Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
SOMEWHERE IN BRITISH COLUMBIA – Driving the Canadian highways for hours and days on end can make a man do crazy things. And I did. I picked up a hitchhiker.
I know, I know…it’s dangerous and stupid and irresponsible and a good way to get killed. But it’s OK – like I said, I was in Canada.
I’ve done my share of hitching over the years, so I have some hitchhiker snobbery. I’ve got some very strict criteria that must be met before I even consider picking up strangers on the side of the road. This guy was doing all the right things. He was standing, not sitting, in a place where it was easy and safe to pull over. He had a big cardboard sign on which he’d sharpied the name of the town he was headed, Chilliwack – bonus points for being a funny name, and only a few hours away. I also consider the “not going to chop me into several bits and bury me in the woods” criteria, though this one is certainly not an exact science.
This guy seemed OK. He gave off the aura of a nice, non-mass murdering young traveler, so I thought I’d pay back some of the hitcher karma I’ve accumulated over the years.
I was listening to some old blues when he got in the van, which will come to no surprise to those who know me, and he pointed to the stereo and said, “Mississippi Fred McDowell?”
Indeed, my newfound friend. Indeed it is. And lord have mercy.
He was a fan. We talked blues – REAL blues – for the next few hours. I dropped him in Chilliwack (ha!), pulled back on the highway and thought, “That was really fun, and the exact opposite of my last hitchhiker experience.”
It was earlier this summer, closing night of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and I had given some friends a ride home in the rain. As I rounded the corner to get back on the main road I’m scrolling through the iPod to find some 3 a.m. driving home music. You know…blues.
I know it’s dangerous to iPod and drive at the same time, but it’s 3 in the morning, nobody’s out, so I’ll be OK. Oops – I don’t see the woman in the crosswalk at the red light until I’ve already stopped. She’s looking at me, and I feel a pang of guilt for iPodding while driving. I give her a quick, guilty, “sorry if you thought I wasn’t gonna stop” wave.
She waves back, turns around and GETS IN MY VAN!
Boom. Just like that. She’s in my van. Opens the passenger door, gets in, closes the door. Now she’s in my van! With me!
Uh…this girl was not following ANY of my hitchhiker rules, but, well, here she is.
I can see right away that she’s high on something – and not in a good way. I can see this so clearly because she’s IN MY VAN! Really, I can’t stress this enough. You think your car is a little protective bubble, and when somebody breaches it unexpectedly, well, it’s unexpected.
“Do you have a cigarette?” she asks.
She says, “What are you doing?”
“Just driving home. What are you doing?”
“Anything,” she replies, in a way that I could tell was intended to be, but in no way was, seductive.
Everything had happened so quickly that it never dawned on me what she was doing walking around in the rain at 3 a.m. I just assumed she wanted a lift somewhere. That’s the way your brain works when you’ve lived in a small town for 20 years.
“Uh, no. I mean, NO! No. No. Sorry. No.”
She grumbles something and gets out, slamming the door, never once bothering to comment on my musical choice.
As I turned the corner I began to imagine the conversation I would have had if a cop had witnessed this incident and intervened before my passenger left.
“Honestly officer, I don’t even know why she got in my van. I was just sitting here. Well, yeah, I did wave at her, but I was only…no, that’s not was I was doing! I don’t think those handcuffs are necessary, I love Canada! Look, I really think…what? Oh, yes, as a matter of fact that IS Blind Willie Johnson I’m listening to.”
(Next time – Vancouver)
In other, non-Canada news, for the past few months residents have been writing down their darkest secrets and placing them in sealed boxes all over the Roaring Fork Valley. Now they’ll be revealed in a show called “Secrets.” This Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Wheeler Opera House.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times.
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