Hitching to NYC by Alec Clayton

It was a week before Christmas way back in 1973. I made the bold decision to hitchhike from South Mississippi to New York City where I would become a famous artist. How I was going to do that was something I hadn’t quite considered. My brother took me out to Highway 11 and let me out. I had an old army surplus coat a friend had given me and a backpack another friend had given me. I had some pretty cool friends back then. The backpack was stuffed with clothes and a toothbrush and two paperback books: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and On the Road. And a hundred dollars in travelers checks. And I had a dime in my pocket. My first ride was with a family. Mom, Dad, two kids and grandpa. Grandpa kept honking up phlegm and spitting out the window.

“Where you
 going?” Dad asked.

“New York City.”

“Wow! That’s a long way to hitchhike. So what are you going to do up there?”

At that point I started making shit up because I feared the truth would make me sound stupid. I told them I was an actor and I’d been cast in an off-Broadway production of Twelve Angry Men, Juror Number Four. They were impressed. They peppered me with a million questions.

The whole family chattered like a bunch of chipmunks through Saucier and Perkinston and Wiggins and up to Hattiesburg, where they stopped at a barbecue joint called the Choctaw and bought a bag full of barbecue pork that they asked me to hold in my lap. It smelled so, so good that when Dad said, “Why don’t you stop by the house with us and help us eat some of this? I’ll take you out to the highway after.”

I said, “Sure. Thanks a heap.”

They stopped at Aunt Leanne’s house, which was overrun with other aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews, and we all ate until we were stuffed. After dinner they insisted that I stay and watch home movies. I ended up spending the night on the couch, and they fed me bacon and eggs and grits and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and Dad took me out to the highway as promised.

My next ride was with a woman who was dressed like the prostitutes who work the streets near the air force base in Biloxi. Turned out she was one of the prostitutes who work the streets near the air force base in Biloxi. She told me so. She said she was going to a little town near Atlanta to visit her boyfriend who was in jail for armed robbery. It was already after nightfall before she got to the town and pulled into a motel and said, “You might as well stay over with me. The room don’t cost any more for two people than one.” She even bought me dinner in the motel restaurant. That made my third meal on the road and I hadn’t even needed to cash one of my traveler’s checks.

In the room that night she said, “You’re kinda cute. Maybe I’ll give you a freebie if you’re interested.”

Yes, I was interested.

The next morning after breakfast she said she was going to take me to a good place to
hitch a ride, but she stopped downtown and said, “See that brick building at the end of the block? That’s the jailhouse where they got my Billy. I’m gonna break him out, and I want you to drive the getaway.” She wasn’t asking. She reached in the glove compartment and pulled out a pistol, and got out of the car and started walking. As soon as she went into the building I got out of the car and started running.

The next ride I got was with a rather large and scary looking dude who kept rubbing his crotch and shooting me creepy looks while he was driving. After a while he unzipped his pants and pulled out his thing. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help myself. It looked like a fence post.

He pulled to a stop by 
a cornfield and said, “You wanna mess around?”

“No I don’t,” I said.

And he said, “Then get the fuck out.”

I got the fuck out.

My next ride was with a sweet and kindly gay man who kept shyly dropping hints and finally came right out and asked me if I would be willing to stay overnight with him. “My house is just two miles ahead. It’s getting late, and you probably need a place to stay. I’ll cook dinner

for you. I’m a great cook.”

The meal he prepared was fabulous, and so was breakfast the next morning. So far my trip had been quite a rewarding adventure, and I still had that dime and all of those traveler’s checks.

And then things got ugly and scary. Two men in a ratty pickup picked me up. They were drinking beer and talking nasty talk. They told meloudly, boasted, in factthat they had met in prison. The driver said he had killed a man, and the other one said he was a kidnapper. I
thought, I hoped, that they were just trying to scare me. The kidnapper said, “Lemme see your


I held up my arm for him to see, and he said, “Naw, take it off. Lemme get a good close look at it.”

Stupid, stupid me, I don’t know why I said what I said. I said, “I can’t take it off. My father gave it to me on his death bed, and I promised him I’d never take it off.” It was a cheap Timex I’d bought for ten bucks.

The killer said, “Aw, that’s so sweet. Let him keep the watch, Randy.”

But Randy said, “Fuck that shit.” And he pulled out a pistol. I thought I was dead for sure, but he said, “I’ll trade you this pistol for the watch.”

I was ready to give him the watch, but then the killer said, “Put the damn gun away.”
They laughed and told me they were just kidding. “I ain’t no killer and he ain’t no kidnapper. We’re just funning you. Have a beer.”

A few miles further on they stopped at a country store and went in to get more beer. As soon as they went inside I jumped out and ran as fast as I could and hid until I was sure they were long gone.

My next ride was my last one, a young guy driving eighty miles per hour in a Corvette.
He said he’d take me to the Newark airport where I could catch a city bus into Manhattan.
Finally. What a relief. As soon as he let me off at the airport I went to the place for cashing in traveler’s checks, but the checks were gone. I emptied my backpack and emptied my pockets. They were stolen. Maybe by that whore in Meridian or the gay guy who seemed so nice. Fortunately, I still had that dime in my pocket, and in 1973 pay phones were ten cents a
call. I phoned the friend I was going to stay with in Manhattan, and she said, “Did you lose your traveler’s checks?”

“Yes, I did.”

She said, “They fell out of your backpack in your brother’s car. He sent them to me. I’ll

bring them with me on the bus, but you’ve got to buy lunch.”

I said I’d love to buy her lunch.

*When Alec Clayton was in high school his parents owned a cabin at a fishing camp on Mary Walker Bayou near the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he spent many weekends and summers swimming and fishing and exploring a labyrinth of rivers and streams. That camp is now a primary setting in his Freedom Trilogy. Visual Liberties, just published, is the third book in the trilogy, which began with The Backside of Nowhere and was followed by Return to Freedom.

 When not writing novels Alec writes art reviews for the Weekly Volcano and theater reviews for The News Tribune. He lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife, Gabi.