Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Luck Of The Road

“It feels like we've been on this highway forever,” Sam complained.

“We couldn't have found a better place for it,” Rick said.

Rick had his hands in his pockets and was kicking a small smooth rock back and forth along the edge of the asphalt. He hadn't looked up when Sam spoke. Sam knew irony when he heard it and didn't look at Rick either. He just didn't have the energy to respond. Both of them were overheated and disgusted. They were standing on the outskirts of a little town called Blythe at the eastern edge of California, but it looked like the middle of nowhere to Sam.

The desert wasn't far away and the Arizona border not much further, but they'd been stuck in this same spot all day, hatless under as hot a sun as he could imagine. With one hand he was trying to thumb a ride east while with the other hand he was wiping at his forehead over and over again. Beads of sweat reformed faster than he could shake his fingers dry.
The year was 1969. The hitch-hikers were in their early twenties. They looked a little scruffy, yet not much different from how they'd looked before they dropped out of college the year before. Still, they were conspicuous enough on the side of this dusty road. Sometimes they called themselves “freaks”, meaning it as an amusement. It was slightly less offensive and a little more accurate than “hippie”, a term invented by the news media to cover such a broad spectrum of human possibilities and eccentricities that it meant nothing at all. At any rate, both hitchhikers had had some trouble in the past with locals who thought they were from another planet. (In some parts of the country that year, it didn't take much deviation from the norm to end up branded inhuman. Thirty years later, it would seem as if the only people who wore their hair long were rock stars and those self-same rednecks who used to throw beer bottles out the car window—but the significance of that peculiar pairing is beyond the scope of this writing.)

Rick, whose shaggy brown hair was dull-colored, had a blazing red-brown beard which he kept cut short. He never shaved or shaped it, which made him look a little like a Neanderthal. There was a gentle confusion in his eyes, however—something resembling the abstracted look of a panda or the stoned gaze of a teddy bear—that suggested he was probably pretty tame.

Sam was stocky, considerably more bear-like in appearance than Rick, though certainly not a teddy bear. His nose was too sharp and so was his temperament. His moderately long hair, blond and curly at the ends, was carefully parted in the middle. It might have given his face a 1940’s look if it hadn't been for his beard, an unusually long goatee which seemed more to suggest beatniks than the full-faced beards of the hippies. To add to the confusion there was the shiny red-white-and-blue scarf he'd bought in Berkeley because it resembled an American flag, but wasn't. On one hand, freaks were not supposed to worry very much about what they looked like; paradoxically they were also supposed to “let it all hang out”, or, in the words of some song of the time, to “let their freak flags fly”. Thus Sam's appearance was a bit schizoid, consisting of an absolute disdain for what he thought of as fashion and a proud premeditated peacockery.

“Son of a bitch,” Sam said numbly, loosening the scarf. His vanity had just caved in. He pulled it off and put it in his backpack, noting that small bits of softened road tar were sticking to the canvas pack. He licked his lips and spat. The heat and dust were horrible. Hitchhiking was horrible.

Though Sam didn't see it, Rick was grinning. It was a rare sight; he was generally pretty stoic. He had, for instance, been listening to Sam gripe for a day and a half now without saying very much himself, though he wasn't having any better time of it than Sam. He could tolerate practically anything, he'd thought, including Sam's noisy bad humors about the discomforts of cheap travel, but now the heat was making him light-headed and Sam's complaints had become an amusing distraction for Rick. It gave him a sense of balance, and he liked keeping his balance as well as the next
man. He just didn't make as much noise about it.

“Damn!” Rick swore softly, his expression of amusement changing to a preoccupied frown. He had kicked his rock too hard and it had skittered sideways toward the road. Sam saw it coming, but it went between his feet and landed in the middle of the blacktop before he could even think of doing anything.

“Sorry,” Sam said.

“No problem,” Rick shrugged. “Lots of rocks.”

A few minutes later, it was Sam's turn to curse again. “I can't believe this!” He threw his arms up and let them fall to his sides. “I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever get any further,” he said irritably.

“California's a nice 'n easy place mostly,” Rick sighed, “but sometimes it just won't turn loose.”

Sam grunted his agreement and lit a cigarette. He could have said more. He had wanted loose from California after only six weeks, but he'd been too embarrassed to just turn around and go home to Texas. He had already despaired of liking California when he injured his back in a ridiculous bicycle accident going down a steep San Francisco hill. He had fallen on his head and pulled nearly every muscle in his back. He was more seriously injured than he had first wanted to admit, and when he finally admitted it, he didn't want to go to a doctor, he just wanted to go home. He was sick and tired of California.

Rick, also a Texan, had lived in Berkeley for a couple of years and seemed to like it, yet he had suddenly announced that he was going, too. Sam wondered if Rick was tired of California, too, or just homesick for Texas. A few weeks ago he wouldn't have believed it, but now he understood how someone can get desperately homesick for a place they were sick of when they left there. Now here they were trying to get back to Texas the only way they could afford, and not having much luck. Cars had been passing them by all morning. When he'd thumbed his way west, catching rides had sometimes been slow, but nothing like this. Broiling on a dusty highway like this was intolerable.

“This is worse than Texas,” Sam said, “and I never even imagined anything worse than Texas.”

“We're almost in the desert here, you know,” Rick yawned. “You've never really dealt with a desert before, I guess. You must have caught good rides coming out here.”

“Well, maybe.” Sam took a short sip from an oversized canteen and spat it out. “This goddamn water was cold thirty minutes ago and now it tastes like it came out of a radiator! Let's go get something cool to drink.”

Rick glanced at him with sleepy eyes, then at the brightly-colored restaurant on the other side of the road. They'd been trotting in and out of Sambo's every hour or so all morning, going for coffee and ice water and, of course, the air-conditioning; it was hard to stick it out very long in the open sun. If anybody was that tough, it certainly wasn't Sam.

“What a ridiculous town to get stuck in, anyway!” Sam fumed.

“What a ridiculous name for a town,” Rick said amiably.

“That's true,” Sam snickered, suddenly sounding in a better humor. “It looks like the dark side of Middle Earth, doesn't it? There's hardly anything here but tourist provisions. If it weren't for these bright plastic gas stations and food joints, there wouldn't be any color here at all. Right behind the 'Food-Gas-Lodgings' sign, there ought to be one that says,

'Welcome to the Desolation of Blythe. Free sun strokes with every purchase.'“

“Well, I see you're in a better mood,” Rick said.

“Don't depend on it!” Sam laughed, wiping his wet forehead.

“Anyway, let's go see what the other tourists are eating.”

