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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Need a Lift?…From the Archives…

A sunny  winter day                 It’s a girl, my lord, in a flat-bed Ford,

                Slowin’ down to take a look at me….

                                                           The Eagles

Perhaps it wasn’t quite a March lion of a wind, more tom cat-ish, maybe, but blustery enough for me to leave balky Gladys at home in the garage and strike out on foot. I was just getting up to speed when a green Subaru from somewhere up High Rock slowly eased out onto the highway and headed toward town. Instead of quickly accelerating, which is highly advisable on 203, the little car rolled along the opposite shoulder. When I glanced over, the driver shouted across the road: “Do you need a lift?” The first thought that came to mind was: “No, but I could use a wheelchair.” What I replied, however, was: “No, just the exercise. But thanks.” The driver smiled, nodded and sped away. That left me thinking how unusual it is these days in the hustle and bustle of every day life with everyone in such a hurry to get somewhere that one would take the time to stop and extend the courtesy of a ride. I wasn’t even carrying a gas can!

Once upon a time we were a one vehicle family, a rarity these days, I’m sure. The wife and I shuttled each other around in a red 1970 VW beetle. On the way to my job I would drop her off at hers, pick her up in the afternoons, and we would ride home together. Summers for a few years called for some creative transportation. I had a few hoops to jump through to shed my “provisional” teaching certificate and acquire the “standard” certification. This meant that a few summers I had to attend a session of classes at my Alma Mater, Central Washington State College (“SWEECY” as it was known in its pre-university days). A rookie teacher had only so many years to complete his “fifth year,” so the pressure was on. Besides, I was frantic to stay at least a half step ahead of the sophomores. Transportation was a problem: my wife had her job and therefore needed the car. For a summer or two we would make the trip to Ellensburg on a Sunday and she would drive home alone, return the following Friday to retrieve me. I believe there would be two week periods during the six weeks of classes when we were out of each other’s hair.

One summer I was able to get a ride to and from North Bend with my roommate. My wife would drive me to the Mar-T Café Monday mornings and collect me there Fridays after she finished work. Two or three hours to kill in North Bend soon became tiresome; I was starting to hear the same truckers’ stories twice at the Mar-T. “Why not hitchhike to Monroe on Fridays?” I thought, instead of sitting at the Mar-T until my school clothes smelled of chicken fried steak. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And there was precedent for such an adventure.

“June 8, 1972,” I wrote at the top of the little spiral-bound notepad that was to chronicle my hitchhiking debut, “Left Monroe at 9:20 a.m.” Earlier that morning I had provisioned a little day pack with snacks, filled a boda bag with some May wine (vintage a month earlier, same year, hitchhiking on the cheap), and got my first ride…my wife drove me to town on her way to work. My destination?  My hometown in Eastern Washington, 175 miles away. What follows are a few entries taken from my scrawled journal recording the adventure:

First ride 10:20, Jerry Baker, a logger, strong views on environmentalists vs. logging. Stopped for coffee in Gold Bar. Ride from GB to 3 miles e. of Index. Time 11:10. 11:50—Got ride with long-haired type to summit of Stevens. Started hiking down 12:20. 12:50, guy in panel with two other hitchhikers. Heading for Leavenworth. Arrived 1:45. Picked up at 1:55 to Y-Café by two hot rodding kids. Picked up by Al McIlhenney 2:10 at Y-Café, heading for home. (He’s going to Okanogan.) Al will be a junior at the UW next year, a business major attending on a football scholarship. He’s a redshirt linebacker for the Huskies (likes Coach Jim Owens. It’s Rose Bowl ‘72, he hopes (football scholarship pays tuition and books, plus $117 a month room and board.) Has a summer job with Wash. State Ferries, a deckhand on the Winslow Ferry. Arrived in Brewster at 3:20. I paid him $2 [What a cheapskate, you say? Remember, two dollars those days would fill half a tank] for the ride and wished him luck. One more ride to the ranch with the boss’s daughter. I arrived at 4:20 with blisters on both feet. And my final entry: ‘A very worthwhile & enjoyable experience (a bit apprehensive at times).’

So with that initial “worthwhile and enjoyable experience” in my hitchhiking repertoire, I decided to hop down off that counter stool, leave the Mar-T and the p.m. coffee drinkers to their gossip. This, mind you, I did on a whim; mobile and cell phones were years away, and I had no way of communicating my rash vagabondage to my wife, nor did I know when she got off work, whether early or late. My plan was to tell the good Samaritan who offered me a lift to keep an eye out for a red VW beetle in the oncoming lane, flash his lights at it, wave, do anything necessary short of running her off the road to get her to stop. At the time I  believed I’d most likely make the fifty minute journey home before she left.  How surprised she’d be to find me at home when she arrived from work.

That was over forty years ago and much of that adventure is lost in the mists of time. I can’t recall having to flag down a little red VW bug, so I must have arrived home before she did. Of the drivers who offered me a ride I only remember two. The first one was some teenage kid driving what he  most likely thought was a hotrod, but what I recall as a hunk of speeding scrap metal. Even now if I close my eyes, I can see the hole in the floorboard by the chrome gearshift and the pavement blurring by, the startling number of times the pavement shifted back and forth from black to yellow, so many times in fact, I began to wish I had spent less time watching Sunday football and more time in church. When the kid let me out in Carnation, I was so weak kneed I could hardly stand; it was a bona fide “kiss the ground” moment.

My second ride brought relief bordering on delight. Whatever vehicle it was that slowed and stopped, I’ve forgotten. Not so its driver whom I recall with pleasure even as I write this: a young lady, early twenties, I’d say, slightly younger than this hitchhiker then. I remember her as slight in stature--five foot two, maybe--a perky young thing with short, curly black hair. She was wearing a light summer dress, frock-like, that rested lightly just above her knees. A light yellow fabric, I recall, warm like that summer evening. A floral print…pastels? And an easiness about her that soon made me forget the previous perilous ride. I don’t remember how far we’d driven, a few miles I guess, before I posed the question I’d wanted to ask ever since I had blurted “Thanks,” and hopped in. “Aren’t you afraid of giving rides to strangers, especially men?” She turned, shot me a rather quizzical look, and said, “Not really. I’m on my way to visit my probation officer and he’s expecting me.” How does one respond to that kind of information? All I could think to say was “Oh!”

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