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The International Writers Magazine: Hitching

Here’s The Hitch
Max Slachter

Some people hitchhike because they have to. Real hitchhikers. They can’t afford a Greyhound bus or they don’t have a license, they have no friends or family who will give them a lift
so they can only rely on a stranger’s charity to get from place to place. For some reason, real hitchhikers never have any luggage. I wasn’t a real hitchhiker. I just thought it would be good for my health and light on my wallet, but there was no necessity, no real need. I wanted an adventure. It was a 4000km journey from Vancouver, across almost the whole width of Canada to Toronto, and I was determined to make it on the road.

Real or not, it was a strange feeling, walking down the entrance ramp onto the highway in a quiet midday rain shower. I couldn’t help being excited, just as much as I couldn’t help being nervous and when I thought about the distance ahead it was daunting. But mostly I was excited. Cars and trucks splashed and dashed past my left shoulder and to my right was the typical highway intersection landscaping scheme, consisting of three foot high grass, gravel and a thriving herbarium of weeds. A sign at the beginning of the main artery read ‘It is illegal to stop for hitchhikers’. That was a decidedly unhelpful road sign considering I was about to start hitching from that very spot. I kept walking down the highway a bit further to try and get out of the signs harmful radius. When I thought I had gone far enough I turned to face the traffic with my thumb doing the talking and my best ‘please pick me up, I’m really a very nice guy and won’t kill you and eat you’ smile on my face.

Because it was the start of a holiday weekend, the traffic, instead of shooting past in a flash of rejection, was creeping along slowly in both barrels of the eastbound lane out of town. This gave me enough time to look each driver straight in the eye if they looked at me, and because curiosity is a characteristic of being human, they almost always did. At first I thought the traffic jam would aid my cause because of this special one-on-one time with each driver, but in fact it just meant that nobody wanted to stop and delay their Friday afternoon dash to the mountains any further by picking up a wet hitchhiker with a stupid grin on his face.

After an hour my pack was feeling much heavier on my back. I couldn’t put it on the ground because it was too wet, but fortunately I had a garbage bag over the top of it so that it wasn’t being slowly saturated by the rain. I began to curse them all inwardly for their lack of compassion. Surely some of them must be Christians, hadn’t they heard the story of the Good Samaritan? Didn’t they want to go to heaven when it came time for their permanent long weekend and kick back on some comfy white clouds for eternity? I was free a ticket!

Eventually my prayers were answered. An old sedan pulled up a hundred meters past me and I power walked (running would seem desperate) to the back of the car. The driver, a guy about my age, but much larger and well over six feet tall was waiting for me at the boot. But my attention was immediately drawn to the front passenger seat, occupied by a sweet little old lady with white hair. "Brilliant!" I thought, no murderous wacko would have a little old lady in the passenger seat, any misgivings I might have had about whether to take the ride were forgotten at the site of her. She exuded safety and reliability from every trustworthy wrinkle. The driver introduced himself as Raymond and was busy putting my pack into the boot before I could even ask him if he was going in the direction of Kamloops, which is where I was heading.
"Oh yea no worries dude, I’m going to Kamloops for sure, eh. I’m going all over the place man. But yea Kamloops, I can take you there, that’s cool eh," was his promising yet strangely indefinite response.

Once we had got in the car and set off I started to observe my Good Samaritan more closely. This wasn’t as difficult as you would normally expect from the back seat because Raymond’s chair was reclined so far from the wheel that he was just about lying on his back; we were almost nose to nose. He was definitely a big guy, not particularly fat but beefy with rounded edges. His face was pink beneath a disorganized mop of ginger hair and he sweated profusely through his singlet, despite the cool October day. There was something in his countenance, his movements and his words that convinced me he was quite stoned. This didn’t particularly worry me though; I had already accepted that this applied to half the population in British Columbia at any given time so I wasn’t going to turn down a lift on that account. He seemed pretty friendly anyway, and needless to say, he was hopelessly easy going. As for the car, it looked like an apartment just after it has been ransacked by thieves who then stole anything suggesting cleanliness. Clothes and fast food packaging were strewn from one end to the other, along with a thousand other miscellaneous objects that completed the mess.

The sweet little old lady in the passenger seat, who had so easily lulled me into a docile sense of security, was Anna. She was indeed very sweet, very old (eighties I guessed) and quite little too, because old ladies really only come in one size. She was a friend of Raymond’s grandmother and Raymond, being a good neighbor, had taken her into the city to test her pacemaker in the casino for a morning. Anna hadn’t made any money today because they weren’t there for long enough, or so she insisted. Raymond agreed and disagreed at the same time, continuity wasn’t one of his strong points I was starting to realize.
"He’s a good boy, a good boy" said Anna softly, in her strong Austrian accent, and then added, turning to me and nodding solemnly,
"But always high, all the time he is high, high, high"

Outside the rain had given up falling and healthy green farms were gliding past the window against a brooding backdrop of mountains, whose tops were still shrouded in low cloud. We were travelling northeast through fertile valleys at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and would soon start to climb into them, but first Raymond had to stop in the provincial town of Chilliwack to drop Anna home.

