Death Cab For Cutie: My Ride With The Devil (San Diego to LA)
Some things are hard to leave behind. The Bahamas. Count Chocula. That holiday weight you gained from the four helpings of pie. And most especially, San Diego after being treated like a Prince.
The Fonz of breakfast cereal
After making my through the desert, I had fallen into luxery’s lap at the hands of Jeff Eldridge, the patron saint of having a great time. But just like Arrested Development, all great things must come to an end. After a blissful week, San Diego eventually saw me off. It was time for me to make my way to LA.
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked when I tell people I hitchhike around the country is “are you ever scared? What about all the crazies out there?” My response is, no. I’m not scared. My experience is that everyone who has picked me up has been either wonderfully generous or adventurous. So when I made my way up to LA, I didn’t know that I was about to get a sample of what people had warned me about. A car ride that filled my brain with images from every slasher movie and its 35 sequels including the ones set in space.
It forgot to say “One Giant Autowreck For Irish Culture”
Hitchhiking in California is a bit tricky. It’s illegal to walk on the highway which irks me because my relationship stats say I’m a Scorpio, who loves food, Sting and long walks on the highway. In short, the Interstate 5 was killing my romantic sentiments. I had waited on an onramp for about an hour when I decided it was time to walk. This time I had to walk the streets.
Like Tom Hanks, pacing down the gray, steam filled streets of Philadelphia to the morose sounds of Bruce Springtein, I walked my way down the sunny, mist filled steets of San Diego to the glam rock sounds of WHAM. Things have a tendency to change when you rise above the 70 degrees farenheit marker.
Alchemy: the science of turning an Oscar winner into a Zoolander throw back
As I made my way up a side street, a car passed me and stopped. It quickly pulled around and opened its window. It was a young man and girl, around the ages of 23-24.
“We saw you carrying a bag and thought you might like a ride. Where you going?”
“Hmmmm…how about up the street?”
“Works for me.”
Ah, the good ol’ up the street. Collect all 100 and not only do you get a full 2 miles closer to your destination, but you also get a free copy of OJ Simpson’s ebook, Getting The Most Out Of Your White Bronco. I threw my stuff in and we took off. Though we weren’t going far, they agreed to take me to a high traffic onramp.
At first, our conversations were humerous and joking. These two were a lot of fun. Soon afterwards they began to talk about the occupy movement. It was here a deep well of frustration and passion began to pour out of them. Especially the guy. They ranted on how they felt school and their teachers had lied to them about what they needed to do in order to to get a good job and life.
“Go to a good college, study hard and a job will be waiting for you. It’s bullshit!” the young man vented. ”We both went to prestigious colleges, graduated with great marks and she’s unemployed and all I can get is a crappy job I hate that takes me an hour to get to.” They vented their rage and then turned and asked what I thought about the Occupy movement and the belief that in order to make a life, you go to a good college, get a good job and everything work out.
“Big Brother says ‘just add one part college, two parts steady job, three parts marriage and kids, bake for 35 years and voi la! You’ll have yourself a perfect loaf of Life Bread.’”
I told them I had not paid a great deal of attention to the occupy movement. I rarely read the news for I find it too negative. I then looked them both in the eyes and told them my personal philosophy. ”Since I was young, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do or be when I grew up, I always said ‘I want to be me’. That was it. There was never a set image, nor any specific path drawn up for me to follow. All I knew was that I wanted to be happy.
“I never bought into the college fantasy and when I tried it, I found it didn’t fit me. My heart simply told me, ‘find what you love to do and do it.’ Even going to Culinary School wasn’t about landing a great chef job. Working in kitchens in the traditional sense had absolutely no appeal to me. I just knew that food intrigued me and so I decided to learn about it. That’s how I live my life. Whether it was music, acting, dance or food I always followed what made me happy. Where my passions took me. And thus, that is how I found myself here, traveling the country.
“I don’t know all the answers, but if you want to be happy get into the flow of happiness. When the time presented itself to take this journey, my heart said, ‘go. Go on a journey. Go NOW!!!’ It took me all of an hour to decide to take this journey, and when I made the decision I didn’t look back. I left the business I had created, my home, my established community and my sense of security with less than $70 a month to live on.
