Friday, October 17, 2008

How to Break an Ankle, Part 2

At 20, I hadn't been alive long enough to acquire much wisdom, which you could see by looking at my feet. I stood at the entrance ramp to the Turnpike in Beaver County wearing a pair of bedroom slippers. They were soft-soled moccasins that I bought at K-mart for $2.99. They were a lot cheaper than real shoes, but they didn't hold up too well on pavement. I'd just buy another pair every time the soles wore through to my bare feet. They looked cool, I thought.

I wouldn't even consider picking up a hitchhiker today, but hitching rides was a common and relatively safe form of transportation for young people in the 1960s. A tractor hauling a flat-bed trailer loaded with girders slowed and stopped and I had to climb like a monkey to get up into the cab. As safe as hitchhiking seemed, you still had to wonder about the people who picked you up. It was always a good idea to take a good look inside the vehicle before you sat down and slammed the door. The truck looked OK: an aqua-colored transistor radio hanging from the roof of the cab, a box of Tiparillos and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard. The driver, a fortyish, paunchy, jovial man in a wifebeater T-shirt, asked me where I was headed.
"California, eventually, but Perrysburg, Ohio, to start," I told him. I planned to mooch off friends first. He said he was headed for Michigan but could drop me off at an exit about 14 miles from my destination. No problem, I thought.

He told me he liked to offer rides, that talking helped keep him awake on the long hauls. He did most of the talking, telling jokes and laughing in that way that some people do – silently, squinting, lips pursed, convulsing. He told me that I couldn't imagine what he witnessed from his seat high above the other cars. He had seen both men and women driving on the turnpike stark naked. He described the sexual acts he had witnessed in passing cars.
We drove west through the hottest and brightest part of that August day with the windows open, bouncing as if we were riding in a stage coach. Approaching Toledo, he pulled off the road at a place near where I'd be able to get a ride toward Perrysburg. We shook hands, he wished me luck getting to California, I thanked him, opened the door and, forgetting I was about eight feet off the ground, tumbled to the gravel.

But I did not break my ankle then. That would come later.


Anonymous said...

Now THIS is a start to a great story!

I'm smiling already...

Anonymous said...

Oh boy! Here we go!