The Dangers of Hitchhiking

Don’t be stupid. Someone might blow
your fucking brains out.

I saw a hitchhiker at the entrance to the South Ventura Freeway the other day. She looked to be about 17 with blonde beach wavy hair, cut off denim shorts, a tight fitting T-shirt, and broken-in canvas tennis shoes.
I looked at her, waited my turn, and thought of my father.

He often picked up hitchhikers. It was a big thing in the 1960s and 70s. It was a time when thumbs were used for hitching rides instead of for texting messages like “Dude, come pick me up.”

In Los Angeles, getting on the freeway usually requires waiting for a short stoplight to turn green, signaling that it’s okay to gun it and make your way into the sea of cars. And while we wait our turn, we are approached by men and women holding up signs in an effort to guilt us into handing over a few bucks. I’ve seen everything from “Homeless vet. Have dog. Need help” to “Will Work for Beer,” but pretty girls with their thumbs out are unusual.

Dad hated to see young people hitchhiking. He thought they were careless and stupid. And when dad saw hitchhikers he would turn into some kind of crusader whose job was to keep the youth of America safe.

If a kid was selling flowers on the street, it was his job to buy the lot and send them home where they belonged. If he witnessed a guy roughing up his wife or girlfriend, it was dad’s job to jump out of the car and “take care of it.” I remember my mom telling a story once where dad jumped out of a car after witnessing a young guy pushing and hitting his girlfriend. Dad gave him the famous one-punch and knocked him out. In turn, the girlfriend began hitting my father with her purse.

But young hitchhikers were the ones that really needed to be taught a lesson, and my father was the one who would give it to them.

Looking back, he was like an Italian Clark Kent. He would walk in the door after a day of “work” wearing his three piece suit, gold chains and dark glasses and retreat quickly to the bedroom. He would appear a few minutes later looking completely different in his black framed spectacles with clear glass, tighty whities and white tank T-Shirt. The black hairy body against the white underwear made him resemble something equivalent to Wolverene.

He would settle himself in his leather recliner and begin to tell the stories of his superhero acts of the day.

“I saw these two young girls hitchhiking…”

I knew what was coming next. My father made it clear to me at a young age that he would “break my thumbs” if he ever saw me hitchhiking. I think this is why I never once hitchhiked and begged every friend who would listen to not hitchhike in fear they might come face-to-face with Super Banjo.

“Can you believe these fucking stupid kids would hitchhike with all the maniacs out there?” he’d say.

Never once did it occur to my father that his actions might be considered that of a maniac.

“I taught them a lesson they won’t forget,” he’d tell us.

If dad saw young people hitchhiking, he would pick them up, and after some dead silence, punch the gas pedal, drive at record speeds, and quickly pull his Cadillac off the side of the road in a screeching halt. He would then turn around, face the kids in the back seat and pull a gun on them.

“How would you like it if I blew your brains out?” would be some of the choice words he’d have for whoever happened to be sitting in the back seat.

And then came his graphic and descriptive tirade about the dangers of hitchhiking. A bad guy might kidnap them and leave them locked in a storage unit to die a slow death. A bad guy might chop them up and leave their body parts buried all over Miami never to be found again. Once their faces reached the perfect shade of white, he’d teach them the lesson.

“Hitchhiking is dangerous. Don’t be stupid because the next guy that picks you up might not be a nice guy like me and blow your fucking brains out.”

If they hadn’t already bolted from the car and were running like hell, he’d offer to take them where they needed to go. He would sometimes hand them a $10 or $20 and tell them to keep it for a future cab or bus ride.

As for me, I often wonder if dad’s way of parenting wasn’t such a bad one.
I never hitchhiked (didn’t want my thumbs broken), never took up smoking (didn’t want “every one of my fingers broken”) and never did drugs (didn’t want dad to “break my legs.”) My father may not have been the “Leave it to Beaver” version of what a dad looks like, but the fear of having my body parts broken was enough to keep me out of trouble — most of the time.