Whenever I used to hitchhike I always continued to walk–I’m not the kind who just takes a seat and starts waiting for godot. I figure as long as I’m heading in the right direction I’m getting closer to where I want to be, and if I am, and if I haven’t already arrived in a certain sense, I feel like I am arriving. Shank’s mare, putting one foot in front of the other as the song goes. Speaking of god–he helps those who help themselves doesn’t he?
I also have an opposable thumb thanks to natural selection, which I stick clearly out, low and to the outside, like a Louis Tiant slider. Eventually a car stops after I’ve put a few miles between me and, let’s call their town “Lakewood,” and I hop in (I had written “hope” by mistake). It’s a Cadillac Fleetwood, beluga black, with a Landau roof. To continue the religious theme, unwittingly, the driver’s some kind of preacher or reverend, dressed in the outfit with the stiff white collar and cliche rosary beads hanging from the rear-view mirror, a madonna and child statue on the dash. I tell him I’m going to see Miss Econ (Gram’s nickname–long story) in Tavares, which is between Ocala and Orlando. He says he’s never heard of it but is going to a regional Yay, Jesus! conference in Jacksonville, so he can drop me off on the doorstep, as it were.
We stopped for dinner at Lum’s–I still remember they had beer-soaked hotdogs–and when we were back on the road I asked him if he was afraid of me, since the newspapers at the time were full of hitchhiker horror stories. He pulled out a Smith & Wesson Model 29 from underneath his seat and pointed it right between my eyes. He said “no.” He smiled, and then put that monster back down in the dark where all monsters belong. I felt like it was my lucky day, punk.
He slowed down and I did a tuck-and-roll at the intersection of SR 19 and 441. I dusted myself off, and walked to my grandmother’s house from there. It was way late by then, and when I got there all the lights were out. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again, louder. I ended up pounding so loud that one of the neighbors turned her porch light on and stuck her head out the door to ask me what I was doing. Finally, a light came on inside–Gram came to the door looking like she had died and briefly come back to life. She was barely even a tiny whispered invitation, with lily-of-the-valley hands smaller than the rain.
I spent a couple of days with her–she was always my buddy from when I was little, little. After all, we had a common enemy, didn’t we? I walked down to the tiny marina where I had caught a catfish years before, which seemed like Monstro compared to all the tiny sunfishes my brothers and I would haul out of there every year. The marina was just mud–the state had lowered the level of the lake for some reason a few years earlier, and there wasn’t a boat to be seen. A marina of muck instead of water is a strange sight–the docks jutting out into what looks like the entryway to a swallowing down to hell. Especially at night, when all the dank mystery and imagined depth of the water is still eerily palpable, without the water. The abyss was looking back into me, for sure, Frederick.
We went out to breakfast, to a place called Deacon’s, and then dinner was either at The Red Lobster or takeout from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Biscuits, gravy, fried chicken, and a chocolate YooHoo (or two)! She put me on the bus the following morning, after giving me enough money to get home. I got off the bus at the bus depot in the center of Tavares, right around the corner from where the preacher had dropped me off a few days earlier and put the money in my pocket. I got back out to SR 44 just south of the connector to I-95 North, which would take me almost all the way home.
I’m not sure if I want to tell you the story Gram told me about growing up on the poor farm in Somerset with her mean-as-a-snake step-mother Minnie, or the charming way she got her nickname “Miss Econ,” or why and more improbably how she married my grandfather, who we all called Cap. Because not far out of town on the road to Sorrento or maybe even somewhere past Pine Lakes I got picked up by an ex-military Messalina who had jet black hair like wet ice cream and ended up taking my virginity away from me in a mobile home on the outskirts of Cocoa Beach, when the sun hadn’t even set yet, and me not even knowing it was gone. Twice. Maybe even three times. All I remember was at one point she was sitting in my lap like a melon on a knife, and then way later waking up three-quarters naked on the beach with sand in my hair. Way later meaning probably the next afternoon. Someone had stolen my sunglasses. I found my shirt, which had some grape bubble-gum stuck to it, and I got back on the road with my thumb barely intact after I pulled it out of my butt. I remember distinctly thinking that the English common law “one-bite rule” should probably apply to women too. I’ll happily trace the legal path back to the 1600s to find out who’s liable for the damage done, injuries inflicted, the bar tab even–civilly, criminally, monetarily and sexually speaking–man or beast?
I felt like whining a lot, but I didn’t. I whined just a little. We had another saying growing up, whenever we’d have a game of playground basketball and someone got hacked or stuffed and ended up on his ass: “No autopsy, no foul.” Maybe that rule’s more apropos here.
Anyway, which story would you like to hear, dear readers?