It was hot and it was Lincoln, Nebraska. I’d been hitchhiking from British Columbia – sixteen years old – partially because I had lost the Greyhound bus pass my parents had purchased, but mostly because I wanted to hitchhike the way any self-respecting hippy did. I wanted to find the Merry Pranksters and the life I was supposed to be leading. It was 1972 and nobody knew I was out on the interstates with my thumb out, a thin girl with long dark hair who was good at pretending she wasn’t scared.
As I walked towards the interstate that morning, prepared to walk up the ramp to the thick current of racing traffic, I looked across to a small green city park several blocks away. I saw a man there, and although the distance rendered him only a few inches tall I could tell he was in overalls, had a dark pony tail, and was throwing a Frisbee. That was the kind of guy I was hoping to meet on my travels, the kind of guy I would like to have fall in love with me. But he was far away, just a quick-moving fantasy, and I kept walking, not even pausing.
I began to climb the entrance ramp. It was almost time to turn and stick out my thumb. It was about my fourth day of hitching. It was always single men who picked me up. Always. And I’d never had to wait more than ten minutes for a ride. I was galloping across the country, faster than I wanted to go. I didn’t want to get home. I wanted to find boys with guitars and girls in long skirts who would take me in. I couldn’t really run away or anything. I just wanted to be with the people I felt I belonged with -- even if it was just for a day or two.
The men who had stopped to pick me up had been kind. Most of them were truckdrivers and old enough to be my dad. One man in Utah – a very uncool salesman -- paid for my (separate) motel room one night. “Why are you hitchhiking by yourself?” he had asked in disbelief.
“Because none of my friends have any guts,” I’d answered staunchly.
Maybe I had guts – of a kind -- but I actually didn’t have any friends. Not really. Not ones I wanted to be seen with.
Just before I turned to face the traffic that would take me out of Lincoln, I heard footsteps approaching from behind. “Hi,” said a man’s voice. “Where you headed?”
I looked up. It was the man I’d seen in the park, throwing the Frisbee. Somehow he was there, right beside me. He was a little shorter than me, strong and kind of broad, as perfect close up as he’d been from a distance.
“New York,” I said.
“That’s a little far to go by yourself,” the man said. “Mind if I come with you a ways? Name’s Joseph.”
“Sure!” I said. This was the whole point of the hitchhiking trip, to meet up with someone who looked like this, who would come up and talk to me. Suddenly I felt like the real deal, a girl with a guy beside her, on the road, a guy with a beard and a pony tail.
An eighteen-wheeler pulled up a few feet ahead of us. “They never stop for me that quick!” Joseph said.
I ran up to the truck, reached above my head and yanked open the passenger door. The driver leaned over and called down to me. “I just got room for the girl.”
There was clearly room on that front seat for both me and Joseph.
“No, thanks,” I yelled back and slammed the door.
I’ve often thought how if Joseph hadn’t joined me three minutes before that truck stopped, the driver would have had no need to make his disclaimer. He just would have said the usual “Come on in, girlie,” and I would have climbed in as easily as I’d climbed into all the other trucks. And maybe never climbed out again.
Causes Marta Szabo Supports
I have supported Obama since before he declared his candidacy. I particularly support organizations that advocate for animals.