Cover Art: Pocono Mountains - watercolor inks
Edwin Forrest Ward
Our hitchhiking adventures, me and Lucy’s, on Cape Cod are a bust. Constant rain, no sex, sand in our shoes, grit in our underwear, humidity so high it’s cloudlike, sleeping bags wet, two day old bagels already moldy, uncountable insect bites. That we are not nearly as inspired or as engaged as we were when we first hooked up in Cape Hatteras after meeting on the road is what I’d write in a letter to myself if I had an address. First class, of course, for a dime, up twenty-five percent since the spring’s eight-cent rate. Our agreed-upon plan, that we will go wherever a ride takes us, might need revision, but it is our plan at this point.
Ignoring my disappointment and frustrations, over the course of the next few days, we slowly make our way west. Nature can be kind and it is the morning Lucy and I eat blackberries we find alongside the road and listen to the wup wup wup wup wups of horny ruffled grouse. The birdsong and fruit help to evaporate Lucia’s sullenness – a mood engendered by my inadvertent revelation that I am not yet officially divorced from my wife. The upswing in her mood is further enhanced when we catch a wild ride in a soup-ed up Dodge Charger with a mustachioed dude selling illegal radar detectors. Bucko, his name as well as the verbiage on his license plate, travels from small town to small town with a trunk full of black market electronics. He brags that he will never pay taxes, not with the likes of Richard Nixon playing king, an anti-establishment attitude that Lucia affirms she can relate to. I, too, find his outlaw braggadocio refreshing and I paraphrase Dylan, reminding us all that, as oxymoronic as it sounds, honesty is required to live outside the law, to which our speedster adds an addendum: a 440 cubic inch V-8 also helps when it comes to out running the law. Bucko deposits us just west of the Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County Pennsylvania after a day of druid spiraling around north Jersey and western New York. From there, our rides are sometimes short and local; we seem to zigzag north and south as well as west. For the most part, under canopies of pleasant and dry summer starry night skies, Lucy and I sleep aside each other in separate down bags wherever we find ourselves to be, when the odds of securing a ride indicate the practicality of calling it a day. Daylight hours we spend a lot of time at rural county crossroads in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Sometimes, even miles apart, such intersections look the same. The people who offer us rides all have the good intention of taking us further: a trucker moving produce to Harrisburg; a California university chaplain returning home for the summer to visit his parents on their farm in Lancaster; steelworkers looking for work in Bethlehem after being laid off in York, and my favorite, two different carloads of teenage locals out looking for fun, from towns sixty miles apart, who, after a phone call to arrange it, pony express us to a third crossroad of a town in Western Pennsylvania, a hundred and twenty miles from where we met the first carload. Something I learn about the small towns of Central Pennsylvania is that adolescents play there a game they call “splunking” wherein one drives on moonlit nights in the thick of the mountain forests with headlights off to, one, scare the hell out of anyone not knowledgeable of the road and of the practice, and, two, for the sheer excitement of enjoying the marvel of a large rising moon above the treetops serving as the only source of light thirty miles from the nearest town zipping along at sixty miles an hour, an experience that turns most serene after my initial fright abates, standing next to Lucia, her hair a wake of jet black voodoo in the wind, holding on to the roll bar affixed to the rear of the Ford cab, swaying with the turns in the road, side-to-side, leaning true against the torque of curving roads, knowing right now that we are sharing this experience of speed and moon and danger and delight.
Finally out of the sylvan woods of William Penn, we spend a night in Cincinnati aside a concrete bike path under a pedestrian walkway spanning some tributary of the Ohio River. An unseen industrial area generates a humming that’s matched by the rumbling of trucks on Interstate 275. Our night of uneasy urban unsound sleep dictates that we alter our modus operandi: we will still go in whatever direction a ride takes us, but we will pass or quit a ride early rather than ending up in a city from here on out.
Our first multi-state ride takes us from the outskirts of Cincinnati to western Missouri, and turns into a two-day adventure, the first hour of which is touch and go, or should I say, as you will see, a time of touch and no-go.
Dave, a law student at The University of Missouri in Kansas City, stops to pick up us on the interstate. He’s driving a Mustang and pulling on a trailer, some kind of small, sleek, most modern sailboat, a dual pontoon-ed catamaran. After securing our backpacks to the bridging structure of the catamaran, we squeeze into the backseat of Dave’s exceedingly crowded car. Dave has gear for fishing, boating, mountain climbing, and target shooting (rifle and bow). He even has a parachute. After a quick exchange of first names, the would-be pompous lawyer in him starts lecturing us about the dangers and illegality of hitchhiking on the interstates.
