While we make our way to a full-service rest stop, the tramp falls into a routine. He takes a drink. Goes silent as the alcohol percolates. Then out of nowhere there’s a shout, his voice edgy and belligerent. “Slow down,” he demands. “You’re driving too fast.” And then:
“Why the hell did you pass that car? There’s no need to pass that car.”
At the rest stop, H. and I are both out of the car. Time to re-calibrate. I start pumping gas. I want to put his half-full theory to the test. H. has other things on her mind.
“He was trying to feel me up the whole time,” H. says. “Nonstop.”
“Nonstop? I saw him go for your boobs,” I reply. “So what do we do? Leave him here?”
“Let’s get him a hamburger and sober him up. If we can sober him up… Oh. And I’m riding in the back seat. He’s all yours.”
The tramp holds tight on the passenger side while I pump gas, barely aware of the surrounding conversation. That doesn’t mean he’s happy. “There was no need to stop here,” he growls. “I fucking hate Texaco,” he adds. “Let’s go. Let’s fucking go.”
“Hey, she’s getting us some burgers. You said you were hungry, right? And don’t worry, we’ll be on the road soon. Just want to check the gas, that’s all.”
“You don’t trust me? Well screw you.”
The burgers are a welcome sight and the tramp seems calmed by H.’s presence. Temporarily calmed. As we pull onto the freeway, his coffee cup loses its dashboard perch and spills to the floor. He explodes, a pot boiling over.
“Goddamn it, god fucking damn it, who taught you fucking how to drive, anyways? Jesus, why don’t you just let me drive?”
I see H.’s face in the rearview. Scared. We both know this can’t continue, that we’re fooling ourselves with offers of hamburger and reasonableness. “Ok,” I assure him. “We’ll go up the road a ways and then we’ll get out. Okay?”
He doesn’t answer. We roll onto the highway, on the lookout for the next rest stop. Which means we’ll have to put up with him for awhile. “You’re right about the gas gauge,” I say, trying to placate him in the meantime. “Filled up it reads half a tank. Weird.” Still nothing from him. I’m glad. His silence is golden.
It is then that H. grabs my attention from the back seat. She’s daintily holding a rolled up piece of toilet paper by the threads. As I take it in, she lets it drop to the floor. “It’s a turd,” she says. “A dried up turd wrapped in toilet paper.”
In the miles ahead, we hit a detour. It’s not the first. Out west, there are only two seasons. Winter. And road-building. They’re funneling us through a single lane; it’s a hassle you put up with. Another indignity.
Source: Hark’s Photos
But this time, H. spots an out. Leaving the construction zone, she spies a yellow Dodge panel truck and three hippies at the side of the road. She says, “Stop.” I turn around and pull in behind them, not failing to notice the truck’s raised hood. “Are you sure?”
“The truck is old,” H. explains when she gets back. “They have to keep feeding it oil. That’s why the hood’s up. Oh. And they’ll give us a ride. They’re from Massachusetts and they’re headed home.”
It’s a simple matter to pull our packs out of the tramp’s car and into the truck. But the tramp is confused by this roadside dance. We resolve to be methodical. Deliberate. To ignore him. Soon we’re pulling away with the Massachusetts hippies. As we peer out the back window, H. and I watch the tramp slide into the driver’s seat and start his car. Shit. He’s going to follow us. Then, at the last minute, he pulls off the road. He stops.
Get The Book
This hitchhiking adventure, and others like it, informed “Huck Finn is Dead,” the fictional account of the life and times of Carney James. You should read it, “Huck Finn is Dead,” I mean. You’ll like it.