May 5, 2010



You know, I have always been a sucker for hitchhikers. Maybe it’s because I used to hitchhike once in awhile myself. I could come home from NDSU about as fast thumbing as I could driving a car.
And Dad and Grandpa were always going out of their way to give a guy on the road a ride and a few bucks. I worried about it a little, and told Dad one time that the guy should get a job. Dad replied, “Maybe he’s on the way to a good job and just needs a ride.”
I remember Grandpa and I driving one time and picking up a guy standing in the rain. We gave him a ride to where we had to get off the highway near Berthold, and let him off. Grandpa literally gave him his shirt off his back. I guess we were a “kinder, gentler nation” forty years ago.
Now, I’m not recommending this for everyone, but I still pick these guys up. In the last three weeks, I’ve given three guys rides. One had a big ring in his nose, like you see on a wild bull once in awhile. One was a retired Marine who still stood straight and tall like he was in formation. And one was a former rock band member who got into the drug scene and never quite climbed out to reality again.
We were out to supper with neighbor, Jeff, the other night, and I was telling about these guys.
“Ring-nose” had been on the road for fifteen years. I asked what he did. That is what he did. Hitched. He worked in a dairy in Washington when he was there. Cleaned a shop and was a grease monkey in California. Worked a car wash in Kansas City and helped a farmer in Texas. He just hitched around the country all year, working when he had to. A lot like me, except he saw more country. And he was a little gaunted up.
“Colonel” was cleaned up and looked like a G.I. Joe doll. His clothes were pressed and he was packing a military duffel bag. Although he had been out of the military for years. He had left Butte, come down the hi-line, over to Minot, down to Bismarck, and was headed west. I asked where he was headed. “Back to Butte.” Just wanted to see North Dakota again. He had been on the road for seven years. Spent his winters in Brazil and was thinking about going to Iraq to work for a security company.
“Ringo,” the band guy, looked a little rough. He had been standing on the road by Mandan for four hours. Ninety degrees plus and no water. I gave him a quart of water and a basket of drummies I had just bought. He dove into that feast like a German Shepherd dog who hadn’t eaten for a week. Bones and all. I had the radio set to an old-time station and we drove along and sang “Me and Bobby McGee” together. We were a lot alike. Except he could sing. He was darn good, too. Had turned down a recording contract twenty-five years ago.
Anyway, I was telling Jeff about these guys. And Shirley keeps reminding me that this is dangerous. I assured her that there are very few skinny hitchhikers who are going to attack a two-hundred-and-seventy-five pound cowboy driving down the road at seventy-five miles per hour.
Jeff replied, “Someday one of them is going to look at you and think, hmm, he would make a three-day meal!”
Well, I guess I’ll just have to take a chance. And I told Shirley when I get to the pearly gates, I’m hoping St. Peter was one of the guys I picked up, cause I’m going to need all the friends I can get.