The Long Ride
By Bernie Suttle
Here comes one. Yeah, a guy by himself in a ’39 Ford coupe, a good bet when hitching rides. I’d been there five minutes. I hitchhiked there every school day both to get home and for the adventure. But I wanted less adventure after what was to be a very long ride.
The black coupe pulled over. I opened the door as the driver said, “Hop in”. But I tried to suspend my hop in mid-flight when I saw a revolver on the bench seat, lying next to the driver, with the menace of a rattlesnake. Yeah, a gun, just like the one Bogart used. Wow! I tried to keep from staring at it. I wanted to be cool. Do I acknowledge it, “Nice gun, mister,” or ignore it and discuss the weather with the driver? “Thanks, Mister,” was all that came out. This wasn’t a common cargo. What’s up with this guy? Early 20’s, thin, black, waved hair. Wearing jeans, long-sleeved sport shirt, turned-up unbuttoned cuffs, he was curled around the steering wheel with his hand gripping the necker’s knob, leaning against the door with the window rolled down for his cigarette ashes.
“How far ya’ goin’ kid?”
“Almost the end.”
The Pasadena Freeway was 11 miles end-to-end allowing just enough time for me to fabricate a story to get out of this car. The driver kept his right hand on the weapon, occasionally using it to gesticulate or for emphasis. This was preferable to laying his hand on my thigh like other weirdos had done.
“Good,” he said, itching his nose with the barrel of the pistol. “Queers!” The word blasted out of his mouth. “Bring this along for when I do find ‘em,” he explained while rolling his right hand open to show the weapon.
“Oh,” I said, weakly at first, before repeating, “Oh,” in a deeper, more authoritative tone than my normal 13-year-old voice. “Do you find many?” I continued to seem friendly and sympathetic. (Like I really wanted to know?)
“They’re out there and I’m ready for ‘em,” he replied.
How do I get out of here quickly, and alive? Don’t anger him; don’t excite him.
“How far are you going?” I asked.
“All the way,” he responded while examining the driver of the car passing on his left. He was ever vigilant. What did he mean by that statement, “All the way?”
“See that mirror, knee-high below the center of the dash?” He asked.
I looked, saw it, thought it over and responded, “Hmm.”
“When a girl sits where you are I can look up her dress.”
“Well, there’s something new!”
As soon as we got on the freeway he pulled over to the right lane and slowed to 35 miles per hour. I was captive. My mind screamed, How can I escape? “I have an aunt in Highland Park, along the way. I should go see her,” I blurted.
“Where? I can take you.”
“Oh, God! No,” I prayed.
“I forgot; she’s not home today.”
After a slight pause, he asked, “Got a girlfriend?”
Oh! Oh! Here it comes, the intro to dirty talk. I’d heard about this from other guys. If I say, No, he’ll think I’m a Queer and probably shoot me. If I say, Yes, I open the floodgates of smut.
“I’m between girls now. I play baseball,” I said while thinking, How long will this last, this long ride? If I signal a cop I could be taken hostage and I have homework to do. Here comes my off-ramp. Well, here goes.
“Pull over here at the bottom of the ramp,” I said. I’ll get out and then you can pull right back onto the freeway”.
“I’ll take you home,” he said with a helpful tone.
Yeah but whose home? I thought. And then I had an idea.
“No, that’s OK. I’m getting carsick. I can’t keep riding. I’m going to throw up!”
He blanched, dropped the pistol and swung his arm toward me. As his hand headed in my direction I ducked but he just reached to roll down my window while pulling the car over.
“OK, Kid. Nice talking with ya’. See ya’.”
Not if I see you first, I thought.
I sprinted up the off-ramp miraculously cured of my nausea. I wonder if that mirror really worked.