He was standing on the side of the road trying to get a ride. He was hitchhiking in the San Fernando Valley. He knew the temperature was one hundred and ten degrees because he had seen a thermometer on the side of an old gas station a few miles back. He was walking and hitchhiking at the same time, just wanting a ride. Just wanting to get out of that god-forsaken valley and that blistering hot sun.
He checked himself frequently for signs of heat stoke because he was melting like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. The last of his water was long gone. Beneath his old floppy brim felt hat, his head felt like it was on fire, his long hair moments away from spontaneously combusting.
The blacktop highway shimmered in the heat. It was made of tar and he wondered if it too might be melting. Like him. Was he hallucinating? He slammed a fist into the side of his head to jar himself back to reality. “Get with it,” he told himself. “Get it together.”
After standing there for hours, late in the afternoon a semi appeared on the horizon. It was coming towards him. Was it going to pass him by like so many other vehicles had done that day? Probably.
But then again, maybe not. He watched incredulously as it began to slow down. Then it started breaking to a stop. The driver rolled down his window. Cold air billowed out of the cab like a blast of frigid wind from the north pole. It felt incredibly refreshing, just what he needed. A man’s face appeared at the window. It was a huge bearded face that seemed to stare deep into his soul.
He offered no greeting, just a question. “You holding?” the bearded man asked. He was wearing a black tee shirt and a red bandana around his bald head.
Carrying pot was the implication.
“No,” the hitchhiker said. “I’ve got nothing.” His voice was cracked and dry like his lips. He was surprised he could even speak at all.
The driver nodded once. “All right. Fine. That’s okay.” He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Might as well get in.”
The hitchhiker did. “Thanks.”
“Sure thing.” The driver gave him a bottle of water. “Here,” he said. “Drink up. It’s a bitch out there.” Understatement of the year.
The hitchhiker gratefully took the water and drank most of it down in a few gulps. Then he made himself comfortable on the worn gray bench seat.
“This tastes great, ” he said. “I appreciate it.” His voice was coming back
“No problem.” The driver slipped on a pair of wraparound sunglasses, put the truck in gear, and started accelerating forward. “Where you headed?”
“Far out.” He nodded. “That’s good.”
“That’s where I’m going. Got a load of campers to deliver.” He pointed through the back window of the cab to the trailer he was pulling.
The hitchhiker couldn’t believe his luck. “That’s great!” he said.
“Yeah,” the driver answered. “I just dropped acid and I need someone to talk to.”
Well, the hitchhiker thought to himself. It was better than standing around and getting tenderized in the unmerciful sun.
“Far out,” he said.
The burly driver smiled, showing remarkable white teeth. “Far out, indeed.” He pointed to the passenger’s door.
Turned out, it wasn’t so bad after all.
He said that he was a reverend. He’d taken a class through the mail. So he said. But it was okay. It wasn’t every day you got a ride all the way to where you wanted to go. Not to mention getting out of the heat in that deadly California sun.
It took a day and a half to get to Seattle. Reverend befriended the hitchhiker, kept him out of the heat, and bought him food at diners along the way. He let him sleep in one of the campers he was hauling when they stopped for the night at a truck stop in northern California. It was a good ride.
When the reverend finally dropped him off outside of Seattle all he said was, “Take care, out there, my friend. Be safe.”
“I will. You, too.”
The reverend grinned. “Will do.”
He handed the hitchhiker a bottle of water and flashed him the peace sign. Then he put the truck in gear and slowly merged with the traffic.
The hitchhiker watched as the reverend shifted through the gears and built up speed going up a long incline. He waved, even though he was sure the man couldn’t see him. Finally, the truck disappeared at the top of the hill and around a bend. The reverend was gone.
The hitchhiker started walking. He had no idea where he was going, and he already missed the reverend. The man talked more than anyone he’d ever met in his life, but that was alright. It was nice to have had the ride. It was nice to have had the friendship.
Five minutes later he crested the hill and looked. He couldn’t believe what he saw. Up ahead, parked along the side of the road was the reverend’s semi. What the heck? He started walking faster, then broke into a jog. As he approached, the reverend got out of the cab and stood waiting.
“Say, I was thinking. I just got a call. After I drop off the campers I’m going to be heading for Montana. Got a load of tractors to pick up in Billings. Want to come with?”
The hitchhiker didn’t have to think. “Sure,” he said. “Great.”
The reverend grinned. “Far out.” He turned to climb inside but paused on the first step. He turned and said, “I just took another hit of acid. It’ll be good to have someone to talk to.”