“You should only hitch from the state entry to the on-ramps. A state trooper can arrest you for even walking on the interstate. In Ohio, they’re sticklers, I know. I used to hitchhike back and forth between Notre Dame and Cincinnati.” He also tells us that in some states, like Colorado and Wyoming, it is illegal to hitchhike anywhere, a bit of information that will prove useful later on in our adventuring.
Dave is willing to take us all the way to K.C. with him, and asks, an hour into our acquaintance, “Can either of you drive?” He complains that driving more than an hour or two at a time always stiffens his neck and prompts headaches. When I volunteer, he asks to see my driver’s license, for the purpose of checking its expiration date. Along with a Blue Cross membership card, my New Jersey driver’s license is the only identification I carry, both of which are clipped to all the money I have in the world: four Ben Franklins and a Jackson, $420. What with Dave’s scrupulous attention to legality, I decide not to bring up the issue of marijuana with him, even though drugs of one sort or another had been a part of practically all of our prior rides. Besides, four twenty doesn’t yet mean what it will in the future. The jack-Amish chaplain had had the best dope, Maui Wowee! he had called it. I still had in my pocket a couple of the Quaaludes that Bucko had swapped for some of the Columbian Cheeba Cheeba that I carry. Unfortunately, this guy, Dave, his heart and psyche immersed in the waters of law, reminds me of Perkins, a former boss, the vice-principal where I used to teach, who was also an undercover narcotics agent, a spy in the house of the Seventies, working the law to collect two salaries, one federal, one state. Such shenanigans had weighed heavily in my decision to leave my tenured teaching position.
Naturally Dave is more interested in the beautiful Lucia, the exotic New Yorker, than me, and as with everyone with whom we will get involved during our travels, the first thing on our benefactor’s mind after his lecture about hitchhiking is the wonder: Are Lucy and I lovers? When I get out of the back seat with Lucia in order to drive, Dave takes the other front seat without offering it to Lucia, and I wonder: is Dave’s intent the game: divide and conquer? I find his obvious study of Lucy’s reflection in the visor mirror burdensome and annoying.
From her seat in the back, Lucia speaks interestingly on sundry subjects. When she quotes the last line of some Trouffe movie in French, Dave responds in French. That they both speak French delights Lucia. Apparently she asks Dave in French if he would like to have his stiff neck massaged, for he centers himself in the bucket seat, lays his head on the rest, and reclines the angle of the seat back. Lucia hasn’t put her hands on me sensually or sexually since the Last Motel in Cape Hatteras, and here she is massaging Dave. Envy and anger well within, for as I drive, I detect upon Dave’s countenance, a gloating, a fantasizing, a reading of much into Lucy’s massage. I’m afraid he’s about to respond to the good vibes of Lucy’s touch with some touching of his own and complicate my life. I consider that maybe Lucia like myself is out looking for her mate; maybe, I wonder, I’ve already been ruled out.
Dave’s fingers, nervous in his lap, telegraph his intention to put his hand on Lucy’s. I’m reminded and well aware that Lucia understands little of the absolute lure of her being, of the innuendo of her fingers upon another’s flesh.
I formulate a conditional proposition: if this scene is right out of the movies, then I had better act as well as watch. As did the Pennsylvania teenage prankster driving his father’s spanking new Ford F-100 pick-up in the thick woods of the Alleghany Mountains, I turn off the headlights of the Mustang. With the sudden disappearance of both his dash lights and the illumination of his headlights Dave bolts upright in panic and his head lurching forward cracks the vanity mirror on the sun visor he’d been using to watch Lucia in the back seat. In the spidery remains there can be seen dozens of fragmented Lucys.
“What are you doing?” he shrills, as he strains against his seat belt, stretching to reach the headlight switch to which I block access.
I respond, “What, you never splunked growing up in Cincinnati?”
“Driving without headlights is illegal,” is the best Dave can come up with.
“Yeah, I know, but that don’t mean it ain’t fun.” The man in the moon smiles just enough light on the highway that I can see well enough not to drift, to hug the road.
Smoke and mirrors. Distraction. And the lawyer gets my drift. I win. The massage is over.