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Hitchhiker Blues

Bumper stickers in Grants Pass, Oregon:



Bumper sticker in Marin Co., California:


Vanity license plate on shiny new SUV in Mill Valley:


(Is that a success story?)

It’s been a few years since I tried to hitch a ride. The last time was when my engine blew in O’Brien, Oregon and I tried to bum a ride into Cave Junction.  I gave up after three hours.

Hitchhiking is not much fun and so I’ve given quite a few hitchers a lift. There’s a lot of negative publicity about it, and movies like “The Hitcher” featuring a ride-thumbing homicidal maniac don’t help. A friend of mine actually had a brother murdered by a hitchhiker.

Still, I’d say one’s chances of being murdered are about the same whether you’re picking up a hitchhiker or eating in a restaurant. The greatest argument against picking up strangers is that they’re often boring, mind-numbingly boring. Once, driving from New York to Chicago, I picked up a guy in Ohio and he was also going to the Windy City. He droned on and on about nothing, to the point where I was falling asleep from the dreary monotone of his voice. I pulled over at the next turnpike rest-stop/restaurant, gave him a couple of dollars, asked him to go in and get some coffee, and drove away. Dumping the guy like that made me feel bad, but not for long. As far as I’m concerned it was his fault.

On a trip north from Willits, I stopped in Laytonville for a kid who turned out to be a 16-year old deadhead. When I told him my destination was Seattle he said, “Oh, good, I’m going to Canada.”

“What’s in Canada?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m following the Dead. I figure there’ll be somebody there I can crash with.”

He was carrying a sleeping bag and a small kit-bag with a few cassette tapes. That was it. No extra clothes, no toothbrush, no money, nothing. He smelled like he hadn’t had a bath in weeks.  His eyes told the story: a dazed, clueless space-case with a seemingly unshakeable belief — faith — that somehow, someone would take care of him. And for 300 miles, I did.

During that ride, I learned that the Grateful Dead rewarded admission tickets to kids who were willing to spend three days after the show cleaning up the grounds. My rider had done this at the Concord Pavilion and apparently was hoping to receive the same privilege again somewhere in British Columbia.

After five or six hours of buying him sandwiches and sodas and listening to drippy, adoring talk about a mediocre band that was a self-contained industry, I gave him two clean T-shirts and dumped him in Crescent City. I couldn’t afford him anymore. The Dead could — where were they?

This trip I saw a pregnant woman on the side of 101 in Eureka, holding sign a that said “Garberville.” She was standing in the worst possible place, by a guardrail with no shoulder to pull over on.  Immediately behind me was a loaded logging truck.  Forget it, lady.

And leave the dog at home.

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