A friend who is a bass player in a much beloved band was driving home one cold winter night on a lonely country road when he happened on an unusual sight. Beside a burning house stood a man in his underpants holding a small child by the hand. Sticking out of the man’s chest was a pair of scissors.
A winding dark road at 3 am can do weird things to your mind, but this was no hallucination as he realized when he stopped and they got into his car.
The man explained that he had been attacked by an unknown assailant who had set fire to the house. His rescuer delivered him to the nearest hospital, left his details, and drove back off into what was now dawn.
Several weeks later he had a call from the cops. They needed to see him. He was a witness in a homicide investigation. He had picked up a murderer who had just killed his wife.
I am reminded of this recently as I head home up the mountain from town. She is standing by the side of the road dressed from head to toe in rich green velvet – including a hat that a lady might wear to a smart function. She has a matching bag over her shoulder and her thumb is stuck out at passing traffic.
It is about 100 degrees in the shade. I skid to a stop and roll down the window.
“Where are you going?” I ask, and only then realize that the person is a man. He hops in and we climb the mountain to the next crossroads where I will drop him on his circuitous trip home to an outlying village. Someone, he assures me, will pick him up for the next leg. We are soon deep in chat about the world going to the dogs and I am sorry to wave him goodbye. I am almost tempted to drive him all the way home, but it’s quite far and the last time I did that I kind of regretted it.
That time I had known it was a fella I was picking up. As it was another hot day and he wasn’t going far from my place I offered to take him there. All the way he regaled me with the story of his impending marriage on a beach and his grandmother who he was living with meanwhile. He did work around the property to help her out, his dear old gran. It all began to sound a little fishy. A little fabricated. The grandmother’s house got further and further away than he had originally said. I began to wonder if I had picked up a murderer.
Finally we rounded about the fiftieth bend along a bush road and he pointed to a house. We had arrived. I was so relieved I nearly kissed him. I didn’t wait around to see if an old granny emerged from the somewhat crooked house – with or without scissors – and nearly skittled him as I reversed out of the driveway spitting gravel.
Everyone hitch hikes in these parts. Gas is killingly expensive and the distances long. In the USA hitching is being outlawed. The DMV warns that it is actually illegal to pick up a hitchhiker.
I pick people up all the time. There has never been a problem other than some filthy sod wearing yoga pants that hadn’t been washed since Buddha – and who I almost had to disinfect the seat after.
I’ve given rides recently to an Irish chakra student, an artist who paints the “sacred sexual,” a pastry chef, a street musician and his dog, and a young man so stoned I was terrified to let him back out of the car. All the way up the mountain he drew circles in the air and laughed to himself. He was one of the most beautiful boys I have ever seen. In an area where angels are part of everyday life – like the next door neighbors – he actually looked like one straight off the pages of my old Sunday School book. Golden and beatific.
I wanted to warn him about being out on a lonely road alone and very off your head at the mercy of strangers. But who am I to warn an angel?
When I was young and stupid (even more than now) I hitch hiked through Morocco with my girlfriend Michelle. We even got a ride at the edge of the Sahara Desert on a former racing camel, and later transferred to a Kombi van full of hippies that crashed into a mountain. I wouldn’t put a Moroccan hospital high on my list of must-do experiences, although it’s an experience not soon forgotten. Especially the camel stew for lunch.
“Didn’t I pick you up hitchhiking a while ago?” I asked a man in a cafe recently. He looked at me as if I was a bit crazy and assured me that “delightful as that would have been,” he definitely wasn’t hitchhiking. I could see a woman who must have been his wife shooting me a filthy look as they climbed into a Mercedes.
Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad pick-up line at a pinch.