[This is the 5th installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first post to read from the beginning]
Road to Minneapolis
I awoke. Grey light filtered through the blinds throwing a pattern of slits on the bed beside me where Ken slept. A line of white light shown under the door. Sounds of a car door shutting, muffled voices, and the jingling of keys made me aware of life beyond our motel room.
I was still alive. I lay there breathing slowly and deeply. The frightening thunderheads of black thought that had engulfed me the night before, concerning my imminent demise, were gone. I laughed.
“What’s so funny,” said Charlie, apparently lying awake.
“Just glad to be alive,” I responded.
“Yeah, well, we’re burning daylight. Let’s get going.”
We slowly got up and packed.
“Get your ass out of bed, Ken.” Charlie threw his pillow and hit Ken in the head.
“Hey, watch it,” Ken flung it back at him. Then he got up and went into the bathroom.
“Hurry up, I gotta take a piss too.”
The drive to Provo was cordial. Charlie joked and bragged to, through, and past breakfast at Denny’s. I didn’t want to spend anymore money than I had to. Yet I wanted to be sociable after being allowed to live and all. So instead of eating the salami and cheese in my pack, I ate with them at Denny’s.
We drove together past Provo and joined I-80 for the trip over the Rockies. It was getting cold. Once we got in the foothills it started to snow. Ken drove. He was scared. “They taught us to turn into the skids when we were on the ice.”
“When?” I asked.
“When I was training to be a State Cop. They had us drive on ice at an ice rink in San Bernardino.”
“Why? There’s never any ice in L.A.”.
“Yeah but we were training for high speed chases and U turns.”
Both hands gripped the wheel, he had his driving gloves on so I couldn’t see whether his knuckles were white or not. His steely jaw did not tremble, but I sensed his tension.
“I’m thinking we should just drive straight through to Minneapolis,” said Charlie, “I don’t feel like camping in this shit.”
No longer excited about camping with my two “buddies”, I was glad when I saw the snow and heard Charlie’s reaction to it. I didn’t think they still wanted to kill me, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to see any prairie dogs bite the dust either.
The car wasn’t running as well at the higher altitude. Sometimes it would slow way down and creep up hill. Sometimes it would cough and sputter , threatening to die.
Finally it did die. We had driven through the night. My tailbone was starting to get sore from the hard console that, in spite of the padding, I could not avoid. I slept in small stretches as Ken and Charlie took turns driving. I contributed towards the gas but was not asked to drive.
Finally the car sputtered to a stop just as it came up over a rise.
“Well, shit. This piece of crap.”
“Hey, that’s my car you’re talking about,” said Charlie.
“Well, one of us has to get a ride into town to get help.”
“I’ll go,” I said. “I’ll hitch in.”
There was no disagreement about that. They were glad to have me do something for a change. Maybe get rid of me; my money was almost gone. If I had known I’d be paying for a ride, I would’ve taken a bus. The only thing is, I would have lost all my earthly possessions.
It was morning; the snow was blowing over the pass, down the interstate. There were not a lot of cars but I felt confident I would get a ride due to our broken-down vehicle.
I walked and hitched. The next town was a good 10 miles, and I was trying to stay warm.
A Volkswagen Rabbit with skis strapped to the roof pulled over. There was a young guy driving, his girlfriend was sleeping on top of all their luggage and coats in the back.
“Hey, how ya doing.” I recognized the couple. They went to Notre Dame. Younger than me, they were still in school, living the dream. I was hitching across the country, nearly broke, at loose ends. They clearly could afford a car and a ski trip and school too!
“Hi,” said the driver.
“Hi,” said the girl.
“Could you give me a ride to the next town? The people I’m riding with’s car broke down. I need to get some help.”
“Sure, climb in.” said the driver.
“Fancy meeting you out here. Where you going?” I asked.
