His name was Stein. Driving a Ford beater, he stops to pick up H. and I just outside Missoula, Montana. “I pick up every hitchhiker I see or have room for,” he declares. We trade names. He says, “I’m the only Stein from New Jersey who isn’t Jewish.”
He’s been driving two days straight, energy courtesy of LSD and whole wheat bread. It’s the only things he’ll eat. He’s cut a rectangular path across the U.S., courtesy of his dad, who’s paying for gas and repairs. There’s only one condition: that he return to college in the fall. That’s when we learn he’s been “pretty screwed up on drugs,” and this is his dad’s way of keeping him on the academic path.
Starting in Jersey, Stein cut his hair and headed to Florida, took a right turn across the South, cruised north at California and is now on the final stretch, headed home by way of the northern tier. He’s been driving for three weeks.
“Wow,” I say. “Did you go to Seattle?” He nods. “How did you like it?”
“It’s a terrible place, a real bummer. I wouldn’t want to live there.” Later he confesses that he went through Seattle nonstop. On the freeway. At night.
At least Stein has us locked in for most of Montana — all 500 miles of it. That’s a good thing. But all good things must end. Soon enough, just after Billings, we’ll reach a fork in the road. We’ll have to choose our highway.
Stein is thinking Interstate 94, which takes him north, near the Canadian border. Says he might go see a friend in Minot, North Dakota. Except that “he’s not expecting me for another month.” Says he might head to New Orleans instead. “I’ve got the whole summer.”
H. and I are thinking Interstate 90, a straight shot to Boston, where we’re headed. But we’re open to I-94. We’ve got the whole summer. Open until Stein, apparently feeling comfortable with us, tells us that he really likes to “ride in the trunk.”
“Ride in the trunk?”
“Yeah, you guys drive and I’ll ride in the trunk.”
When we get out of the car, it’s raining. Stein the Gentile waves goodbye. We take the southern split, headed in the direction of Yellowstone. It feels safer, somehow, than being with Stein on I-94, him riding in the trunk, stoned out of his mind on LSD.
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.