The Freeest Man I Never Knew

ON THE ROAD WITH THE FREEEST MAN I NEVER KNEW. That’s what I called him, this guy I ran into a few years back when I was hitchhiking my way to the Big Apple. I’d been dropped off on the edge of theMohave Desert in place called “Four Corners,” where two highways crossed. I was heading east. At the end of my previous ride, after having gotten my guitar and suitcase out of the trunk of a car, I was walking over to the far right hand corner of the intersection, the best place to hitch a ride, when I noticed that another hitchhiker had taken up that spot. That’s bad news because it means you’ve got competition. Now it is going to be much harder for drivers to decide whether to pick you up during that critical three or four seconds it takes to make up their minds—or to simply blast on bye, leaving you standing there with your thumb up in the air. Only the bravest of motorists picks up two adult males because only one of them can ride in the front seat where the driver can keep an eye on you so you don’t do something crazy like pulling out a knife and slitting his throat from behind, where he can’t keep an eye on you. With one of the hitchhikers riding in the back seat where the driver can’t see, that’s what most of them worry about. So it looked like I was in for a long wait.

Walking over to that other guy with the suitcase, I asked how long he’d been waiting. “Maybe an hour,” he replied, haltingly.  At a minimum, you can figure your time more than doubles if you are not hitchhiking by yourself. “Where ya’ headed?” “East.”  East was obvious; otherwise he wouldn’t have been standing where he was. “I’m headed for New York,” I told him. “Been there,” he replied. So we talked for a bit and it seemed as if he’d been everywhere. I soon gave him the weather report I had been listening to in the previous car. “Forecast’s for snow in the mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona, it gets pretty cold out there in the desert at night.”  I was only trying to be sociable and make a little conversation because he seemed like an interesting guy. But all he gave me in reply was a slight nod of his head. “Guess I’ll be wandering down the road a piece,” I told him, trying to sound like him, “no sense both of us standing here.”  That’s hitchhiking protocol. “You get first crack.”  That’s one of the unwritten rules of the road. So I picked up my guitar and my suitcase and walked on-down the road a piece. After standing there for a few minutes, second slot, he yells at me, motioning me to come back.

“Been thinking about what you said. Don’t like snow. Think I’ll be heading south.” And with that he picked up his suitcase and walked across the intersection to that other highway going south, where he stuck out his thumb. His destination?  He neither knew nor cared. He would probably end up in Mexico. Here was a man as fluid as the weather, this freeest man I never knew.