“Back to school.” They looked tired and were not very talkative. They couldn’t care less about me but they were surprised to see me out of context. They knew me as a graduating theatre person. I couldn’t be doing that well if I’m hitchhiking out in the middle of nowhere. I was forced to compare myself to these people. The plan, when you graduate from college is, you get a good job, you start a career, you continue climbing up that success ladder. Everyone expected it of you, everyone is impressed. I had already gotten off the ladder.
I’m not impressing anybody here, I thought. I asked them about people they knew and then got real quiet, trying to appear mysterious. Perhaps they’ll figure there is more to my life than meets the eye.
They didn’t know what to make of me, but they were too tired to wonder why they, of all people, would be helping me, of all persons.
The mechanic from the gas station drove out with me in the tow truck. “This ain’t nothing. It sometimes goes down to 40 below with the wind blowing the snow clean through you.”
I thought how there were so many people in the world tougher than I was. That somehow I was allowed to squeak by unharmed with so many dangers all around me. Perhaps it was my ability to appear invisible.
“Where are they, son?”
The section of interstate was clear of all cars, not even a moving car in sight.
“I don’t know. They’re gone. I’m sorry to drag you out here for nothing.” I’m never going to see them again. I started planning on how I would get to Minneapolis without any clothes, food or sleeping bag. I would hitch as soon as I got back to the rest stop. Maybe get a bite to eat, but I had to watch my money, I didn’t have much left.
“It’s all right, things are slow at the station now anyway.”
I went into the diner, calculating how much money I could spend. I was starving.
“Well, look who’s here,” Charlie said.
“How did you get here? I went back with a tow truck and there was nobody there.”
“The car just started going again, “said Ken, the state cop aspirant, who looked surprised and embarrassed.
“Might as well get something to eat.” Charlie sipped on a beer.
Cedar City all over again. I sat on a bar stool and ordered two eggs over easy with home fries and rye toast, $1.75.
“Yep, just started running again. We kept trying it. It was getting cold out there.”
“I got picked up by two people I knew. They’re from Notre Dame.”
“Fancy that,” said Charlie out of the corner of his mouth.
Resigned to finish the journey together, we got back into the car and headed east. The rest of the way to Minneapolis was uneventful; just a long slow drive at 55 mph. This was just after 55 mph had been implemented nationally because of the supposed fuel shortage.
The oil companies staged a fake fuel shortage all across the country. Cars were lined up at the pumps for blocks. All the while, oil tankers had to sit offshore and wait because fuel storage tanks were filled to capacity. That was before oil companies became selfless champions of the greater good.
Talk decreased to a bare minimum as the tired cold miles were slowly digested.
It was warm and sunny when we finally hit Minneapolis. Charlie started making jokes. “Look at that asshole,” he said, pointing to a bearded, long-haired student standing at a bus stop. “With all that hair you can’t tell if he’s got shit for brains or brains full of shit.”
Charlie started planning his and Ken’s future. “We’ll live with my Mom for awhile, get jobs and save a little money. We could buy a couple motorcycles and ride around together.”
Ken smiled, “Sounds good.”
“Well it’s time to get rid of this asshole,” Charlie laughed. “I’m just kidding, it’s been nice knowing you,” he winked at Ken while he said this. “You can catch a bus downtown over at that corner. Minneapolis has a good bus system; they come every half hour.”
They pulled over and began yanking my stuff out of all the places it had been secreted around the little car. They put it all in a pile on the sidewalk.
“Take care of yourself. And listen.” Charlie’s eyes narrowed, his voice, became serious. “You watch the news this spring, the Red Chinese are coming, I shit you not.” He reached his hand out the window and shook my hand. “Nice knowing you.”
“Yeah, it was a good trip,” said Ken reaching across Charlie to shake my hand too.
“See ya,” Charlie abruptly started the car and gave a slight wave. I waved back, but they didn’t turn to see it. Ken and Charlie were laughing about something as they drove off. It looked as if they’d already forgotten the whole thing.