Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Last Ride

Hitchhiking is like buying a lottery ticket to the wide world of lunatics...but you don't want the winning numbers. It's probably the most misunderstood modes of traveling because if you have ever hitchhiked then you know it's terrible and if you dream of hitchhiking then you believe it will be awesome. Go to the end of a dirt road, where no one passes you and stick your thumb out for 16 hours. I'll tell you what will happen: You will kick the dirt, piss behind a tree, snack on food even though you aren't hungry...hum songs you know, and invent melodies that you'll soon forget. Every demon you've ever developed, every regret, every skeleton will haunt you mercilessly. You'll wonder if anyone will find your body...you'll be certain you're going to die of starvation. Hours and hours of watching the sun go down until you realize that there is no way you'll get off this road without walking. But walking how far? 10, 20 100 miles on dirt? But it's too late to start because the sun is down. You'll walk all night? No, that's crazy. No food, no blanket. You'll curse your bad luck at forgetting your sleeping bag in the last station wagon who dropped you off way the fuck in the middle of nowhere. But you had to flee because the guy was super creepy and his wife looked drugged. What kind of maniacs were they? Now you'll freeze all night, hungry...cold...lonely...hours more pass...you aren't even tired. You sit down and ants crawl on your legs. The moon comes out through the trees...what state are you in? What's the difference? Finally you see lights and are relieved...you'll be saved! And it's the same car that dropped you off and the same creep who rubbed your leg. But he's going to town for cigarettes...and you have no choice but get in again. It's a Rorschach test because what you see is who you are.

Few hitchhikers attempt to record their experiences and even fewer do it convincingly. It's kind of like war combat. Kerouac might be the only person to get to the heart of it as On The Road touches all the sun and shadow of the experience and he ends with Big Sur "being passed by fake wood panel station wagons, wifey looking straight ahead, hubby ignoring everything at the wheel, two kids gawking through the window..." bleak reality of 1962...

This is the first time I've hitch hiked in years and I soon begin to see things have changed in America, you cant get a ride any more […]. Sleek long station wagon after wagon comes sleering by smoothly […], the husband is in the driver's seat with a long ridiculous vacationist hat with a long baseball visor making him look witless and idiot -- Besides him sits wifey, the boss of America, wearing dark glasses and sneering, even if he wanted to pick me up or anybody up she wouldn't let him -- But in the two deep backseats are children, children, millions of children, all ages, they're fighting and screaming over ice cream, they're spilling vanilla all over the Tartan seatcovers -- There's no room anymore anyway for a hitch hiker. - Big Sur --Kerouac


Kerouac had come full circle from being picked up by the darling L.A. blonde actress in a sporty ride in Dharma Bums, who wanted amphetamines, to being stranded in Big Sur. The highs and lows had become only lows...and he'd never hitch again...what was culturally the spreading of White America in Healthy Camelot prime time to Kerouac was the homogenization and degradation of Bohemia.


 I think this is Jackson Browne's homage to hitchhiking...

What I remember as the last attempts to hitchhike for me, a veteran thumb monkey, was from Arcata, California to San Francisco. I had actually sworn never to take Greyhound again because even the above scenario was better than sitting next to a body odor factory who had been released from jail and was "blah blah blah" for 10 hours, stopping at every fucking town. But mostly it's the smell of Greyhound and also airplanes that have me vowing to avoid them forever. Its antiseptic port-o-potty smell reeks of poverty and also is a horrible reminder of Santa Cruz nightmarish living situation after the park rangers broke my spirit and someone stole everything and my only option was to live at the shelter where crank addicts shot up drugs in the shadows of an empty bookshelf and in order to protect myself I had to sleep in the port-o-potty with my crutches propped up against the side...and there were some other problems I don't want to go into but I can not voluntarily inflict those odors on myself again...preferring to die or suffer in other ways. One thing I can say about Mexican buses is that they were not gross smelling because the chickens and goats gave them a farm aroma...Ecuador buses are the very best because they have no bathrooms and you can ride on the roof with the luggage.

