I was driving alone for the first time in a while, about to head east on I-90. I thought about where I might end up if I lit out that way and kept going, leaving everything behind. Over the Cascades before lunch, maybe find some cowboy bar in Ellensburg or push it all the way to Spokane. Maybe I’d take that American road all the way until it ended right near Fenway Park in Boston. Who knows where I’d stop. Somewhere in Montana the first night? North Dakota the second night? I’d have to decide on the way.
I saw him right before the turnoff. He was tall and skinny with not a speck of facial hair. Not what you’d think of when you thought of a hitchhiker. Me, I’ve never hitched, unless you count the time my bike and I hopped in the beds of a few pickups one day at Yosemite so I could keep riding a 17-mile downhill into the park village. I’m pretty sure I’d seen one of those high school propaganda flicks or TV movies that chronicled the eventual mutilation of a nice fellow who’d made one simple mistake: picking up the wrong guy on the side of the road. So I vowed that I would never do it. Meanwhile, my father-in-law does it all the time. He lives in a mountain town on a four-lane where there’s a prospector’s supply store next to a shack where you can rent snowboards in the winter and whitewater rafts in the summer. Out there, hitchhikers are as common as meth labs, and Pop’s almost 70, so I guess he knows what he’s doing.
It was the T-shirt that made me stop. This hitcher, who carried a sign that said simply, “East” above a smiley face, was wearing a shirt I used to wear in the halls of North End High School; the promotional T from Squeeze’s 1985 tour in support of their album Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti. On the front was the album cover: a steaming yellow patterned teapot (Cosi, as in tea cozy), what looked like a purple Asian fan (Fan), and a dessert (Tutti Frutti).
Word play. And a hell of a record. I tried finding it on eBay just a few months ago. I’m pretty sure it’s out of print.
I was sure he’d be ready to talk about all those 1980s bands I listened to on WLIR, those “Screamer of the Week”-winning tracks I’d celebrate the next day at the commons as confirmation that I was cooler than the next guy.
How far east would he want to go? I was planning on hitting a Gap outlet store about 20 miles away but maybe we’d become so embroiled in shared interests that I’d just keep driving. Maybe he’d want a ride clear to Kellogg, Idaho, and, given that I had nothing better to do all day, maybe I’d oblige.
So I pulled over and waved him in. I unlocked the door. He got in the passenger’s seat, introduced himself as Dave.
Or maybe he didn’t. Because maybe he wasn’t wearing a Squeeze T-shirt and maybe I drove right past him and tore onto the highway without even slowing down.
Because maybe I still don’t have the balls to pick up a hitchhiker.
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