It certainly sounded innocuous enough. Just one of many requests for riders on the bulletin board at UCSD’s student center. There was no indication that the person who placed this ad was a ghoul or mass murderer; just another transplant trying to get back East for the summer. And there was always the possibility that a beautiful girl had drawn up this 3x5 card. Maybe a girl with friends — the type of girls who would develop uncontrollable sexual urges somewhere between Albuquerque and Amarillo.
A woman who identified herself as Rosie answered the phone when I called. “Yes, I still have a place,” she told me. “Would you like it?” Her voice sounded almost too eager, nearly desperate. Surely there was no shortage of people willing to pay a little money to get back East. I decided to ask her a few questions. How many people would be going? What was the schedule, the route? What kind of car? What kind of price? To these I received vague but not altogether discouraging answers. I did want to get to Boston or vicinity, even though the one thing she wasn’t vague about, the 75-dollar price, sounded a trifle high. But I had been told to expect to be overcharged. It was considerably cheaper than the airfare, and I really didn’t have the time to investigate the market thoroughly. Anyway, flying is impersonal. Suddenly, you’re at your destination; there’s no transition. Hell, I told her, I’d go.
At the appointed day and time I arrived at an address somewhere in the maze of Mira Mesa. In a driveway identical to every other driveway sat the blue VW bus belonging to Rosie. Standing beside it was one of my two companion riders, a tall, thin, ascetic-looking individual who introduced himself as Steve. He told me in an irritated sort of way that Rosie would be out soon. We stood silently together, he staring balefully, I curiously, at the van which we thought would soon be transporting us to Boston.
Shortly, Rosie made her appearance. She was accompanied by a suntanned twenty-two-year-old wearing a headband and short pants. His name was Henry. Behind Henry was an extremely decrepit old woman introduced to us as Granny Babs. Henry was to be the third rider. There were no young girls, voluptuous or otherwise. Rosie herself, a short, dark woman in her mid-40s, seemed quite dynamic and on top of things; she rattled off satisfactory answers to everyone’s questions. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice strains of skepticism in the voices of Henry and Steve. I soon found out why. We wouldn’t be going tonight as expected. “Maybe tomorrow,” said Rosie. We were asked if we would please come back then.
This was hard news for me because the friend I had persuaded to drop me off was now undoubtedly happily back in Encinitas. He would certainly be in no mood to return and get me again. Henry asked permission to camp in Rosie’s yard. Steve, who might have been heading north for the night, appeared far too mortified to question a possible ride to Encinitas. And Granny Babs, now virtually hidden behind the lemon tree she had been skulking around, didn’t seem to have any answers either. Remembering some friends who lived in nearby Scripps Ranch, I sighed with relief. I asked Rosie if I could use her phone, and shortly found myself accommodated.
That night I explained the situation to my friends. They seemed to think it was no big deal; the woman was probably reliable. One day off on a trip all the way cross country wasn’t bad. Anyway, I was welcome to stay until my ride to Boston left. Their offer was extremely fortunate because we weren’t to leave for two more nights. The van needed new tires, then an oil change and a lube, then a valve adjustment. So I remained in Scripps Ranch, which isn’t a ranch at all, but a meandering mass of condominiums and tract homes. During the hot night I spent on the living room floor, I was plagued by mosquitoes. These, I conjectured, came from the foul-smelling artificial pond which lurked nearby. Although this lake seemed to be widely regarded as a tremendous asset to homeowners, it really functioned as little more than a place neighborhood urchins could ambush flightless ducks.
When Rosie finally assured me late one afternoon that we would definitely be leaving that night, I was elated. I was not only anxious to get on the road, but also eager to escape the Scripps Ranch bloodsuckers. Although experience had taught me not to be overly trustful of Rosie, it appeared this time she meant business. Steve, Henry, and I stood at attention like Army recruits as she laid down the ground rules for the incipient expedition. As we had expected, there would be no food or rest stops. We had with us sufficient provisions, and we were to time our bathroom needs in concert with gasoline stops. Drivers would change every four hours, with the most recent driver given preferential treatment as to sleeping space in the back of the van.
Then, the bombshell: Would we mind if her mother, Babs, came too? Rosie apparently could not bear the thought of leaving her mother like this. What if the old woman were to die? Rosie would never see her again. On and on… None of us was overjoyed by this prospect. Space was limited enough in the van. The old woman wouldn’t be able to spell drivers, she was half-blind and hard of hearing, and for all we knew, would have to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes. Rosie continued her pleas, careful to accentuate the life-and-death ramifications. To refuse would have seemed callous, if not cruel, so we grudgingly assented, sacrificing a little comfort for the greater good. Rosie took the first turn behind the wheel, with Henry riding shotgun. Steve and I lay side by side in the back, with Granny Babs tucked into the top left-hand corner, resting more or less on her side. It was 11:00 p.m., very dark, and it seemed as if we were sneaking away. The first few shifts passed uneventfully. Steve and I spent the time getting acquainted. It turned out he had graduated from a school in New England the same year I did. He had majored in Classics and seemed to have a wide variety of interests. He needed to get to Boston soon as his mother would be going abroad. In the front seat, Rosie seemed intent on getting some conversation out of the uncommunicative Henry. She wasn’t having much luck. Granny Babs, the meanwhile, was alarming us with intermittent flatulence over which she apparently had little control. Otherwise, she was silent.