I hitchhiked for the first time today.
Many times I’ve picked up others. It’s not taking pity so much as empathizing: boy, hot out there. Boy, sucks to be that cold. I don’t pick up every one but have picked up an ancient grizzled elder type, two white trash kids–a talkative aspiring Shivite (sic) girl and zonked out boy with a skateboard and hair in his face–and an urbane, clean-cut professional couple that made me decide Kona was worth going to that day after all. She was a beauty, tall and blond with fine hands and clear brown eyes. Her companion mostly dozed in the back after sharing he was from Austin. She was tired of web design and tired of being cold, and here to reconnoiter a possible future. She rode a Ducati, fast.
Some will exclaim alarm at my risking certain death at the hands of crazed maniacs. Here is something I believe is true. Harmless ones are easy to spot: all of them. The crazed hitchhiker murdering innocent couples is the stuff of urban legends, about as true as razor blades in Halloween apples.
Yes, you heard stories. This one time this guy you knew from another friend said he knew about this girl that…et cetera. I saw something on local TV news about…. Anything described as “local TV news” should be likewise dismissed. We hear things and want to be scared, safely. We want to praise ourselves for never being so careless and stupid. We want this kind of gentle horror: a horror we can manage, not the real ones so easy to find.
I weigh my own experiences picking up others and invert the transaction. It must follow that those willing to pick people up are harmless good Samaritans. Therefore it is unlikely I will come to harm for the five miles that otherwise stretch out in Kona’s interminable lava plain, but evaporate with wheels.
It goes without saying this is idiot logic, but I decide the most dangerous idiocy only applies to public policy.
I have been walking for two hours from the Kona airport where I dropped off the rental car at 10am. Due to my inability to tell time across two browser windows, the next reservation is for 4pm tomorrow. I need to get eight miles from the airport to my lodging in Kona, and I refuse to pay $40 to get there by taxi or ‘shuttle’, which functions exactly like a taxi and costs the same.
The first couple miles aren’t so bad, though the bag is heavy. I understand now why my landlady asked if I’d taken the unsafe bike her boyfriend provided: it would have been safe enough for eight miles. Giant Tonka toy trucks–very popular here–stream by, rumbling like tanks on their outsized tires. A stream of rental-looking cars goes past. I just walk. I assume someone might stop on their own, without my signaling. It’s not far anyway.
After two hours I get out my phone to see I’ve barely traveled four miles. It is still a long walk along the Queen K highway before turning down to Ali’i Drive, where the resorts nestle each other on the clear, treacherous, blue ocean. I drink a sip of my remaining Gatorade and decide to try something new.
The image above was to have been the driver’s side of the pickup that stopped for me, and the stretch of highway I was very slowly walking, but that’s the iPhone for you. It wasn’t five minutes before he stopped. The rush of gratitude and relief was palpable, something I could dry myself with. The guy is gristled, looks like Charles Bronson. “Where ya headed?” He asks just like in a movie.
“Just into town.”
“Well, alright. Hop on in.” He motions with his thumb.
It’s clear he means the pickup bed. It is legal to ride there in Hawaii: pickups full of kids hanging out the sides at high speed are a frequent sight. (As are helmetless motorcyclists wearing a tshirt, shorts, and flipflops.) The thing I share the bed with is a new rolly suitcase sticking out of a toilet paper carton. It is a white Datsun pickup with a welded ladder frame around it, which I hold tightly, knowing doing so is pointless in a collision.
Black and brown lava spins by as in a dream. I am floating on speed unimagined by the ancients, now so common we are blind to it. I am reminded of a Star Trek episode where the warp drive is damaged. Kirk intones the doleful consequences: planets and starbases previously hours or days away are now decades, centuries distant. This is aloha, the warpspeed flight through the waste.
He makes a couple turns and I am increasingly relieved and grateful. He stops at the main tourist gaggle where Ali’i Drive begins, the power steering pump groaning as he turns into a driveway and stops. I take the hint and hop out, jog to the passenger side. A woman is there: Hawaiian, older, tired, face puffy.
“This is great. You saved me hours. Thanks a lot.”
The woman seems confused, or concerned. “Where is it you need to go?”
I insist it’s fine, I just have a short way to go, and wave and weave into the bare legs and sunglasses. They don’t try to keep me, insist on going farther. This is a massive favor. I am not fit to ask for more.
It’s bright and clear. The relief turns to feelings of satisfaction of getting something back, like winning two bucks in the lottery. I have lunch in a restaurant and consume most of what I saved by refusing the taxi, and it seems earned.