And then it got weird.
The weird thing that happened on this new road (Kansas state highway 160) was that I got a ride like…
Like, right away.
I mean… I didn’t even have time to walk very far, or sit down or anything. I’d just made it from the access ramp to the highway and there was a truck waiting for me. It was like he’d seen me being dropped off by my cowboy friends and decided he wanted to pick me up before I had even started hitching. This kind of thing is also a big “no-no” in the basic hitchhiker’s handbook.
In the chapter titled… “Don’t be a moron”.
I hadn’t read that chapter yet I guess, but again I was still in my nice, Midwestern, naive nineteen-year-old, mode. Although I’d learned a thing or two about predators and scammers and asserting myself n stuff from my experience with George Heaton and his gang, I’d had little time yet to process all that had happened to me and besides… I was fresh from my way cool friendly time with my cowboy friends who left me with a full stomach, a warm heart and a fresh twenty-dollar bill.
It was another beat up old pickup truck. This time an old Chevrolet from the forties or fifties, I think… significantly older than the one my cowboy friends drove. The truck had visible rust on the body and a camper rode on top of its bed. There was a propane tank, a bicycle, a charcoal grill and some other random equipment attached all over it’s exterior and storage containers strapped to the top. It was clear someone lived in this thing.
The driver (it turned out there was just him) was a bit older than my cowboy friends, but not an old man. He seemed like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. He was rather thin and had long hair and one of those beards of a young man who will never have a thick full beard. It was stringy and thin, like him.
I got in and the old truck struggled to get up to speed. We started down the road. I don’t remember now where he said he was going but it wasn’t far. The only other thing I can remember about this guy was that he offered me a joint and then showed me his gun.
Yea, he showed me his gun.
He said, “I don’t want to freak you out or anything but… I just wanted to let you know I have this. Just in case.”
I accepted the smoke and we sat in silence nearly the whole time. Less than an hour later he dropped me off where highway 160 intersects with I-35.
Then it got scary.
My next (and last) ride on this weird-turned-scary road was in a car this time. I can’t remember what kind of car but I remember the driver very well indeed. I will NEVER forget this guy. I never knew his name because he didn’t tell me. Fortunately, I had started learning enough about hitchhiking that I knew enough not to tell him my name. It was a good call because very soon after I got in, I again found myself being told (and shown) that I was riding in the vehicle of a man with a gun.
He called it his “equalizer”.
And then he told me how lucky I was.
Ha, well I’ll let you (my dear reader) decide if you think I was lucky to have been picked up by this guy. He was in his late forties I would guess, a small man and skinny, but with that scrappy look that spoke of years of fighting much bigger men all his life. That’s just what he told me too, that he’d fought big men all his life. The scary little guy with the gun told me this with pointed intention, and not surprisingly so. I was a big man, young, but quite a bit bigger than him.
“Yea… I’m a freelance traveling lineman.” He said with his sharp, thin voice. The man seemed to bark out his words like he hated having them inside. Like he needed to get rid of them as soon as they came into his sharp, thin little mind.
“I used to work on a crew but now I’m independent.” He leaned towards me a bit with a squinting look, his sharp, thin mouth barely moving as he spoke. “The foreman was a big man. He hated me; probably cause I worked harder than anybody else and those union guys don’t like that. They want you to work slow. But I showed em.”
He cackled and took another drag off his cigarette. The scary little fucker smoked constantly.
“I got me an equalizer and got to them before them assholes could get to me.” He picked up his gun (I think it was a 38) and waived it around the car. “I sure wish I’d had me one o these at the time but… all I could get me was a length of pipe. Did the job though.”
That was pretty much the extent of this man’s conversation the whole time I was in his car. Well… I’m sure he said a bunch of other stuff but I remember almost none of it. After that gun waiving stuff, I pretty much shut down the part of my brain that had conversations. My brain was now just hoping I could get the hell out of this guy’s car and looking for any opportunity. But… No luck there.
“Your a lucky guy.” Said that crazy, scary little bastard.
“Yea, I’m going to Nebraska too. You said you was going to Norfolk? I never been to Norfolk. Kinda think I’d like to check it out.”
Shit. Yea I’d told this maniac my destination when I got in. One more moronic misstep eh? Failed to heed the hitchhiker’s handbook again eh? Shit shit shit! Time to panic now?
For the next six hours (or more, I had no sense of time by then) I sat in that car from hell and watched and listened for a chance to get away… but it never happened. We rolled into Norfolk at night. I had Fred’s address but I wasn’t about to let this guy take me there so I had him go to an address a few blocks away. I then went into the nearest building I could find with an entryway that wasn’t locked (Norfolk is such nice and trusting little town) and waited for my scary, crazy ride to move on.
He’d been asking me if he could come in and use the phone, or if he could meet my friend… I was just hoping that my story as to why that couldn’t happen didn’t piss him off or make him more curious than he already was. I waited for at least twenty minutes while he sat in his car in the dark with the engine running.
And then he slowly drove away.
As I walked the few blocks to the address Fred had given me, finally able to exhale… I was feeling lucky for sure.