How did I ever survive adolescence? Between the ages of 12 and 14, I hitchhiked when I wasn’t riding my beloved bike. Here are some rides I remember while growing up in Washington State:
The Blind Driver: My friend Stan had an older brother who had strange friends. One was the rich kid. He showed up one day with a ’31 Model A Ford roadster, totally rebuilt; engine, paint, top; it was beautiful. Off we went for a drive with Stan and I in the rumble seat. Just before we headed down the steep switchbacks from Star Lake towards Auburn, the driver pulled his wool hat down over his eyes and stepped on the gas.” I don’t want to live!” He screamed as we went into the first turn. I held on tight as we skidded around the turns, knowing that this crazy person was going to kill me. Only when we got to the bottom of the hill and stopped did we find out that he could see just fine through the material of the hat.
The Record Maker: Stan and I used to sneak out at night, walk the mile from Star Lake to Highway 99 and hitchhike to Seattle after our families were asleep. Our survival hinged upon getting back into bed before the parent’s alarm clock went off. We always made it, sometimes very close. One night on our way home, we had hitchhiked as far as Midway when a car came up at a very high rate of speed. The driver saw us and slammed on the brakes. We had to run a long way to get to the car and get in. It was a ’40 Ford coupe with no hood. It felt strange to look out and see nothing but road. The driver soon had the car up to wide open. Seems he had a girlfriend in Portland and drove Highway 99 down and back a lot, each time trying to break his own record. By stopping to pick us up, he said he would have to drive even faster to make up for it. He slammed on the brakes where we wanted off and he roared away, screeching tires and screaming engine into the night.
The Beer Drinker: This time Stan and I were hitchhiking on a warm summer day to Seattle from Murphy‚s corner, (now South 272nd), a mile west of Star Lake. Once again a Ford came screaming down the road, this time it was a new, (1949), convertible and it screeched to a stop. Stan and I ran up to it and the driver motioned us to climb in the back seat, “don’t use the door, climb over!” He yelled. We did and with a whimper of tires we were off. The driver was slouched low in the seat, one hand on the wheel and the other around a woman with long red hair. In his lap was a bottle of beer, which he raised and chugged on while steering with his knees. The wind was ferocious in the back seat but I could see the speedometer needle hovering around 90 MPH. When he finished his beer, he threw the bottle straight up and snapped his fingers…the redhead popped a cap and put another beer in his hand. I was afraid to look back and see where the bottle landed. At the first traffic light, Stan and I leapt from the car, feeling like we had escaped with our lives. With a wave of a bottle and a screech of tires, the Ford was gone.
The Brakeless Wonder: By the time I was 16, I had a ’38 Ford convertible, fast, ugly with a ratty top. Our high school band was to march in the Apple Blossom Parade in Wenatchee, the other side of the Cascade Mountains. I loaded three other musicians and our horns into the Ford, two in front and two in the rumble seat, our band uniforms stuffed amid the instruments. The Ford didn’t have any rear shocks so we hit bottom a lot, some of the jolts were severe. Somewhere past Levenworth, a rear axle broke. We coasted into a tire repair shop and with our horns and band uniforms; we stood on the edge of the road and stuck out our thumbs. Soon a ’36 Ford Tudor sedan pulled up. Thank God, A ride! We might not get kicked out of band yet. The other guys crowded into the back seat and I sat in front, ‘The Death Seat’, we called it. The Ford had a large vibration in the engine, which didn’t seem to slow it down. We were soon flying down the road at 80 MPH+. I was holding on to everything I could reach, with my uniform clutched to my chest and my horn gripped between my knees. We entered a construction zone, the road turning to rough dirt and a flagman waving frantically. I looked over and saw that the driver was pushing on the brakes as hard as he could and NOTHING was happening. He wound the engine up and shifted down to second, the vibration intense. “My brother installed the rear main wrong!” he shouted, “Don’t hurt anything.” “But the brakes!” I yelled. “They always been like that”, he replied. As we flew down the road, I started worrying about downtown Wenatchee with stop lights everywhere. He not only made it through downtown, but made it over the bridge to East Wenatchee where the band was staying in the school gym. When we hit the ground after bailing out of the Ford, the band director’s wrath at our missing rehearsal didn’t begin to dampen our glee at being alive.