What I did have was the desire and willingness to have faith that Life, God, the Universe, you pick the name, would provide for me. And thus, here I am. I’m not thinking about living life. I’m not planning to live life. I AM living life. I’m not any better than other people. I was simply willing to act on what my heart asked of me. Where I felt it leading. Everyone is capable of this. I encourage you to do the same.”
With that I left them. They were very appreciative of what I said, and it seemed to be what the guy needed to hear as he had been wanting to leave his job and pursue a dream to work in the forest service. I realized it would be a financial cutback for him and it would require changing his vision of the dream life that had been instilled in him, but I hope he made that choice. The heart sees things the mind sees not. Perhaps picking up a hitchhiker that day was one of the best things for him.
Frankly, I recommend picking up a hitchhiker. That should help clear everything up 4-6 weeks.
Epic speeches are great to have, but now it’s time for the main event. The thing you avoided fifteen minutes of your work day for. To hear about the ride I feared I may not come out of.
When they dropped me off, I made my way to the onramp where I waited a good hour before I was picked up. I was driven all the way to the point where the cities stop and there is a long stretch of nothing. The guy was very cool and told me if I didn’t land a ride he’d come grab me and let me stay at his place. I was very grateful, but wanted to push on. It was a decision I would almost regret.
The sun was setting and the place I was at was rather…sketchy. Only problem was there weren’t many options after that. I stood under a street light, feeling like a hooker with a hoodie, trying to catch something besides chlamydia that would take me North bound. After about 45 minutes of waiting and not particularly liking the area I was in, I picked up my bag and prepared to leave. That’s when he showed up.
A dark, maroon van pulled up in the turn lane and a bald man with a goatee yelled out the window, “where you going?”
“LA” I shouted as my hopes rose, thinking I may have landed a ride just when I thought I was finished here. Those hopes, like milk tucked behind the radiator, quickly turned sour.
“How much money have you got?” Not exactly a question you want to hear from a guy in a van in a questionable neighborhood. Skeptical, I told him $5. If this guy was looking to rob me, I wanted to make it as far from worth it as possible.
“$5!” he snorted and looked away in disappointement. Then he pulled his van towards me and yelled “quick, get in!” In that moment my instincts became very wary and I hesitated over whether or not to take this ride. I asked him how far he was going and he said “we’ll talk about it.” This was starting to look bad.
Let me tell you a little something about desperation. It makes you do things you often don’t want to do. Whether it’s jumping out of an airplane to impress an adventurous boy, or stealing recipes from Chef Boyardee who is clearly a made man in the mafia, desperation can land you in some hairy spots. So when this sketchy guy told me “we’ll talk about it” it, I knew desperation for a ride was landing me in an undesirable situation.
No one steals from Don Ravioli!
I opened his van door and found what looked like his entire life inside. Sitting on top of it all was a little Chihuahua that looked at me with snarling eyes as if I were intruding onto his territory. I looked back into my memory banks to see if crossing a chiuaua was the Mexican equivalent of crossing a black cat. I tossed my stuff in and jumped in the front seat. Immediately, he sped off. Immediately my hand went for my mace canister.
The energy of that car was instantly defensive and uncomfortable. Typically, when someone picks me up, I want them to take me as far as possible. In this case however, I was looking for any excuse to get out of the car.
25 Cent Lemonade: the universal excuse for getting out of the car
Trying to warm the tension I told him thanks for picking me up. He shrugged it off with a grunt. I tried as best I could to keep the mood light, happy and as far away from me being skull fucked as possible. This man was very skiddish and it seemed that any moment he might bludgeon me unconscious and take me to some dark cave where the could do things found only in the Sodomite’s version of the Karma Sutra. That or I might be his food for the next three weeks. Oh cinema, how you put such lovely images into our heads.
My hand had pulled the mace canister out of my pocket and was on the locked and ready position. My left arm was ready to do any sort of judo block move to keep him from knocking me unconscious. I was sitting there chatting lightly, while below my neck I was poised and positioned like a jungle cat, ready to pounce and go all out if things went south.
