Hitchhike: The Tramp, Pt. 1

South Dakota. The sun is a blank white fire rolling across the sky. H. and I are squatted at an underpass, watching swallows swoop to their nests while the cars pass by, oblivious. It’s ninety degrees in the shade.

An hour of this is fine. (No, it’s not.) And now we’re going on several without a ride. This is no place to be. Finally a battered Ford sedan staggers to a stop and the driver leans over to talk to us, the rolled down windows his only air conditioning.

“You going to Sioux Falls?” I ask casually, trying not to look desperate. He’s in his forties but looks older. Older and harder, with a two day beard, rumpled hair, stained shirt.

“Is that on the way to Chicago?”

“Yes. You going that far?”

“Well, let me tell you,” he replies. “I’m drunk.”

H. asks him the essential question. The question of the hour, if not the day. “You mind if we drive?”

“Ok,” he says. “I’m real tired.”

He slides to the passenger side, H. settling between us, me driving. Barely underway and out comes a pint. “Do you want some whiskey?” “No.” “Do you mind if I do?” “No.” Bottle to his mouth, he takes a straight shot. My mouth burns just watching.

The car has problems. It doesn’t seem able to hit more than fifty. Ok, then, we’ll settle into the slow lane. That’s when I notice the gas gauge reads “empty.” No, he tells us, it’s broken. “When it’s full, it reads half a tank.” He leans over to check it himself, making sure to glance his arm across H.’s breasts as he goes by. She squirms.

“We got 150 miles in it easy,” he proclaims on the way back to his perch. H. sneaks me a look. It says, “he did it again.” Asshole. He’s already back at the whiskey. Tells us he’s glad to have the company. Offers us money. Passes out, his head awkward against the door jamb.

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“I still don’t trust this gas gauge,” I tell H. “We don’t know when he last filled up. Or if…”

“Maybe we should pull over at the next gas station.” Her voice is a mix of disquiet and loathing. We’ve got our eyes out.

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.

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