Ride, Ride, Ride, Hitchin' a Ride ~ Vanity Fare
As a teenager in the 1960s, I hitchhiked a lot. Back then, we all thought it was safe, and, it was the fastest way to get from here to there. For me, in North-Eastern Pennsylvania, here was Jermyn, and there was Scranton. Less than thirty minutes separated the here and there: 15.9 miles on Route 6, pass the mall and restaurants and car dealerships; or, 9.2 miles 'through the towns' that were linked together by their main streets.
I gave my standard I’ll-be-with-Annie alibi to my parents (Annie had my back on days like today) and didn't stick my thumb out until I got to Mattise’s Dairy, hoping to God that anyone who knew me wouldn’t be driving in my direction. A pick up at Mattise's pretty much guaranteed the driver would be going through the towns. I loved the adventure of hitchhiking. Still, I never told my parents; I knew they would not approve.
A beat-up car stopped and as I opened the door, a smelly odor invaded my nostrils. I jumped inside. The man’s clothes were filthy and his long, greasy hair parted in the middle revealed a fresh cut on his forehead. “Where ya goin’ honey?”
My arm rested on the door handle. “Ummmm, Archbald will be good.” A lie, because my defense system kicked in and my chest tightened.
A few minutes later, he pulled over. His dirty fingernails clutched the steering wheel, he snarled, “You cudda walked here.”
I mumbled thanks and slammed the door. Creep.
When he pulled out of view, I stuck my thumb out again. A polished silver sedan pulled to the curb. I sat inside and breathed the clean air which held a faint scent of Old Spice. I told the driver I was on my way to Scranton. He was quiet. He had pretty blue eyes, sapphire like Auntie Heley’s birthstone, and was probably the same age as my father. His clothes were clean and he wore a silver ring on his right pinky.
He slid a country-and-western cassette into the player and drove through Archbald, Eynon, then Dickson City. He told me he was a pilot and had a private plane at the Wilkes Barre/Avoca airport. Near the Dunmore cemetery, he turned onto a side street and then into a tree-lined driveway. “I’d like to show you something.” He got out and walked toward the back of the car.
I hesitated for a brief moment then opened my door and bolted. He laughed–his voice raspy–and yelled “Hey! Wait!”
The Scranton bus stopped at the next intersection. My heart pounded against my eardrums as I climbed in and slipped some change into the fare box. I sat behind the driver and looked forward as if wearing blinders.
I hitchhiked until the following year when I became a legal driver.
But, I never picked up a hitchhiker.
A true event