As they were going in the door at the restaurant Rick yawned
again and said, “If we don't catch a ride pretty soon, I think we'd better split
up. Sometimes it's just impossible for two people to catch a ride.”

Sam nodded. Rick was a more experienced hitch?hiker and was likely to be
right. Sam hated it, though.

They sat down at a booth and Rick put his feet up and closed his
eyes. When the waitress came, Sam ordered something to eat, but Rick just
shook his head and dozed. It was well past noon when they came out again
and the sun hit them hard. Sam put his hand in front of his face and
frowned.

“Shit, getting out of the sun didn't make it better, it made it
worse.”

Rick, suddenly and fully awakened by the hot air, jerked his head
toward the sky and squinted. “What the hell did you eat, anyway?” he asked
Sam.

“Something that looked a lot better in the picture on the menu
than it did in real life. And then it still looked better than it tasted.”

“I actually like Sambo's food,” Rick said with a shrug.

“Oh.” Sam shrugged too and wondered if Rick was running out of money. He wasn't very flush himself, but now he felt bad that he hadn't offered to buy Rick something. He tried to catch Rick's eye to see if there was any hunger or resentment there. Rick didn't look very concerned about anything, except that he kept scratching himself. Then he remembered why Rick was so sleepy and grinned. The fleas.

When they'd gotten into town the previous night they'd searched all the closed service stations for the cleanest dirty rest room and that's where Rick had slept. The idea, of course, was to stay out of the cold. Sam, the less experienced hitchhiker, had been horrified at the notion of lying down anywhere that smelled so strongly of urine. Fortunately, he'd had a sleeping bag and had “volunteered” to sleep outside in the doorway since there was so little room on the rest room floor.

The temperature dropped into the 30's, and Sam shivered miserably. His back was hurting, too, and it seemed like it took forever to get to sleep. By the time morning came, he'd only had a couple of hours rest and he ached all over, but at least he had gotten some sleep. When Rick came out of the Ladies Room griping about flea bites and not getting any sleep at all, suddenly Sam didn't feel as bad. (It's reassuring, sometimes, no matter how cruel it might seem, to feel that you're not the last man on the totem pole, that someone has it worse than you do.)

“Fleas, huh?” Sam said, unable to contain a huge grin.

“Fuck you,” Rick said instantly, but without heat. He never held grudges against people who were merely more comfortable than he was. Walking back to the highway now, Rick kept scratching and Sam kept grinning.

“It could be worse.”

“How?” Rick said.

“Hell, I'm not sure. I'm just trying to distract you from those fleas.”

“I'm distracted enough, thank you,” Rick said.

A half hour later by the side of the road, the bottoms of their feet felt thoroughly burned and Sam's head was spinning with the heat.

“Shit, this is too much!” he said.

“Yeah, it is,” Rick agreed.

“What time did we get here last night, anyway?” Sam asked.

“About eight o' clock, I think.”

“Christ, that means we've been here over sixteen hours!”

“That's about right, I guess,” Rick frowned. Suddenly they both felt like idiots.

“It doesn't take long, does it?” Sam said, pointing to the hot asphalt.

“No,” Rick answered, looking fidgety.

“You're thinking that we ought to split up now, aren't you?”

Rick nodded. Sam nodded back. There wasn't much choice. He would miss Rick. Having company on the road had been pleasant, but being stuck like this wasn't. It would be worth anything to catch a ride out of there. They flipped a coin to see which of them would go first, and Rick won the toss.

“Well, see you in Austin,” Sam smiled.

“No doubt,” Rick said.

He wondered if he should shake Rick's hand or say something like “We'll meet again,” but they both knew they'd meet again and he didn't want to seem effusive. Rick never seemed very comfortable when people made too much of him, whether he was leaving or staying. Maybe he'd been too many places and parted company with too many traveling companions to worry about it. Sam shrugged his shoulders and smiled wistfully, then
picked up his backpack and moved away from the road.

He watched Rick from a distance. In less than 15 minutes, a small pink car with bright splotches of primer paint and bondo all over it stopped and Rick got in. The VW bug took off with a lurch, leaving a small poot of beige smoke behind it. Rick stuck his long arm out of the window and waved twice without looking back. Sam was glad to see him catch a ride. “Maybe my luck will change with Rick's,” he thought. But after another 90 minutes in the heat, he began to feel jealous instead. When an
eighteen-wheeler slowed down and pulled to the side of the road just beyond him, he was more relieved than he'd been in ages. As the driver took the backpack and stowed it in the back of the cab, Sam noticed the “No Riders” sign attached to the windshield. If the driver wasn't going to mention it, though, he wouldn't either.

“My name's Jake,” the driver said as Sam climbed in and closed the door. “Damn hot out there, ain't it?”

“It sure is,” Sam answered loudly. “I feel like I've been broiled!”

As the truck picked up speed, the engine noise and the wind rushing in through the windows made it necessary to shout.

“Yeah, I can imagine!” Jake hollered. “Where you going,
anyway?”

“Austin!”

“Really? Austin's a great town! A trucker can always find a party and pussy in Austin!”

Sam smiled knowingly at Jake, though inwardly he grimaced.

He figured that now he was going to have to listen to a lot of self-centered sex talk. He'd had the experience before and thought it odd, how many of the men he'd met on the road had felt compelled to talk about women hefore they would talk about anything else. It was as if they didn't really trust one another until they'd made certain of one another's heterosexual constitution. Just as he was preparing to grin and bear it, the driver looked like he was remembering something and changed the subject.

“You know, the last time I drove through Austin, I picked up an old man who was hitch-hiking on a day just about as hot as this. He was standing in the middle of nowhere, somewhere out toward Llano; cars were whizzing by him like he was nothin' but a signpost. I've passed up some oddball hitch-hikers in my life, too, but you know what?” Jake paused and leaned a little toward him as if he might take a guess. Sam shrugged.

Jake slapped his leg and boomed, “That old man only had one leg!”

Sam smiled politely. He wasn't sure just how decent it was to laugh at an old one-legged man stranded on the side of the road. Jake had no qualms at all, though; he thought it was hilarious. Sam began to think that the guy might be a little weird.

“He'd been standing out there for hours with the asphalt burning the shit out of his one foot. Most men would've been hopping from one foot to the other for relief, but he didn't have any choice in the matter! He'd tried sitting down for a while, he said, but that just burned his ass! And there wasn't no shade anywhere unless he walked so far from the road that he'd never catch a ride!”

“I guess that guy really appreciated seeing you then.”

