Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac of today, January 13, 2012, had the following little poem that made me remember my hitchhiking days. When I was growing up in the country in Northwest Louisiana, about 50 miles south of Shreveport (close to Texas border) we either caught a Trailways bus or “caught a ride,” (hitchhiked.). The bus only came through once a day and went to Shreveport or somewhere southeast, so if you wanted to go somewhere you hitchhiked.
There was no danger. There were many on the road with their thumbs hiked in the air wanting a ride. I had many experiences, some great, some terrifying. Like the time my buddy Kenneth Brumley and I caught a ride with a couple of drunks. It was a two door car, and we were sitting in the back and couldn’t get out. He was all over the road and in the ditches driving 100 mph, sometimes sailing in the air, leaving the highway on the crest of a hill like you see in the movies, to crash down with a great bounce after a brief flight. Finally he stopped for gas, and both he and his passenger went into the station. Kenneth and I crawled out of the window and hid until they left. We had been taken many miles out of our way and were relieved just to be alive.
There were queers who reached out and touched my leg and I demanded to be let out then and there---wherever I was, even on a lonely stretch of road. Once a guy showed me a huge roll of hundred dollar bills while driving, then showed me a pistol to prove he was loaded but would blow anybody away that wanted his money. Most of the time it was a nice guy or couple. Caught rides on the back of pickups, or cattle trucks with plenty residue from their erstwhile bovine passengers on the bed of the truck and you took your chances on trying to find a place to sit, and more often than not, black people would be willing to help, needing help themselves most of the time.
We never thought much about hitchhiking. I would catch rides from my little town to Highway 80, which ran north and south from Shreveport all the way to New Orleans, through Baton Rouge, a distance of nearly 300 miles. I did this many times, without a single problem in the fifties.
I was a kid, still a teenager, and until I got a car this was my way of going places by myself. By the way, there were no speed limits on those two lane roads, and driving eighty and ninety was not unusual. No seat belts either or air conditioning. Probably no higher accident rate then than now. Mellow memories. I had a sense of freedom that I had forgotten. Of course, the couple hitchhiking in the poem that follows didn’t involve much freedom for them—it was a different kind of freedom. Then was Janis Joplin’s Me’n Bobby Magee a kind of freedom?. That kind of freedom feels quite wonderful as a memory.LDS
by Charles Simic
After a Walker Evans photograph from the thirties
Hard times brought them out early
On this dreary stretch of road
Carrying a suitcase and a bedroll
With a frying pan tied to it,
The kind you use over a campfire
When a moss-covered log is your pillow.
He's hopeful and she's ashamed
To be asking a stranger to take them
Away from here in a cloud of flying
Gravel and dust, past leafless trees
With their snarled and pointy little twigs.
A man and a woman catching a ride
To where water tastes like cherry wine.
She'll work as a maid or a waitress,
He'll pump gas or rob banks.
They'll buy a car as big as a hearse
To make their fast getaway,
Not forgetting to stop for you, mister,
If you are down on your luck yourself.