Talking to Strangers


My friend Dirk and I were hitching up Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa when two guys in an El Camino pulled over. We hopped in the back and soon discovered the driver was inebriated to the point that he was visiting all four lanes randomly, and with us on board. So far, the other cars were dodging us but we bailed at about 35 miles per hour.

Yes, hitchhiking can be dangerous. But when I read the headline to a story in The Wall Street Journal that said, “How to Avoid Talking to Strangers,” I still thought… why? Strangers are society’s door to new things.

For me, strangers were a way of getting around. What came with it was more valuable than transportation. Here are a couple stories from my hitchhiking days:

After I graduated from high school in 1969 I hitched from California to New York City to see my dad. Rocky, who was a neighbor in Santa Monica before moving to Connecticut, came down and picked me up in his Corvair. (Ask Ralph Nader. It’s a miracle we survived.) We drove up to the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island where the promoter had gone nuts and included non-jazz acts as a way to broaden everyone’s musical appreciation. Two weeks before Woodstock, George Wein’s vision was realized. I never doubted that I made the right choice in passing up Woodstock for Newport. If you are a music fan go to my blog to see the list of legendary performers at Newport 1969.

I got side tracked. I don’t remember a long wait or a drunk driver while hitchhiking east. I guess that’s a good thing. Often when things go wrong I exclaim, “that’s what memories are made of.” The gist of it is that 3,000 miles, 18 years old, parents worried sick by their thoughtless and rebellious son, and we all survived.

After high school I moved 500 miles north to attend a small art college in Oakland. I hitched up and down the coast numerous times in those days.

One time I was lucky to get a ride at a super busy on-ramp in San Jose. The driver was a GI headed to an Army base south down the coast. I fell asleep and when I woke up we were several miles down Highway 1. The trouble was that mudslides had closed the highway south of the base and I had to go back north to go south. It was pouring rain but I got a ride back to 101.

In the dark pouring rain motorists saw a poncho with a thumb sticking out. I could have been Charlie Manson for all they knew. When the nearby bar closed I asked the proprietor if there might be a dry place nearby where I could roll out my sleeping bag. He directed me to a row of garages, abandoned because of the new highway.

A pack of about ten dogs greeted me down there. Luckily there was an island six feet long and sixteen inches wide in one of the garages. I was a white settler and the dogs were the Indians. They circled and barked a lot. A Blue Heeler yipped at the hole where I tightened my drawstring for what seemed like all night.

No dogs were there on the bright, sunny morning. The rest of my 500 mile trip was uneventful. Nobody killed me and I wasn’t Charlie Manson.

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