"Shit!" Jake spat out the window and then grinned. “I might as well've tried making friends with a rattlesnake. That old man was the most goddamn bad-tempered hitchhiker I ever met! You couldna made him madder if you'd pissed in his hat! Most guys you pick up on the road try to get along and not be a bother, but this old fart was mad at the world. He was mad because a thousand cars had gone past him that afternoon and didn't give a shit about a poor old cripple. And he was mad because he'd lost the leg in the first place!”

“That's quite a list,” Sam thought.

“And in particular,” Jake snickered, “he was mad 'cause he'd gone to Austin only meaning to visit his niece for a couple of days but he got pneumonia and had to spend two whole weeks in the hospital! Then, when he got out, the niece was out of town and he didn't have no money and the only way he could get back to Houston—which the hardheaded bastard was absolutely determined to do—was to stand out there on the side of the goddamn road like a fuckin' sideshow attraction!”

“Sounds like an awful lot of bad luck for one old man,” Sam said. He was thinking, “This guy talks a mile a minute.”

“Maybe,” Jake said, “but I kinda thought he'd made his own bad luck with that fuckin' bad attitude he had. Hell, I don't know, I guess he just kinda wore out my patience with his bitching and grumping all the way to Houston. By the time we got there, I'd heard his goddamn life story, including shit about everybody who ever owed him money and didn't pay and everybody who'd ever refused him a favor. I was so desperate to get rid of him that when he touched me for some money for the bus, I gave him my last couple of bucks just so I wouldn't end up having to drive his miserable old ass to his doorstep.”

“Sounds like you got pretty sick of him,” Sam said.

“You're goddamn right I did,” Jake said. “I guess he was about the least entertaining rider I ever picked up in my life. Yeah, I just about hated that guy by the time I got rid of him.”

They drove on for a few more miles while Jake fiddled with the radio dial. The wind rushing in the windows was hot, but it was better than standing still in the sun. At least he was going somewhere. Apparently Jake couldn't find anything he liked on the radio, so he drove along talking amiably at the top of his lungs about everything that occurred to him, and a lot of stuff seemed to occur to him. He finally realized that the trucker wasn't weird, he was wired.

“He must be on speed,” he thought, but as long as nothing went wrong, he didn't really care. When things did go wrong, they did it so suddenly that Sam never quite knew what had happened.

“Shit, there's a cop coming after me!” Jake said.

Jake squirmed around in his seat and began talking even faster, babbling something incoherent about company policy. Sam could guess what it was about and felt irritated. He wanted to tell him, “Christ, if you weren't supposed to pick me up, then what'd you do it for?!”, but then he pictured himself burning to a crisp back there in the desolation of Blythe and realized what an immense favor Jake had done him. It would be stupid to holler at the guy. All the while Jake was talking, he was slowing down and pulling to the side of the road, the cop right behind him. As he came to a stop, Jake's voice got a little clearer and he managed to finish his jumble of sentences with a single intelligible remark.

“So tell him you're a bobtail driver, OK?”

Sam's mouth dropped open to say something, but Jake had already jumped down from the cab and walked back to talk to the cop.

“Christ God,” muttered Sam. Sam, the bookworm. Sam, who couldn't tell a Dodge truck from a Chevy truck unless he was close enough to read the letters on the emblem. “What the hell's a bobtail driver?”

Through the mirror on the driver's side, he could see Jake talking rapidly and showing a pile of papers to the policeman. He turned around and lit a cigarette. Maybe if he just ignored the situation, the cop would give up and go away. The next thing he knew the cop had climbed up onto the cab on the driver's side and leaned in. He looked around the cab appraisingly, as if he already owned it, then grinned at Sam as if he might own him too in another minute.

“This old boy says you're a bobtail driver. Izzat right?” he said.

He sounded as if he thought it was the funniest thing in the world. “Come
on, lemme see your license.”

Sam found the situation nerve-wracking, and the evil leer on the cop's face wasn't helping. “How the hell did I get in the middle of this anyway?!” he wondered. “I have no reason to lie to the cop, but I don't want to fuck Jake over, either. Crap!” He got out his Texas driver's license and slowly handed it over.

“Listen, officer—I don't know why you've stopped this guy, but I'm just a rider. I don't even know what a “bobtail” is.”

If possible, the cop grinned wider than before. Apparently, this was splendid news. “Yeah. Yeah, that's about right,” he laughed, then jumped down from the cab and walked away, still holding Sam's license.

Sam's face burned. He felt idiotic. For all he knew, a bobtail driver might be somebody that didn't even drive. He might even have been willing to lie about it, if only he'd known what lie to tell! He'd never felt more awful about telling the truth in his life, or more compelled either. For a heartbeat, perhaps, it had been a dilemma—but he was too far from home, and he hadn't met a cop yet who liked his looks.

“I just can't afford the hassle,” he told himself anxiously,” piling one good excuse on top of another until he'd covered every angle. No matter what he told himself, though, he still felt like a moronic shit.

“Goddamn it,” Sam muttered, “why do these guys always have to try to be so goddamn intimidating? They've got the power, what else do they want?”

Jake came back and slowly got in the truck, looking dejected and beaten. He leaned his head down for a moment, then started the truck. The cop pulled out onto the highway in front of him and waved his arm. Jake followed him.

“You were a lot of damn help,” Jake finally said.

“I guess so,” Sam answered, feeling horribly guilty. “But I don't even know what a bobtail is, how was I gonna lie about it?”

“Shit,” Jake said, “everybody knows what a bobtail is!” But he seemed to be talking to himself now. “I'm in so much deep shit now that I don't know what I'm going to do. The company's gonna grab me by one nut and this fuckin' cop by the other one.” He leaned his head forward, smacked it against the steering wheel, and said, “Jesus God, I am just fucked, fucked, fucked!”

After that, Jake brooded silently. Sam didn't dare say anything, for fear he'd start banging his head again. Jake was weird indeed. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea, after all, Sam thought. Somebody needed to take this guy off the road.

The wait at the station was interminable, though all they did was leave him alone to worry about what would happen. Eventually he saw Jake going down the hallway with his head down, muttering to himself and looking lost. He got a drink from the water fountain, nodded at the cop who'd brought them in, then turned and walked straight out the door. A minute later Sam could hear the big truck start up and drive away. It was mystifying, but what did he care if they turned Jake loose? So long,
sayonara, good luck, it's my turn next!

He expected that they'd eventually play some interminable game of twenty questions with him, but what they were doing was digging around trying to find some esperado's description in their files that would fit him. It seemed to Sam as if it was taking forever.

“Cops love to make you wait,” he grumbled.