Prepare to taste some Kung-Fu, Calvin and Hobbes style!!!
When I began to ask about himself, he started down a path of dark, painful memories that left me wondering what sort of person I was riding with. ”Man, if you only knew what I’ve been through” was his opening line. Please tell me, so I know whether or not I should also reach for my big knife. From problems in the military to being kidnapped and held hostage, he spouted out tragedy after tragedy like a poetry swap between Chris Isaak and Shakespeare.
I wasn’t certain if this guy was crazy or not, he just sat there driving with that little dog in his lap, looking at me with ferocious eyes. It didn’t help my mental state when I remembered that the villain in Silence of the Lambs also had a little dog. Had this guy named it Precious I think that would have been the final nail in the coffin. I kept trying to keep a cheery attitude in hopes that maybe if my energy was just sunny enough, the instinct in him that resembled that of Norman Bates might be lulled into reconsideration.
The 20 minutes it took to get to a rest stop was one of the longest of my life. My knuckles were white from gripping that mace canister, and I think I replayed every Jet Li movie I’d ever seen in my head twice, trying to collect any amount of moves that might save me from potential doom. When we pulled into the rest stop, I breathed a silent breath of relief. I was for one alive and unharmed, and two, in a public area. It’s much more difficult to get away with meat cleaving someone when there are kids playing soccer all around.
Kids playing soccer: the last line of defense
Oddly enough, it was at this moment, things took a turn in a way I did not expect.
This man who had seemed so defensive, hostile and balls to the walls sketchy, suddenly transformed. He dropped that outer layer and opened up to me. He explained his life situation and all that had been happening to him recently. Though I was still very eager to get out of that car, I slowly relaxed more and more as I took in what he said. He eventually told me that he would be willing to take me to LA if we could work out a deal financially.
What I began to see was that this guy was actually wanting to help me out, but that he simply did not have the means for gas to do so. I realized that I had some extra money, but was still hesitant if I wanted to ride with this guy. It could all have been an act, but my intuition said otherwise. This guy appeared to be sincere. After some negotiating, we agreed on a price for which he would get me to where I needed to go. As we sped off I knew that one way or the other, I was in this and if I had made a mistake, I was going to own it soon enough.
Here you are. The mistake special with extra regret on the side.
What I did would make most any parent slap their head. Anyone watching this in a movie would have been yelling “run bitch, run!!!” like it was the Detroit version of Forrest Gump (oddly and completely unintentionally, I have now in this blog made reference to both Tom Hanks movies in which he won Oscars). But I made the decision to stay. There have been many times in my life when my initial impression of someone proved to be incorrect. Though this was certainly a gamble, this proved to be one of those times.
As we made our way to Orange County (where a high school acquaintance agreed to pick me up from), this man suddenly opened up a completely knew side of himself. A much deeper spiritual side. His words began pouring out in a way that made it seem as if he had been storing these words for years and had been waiting for someone, anyone to listen.
With every mile my body relaxed and I began to see that this guy was legitimately trying to help me out. He wasn’t out to mutilate me and feed me to his over grown rat. He wanted his life to be love driven and so he picked me up and did what he could to help me out. He wasn’t getting a financial reward from it, just the knowledge that he had been of service.
We eventually pulled into Orange County where he dropped me off and bid me farewell. I shook his hand and thanked him. As I looked in his eyes, I was amazed to see how differently he now looked to me as opposed to the first moment we met. Life is a beautiful thing, and in this case, it showed my beauty that was hidden deep beneath the rocks.
Was what I did foolish? Probably. Was it dangerous? Most certainly. Could things have turned out very differently? Absolutely. I can hold little credit to myself as much of what I did was acting in desperation and faith that Life will continue to provide for me. In this one instance I was given a gem that I most certainly did not expect. Let it be known here, that sometimes in life when you’re looking for its wonder, even your less sensible choices can lead you to treasures.
Tune in next time when I come to face the city that had barred me from its boarders for over a decade and how I was once against almost foiled from entering.