By Jessica Sumner
It was dark, and very misty, and it was very late at night. Late
that dark and misty night…yep, cliché, terrible. You can't leave
out the mist, though, because it's all the mist's fault that
anything happened really. It was late when she was driving her
husband to work at the local Wal-Mart (that sound very
hick-like…maybe it kind of is). He worked nights, so it made
sense that it was night. When she turned left at the fogged green
blur of the arrow she made her way to the on ramp. It was a sharp
curve and she liked to stay in gear and stay at the same speed
and navigate it as best as she could in the car she had. She did
this every night. Her husband probably wouldn't like knowing she
was doing this that night with all the fog. He probably wouldn't
like knowing a lot of what happened that night.
She had briefly met a young man earlier that
month and seen him a few times with her friends, so as she turned
the sharp corner as sharply as she could make it and glimpsed
backwards at the young man standing on the on ramp with a thumb
out she really thought it was him. In her review mirror, as she
saw his gesticulation of "aw, come on!" she felt fairly certain
it was him. The young man who opened the car door was a bit
older, and quite a bit dirtier. Young, still, but that didn't
stop her brain from screaming What have I done?
"Thank you so much!" he said to her jubilantly.
"I'm only going to the other side of town, I hope
that helps you," That sounds good, and it's true. I can't
really say 'I thought you were someone else, please leave' so now
what? "I'm pretty sure there's a law about being stopped on
on-ramps, so..." she said, pleased with how calm she seemed.
"You would not believe how many people don't
stop. I've been out there for three hours!" the young man told
her. She was listening with part of her mind. The other part
screamed, What have I done? And with a baby in the car! Oh
please let this be something out of the movies with good hitchers
that are charismatic and have great stories to…did he just say
something to me, oh yes.
"Three hours," she huffed, "and you'd think it
would be better right in front of a Wal-Mart!"
"I know, right?" he passionately agreed. The
passion made her a little scared. Think about something else,
it's only ten minutes! "Where you heading?" she asked.
Cliché, yes, but that was the clichéd dialog when the hitching
character was quirky and adventuresome.
"Oh, that's pretty far," she endured too much
silence after that, "Where did you start from?"
She was quiet for a little while longer. It
sucks being a girl. Why do I have to be the afraid one? I wish I
could just go hitching to Seattle, or better yet… Touchy
destinations flooded her mind. It was time to talk again. She
wondered how old he was. She did not ask this.
"So did your last ride poop out on you?"
Poop? Where did that come from? That sounded so lame!
"Something like that."
More silence, the word "poop" resonated in the
air. Or at least to the driver, it did.
They drove for more minutes in silence. Does
it always take this long to get home? Oh please don't let
anything happen. Aw hell, I don't even know how fast I'm going!
Freaking speedometer thingy, what did my husband say I needed for
the car in order to fix that? I'm totally endangering myself,
aren't I? Oh, he would be so pissed if I told him about this
that's going on right here, right now. It's been a while since
anyone has said anything. Remember the old movies where the
friendly trucker in his too tight white tee shirt, jean, and a
"trucker's" hat on picks up a man with fray edged clothing. He
wears a blazer, perhaps. With one of those old 20s hats that are
really cool. What are they called? Oh yeah, pageboy. What was I,
oh yeah, what do they talk about?
"How was the weather up in Seattle?" she asked.
"Can't complain," he replied, "Heading south
now." Cliché. Cliché. Cliché.
"So, anyway, where I'm going is right by a
casino, so perhaps you'll have better luck."
"Oh, can I get coffee there?" More enthusiasm.
"Probably," she said thoughtfully. I sure know
there's alcohol there!
"Is it on the 101?" he was not as enthusiastic.
More the question that someone who was doing what he was doing
would ask as an essential question.
"No, the casino's a little ways up that road, the
one I need to turn on." She pulled the car to a stop at a red
arrow this time. He looked around him. This is getting
complicated. Or the end of the road, where he might gut me or
something! Oh God, please don't let him gut me!
"There's a Chevron right there, I can get coffee
there!" There was the enthusiastic tone; the frightening
enthusiasm that should exist past nine pm. The kind of enthusiasm
the soft music intended to put her daughter to sleep didn't
normally bring forth.
"Yeah," she said as the arrow turned green. She
had meant to drop him off in front of the well lit closed drug
store. "This is where I meant to drop you off anyway," she pulled
into a small parking lot behind a building that blocked her view
of the freeway, or anything for that matter. Ok, why did I
park here? The light from Chevron is coming over here, but I
could have just as easily parked across the street. It's dumb
girls like me that get gutted. Oh man, I'm getting gutted, aren't
I? At the last second, yep, that would be a total cliché. A sucky
cliché. Oh, just let me get home alright! Just get out of the
"Pumpkins," he said, referring to the band
playing on her car stereo.
"Yeah!" she enthusiastically grabbed the CD she
had from the same time period, "Check this out!"
"Oh man," he said loudly, "I went to go see these
guys up in Seattle." He went on to tell her all about the
concert. It took maybe a minute more, but that minute changed the
experience entirely. There was no gutting, only a drifter with an
interesting story. After the story she said good-bye and
good-luck to him. Maybe that's a reason to believe in human
beings. That the majority are not serial gutters. Maybe we should
all be more kind to strangers instead of judging them. Maybe I
just got lucky it wasn't a gutter!