Apparently he didn't look like any criminal of currency, for they only questioned him briefly, then told him he could go. They took him to the front door and nodded their heads down the road. He'd lost his sense of direction when the truck had left the main road, but the cops didn't look like they cared to be asked. He shouldered his backpack and started walking, unsure whether this was the way back to the highway or not.

“I wouldn't put it past them,” he thought miserably.

“Just keep on moving,” one of them said sternly.

“There's an original line,” Sam thought. He had to make an
effort not to laugh.

As he passed a road sign, he turned and looked back at the station. The cops were still standing around watching him, smiling as if they knew something he didn't. He nodded grimly to himself, considering it highly probable. He'd played these games before. He glanced at the city limits sign behind him, then looked again. He wanted to laugh, but he didn't have the heart. The sign said everything:

WELCOME TO SURPRISE, ARIZONA

“Mother of God,” he muttered.

Surely that wasn't what had the cops going, though; it didn't make sense that they'd be laughing at the name of their own town. As soon as he got out of sight of the police station, he was, without knowing it, in another jurisdiction, another town even smaller than their own. He hadn't been away from the Surprise police more than ten minutes when a squad car of a different color pulled over to check him out. A very young and very overweight cop got out and grinned at him, hardly able to contain his amusement. Sam recognized what these sniggering cops were up to, but
knew better than to show it. While the cop sat in his squad car and talked on the radio, Sam fidgeted, thinking that he'd talked to the wrong end of more cops on this trip than he had during his entire life as a motorist. He'd decided that cops just didn't like people moving around much, at least not without four wheels. It seemed to him that the police wanted everyone to just sit home watching television; it would make their jobs so much easier.

The young cop got out of his car and walked back over to the hitchhiker. He tapped the backpack with his foot and said, “You wanna dump that shit out?”

“Sure, Sam said, “I've been waiting all my life to do it.” No, he didn’t actually say that. He just wanted to.

It was hardly the first time that his stuff had been searched.

While the Arizona cop leaned down and poked his billy club around slowly in the jumble of clothing, careful not to touch anything with his hands, Sam smiled, reminded suddenly of a cop back in Bakersfield. “This guy could be his nephew,” he thought. When he'd hitchhiked west his first impression had been that California cops were polite, no matter what kind of scum they thought you were. But up until Bakersfield, he'd only been stopped by the clean-cut men of the California Highway Patrol. In Bakersfield he and Rick and some other hitchhikers had piled up by accident near an overpass on the outskirts of town. Someone brought up the subject of small-town cops and Rick had said this looked like the kind of place where they liked to catch you.

A skinny young girl with long blonde hair laughed and said, “Imagine John Wayne with plenty of belly and billy club—and proud as punch of both!” The girl seemed far too young to know so much, but she didn't think so.

“Isn't Merle Haggard from around here?” a guy with a blonde surfer cut asked her. The others assumed he was her boyfriend.

“That's right!” she said. “I grew up around here and I know these guys better than I care to think. They're all weird and self-righteous! And the cops,” she giggled, “they wear so much aftershave that you can smell them from further away than a college sorority girl!”

When the cop from Bakersfield arrived a few minutes later, Sam sniffed aftershave at twenty paces and frowned, wondering at the girl's accuracy. Rick shrugged. A chunky middle-aged cop with a bad complexion and red hair that looked like it'd been dipped in a french-fry vat got out of his police car, hitched up his pants awkwardly and stared at them.

When he took off his dark glasses, Sam whispered to Rick, “He must be the ugliest man I've ever seen—doesn't seem much like California.”

“It is,” Rick said.

“Watch this,” Sam said, facing away from the cop and grinning at Rick. “He'll be on my backpack like stink on shit.”

He was right. He'd wished several times already during this trip that he hadn't brought the large backpack because so few cops could resist the idea that it must be filled with contraband. The worst thing it contained, however, was his dirty clothes, sealed tightly in a plastic bag. He had begun to suspect that the cops just liked to mess up his stuff, not to mention his head. The only thing different about this cop was that he was too fat to bend down to inspect it. Sam had started unloading it on the ground, but the cop objected loudly.

“No—shit, no!—put it up here on the trunk!”

Sam narrowed his eyes and said, “Well, you know, this metal frame might scratch—”

“That doesn't matter. Just put the damn thing up here!”

Sam put it on the trunk, being careful despite the cop's disclaimer. He remembered the polite young California patrolmen and realized that this was a different kind of beast—a pushy middle-aged local boy with manners learned at home, not at any police academy. He didn't like transients and didn't have any qualms about showing it. Fortunately, the cop quickly got bored; he quit poking through the pack when it was still half-full.

“Pack that shit up and get it off my goddamn car,” the cop said,

not even looking at the hitch?hikers. He slipped his dark glasses back on and faced them, his hands splayed lazily on his hips. “You know, there's a saying in some towns I've heard of. You mighta heard it too. It says, 'Nigger, don't let the sun set on you here.' All you young longhair bastards better just assume you're that nigger.”

It was deathly quiet for several moments after that. None of the young people dared to look at one another, though they badly needed to.

Later somebody said glumly, “Amerika with a k. “Love it or leave it.”

“Suck its red-white-and-blue dick or leave it, you mean!” the girl said angrily. She seemed to have tears in her eyes. “That's what the bastards really mean!” she added, flinging her small backpack on the ground and marching off down the concrete embankment. She stumbled slightly at first, then, picking up speed as she neared the bottom, skidded on her heels and lost control. When she reached level ground, she was moving fast. She pitched forward and scuffed her hands on the dirt, caught her balance just enough to turn her behind toward the ground, and sat down abruptly. Like some cats he knew when they'd missed their footing, she crossed her arms
calmly and continued to sit as if it'd all been planned. As if she weren't
crying.

“I sort of thought she was tougher than that,” Rick said, glancing at her boyfriend.

The boy glanced at Rick, obviously embarrassed. “Yeah, well, she sure likes to think so. She's the best piece of ass I've ever had, though.”

He grinned at the others, knowing they'd understand, then slid down the embankment, his soft moccasins gliding with the grace and balance of a surfer, and sat down beside her.

“If I wondered about such things,” Rick frowned, “I'd kinda wonder how those two ended up together.”

Sam nodded, waving his hand as if to dismiss them both. He agreed, but there was nothing he could do about it and he was still annoyed at the cop.

“You know, there could have been a load of guns or dope in my pack, but that lazy bastard knew good and well there was nothing there before he even started. He just wanted to make us keep moving.”

“That's all any of them ever want,” Rick laughed. “Don't you know that yet?” Sam nodded again, too angry to say anything further.