Anna lived in a retirement village, which she said was boring. Full of boring old people who did nothing but play bingo and watch television. This included Raymond’s grandparents, but I was not to tell Raymond that. Anna was well into her eighties but had only stopped skiing a few years ago. She showed me her special tobacco pipe which hung on a wall in the living room (it was very old and all the way from Austria), then gave me twenty dollars and told me i was
"A good boy, just like Raymond".

When we left Chilliwack it was late in the afternoon. Raymond had got lost trying to find his uncles house, which he had left from that morning, and then seemed to get quite lost in his head remembering what he had to do there. By the time we were back on the road I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with Raymond. It’s not that I thought he was malicious or dangerous, I just doubted his sanity. But so what right? He’s a bit of a scatter brain, a bit dumb perhaps and probably stoned, not ideal. But he’s a ride in the right direction; or at least I thought he was. The more Raymond talked about where he was going, the more obscure our destination became. The list of towns grew; Kamloops, Oliver, Kelowna, Penticton. He was covering every point of the compass.
"Hey man, we are going to Kamloops aren’t we?" I asked trying not to sound alarmed.
"Oh yea man, I’m travelling all over the place, eh. I’ll probably be in Kamloops Monday or Tuesday."
It was Friday.

Tonight he’s heading to Oliver or Penticton (he’s not sure which) to go out with his buddies. That’s still in the right direction for me, its not what I had planned, but its still east, so I figured I could hitch out of Oliver in the morning.

We were climbing higher into the mountains now as the sun grew lower and colder in the sky. The slopes above us were heavily forested until they became sheer granite rock faces higher up, where no vegetation could take hold no matter how ardently it tried. Below were valleys cut by clear rocky streams. The type of streams that, even without putting your toes in, you know are icy cold. It was beautiful outside the car.

Raymond had mentioned a few times that we needed to get gas and put some air in one of the rear tires, which had a slow leak. So when a turn off for the town of Hope appeared I suggested we stop at a gas station. I also wanted to see what a town called Hope looked like.

We pulled into the first gas station we came to, but strangely Raymond did not stop at a gas pump or an air compressor. Instead he parked next to the convenience store and went straight in. I stood outside at the car, a little confused and a little chilly in the cold mountain air. The sun had slipped below the western peaks and the streetlights of Hope were starting to flicker. I looked down the main street for any hints of how it gained such an emotive name, but none were obvious. Although it was pretty, nestled in a valley, surrounded by it rocky walls. The gas station was busy this Friday evening, full of people escaping into the mountains for their long weekend holiday. Young couples and families mainly, in expensive quasi off-road vehicles with city tires and aerodynamic roof racks, perfect for those weekend getaways.

I was actually quite jealous of them. They were warm, cheerful and had a destination in their minds which they couldn’t wait to arrive at. I was underdressed, uneasy with my company and still oddly uncertain of my destination that night. But there was also a vague sense of satisfaction. I could have caught the train and been broke or the bus and been bored. I could have flown to Toronto and been none the wiser. But I was hitching and life had never seemed so tangible.
Raymond came out of the store with an armful of chips, sandwiches and sports drinks.
"Alright, lets hit the road eh" he exclaimed when he got to the car.
"What about gas?"
"Oh shit, gas. Yea, better get some gas eh"
We never did pump up the rear tire and it was an unwelcome coincidence, but that’s when I began to lose hope; in Hope.

There was a four hour drive ahead of us to Oliver and Raymond had two distinct topics of conversation for the drive; cars and fighting.

He talked about drifting cars and jumping cars, his dad’s cars his uncle’s cars, the speeds he’d reached, the speeds he plans to reach, the good trucks, the bad trucks, the truck he wants… Apparently trucks are just as thrashable as cars if you know what you’re doing. Cars are obviously an important part of Raymond’s existence, which makes me wonder why I am sitting in such a rusted heap of shit. My side of the conversation consisted of such impassioned responses as; "Mmm; Oh yea; Right; Okay; Oh really, wow, that much horsepower?"
But this wasn’t a problem because Raymond wasn’t afraid of soliloquizing.

