Tag Archives: hitch hiking

The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by.

Maybe the reason I lured myself into allowing my hopes to include that 1977 C60 school bus was just a time warp slipped in briefly.  Fond memories have a way of coming back to haunt folks as they approach the jumping off place, I reckons.

A million years ago, Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented, summer, 1964, when KoolAid was just KoolAid and acid was still just something to excite a strip of litmus paper, I had my first experience driving a school bus.

As described in the post linked above, I’d gotten out of jail in Rochester, NY, walked halfway down Ohio, been picked up by a taxicab going deadhead back to Terre Haute, Indiana, after taking a drunken businessman to Columbus, OH, to see his estranged wife and kids.  He left me on a street corner in Terre Haute, where I dodged beer bottles thrown by kids the rest of the night.

Mid-morning a yellow school bus pulled across the intersection where I was standing, a car pulling a trailer pulling in behind it.  Loma Linda Academy painted on the side.  The door popped open and the driver yelled, “Do you know how to drive this thing?”

I had a middling amount of experience driving dump trucks and such when I was younger, and I was hungry enough for a ride to lie through my teeth.  “Sure thing.  Nothing to it!”  He vacated the driver seat, I took it, and we said goodbye to Terre Haute.

Turned out he was a Baptist minister moving his family to Las Vegas, New Mexico.  He’d contracted with the manufacturer to take the bus to Loma Linda, California, figuring he’d stack the seats in back, load up his belongings in the empty space, and get the hauling expenses paid for by delivering the bus.

Rick Riehardt was his name.  Young, 30ish man with a nice family.  One of several Baptist ministers I’ve met in my life I came to respect and was able to enjoy their company.  But a menace behind the steering wheel of a school bus.

The rear of the bus was loaded with his belongings, forward of that, loose seats stacked, with about half the seats still bolted to the floor, up front.  Rick had a five-gallon jug of KoolAid and a cooler loaded with Bologna sandwiches behind the driver seat.  He was “a loaf of bread and a pound of red” sort of man when it came to eating on the road.

We struck up a salubrious acquaintance as we motored along in that bus, picking up other hitch-hikers as we came to them.  Enough, at times, to fill the intact seats in the bus.  College kids, soldiers on leave or in transit, bums, beatniks, people who didn’t care to admit where they’d been, where they were going. 

One kid who’d just been down south working with SNCC and marching with emerging civil rights movement, marching, getting beat-hell-out-of by redneck sheriffs, getting treated like a stinking step-child by a lot of the blacks he was supporting.

The hitchers rotated on and off the bus as we drove southwest, Rick and my ownself being the only constants, me being the only driver.  We hadn’t gone far before Rick began cajoling me to drive the bus on to California after he’d unloaded it in Las Vegas, re-installed the seats, and he’d leave the family behind.  But I was headed for Portales, New Mexico.  Figured on getting off and heading south at Santa Rosa, well east of Las Vegas.

Eventually I agreed to it because I didn’t think there was a chance in hell he’d get the bus to California in one piece driving it himself.  That, and I was probably hallucinating on KoolAid and bologna sandwiches by that time.

We parted as friends, him offering to buy me a bus ticket back to Portales, me insisting I’d ride my thumb.  Caught a ride in Needles, CA, with four drunken US Marines in a new Mercury Station Wagon on 72 hour pass.  Headed for Colorado Springs.  All they wanted from me was for me to stay sober and awake watching for Arizona Highway Patrol airplanes.  Every time I dozed they’d catch me at it and threaten to put me back afoot.

We made it from Needles, CA, to Albuquerque alive, about 1100 miles in 12 hours.  I was ready for a rest.  Crawled into a culvert and slept until I had my head back on straight enough to stick out my thumb again.

Rick and I used to exchange post cards for a decade or so, but I lost track of him somewhere back there.  Never lost track of the KoolAid and bologna, though.  I still keep it around in my head in case I ever need it.

Old Jules

Back Just Before Hippies Were Invented

1964 was a big year in my life.  I rode the USNS Breckinridge troop ship back from Korea with 2000 other GIs coming home, separated from the army late in June.  Hung around Portales, New Mexico for a while, applied to join the Peace Corps, then hitch-hiked to New York to pass the time until I heard from the Peace Corps.