“Actually,” Rick grinned, “it's a pretty good thing we had the distraction of your innocent old backpack. I do, after all, have a few joints in my pocket.”

Sam tried to grin back, though actually the information made him feel a little squeamish. He'd forgotten entirely about Rick's stash. He had a sudden flash of spending the rest of the night in some Bakersfield jail, not knowing if he'd ever get out.

Back to the present—when the young Arizona cop finally finished with the backpack, he tossed it on the ground, put his dark glasses back on, and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“Well, keep movin', boy,” he said. Sam watched him drive away as if he had somewhere to go.

“The silly shit isn't much older than me,” Sam thought irritably.

What was this “boy” shit? He knew that the police were there “to serve and to protect”, but it seemed to him as if their major interest was in protecting everyone else from him.

“But what the hell did I do?” he wondered bitterly.

In the distance, he saw a pickup truck coming. He put out his thumb, eager to get moving. As the truck passed, an empty beer can sailed


Post Options Labout of the window, followed by a brawling voice, “Hey, hippie?shit!”

“I'll be amused by this later in life,” he thought.

He thought about the final scene in “Easy Rider”, gritted his teeth, and wished he didn't go to movies. He considered hiding in the high grass until morning, but if he did that, one set or another of these local cops was bound to find him and start the whole thing over again. There wasn't any choice but to keep on going, and he only had one way to go. He put out his thumb again, feeling uptight every time he saw anything resembling a pickup truck on the horizon. He was scared, tired, pissed off, and shit out of luck.

Just as dark was coming on, a friendly middle-aged businessman picked him up and gave him a ride into Phoenix. The minute he hit the pavement, a young couple stopped for him and offered him a place to crash.

That night he slept in a bed, and took a long overdue shower. The next morning, they ferried him to the outskirts of town and wished him good luck. As they drove away, smiling and waving, he thought, “At least everybody you meet on the road isn't crazy.”

But the very next ride, an old man picked him up who talked incessantly and turned off of the main highway without mentioning it.

Before Sam caught on to what had happened, he was hopelessly lost. The old man didn't seem to know where they were either. He had to do some fast talking just to get the old man to stop, and then he found himself stranded under a cloverleaf of overpasses so complex that he doubted whether anybody on it knew where they were or where they were going. It didn't matter much; he was under the damned cloverleaf, with no easy or legal access to the traffic. There was plenty of noise and activity overhead, but for all practical purposes it was the middle of nowhere.

When he found his road again, he caught a ride from a farmer who only went five miles before he had to turn off. Sam wondered why the guy had even bothered, but figured there was plenty of traffic and he wouldn't have much trouble catching a ride. After traffic whizzed by him for an hour, he realized he'd been wrong. It was desolate and hot, not a stick of shade anywhere. It was worse than Blythe, and Blythe had been his limit. He started talking to himself.

“Goddamn it, I can feel the goddamn heat through the bottoms of my goddamn shoes! I hate this!” Thinking about the one-legged man, he wondered, “Since I've got two legs, do I get to be twice as mad or half?”

Another half hour went by and he felt he was getting delirious. He had a canteen of water with him; he was confident that he wouldn't die, but the water was sickeningly hot. When the shiny white Cadillac with the California license plates began slowing down, he could hardly believe his luck. He glanced in and caught a vague impression of a handsome, dark-haired cowboy with broad shoulders, wearing a fancy hat and dark
wraparound sunglasses.

“Toss that in the back and jump in,” the cowboy said. Sam gently eased his backpack onto the floorboard, but apparently took too long.

“Come on, buddy, get in!” the cowboy said. “It's mighty hot out there. You lettin' the cool stuff out!”

He nodded and smiled at the driver appreciatively, then slid delicately across the blue velour seat and closed the door as quickly as he could. The guy behind the wheel must consider himself a very sharp dresser, Sam thought; everything he had was new and crisp and creased.

He was wearing what appeared to be a very expensive hat, a bolo tie with bright chunks of irregularly-shaped turquoise, and a well-tailored suede jacket. Then Sam caught sight of the cowboy's faded old pants and smiled to himself. He wondered why cowboys were always getting that dressed up and then just wearing their jeans with it. It was as if they always had one foot placed tentatively in clean-cut, middle-class middle-America and the other planted stubbornly in some mudhole of the old west.

The hitch-hiker noticed all of this at a glance, but what he noticed most was the air-conditioning. The AC was turned up full blast. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Thanks,” Sam sighed. “I really needed this ride!”

“Yeah, boy, it must be pretty bad out there,” the driver drawled.

The cowboy was slumped so low and lazily in the car seat that it looked like he'd been glued there or born there, as if he and his white Cadillac were one machine or beast. The words he'd spoken had been friendly enough, but then he'd shrugged his right shoulder as if it made no never?mind to him and pressed down hard on the accelerator. Suddenly they were flying down the highway. At 80, Sam looked at the speedometer and hoped that was it, but it wasn't. The cowboy kept the pedal to the metal.

The hitchhiker felt a little nervous, but couldn't see any point in worrying
about it since the driver's aim seemed rock?steady. It was good enough that he'd gotten out of that murderous sun! God, the car felt good! He didn't realize it, but he'd hardly begun to feel the full effects of heat exhaustion. He was far more faint and light-headed than he knew. The cowboy didn't seem disposed to talk much after those first few comments and that suited Sam, too; he didn't much feel like he could
keep up a conversation. In fact, he was starting to nod. Zooming down the highway like that was hypnotic, and conducive to sleep. He couldn't keep his eyes open much longer. Still, he didn't think it would be very polite to just fall dead asleep. He glanced at the driver, meaning to use his last ounce of strength to say something appreciative and friendly, and that's when he saw that the guy had his fly open and his hand in his pants. Sam jerked his head back and stared straight ahead. He studied the oncoming rush of white lines and wondered if he could just pretend that he hadn't seen anything. Son of a bitch!

Well, but he had seen something. His mind spun crazily, like a narrow tire in a hip-deep mudhole, trying to come up with something that would minimize or reinterpret what he'd seen, but he couldn't get traction.

Speaking of traction, the cowboy was still at it. It was real, even if it didn't make sense. “Maybe he's sick,” Sam thought. He shook his head and wondered why the hell that notion was supposed to make him feel better about being trapped in a car with a masturbating lunatic! “Listen, God, I don't think I have the energy to deal with this shit.” He realized his prayer wasn't very respectful, but then he wasn't usually very religious.

He'd read in an underground comic book somewhere that there are no atheists in foxholes and now he knew it was true. He was under pressure and breaking fast.

