July 7, 2016 – State Prison
My hitchhiking buddy, Brent, must have heard me squawk like a crow because he rustled up into a sitting position inside his sleeping bag. He called out from the far side of the smoldering ash from last night’s bonfire.
“Hey, man, what’s going on?”
“Do you know where we are?”
He scratched his frizzled hair and gnashed his teeth into a grimace of Cheshire Cat proportions with a dash of tumbleweed on top.
“New York, right?”
I walked the map over to him and pointed at the preposterous eraser smear obliterating a twenty mile swatch across the map.
“Probably, but which way do we go?”
We washed ourselves in the crystal clear lake and filled our canteens and then hefted our packs back the way we had come last night. We plodded through a woodsy area, many of the trees still missing leaves, across a small meadow, onto an overgrown dirt road that led us back to the highway.
That word was a bit of a stretch, though.
One lane ran in each direction with no center median and shoulders as wide as typewriter ribbon. I squinted up one direction and peered down the other in a total loss as to where we should head.
After a moment of scrutinizing the sun’s location, we determined the opposite side to be the northbound lane so we crossed the path, I mean highway, and plopped our gear down behind a huge, shady sign. Typically, we liked to hike up the highway with our thumbs extended but today we opted to just hang in the shade by the side of the road. If we marched too far in the wrong direction then we’d have to retrace our steps all the way back here, too, and that just seemed silly.
One car approached and we wiggled our thumbs but it zoomed on by.
Another car came and went.
And then another.
And then a pickup truck.
Zoom, zoom, zoom.
“Son of a… ”
We sat on our packs in the shade of that big metal sign watching the vehicles whiz by for hours but the weird thing was how the drivers refused to even look at us.
“Hey, man, we must be invisible.”
“There was something in that lake water, I’ll bet.”
We laughed although we weren’t really amused.
Brent leaned back on one elbow and flashed one of his chip-tooth smiles.
“After Watertown then it’s ♫ Bob-ba-bob-ba-bob ♫ in Stanford, right?”
That’s what we called our mutual HIGH school friend, Bob Smith.
See, the three of us got a bit buzzed one day and wound up lock-stepping down the sidewalk, looking like that old Keep on Truckin’ picture, singing his name over and over like we were The Beach Boys or something. The silly nickname stuck like peanut butter to the roof of Marmaduke’s mouth.
Another car whooshed by and then another.
I glared at the departing taillights, annoyed.
“First it’s Newtown, remember?”
I had goofed through my childhood years in Newtown, Connecticut and I longed to catch up with my school friends and see if the old stomping grounds had changed much. A blue sedan approached and slowed so we sprung off our packs but a contorted face screamed out at us from the passenger window.
We were wearing our fake captain’s caps so it couldn't be our haircuts, right? Brent twisted up another one of his zigzag frowns and, as I came to discover, he had an unlimited supply.
We waited some more and, eventually, the sun began to melt into the horizon and I fisted my backpack out of the grass.
“Well, I guess we have to go back.”
“No, to the big flat rock.”
We hiked back to the Stoned-Stage and built a fire. We passed another night in 1977 alongside the nameless lake in that hopeless town across the middle of a big-fat eraser-spot on our Rand McNally. To make matters worse, the high school TOKERS never returned either. They probably all got grounded.
Brent took up where we left off.
“After Bob, then it’s Rhode Island, right?”
“It’s Dayville, where my aunt and uncle live, and then it’s on to Providence, yep.”
“I can’t wait to see Sue.”
Sue was a top-heavy blonde with bedroom eyes, fluffy lips, and a friendly attitude, especially towards my cross-country comrade, here. I never did find out if those two ever hooked up later in life but, on this trip, right here, right now… Nuts, I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I remembered something the Headbanger had said.
“They said they were going to Rome.”
“I think that was code for getting THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND.”
We made it through the night without Brent flaming out and the following morning, we packed it up and hiked back to the trail, I mean highway. We dumped our stuff behind the big shady sign and plopped down to another entire day of zippo-zero rides.
“Wow, this is getting ridiculous.”
“And… We only have one can of beans left, too.”
We wasted another night on the rock and now we were up to three days of squatting around while something else seemed to control all that we saw and heard. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are participating in a great adventure. You are experiencing the awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits!
That sounds like Colorado’s mantra these days, eh?
First, I wanted to know who erased our map and second, why wouldn’t anyone pick us up? Come noon, I had enough.
“Maybe we should just go the opposite direction.”
“You mean… Backwards?”
“I mean, out of here, man.”
A few more cars whooshed by.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
He hefted our backpacks, crossed the path, I mean highway, and dropped our stuff on the far side in the tall, straggly grass and beating sun.
“No shade over here.”
A station wagon approached, whirring like a broken washing machine, and we shoved our thumbs out as far as they would go. To our delight, the copper-colored Falcon rumbled over towards us and rolled to a stop in the sideline weeds.
We hefted our sacks into the back and climbed in. Since it was my turn to sit in front and put up with the driver, Brent dove in back. As we pulled away, he broke into wild, hysterical laughter.
I worried that the big-fat eraser spot had started in on his mind so I turned and looked. My eyes followed his pointing finger towards the big shady sign we had spent the last three days sitting behind.
DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS
Mr. Right number one-oh-two has flown-the-coup, one… Two… Free.
- TURTLE ISLAND