International Writers Magazine: Hitching
Some people hitchhike because they have to. Real hitchhikers. They
cant afford a Greyhound bus or they dont have a license,
they have no friends or family who will give them a lift
so they can only rely on a strangers charity to get from place
to place. For some reason, real hitchhikers never have any luggage.
I wasnt 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 couldnt help being
excited, just as much as I couldnt 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, Im
really a very nice guy and wont 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 couldnt
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 wasnt 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, hadnt they heard the story
of the Good Samaritan? Didnt 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, Im going to Kamloops for sure, eh.
Im going all over the place man. But yea Kamloops, I can take you
there, thats cool eh," was his promising yet strangely indefinite
Once we had got in the car and set off I started to observe my Good Samaritan
more closely. This wasnt as difficult as you would normally expect
from the back seat because Raymonds 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 didnt particularly worry
me though; I had already accepted that this applied to half the population
in British Columbia at any given time so I wasnt 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 Raymonds grandmother
and Raymond, being a good neighbor, had taken her into the city to test
her pacemaker in the casino for a morning. Anna hadnt made any money
today because they werent there for long enough, or so she insisted.
Raymond agreed and disagreed at the same time, continuity wasnt
one of his strong points I was starting to realize.
"Hes 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 Raymonds 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. Its not that I thought he was
malicious or dangerous, I just doubted his sanity. But so what right?
Hes a bit of a scatter brain, a bit dumb perhaps and probably stoned,
not ideal. But hes 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 arent we?" I asked
trying not to sound alarmed.
"Oh yea man, Im travelling all over the place, eh. Ill
probably be in Kamloops Monday or Tuesday."
It was Friday.
Tonight hes heading to Oliver or Penticton (hes not sure which)
to go out with his buddies. Thats 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 couldnt 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
"Alright, lets hit the road eh" he exclaimed when he got to
"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 thats 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 dads cars his
uncles cars, the speeds hed reached, the speeds he plans to
reach, the good trucks, the bad trucks, the truck he wants
trucks are just as thrashable as cars if you know what youre doing.
Cars are obviously an important part of Raymonds 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 wasnt a problem because Raymond wasnt 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
"You know, its just something I like to do eh, have a few drinks,
fight some dudes, you know, if theyre 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 Im 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 hasnt 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 Raymonds
"You know Im pretty tired man and I dont want to slow
down your party tonight. So if you just drop me off in Princeton that
would be great"
"Oh no way man. Im not dropping you in Princeton, youre
coming to Oliver with me, were goin out tonight"
That wasnt the response I was hoping for and my stomach suddenly
feels queasy. Im not trying to be polite anymore; my next request
is flat and slightly urgent.
"No really man, Im tired and I just want to get out at Princeton.
I hardly slept last night you know and Ive got to crash"
"No way man, I cant do that"
Before I can reply to this Raymonds foot hits the accelerator. We
start to speed up and soon were going 140 km/h. Raymonds 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. Hes staring straight ahead, focused
on some unknown point ahead of us. His mouth is shut tight. Great
I think to myself, hes 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 Raymonds newfound need for speed. Ive never seen a persons
personality change so completely, so quickly. Were overtaking one
car after another, wildly, in the opposite lane. The rain has started
again now that were higher in the mountains and the twisting road
glistens in our headlights as we chew it up prematurely. Im very
scared now. I have no idea how to deal with Raymonds rigid new personality,
its completely at odds with the jocose stoner of five minutes ago.
But I have to do something because hes doing his best to sign our
death warrants with his right foot.
"Hey man, youre 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 months 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 bears 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. Ill drop you there if you really want
Relief washed over me. I felt like blowing bubbles.
"Yea that would be good. Ive really got to get some sleep.
The road to Princeton dragged on and on, every inch of it was commentated
by Raymonds ramblings, which were now fixed solely on fighting and
violence. I was not convinced he wouldnt 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 didnt really know what was
going on. I almost felt sorry for him then, but I wasnt sorry, just
glad that his confusion didnt 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 didnt
doubt that for a second. But thank God he wasnt helping me anymore.
© Max Slachter November 1st 2007
maxschlach at hotmail.com
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