“Maybe he's just scratching himself,” he thought a few moments later. The cowboy was up to more than that, however. Out of the corner of his eye Sam could see what he didn't want to see; the bastard had taken it out of those tight-fitting jeans and was playing with it.

“Dear God,” Sam thought wearily. His eyes kept trying to close. If the cowboy's intent was to freak out the freak, he'd done a good job. Sam was freaked. Heat exhaustion and panic were producing a hallucinogenic state of mind completely inappropriate to his situation, and he knew it. Thoughts that would ordinarily not have occurred to him passed through his mind without censor or censure. In effect, his brain had put out a sign: “You can make me stay awake, but you can't make me make sense.”

“Don't do this to me! Help me!” Sam pled, arguing with his own mind, then froze—he was horrified that he might have said it out loud. Lord knows what the masturbating cowboy would think he meant by that!

His scrambled brain made a suggestion: “You could just think of this as a chance to experience something new. You've had women, drugs, rock and roll and alcohol, you've had mild intellectual perversions out the ass. Maybe this is your chance to try something new? What the hell, no one will know unless you tell 'em! You're in the middle of nowhere—go ahead, get weird if you want to! If he makes you a proposition, just lean on over there and—”

“Whoa, Jack! Christ!”

Sam was a hedonist from way back, a voyeur, a backseat frontseat on-the-floor in-the-closet in the gutter libertine, an egalitarian willing to get naked with women of all persuasions whenever and wherever he could. He was a free spirit, a freethinker, a pro-abortionist, and all kinds of uninhibited progressive self-serving claptrap, possibly including a goddamn Johnson democrat (if his friends only knew!), but he wasn't any cocksucker, and this was too damn much! Yes sir, this had to stop. No matter how irresponsible a state his brain was in, there were some things that a good ole hippie boy from Texas still wouldn't do, not even in 1969. He'd just figured out one goddamned important one.

He looked closely at the cowboy's face. He'd gathered a different impression when he'd first gotten into the car; on closer inspection now, the guy's face looked older and defaced by dissolution.

“Christ, this old boy looks rough,” he thought.

He wanted to do something—spit in the guy's face or scream bloody murder or something, for the love of Christ!—but somehow the big Cadillac seemed a lot smaller than it had at first. He was beginning to feel claustrophobic for the first time in his life. Even though the bastard must be pretty well distracted by the business at hand, Sam presumed that the guy hadn't exactly forgotten him. Who else was this stupid show for? He tried to think of some surprise he could spring, but nothing occurred to him short of bringing up his foot and kicking the goat-fucker's face in!

“Sure, that's a great move,” he thought. “Wreck the car and kill the both of us.”

Besides, he was worried about that bulging map compartment over there in the lower part of the driver's door; maybe this peckerhead had a rod of a different kind in there. “Watching a little lettuce-whackin' won't kill me, I guess,” he thought morosely, “but a gun might do the trick.”

Suddenly his renegade brain began to argue. “Look, fool, you're just intimidated! This fruitcake can't shoot you while he's playing with his wang dang doodle! He needs one hand to drive, you know.”

“Yeah, that's what you think. But I think this guy is loony-tunes. He might rather turn loose of the steering wheel than of his sausage, you know? Where would we be then?”

“Oh, don't be such a candyass.”

“Yeah, sure—now I'm a candyass for not wanting to jump out of a Cadillac going 90 miles an hour.”

He checked the cowboy's movements in his peripheral vision and saw a bit more than he'd intended. “God, this twinkie does have a big instrument, doesn't he?” Sam was from Texas; he was used to cowboys who, other than a few idiot “Yeh-Haw!s" in the middle of the night were otherwise the most conservative creatures on the face of the earth. This tough-looking fruitloop dressed up like a cowboy was spoiling Sam's sense of balance worse than anything he'd ever encountered.

“Silly bastard,” Sam thought with disgust. Every time Sam got up the nerve to glance at him again, the idiot was doing some new trick with it. Ugh! Never saw a cowboy do that! He wanted to say something cutting,

but the most he could think of was, “Do you have to do that?” and all the guy would have to say was, “Yeah!” and that'd be the end of that. The cowboy started to hum along with a song on the radio and Sam decided to keep his trap shut.

For some reason the phrase, “Leave that alone, you don't know where it's been!” came to his mind unbidden, drifting to him out of childhood memories. His mother or aunt used to say it about money, he wasn't sure which. In any case, it seemed to fit the hysterical humor he was in and he had to stifle a snort of laughter. It was sneaking up on him faster than a speeding Cadillac, and was threatening to turn into an absolute howl. He knew he'd better suppress it even if it choked him. He quickly turned his face toward the window and pretended to clear his throat. When some guy
is humming “Red River Valley” and playing rhythm guitar with his toodle-oo while driving 90 miles an hour with demon-accuracy, you don't want to offend him.

He stole another glance at the cowboy's face. He had removed his hat and sunglasses, and Sam saw now that his dark hair was receding and very thin on top. He couldn't help feeling a sense of relief that the guy didn't look particularly strong. He was just a middle-aged phony-looking dissolute thing pretending to be a cowboy. If there was really no way around it, Sam figured he could live with hitting him. Maybe it ought to have been interesting, but it wasn't—it was exasperating and boring. He
was just too damn tired to appreciate the oddity of it. He felt like a sullen
child who'd stayed up past midnight. If he didn't lay his head against the passenger window right now and fall dead asleep, he'd...

Sam woke up and almost immediately knew where he was. He felt better, but he still felt awful. He had no idea how long he'd slept. The Cadillac was still moving fast down a straight highway and he looked for a road sign to make sure they were still on the right road. When he saw that they were, there was nothing left to do but turn and face things, though it took a lot of effort to make himself do it. The cowboy was throwing a wad of Kleenex into the back seat and stuffing his salami back in his pants.

Unless the cowboy was a truly marathon masturbator, Sam figured, he hadn't slept very long at all.

“Well, maybe this won't be so bad, after all,” Sam thought

hopefully. The guy might just be a showoff who had now done his duty. He didn't really believe it, but he was trying not to expect the worst. Looking on the bright side wasn't his forte, but someone he'd met on the road had told him that that was the best way to avoid bad luck. She'd talked a lot about “karma”, and Sam had laughed at the mystical-sounding word. He couldn't help thinking about her nostalgically just now.

When he first got to California, he had caught a ride with a gentle young couple named Flowers and Charlie Showers. They were traveling the country in an old VW bus painted with the wildest psychedelic designs he'd ever seen. Woven through the wild design was the word, LOVE, over and over again. They were the most unrealistic people he'd ever met, but still the nicest. They talked about picking up hitchhikers no matter where they found them or what they looked like, or whether it was day or night, or—you get the picture. Sam had smiled and nodded, realizing that though he was the beneficiary of their philosophy and shouldn't complain, he wouldn't be able
to keep quiet.