So, I had a vacation from college and decided to go to the big city. I forget why...maybe the seedy porn bookstores on Market Street, or the hippie vibe on Haight...promise of free love...culture...although I honestly hated it and belong in the forest...

And I'd had a good ride about halfway there, but still high in the redwood forest...I think I was in Ukiah...after sleeping in the forest, being chased by a huge stray dog up a tree and then wrapping myself in cardboard boxes from a dumpster (the dog's territory). A car pulled over and I was only trying to get to San Rafael or even Healdsburg where I could get a local bus south. The car was going to Marin, somewhere...the driver was a wiry man, his old lady was in the passenger seat and there was a baby around 2 years old crawling around the interior. The guy popped the hatchback trunk and told me to throw my backpack in. It wasn't hard to notice that there were at least 10 pounds of pot in clear plastic sacks in the interior.
"Don't mind that..." said the driver. "Let's go!"
This is California, remember...
So we drove off, the rich smell of cannabis surrounding us...and what I thought was going to be a delightful ride turned into something terrifying as the couple was quarreling about money, the baby was crying and one after another the driver and then the mother would pass the baby back and forth like a sack lunch, joints being smoked constantly...and then we reached the area of highway 101 where one must pay close attention to the road because there are sharp turns, fog, steep declines toward the ocean, long turns where caution must be exercised...and the driver wasn't even paying attention to the steering wheel, let alone the road. And I was stoned and hyperventilating...and the baby was bawling like death was around the corner and I became convinced I was going to be killed in a dramatic half-mile plunge to a ravine, through a flimsy guardrail in some crappy hatchback drug smuggling car. SHIT! I cursed my bad luck, my family, my fate. And it was cramped in the backseat with my feet crumpling plastic water bottles in a way that was initially irritating and then became like torture as it was inescapable as was my death.

I tried to deny it at first but there was finally no way to delude myself that we'd survive. We were all over the road, not because he was drunk or stoned, but because he simply wasn't paying any attention to driving. Sober, he would've still been a horrible driver. Speeding so fast down the steep grades, dry rotted tires squealing, cars honking, the baby weeping, the couple arguing...."Here hold her! HOLD HER SO I CAN DRIVE!!!" the man kept yelling with the baby actually being dangled by one arm and his other hand was holding a joint out the rolled down window, ashes flying in my face, his knee barely touching the steering wheel, as I see a huge sign "SHARP TURN 35MPH" and I look and we're going 75 and my heart is palpitating and the plastic water bottles are popping and the baby is weeping in pain and sorrow and the mother grabs her at THE LAST SECOND, and the driver stomps on the breaks and we screeeeech around the turn and the ass end of the car kisses the guardrail so I can see almost vertically down the deep ravine...and I'm sweating and grinding my teeth with my knees almost to my chin in the cramped back seat.
I mumbled something about driving better...
"WHAT'S THAT HOSS??" yells the driver and I respond,
"I HAVE A FRIEND IN CLOVERDALE!"
"YEAH?"
We pass a car on a blind curve, the baby is passed back once more as the mother wants to roll a joint and the man puts the baby's ass on the steering wheel like a cradle and the horn honks and he must crane his head around the baby's head to make sure he clears a rocky outcrop.
"SO I'LL VISIT HIM WHEN WE GET THERE PLEASE."
"YOU WANT OUT? WE'RE GOING TO blah blah blah!"
The music was some scratchy Moody Blues cassette tape on full volume.
"YEAH I'LL GET OUT THERE! NO WORRIES."
And the baby is waving her arms and I remember thinking, wait, what do I have to worry about? If I'm actually going to die here then the headlines will end up saying, "THREE DRUG SMUGGLING ADULTS AND ONE INFANT DIE IN FIERY SONOMA CRASH!" and in some kind of weird stoner logic I decided that since I don't read headlines like that very often then my chances were ok that I'd survive. I relaxed...and we rolled south to the City...if we sobered up we'd probably die.

I think the return trip to Arcata was the last time I ever hitchhiked a long distance on purpose, not including this last spring when I went from Alpine to Uvalde. When I moved to Los Angeles I took a train and someone committed suicide on the tracks north of Bakersfield.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.