The only topic Raymond liked to regale me with more than cars was fighting. He really loved fighting. He told me about his brother a UFL (Ultimate Fighting League) contender. How his brother can and will smash anyone he wants to, how his dad will smash anyone, how he likes to fight whenever he drinks.
"You know, its just something I like to do eh, have a few drinks, fight some dudes, you know, if they’re looking for it,"
Its two hours since we left Hope and night has settled over the landscape. Listening to Raymond talk about thrashed cars and gratuitous violence for the next two hours is not exactly appealing, but I’m hitching and putting up with some unwanted conversations is a necessary component of the process. Its when he starts outlining his plans to thrash cars and get in fights (he already has names) tonight, in Oliver or Penticton (he still hasn’t settled on one) that I decide it might be time to jump this troubled ship and leave Raymond to his own unoriented travels. The closest town listed on the next road sign is Princeton, about eighty kilometers away. I try to be delicate, not wanting to offend Raymond’s capricious hospitality.
"You know I’m pretty tired man and I don’t want to slow down your party tonight. So if you just drop me off in Princeton that would be great"
Raymond chuckled.
"Oh no way man. I’m not dropping you in Princeton, you’re coming to Oliver with me, we’re goin’ out tonight"

That wasn’t the response I was hoping for and my stomach suddenly feels queasy. I’m not trying to be polite anymore; my next request is flat and slightly urgent.
"No really man, I’m tired and I just want to get out at Princeton. I hardly slept last night you know and I’ve got to crash"
"No way man, I can’t do that"

Before I can reply to this Raymond’s foot hits the accelerator. We start to speed up and soon we’re going 140 km/h. Raymond’s whole disposition has changed. After spending the whole trip driving languidly from the back seat, he is now hunched over the steering wheel, which he grips tightly with both hands. He’s staring straight ahead, focused on some unknown point ahead of us. His mouth is shut tight. ‘Great’ I think to myself, he’s Schizophrenic.

I remain dead silent, trying to be calm and rational. The only noise is the sound of the engine whining and undulating loudly under the strain of Raymond’s newfound need for speed. I’ve never seen a person’s personality change so completely, so quickly. We’re overtaking one car after another, wildly, in the opposite lane. The rain has started again now that we’re higher in the mountains and the twisting road glistens in our headlights as we chew it up prematurely. I’m very scared now. I have no idea how to deal with Raymond’s rigid new personality, it’s completely at odds with the jocose stoner of five minutes ago. But I have to do something because he’s doing his best to sign our death warrants with his right foot.
"Hey man, you’re going kind of fast"
I tried not to sound scared but I must have.
"Oh yea, its cool man, you getting scared eh?"

And just like that Raymond was back to his previous self. He slowed down, right down, below the speed limit. He started crawling along at 80km/h and then, as if the last ten minutes never existed.
"You know, I just like to cruise eh"
"Yea," I mumble. "No rush".

But there was a rush. It was in my head. I was still stuck in this damned car in the middle of a strange country with a guy less predictable than next month’s winning lottery numbers, whose favorite topic of conversation is listing feats of violence performed by himself and his family.

I wanted to get out at Princeton more than ever now, but the first thing you learn in Canada is not to poke bear’s so I sat there nursing my inner turmoil and trying very hard not to show it.
After twenty minutes though, Raymond, true to form, did something completely unexpected and said,
"Yea, so Princeton eh. I’ll drop you there if you really want me too"
Relief washed over me. I felt like blowing bubbles.
"Yea that would be good. I’ve really got to get some sleep. Thanks."

The road to Princeton dragged on and on, every inch of it was commentated by Raymond’s ramblings, which were now fixed solely on fighting and violence. I was not convinced he wouldn’t change his mind about stopping in Princeton so I stayed tense in my seat and tried to keep the conversation flowing. I focused all my frayed nerves on sounding interested in how his dad breaks spines and his brother breaks backs, or any other feat they may have achieved.
"Oh cool, yea that sounds mad. Two ribs, really?"

Eventually the lights of a town became visible in the valley before us and when Princeton emerged from a bend it looked more welcoming than any town I have ever arrived at in my life. There might as well have been an enormous banner across the road saying ‘Princeton Welcomes Max’ in big pink letters, written with balloons. Raymond pulled into a gas station, parked at a gas pump, although he was not getting any gas, and went straight into the convenience store to buy me three packets of beef jerky, which he insisted on doing. I heaved my pack out of his boot and felt the weight of a world lifted from my shoulders. My pack was my life and my life had returned to where I liked it; on my back.

As I said goodbye to Raymond and thanked him for the ride, he seemed strangely distant and somehow confused, like he didn’t really know what was going on. I almost felt sorry for him then, but I wasn’t sorry, just glad that his confusion didn’t have to affect me anymore. I watched his tail lights getting smaller in the distance and eventually disappear completely around a bend. Raymond was certainly a Good Samaritan; I didn’t doubt that for a second. But thank God he wasn’t helping me anymore.

© Max Slachter November 1st 2007
maxschlach at

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