“But surely you have some sort of criteria?” he asked. Flowers took her granny glasses off and rubbed her nose, shook her head vigorously and grinned in his direction as if she couldn't quite tell where he was.

“No, none,” she said happily.

“But what if something goes wrong, what if something bad does happen?” Sam had smiled.

“Well, that's just the luck of the road, isn't it?” she said lightly, shoving her glasses firmly back on her nose. Complaining about it won't change anything.”

“You have to keep going,” Charlie shouted at him over the noise of the VW motor.” “You have to keep faith with the world, you know.”

“That's right,” Flowers said. “If you expect bad things to happen, they probably will.”

Bad things indeed. He had thought about Flowers when he fell off the bicycle in San Francisco. If he'd been inclined to believe in such things, he'd have known that his karma had caught up with him then. If it hadn't hurt so much, he might even have thought it was funny. Surely karma was just an odd notion that—. But suddenly Sam remembered that he was in the Cadillac with this guy trying to make pudding in his lap. Well, there wasn't any choice here but to keep going, was there? He looked at the demented cowboy and sighed.

“If this is karma, I've certainly conjured up the very devil of a bad incarnation!”

Thinking about it was tiring, though, and his eyes were getting heavy.

His nap hadn't done him much good, after all. He wanted to get out, but still couldn't figure out any way to jump out of a speeding car, so he just got as close as he could to the window and leaned his fevered head on his arm. Despite everything Sam smiled, remembering Flowers and Charlie Showers; he hoped they were somewhere safe. He wondered if their karma merely enabled them to handle stuff like this or if it was gracious enough to protect them from ever having to find out. He nodded off to sleep again, hoping for the best.

Later—again he didn't know how much later, though the sun was approximately in the same place—Sam woke up and found the cowboy happily talking about his dick and massaging it through his tight blue jeans. Before Sam could yawn or clear the sleep from his eyes, the vulgar toad had whipped it out again!

“Keep faith with the world, my ass,” Sam thought furiously. Just on the edge of his outrage, he could hear the cowboy crooning along with the radio again. Sam didn't know the song, though he recognized Merle Haggard's voice.

“Another criminal cowboy,” he thought.

“The head of my dick is so thick,” the cowboy said.

“That's not all that's thick,” Sam thought.

“The girls really like it, they can't get enough of it.”

“I'm glad to hear it's the girls he wants to impress, but if that's really true,
then why the fuck is he showing it to me?!”

“I call it my vulva-popper,” the cowboy said with a snicker.

“Volvo popper?” Sam thought sleepily. “What sort of demented—?”

Then he got it, and grimaced.

His mind wasn't functioning. These dismal catnaps under stress weren't helping. Why had things gone so wrong? Was this really that goddamn California karma? Was it going to follow him all the way to Texas?

“You bet,” his tired brain said flippantly. “Hell, maybe that's Cowboy Yogi Karma himself over there with his Yankee Doodle in his hand. Maybe you'll reach a higher plane together and drive straight through to Austin holding hands and hollering out the window, 'Ya?hoo, we're Cadillac cowboy faggots!'“

“Jesus save me, be sensible,” Sam told himself. He cleared his throat and lit a cigarette. He liked the idea that a cop might pull them over for speeding, but he didn't much expect it. His luck didn't seem to be running that way. He watched the road carefully, nonetheless. “Hell. First I can't go anywhere without them swarming over me, and now there's not a piss-ant one of them in sight!” It figured.

He tried to recall the exact position of his backpack. When he got a chance to escape, he wanted to be ready. “Escape” was the only word for it; even if the cowboy wasn't queer, anybody who was that much in love with the head of his dick had to be deranged and dangerous. Sam glanced again at the bulging map compartment on the cowboy's door. Did the good old boy have a good old cowboy gun in it or not? Or maybe one under the seat? Maybe there wasn't one at all.

“Goddamn it, I hate mysteries, I've always hated mysteries, I don't like surprises of any kind!”

The longer he rode in the Cadillac, the more his middleclass breeding took over. He longed for “normality” the way mothers yearn for children lost in snow storms. He was tired and freaked out. All he wanted was to get out. If he'd ever been more uptight in his life, he couldn't remember it.

All the while the driver kept talking, and when Sam had to look at him again
he did it with as much disdain and disinterest as he could plaster on his face.

Every so often he'd nod or shake his head in response to the cowboy's talk, but mostly he steeled himself and gave no visible reaction.

“Yes sir,” the cowboy was saying, “this dick has had some mighty good pussy, and that pussy was glad to get it too. They really jump when this big ole hog gooses 'em. I can poke 'em in places they didn't know they had!”

Sam glanced at the guy's eyes. “Crazy as a rat,” he thought.

“Didja ever fuck a black girl, buddy?” the cowboy asked with a giggle. “I love that dark meat! Those bitches, they really go crazy, you know?”

Sam leaned his forehead against the window and talked to the God he didn't believe in: “Letting him wave his flag around is one thing, Lord, but you don't have to let him put peaches and cream on it!”

He could hardly tell now if the cowboy was talking to him or to himself or directly to his penis. It was all very confused, but it was clear the guy thought the thing between his legs was his best friend. Sam still felt an awful sense of claustrophobia, yet he couldn't help being curious how the idiot had developed such a gross fixation. It was a regular horse-cock, no doubt about that, yet the size of the cowboy's pride seemed even more abnormal than that of his member. Sam looked again at the cowboy's face and thought he could imagine him as “one of the guys” who watched football with his buddies and laughed as loudly as anyone at the homos on
the talk shows. Yet surely his buddies had tired long ago of his braggadocio. Maybe he had to come out on the road like this just to have an audience.

Perhaps, Sam conjectured, this human donkey might have been more comfortable in some lost backwater of Africa, someplace where priapic hugeness and fecundity were still insensibly confused. Someplace where the natives wouldn't be judgmental about a man so in love with his love muscle that he couldn't stop waving it around. Maybe some native artisan would trot out a beautiful dutiful daughter for him, and carve their copulations in wood—the bedazzled cocky cowboy looking happier than a comic Gladstone Gander!—thus preserving for future tribal consideration something truly amazing: a man using a woman to make love to his own penis.

Just now, however, the cowboy was performing another kind of rite, doing something energetic with his thumb. There was another one of those moronic Merle Haggard song on the radio about the moral superiority of mumble-mouthed cowboys; maybe he was playing along. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the cowboy was certainly keeping rhythm.

