When you’re hitch-hiking cross country
you usually wind up taking circuitous routes,
getting stranded in places you never knew existed,
and meeting people who are surprised that you exist.
We were once detained as suspected chain gang escapees,
which is where this story will eventually arrive.
You may be trying to go north,
but find yourself heading east or west,
and happy to get a ride,
to get off the side of a long and often creepy road.
When hitching you see the roads differently.
You notice the gum wrappers, cracks, puddles,
weeds and insects on the shoulders.
You get to know them well, sometimes being there for many hours.
A bend in the highway that cars disappear around in seconds,
is a mystery to you.
Maybe there’s a town up there,
or an old gas station where you might get water, or a lucky ride,
or more endless miles of nothing,
Hitch-hiking to a place a thousand miles from where you start
can easily cover almost double the AAA route,
moving laterally as often as forward.
And you can plan on a number of extra days
in the burning sun or cold rain.
This isn’t all bad.
Looking back on it It’s an adventure.
At the time it seemed like punishment.
Bob Egan and I were trying to get back to Buffalo from Florida,
and got dropped off at nightfall in a tiny southern town
by a bakery truck driver going in for the night.
The two-lane county road traffic amounted to a vehicle an hour,
it was dark and getting chilly,
we hadn’t eaten, and were practically broke.
We were in Ashford, Alabama,
at the intersection of US84 (now called Old US 84),
and the road going northward was the narrow County Road 55.
There was a streetlight on the corner, so we stood under it,
trying to look wholesome and non-threatening.
Kids from the town came around to watch us stand there.
We were the biggest thing going on in town.
They were just a few feet from us,
but we couldn’t understand a single word they said.
We were from another planet.
After an hour or maybe three,
a dump truck rumbled toward us from the wrong direction.
Shovels were hanging on its sides and clanging.
It stopped and large elderly man in a plaid shirt got out.
He was the sheriff or maybe the constable.
The big man was friendly, but said he had to take us in
because we fitted the description of two chain gang escapees…
two young Yankee fellas, one dark-haired and one blond.
We tried to tell him how innocent and nice we were,
but the report said that they were smooth talkers,
and not to believe anything they said.
We climbed up into the truck cab
and he drove us about two blocks to the police station,
where we sat and were given coffee and a sandwich,
while the sheriff made some phone calls.
The police station was on Main,
which in my memory was an unpaved dirt street.
After a while he said “We don’t have a regular jail here,
but we’ve got a place for you to stay until court in the morning.”
Then he drove us to a big wooden house of indeterminate color,
and introduced us to a matronly lady…
the proprietor of this rooming house.
She was as friendly as he was,
but we were surely headed for life on the chain gang,
and that took a little edge off the fun.
We did get some needed sleep and some breakfast in the morning.
The rugged old cop picked us up
and said we had been cleared of all suspicions.
He drove us to the county line.
Like an idiot I said “Good luck catching those guys.”
He waved out the truck window and headed back to town.
It only took a few decades for me to figure out what really happened.
He knew we would be stuck all night on that corner.
He could see that we were tired and probably hungry,
and he made the phone call to the boarding house lady
to put us up for the night.
There were no escaped convicts.
Just two young strangers who needed some help.
I have a warm spot in my heart for Ashford, Alabama,
and those good people.
© 2009, 2018.