Beatniks hadn’t yet been displaced by hippies and Greenwich Village was jam-packed with thousands of us implying we were beatniks but carefully not saying so.  Hanging around coffee shops writing poetry, playing chess, saying momentous deep-thinking things back and forth to one another.  Listening to folk singers. 

Being rocked back on our heels in mock, simulated shock and disgust when wheat-straw blondes from Westchester down for the weekend to be beatniks, too, refused our advances.  “WHAT?  You don’t believe in FREE LOVE?”

Which, surprisingly, almost always worked.  Provided you’d done a convincing enough job trickling out the bona fides of being a REAL beatnik.  And wouldn’t even think of hopping in the sack with someone so uncool she didn’t even believe in free love.  Even if she did iron her long hair out straight.

So after I hopped the freight to go back to New Mexico, got thrown in jail in Rochester for taking the wrong train, The Hitch-Hiking Hoodoos, got released to hitch home, things stayed eventful for a while.

A guy from Buffalo picked me up on the Interstate, older guy in his 30s.  When I got in I threw the pillow-case with my belongings into the back seat“I don’t know why I picked you up,” he glanced at me with disgust.  “I never pick up hitch hikers.”  

Over the next few miles he questioned me about who I was, where I was from, what I was doing hitching, what I’d do when I arrived, and I explained it all in loving detail.

“Well, I’ve never had any trouble with a hitch hiker the few times I’ve picked them up.  But if I do ever get killed by a hitcher it will probably be some half-baked kid who doesn’t know what he wants in life.”  He thought about it a minute.  “But I don’t have to worry about you.  You threw your gun into the back seat in that pillow case when you got in.”

We talked a lot over the highway between Rochester and Buffalo.  Enough so he didn’t take the Buffalo exit and carried me down to where a tollway squeezed the traffic going south to Cincinnati, Ohio.  He pulled up beside a car with a family in it, man, woman and a couple of kids.  Motioned for them to roll down the passenger-side window.

“Are you going on through Cincinnati?  I’ve carried this guy all the way from Rochester and he’s okay.  He’s going to New Mexico.  But I’d like to get him a ride past Cincinnati.  He’ll never get through that town walking.”

The couple said they were just going to Cincinnati, but we were all watching the traffic edge forward to the toll gates.  “We’d better take him anyway.  He might not get another ride.”

The Buffalo guy was right, but it began the next phase of a long story.  Guess I’d best hold it for another day.

Old Jules

 

The Sweet Hitch-Hiker

Probably 1978-’79 I was going north on the Interstate somewhere between Waco and Waxahachie preparing to exit when I saw a woman past the ramp trying to thumb a ride.  Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole had been at work leaving a string of female corpses up and down the Interstate at the time.  When I saw her I split-second decided to take a route further north so’s to give her a ride and get her off the Interstate.

I saw you swerve back onto the highway to pick me up.”  She settled the bag with her belongings onto the floorboard.  Attractive, dark skinned lady in her mid-20s with a coy smirk.  “You must like my looks.”

Hi.  Where you headed?  I just decided to pick you up to tell you about something you might not know.  I’ll get off further north than I was going to.”  I was wearing a pair of cutoff jeans and she was making herself obvious staring at my lower legs.

“I’ve been on the road for a month.  I usually don’t take rides from four-wheelers, but I like your looks.”

I wasn’t in the market for having my looks liked by some female who’d been on the road a month hitching rides with truckers.  The whole concept gave me a shrinking sensation in my groin.  I explained to her about why I’d picked her up, about how someone was killing women on the Interstate and leaving their bodies cluttering up the landscape from hell to breakfast.

Where are you from before you started hitching?  Can you go back there?”

She settled back and gave my legs a rest, frowning.  “I’m from the Kickapoo Reservation.”  She named a mid-western state. “My husband was drunk and mowing the grass.  Slipped and cut the front half of his foot off.”

That last sentence had a lot of visual impact for me.  It drew a cringe and a moment of silent recovery.  But after I’d digested it the next question was obvious.  “So what are you doing here, thumbing rides?”

“I left before he got out of the hospital.”  Her face twisted into a mask of indignation.  “I wasn’t going to hang around there carrying that SOB like a turd between two sticks for the rest of his life!  I’ve been on the road ever since.”

My exit wasn’t far up the road so I just left it at that.  Made a mental note to turn loose of the handle if I ever slipped and fell backward mowing the grass.

Old Jules