Dee dee dee, dew, dew, dew...

“Horseshit!” Sam thought, half-tempted to giggle. “This is an absolutely ridiculous thing to watch! I'll never be able to touch myself again. What's he think he's doing, anyway, getting it in condition for the Olympics?”

There was a rest stop on the side of the road up ahead, and Sam looked at the people in the cars and trucks longingly; there was normality, and here he was. He felt the Cadillac slowing down and his heart began to beat faster and faster. The cowboy was pulling off the highway and into the rest stop!

“Salvation!” Sam thought, and tensed himself for action.

There was a little distance between the Cadillac and the other vehicles, but otherwise they sat in the middle of the vacationers with all engines running. The Cadillac vibrated smoothly, the cowboy jerked proficiently, Sam was having a conniption fit. On the brink of freedom, he wondered more than ever about the presumed gun. He was from Texas, after all. In Texas you could trust a cowboy to do a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong, but you could absolutely depend on it that he had a gun somewhere. “Cowboys always have guns,” Sam sighed, “even the sensible ones.”

Right now, though, he was primarily concerned that if he jumped out while the engine was running, the cowboy might panic and drive away before Sam could get his pack out of the back seat. If he could just wait another minute or two, maybe the guy would get out to stretch his legs. He'd already stretched every other damn thing, from his wang to Sam's credulity. The seconds ticked by; Sam measured every minute step it would take to jump out and get his pack. He was so busy with his scheme that he
had only been keeping track of the cowboy in a peripheral manner, but now he became aware that the cowboy was still pumping himself, but also saying something.

“Willya look at the tits on that little bitch!”

Sam looked and saw that the object of the bastard's lust was a very young girl; somewhere around 12, Sam thought. His throat went dry and he felt a hot anger rush through him. “That tears it,” Sam thought.

“He's a baby-raping wacko.” Sam had his right hand was on the door latch and the left prepared to knock some teeth out.

“God, I'd like to fuck her,” the cowboy was moaning. “I'd like to fuck her with this till she felt it in her throat!” He was flexing around in the seat now, entirely out of hand. His tone had changed, becoming more fervent. He said, “The head of my cock is so big and smooth and hard—”

Although he had managed not to react to all this moronic talk so far, Sam could hear a new aching tone in the pervert's voice. It gave him the creeps, as if a snake had just crawled over him. He had heard too much not to expect it to just keep getting worse and it didn't take much imagination to see what had to come next. The cowboy turned and looked at him mournfully.

“Here it comes,” Sam thought grimly and braced himself.

“Here, feel it,” the cowboy offered. He sounded as if he were merely inviting Sam to stroke the nap of his expensive corduroy jacket. The cowboy turned his body sideways in the seat, aiming the awful thing at him as if to allow Sam a better grasp of the situation. That was one snake too many.

Sam pushed the door open so quickly that he fell out and scraped his palms on the pavement. He didn't lose a moment, just pushed himself upright and headed for the back door.

“Hey, shut that goddamn door, somebody'll see me!” the cowboy yelled.

“Somebody ought to see you, you malignant twitching masturbating son of a bitch!” Sam wanted to scream, but even now he didn't say it. For some absolutely ludicrous reason, it was more important to save that backpack than to tell the cowboy what he thought of him. Sam was crafty to the end.

“Thanks for the ride,” he said loudly, “but I think I'll get out here!”

Furiously Sam opened the back door. In the meanwhile, the cowboy had ducked down in the seat, awkwardly trying to cover himself. He looked like some bizarre species of seal or slug with a handle in the middle, writhing and flailing and hunching toward the passenger door. One hand was desperately groping for the door handle while the other was frenziedly trying to tuck his erection back into those ultra-tight jeans. Sam couldn't see how the bastard would manage to get it in without breaking it off at the stem, but he did it.

“The hell you say!” Sam thought. He had no intention of being thwarted at this point. Just as the jerkoff jerked the door shut and jumped behind the steering wheel again, Sam yanked his backpack out with such force that the aluminum frame ripped a gash in the velour upholstery. He didn't pause, just turned and walked away. A few seconds later he was 40 feet away, breathing hard and feeling like he'd come out of a long tunnel. God, the air felt good! He lit a cigarette, his hands shaking, and when he looked up, the Cadillac was speeding like a bat out of hell down the access road and back onto the freeway. The cowboy glanced back at him, his face grim.

“Someday this will be funny,” Sam thought.

In the meanwhile he muttered under his breath every filthy and violent epithet he knew and it made him feel better. He hung around for a while looking at the vacationing families, but from the looks they gave him, he could tell they thought as little of him as he thought of the cowboy. There wasn't any sense in asking them for a ride. He considered asking the truckers, but thought better of it. He went to the road and put out his thumb; this time he didn't care if it took forever. He felt that he had just acquired a brand-new reserve of patience.

Though it took a long time, he finally caught a ride with a couple of vacationing lawyers from Denver headed for El Paso. Their station wagon was so full of fishing and camping gear that Sam could barely squeeze in, but after the exposed spaciousness of the Cadillac, he felt snug and comfortable in the clutter.

“I'm surprised you guys stopped since you were already so crowded.”

“Hell, I guess you're just lucky,” the driver said.

“What?”

“Yeah, that's right,” the one in the passenger seat said, turning around.

“We weren't going to stop, but then Dave here said that there must be some very interesting story to explain why a guy would have his thumb out at a rest stop out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Sam thought a moment. They were in New Mexico now, he'd figured that out back at the rest stop. But nothing was different, not really. He'd found a “middle of nowhere” in every damn state he'd been in.

“Well, it does take talent,” he told them with a grin. “Or plain old Bad Karma,” he thought, and began to laugh. Once he got started, he felt like he wouldn't be able to stop.

“Sounds like there's some kind of story,” the driver yelled back in a friendly voice, and Sam nodded vigorously and grinned. The lawyers laughed too, because they were amiable people.

“Yes, well?” the one in the passenger seat asked, turning around in his seat and looking at him expectantly.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Sam said…

The ride to El Paso was the best ride he'd ever had.



THE END



rcs.

4th draft: 02/20/07
©1990 Ronald C. Southern


2 comments:

Mushy said...

Wonderful story Ron...wonderful character and scene descriptions.

It was both funny and scary at the same time...wasn't certain how it would turn out. Thought for a while you were going after a Steven King atmosphere.

The story pulled me right a long and kept me in suspense.

This wouldn't be based on actual events would it?

Ron Southern said...

Congratulations, I think you're the first and only commenter on this old blog! And thanks!