved up there, with a car. But I never forgot how it felt to be inside a vehicle, with a stranger, who wasn’t stopping.