A man going to work took me to Cedar City, a town in southern Utah. I could see I was going to spend a lot of time trying to hitch out of there. A car would go by no more than once every five minutes traveling north on the near empty interstate which lead to Salt Lake City. Since it’s illegal to stand on the interstate, police will give you a ticket and remove you, I had to stay on the on ramp. There, a car would only pass every half hour.
I decided that, since it was warm and I’d be there for a while, it would be a good time to sno-seal my leather hiking boots. I’d been planning to do this for a while but never found the time. I took everything out of my pack—the boots were on the bottom. With my belongings spread out on the grass, I opened up my can of sno-seal, a very slimy substance, and smeared it all over the leather, working it into all the pores and seams. After that I set the slimy, glistening boots in the warm sun so the leather could soak up as much as possible. I intended to repeat this process until the boots could take no more.
After I’d applied the second coat, I sat on my sleeping bag and thought about cracking open a book. It looked like I was having a yard sale. I wasn’t afraid it would hurt my chances to get a ride since there were so few cars anyway. Oddly enough, the very next car pulled over, a Toyota Celica.
“Where ya going?” said the smiling passenger on the driver’s right, a handsome man about 25.
“Really, that’s where we’re going. You want a ride?”
I was thrilled, how lucky could I get. I thought it would be all day before I got a ride even as far as Salt Lake, “Yeah, that’s great!”
It was then I noticed their car was packed to the ceiling with clothes, boxes, shoes, stereo equipment and other flotsam of the human condition—there was no room.
“Where we gonna put my stuff?” The back seat was jammed to the ceiling. Where will I even sit, I thought? I felt my enthusiasm waning. These guys, who were both big to begin with, sure were generous to make this offer, but there just wasn’t room.
“Don’t worry,” the driver said, we’ll fit you in.” He was a stocky ruddy guy with scars on his face left over from adolescence, yet he had an attractive air about him due to his enormous self-confidence. “We can put some in the trunk and some in the back seat.”
They took individual pieces of my gear and clothes and stowed them in nooks and crannies between all their belongings. There were a few pieces that wouldn’t fit so they opened up the trunk. That’s when I saw the rifles.
“We’re hunters, you don’t have to worry, we’ll protect your stuff,” said the driver with a dry laugh.
I took my foam sleeping pad and folded it up to make a seat for myself on the console, the only place left to jam myself between these two six footers. If I was big like they were, I would never have fit.
“Boy, thanks a lot, you guys. This is really great of you to go to all this trouble. My name’s Larry, by the way.” I reached my hand towards the driver.
“Charlie,” he shook my hand.
“”I’m Ken,” said the handsome passenger, he shook my hand too.
We chitchatted a half an hour in the afterglow of finding a joint purpose. More than just a coincidence, I thought, this all came together too perfectly to be just a coincidence—all of us going to Minneapolis. Must be part of some higher plan.
“Where’d you stay last night,” I asked.
Charlie stopped smiling, “Vegas, the fucking assholes, I’d like to go back and blow up the whole damn town.”
He turned and looked at me for a moment to emphasize the weight of what he was saying, “We were trying to get up some money. We quit our jobs and are starting over in Minneapolis. My mom lives there.”
“We shoulda stopped when we were ahead,” said Ken. They both looked at me at the same time.
“Sure is beautiful out here,” I said trying to change the subject, “Ever do any camping?”
“Did all the camping I wanted to in Nam. But, what the hell,” Charlie’s eyes narrowed and his mouth contorted from a grimace into a half-smile, “You want to do some camping along the way? We could stop when we’re up in the mountains for a day or two.”
“That’d be great,” I said, not getting the picture.
We had left Cedar City on I-15 heading up toward Salt Lake City. We stopped in a bar a couple towns up for a beer; there were lots of jackalopes on the wall. The jackalope is a jack rabbit with antelope antlers. I wasn’t sure it was a real animal. I asked the bartender and he said, “Yeah, but they’re pretty rare, aren’t they, Dale?” winking at one of the patrons.
Charlie turned around on his stool and addressed the two ranchers behind him, “I thought you Mormons didn’t drink.”
“Well, if you’re a Jack Mormon, you can drink,” he laughed.
The countryside we were driving through was broad and flat with mountains on the eastern and western horizon. The monotony of the unchanging landscape hour after hour gave me plenty of time to worry. Little things started to occur to me like why were they so eager to share their tiny car, especially since they had to move all their stuff around? Also, when we got to talking about the Vietnam War, which hadn’t been over that long, the driver said something noteworthy in relation to Nixon, “Yeah, I’d like to kill him.”
I had brought the subject up and enjoyed how they immediately got onboard about what a jerk he was, but became concerned with the vehemence Charlie lent to the subject, “I’d like to kill the fucking bastard. And I wouldn’t kill him fast; I’d kill him slow, by the death of a 1,000 cuts like the Vietnamese do.”
He’d been to “Nam” for two hitches—four years. “Yeah, I went over there and so many of my buddies got killed, I was pissed, real pissed, so I signed up to go back and kill some more.”
I got real quiet. Up to that point, Charlie had been confident, funny, and friendly. He was still confident, but confident like a crocodile sizing up his prey. He’d done a lot of killing in Vietnam.
The further we drove, the angrier they got about things. I was very careful to be nice. They told me about losing $300 in Las Vegas, about Vietnam, about being best friends, about their jobs delivering Silver Springs water in Watts, about how Ken was running away from his wife, “Maybe I should call her.”
“Naw, don’t do that. Don’t give the bitch the satisfaction.”
“She might be worried,” Ken was worried. He wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing. His wife didn’t know he was leaving.
The more tired all of us got, the darker their moods became and the more paranoid I became. They obsessed about the money they’d lost in Vegas while trying to develop some cash for their new life. Their eyes were narrow black apertures peering down the road in the twilight. They both looked at me squeezed between them in the middle, sitting on the console, as if I were part of the solution to their problems.
“You hear about the war that’s comin’?”
“What war?” I asked.
“We heard all about it in Watts. We know all about it. The word on the street is the Red Chinese are going to attack in the spring. They’re going to pour over the border from Canada,” said Charlie.
“Yeah,” agreed Ken, “We’re going to go and join the New Zion Army up in the Colorado Rockies.”
“We’ll be a million men strong and we’ll fight the Red Chinese. You want to join us?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, “I’m going to a friend’s wedding and then to Michigan to see my family.”
“Well, then you could come after that.”
To continue see Hitching to Zion #4: After the Prairie Dogs