Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a well-publicized series of brutal murders shocked residents and law enforcement officials throughout Southern California. Dubbed the "Freeway Killings", these murders were particularly vicious and bloody, and most of the victims were adolescent males whose sodomized and mutilated bodies were later discovered along various Southland highways. In those unpleasant days of wholesale freeway murder, hitchhiking was considered by many to be a daring or foolish enterprise. For two teenagers raised in broken and impoverished homes, hitchhiking was a necessary mode of transport and an integral part of life.
My good friend Jimmy Howard and I spent our teenage years skating together in San Diego. In the winter of 1980-1981, Jimmy moved from San Diego to Huntington Beach. Being separated by a distance of 100 miles, we didn't see much of each other during the following months. Then one fine April afternoon, I answered a knock on my door to find Jimmy standing on my doorstep. He had a smile on his face and a skateboard in his hand, and he told me he had hitchhiked all the way from Huntington just to rattle my stinking cage.
Recalling recent newspaper accounts of the bloody "Freeway Killings", I commented upon the risks involved in such a lengthy hitchhiking trip. Jimmy merely laughed, thrust his hand into his pocket, and immediately extracted a large clasp knife. With a rapid flick of his wrist, a razor-sharp six-inch stainless steel blade of the finest quality appeared as if by magic.
"I had this in my hand the whole time," he said.
I took the knife and tested its blade upon a nearby tree branch. The bark on the branch was peeled like a potato skin as the blade effortlessly glided along in one smooth motion.
Filled with curiosity, I listened attentively as Jimmy recounted the latest developments on the Northern Front. His mom had met and married an ex-Green Beret, and the entire family was living in a house near the beach. The pier was happening, Newport was only minutes away, and the lean times experienced by my friend in the past seemed to be coming to an end. Unfortunately, my situation remained unchanged, and I had little to offer in the way of hospitality. When Jimmy suggested we both hitchhike to Huntington so he could show me his new surroundings, I agreed without hesitation. I threw some clothes into a backpack, grabbed my skate, and hit the road with my friend, just like old times.
We skated down to the Bay Bridge, where we stuck out our thumbs and waited for a ride. Within minutes, a woman pulled up in an old thrasher and offered us a lift to the Mission Bay area. We clambered into the front seat, and, with the woman's forceful depression of the accelerator, the thrasher sped away from the shoulder with a roar. Glancing back, I saw a cloud of dust and exhaust smoke in our wake. I looked at our driver, who was smiling grimly as she jockeyed for a leading position in the innermost "death lane." My kind of car, and my kind of woman. I could already tell this trip was going to be special.
With an impressive display of power which harkened back to its former days of glory, the thrasher shot like one of Goddard's rockets from the northbound interchange onto I-5. While maneuvering through rush hour traffic in a fashion which would have disgraced Mario Andretti, our driver kept up a running commentary upon her employers (complete wankers), her boyfriend (the Stud From Hell), modern drivers (expletives deleted), and life in general ("It's a bitch, but ride it for what it's worth...") . Before we knew it, Jimmy and I were standing on a ramp overlooking Sea World, feeling as if we had just received the most important lesson of our lives to date.
Five minutes passed before another driver pulled over and offered to transport us to Del Mar. My senses were still reeling from the previous encounter with the woman of my dreams, and I followed Jimmy into this second vehicle with the air of one immersed in reverie. This second lift proved to be uneventful and, indeed, anticlimactic. Our driver exited on Del Mar Heights Road; after disembarking, Jimmy and I took station on the shoulder of the northbound on-ramp. So far, so good.
A third lift, equally as boring as the second, took us to Mission Avenue in Oceanside. Here, for some reason which remains unknown, we became stranded at the side of the road. Nobody gave us a second glance, and nobody stopped to offer a ride. Night fell, hours passed, and still we stood on the ramp shoulder, unable to secure a fourth lift.
We tried EVERYTHING. I had a big black marking pen and a small quantity of notebook paper in my bag, and we used these materials to make signs proclaiming our destination. My first sign, "HUNTINGTON BEACH", elicited absolutely no response. Thinking my sign was too geographically selective, Jimmy tried "L.A.", which was equally unsuccessful. "ANYWHERE BUT HERE" and "HARMLESS" were good for a few laughs, while "F#CK THIS PLACE" and "F#CK YOURSELF" evoked numerous derisive and suggestive remarks.
Finally, at 0200, we grew weary of standing by that miserable Mission Avenue on-ramp. We decided to pick up our belongings and head north along the shoulder of the freeway. We felt that if we didn't leave that loathsome ramp forthwith, our bleached bones would ultimately lie in that filthy place forever. Just as we were reaching for our boards, the unexpected happened. A battered old VW Bug pulled up, enveloping us in a cloud of dust.
"I don't believe it."
"Get in," Jimmy said, "before he changes his mind."
I looked through the shotgun window at the driver, a balding, bespectacled man in his early to middle fifties. Anatomically speaking, he was pushing freeway speed. He didn't seem to be any great physical threat.
"Are you going to L.A.?," I asked.
"San Clemente," he replied.
Without a further word, Jimmy and I squeezed into the VW. I rode shotgun and Jimmy sat in the back seat. Our driver checked his rearview mirror and eased the car into the roadway. Soon we were steadily plodding northward at 55 miles per hour.
"How long were you guys standing at that corner?," our driver asked.
"Oh, six or seven hours," I said nonchalantly.
"Six or seven hours?!? Did you have food and water???"
"We had a bottle of water, but no food. We weren't really hungry." And then, as an afterthought, I added, "I could use a cold beer."
"I have beer in the trunk," our driver said, motioning toward the front end of the VW. "There's a rest stop not far from here, and I was thinking of pulling over and taking a breather."
Jimmy and I exchanged glances, then Jimmy said, "Yeah, that sounds like the call." The circumstances seemed strange, nevertheless we both thirsted for cold beer after our long ordeal.
We pulled into the Aliso Creek Rest Area within minutes. Whoever named that place a "rest area" must have had a sense of humor: at that early hour of the morning, the parking lot was crawling with drug dealers and prostitutes. No rest for the wicked, and all that tripe. We briefly stretched our legs outside before retrieving the beer from the trunk and retiring to the cabin of the stinking VW.
Oddly enough, our driver had exactly three six-packs under the hood. Jimmy and I proceeded to pound these while swapping lies with our new acquaintance. Between our thirst and his jaw-jacking, the old man was hard-pressed to keep up with our rapid rate of consumption. Soon the last beer was drained, and we didn't even feel buzzed. The beer was watery domestic trash which failed to deliver the goods.
Seeing that the beer hadn't even made a dent, our driver told us he still had a bottle of vodka and some OJ stashed in the trunk. While he rummaged for the booze, Jimmy and I slipped behind some nearby bushes to urinate. Checking to see that we could not be overheard, I turned to Jimmy with a smile.
"Hey, Jimbo, this guy's obviously a f#!%g pack rat looking for some action. You may have to use that knife of yours if things get ugly."
The thought of our middle-aged driver pitting his sagging anatomy against Jimmy's strapping six-foot-plus frame was completely ridiculous, and we both roared with laughter before I continued along more serious lines.
"No matter how much alcohol we pound, neither of us lets the other fall asleep. The guy in back holds the knife. We'll ride this pack rat for all he's worth, and then we'll see what happens."
"No worries. The knife was under my leg the whole time. I was waiting for him to try something, just so I'd have an excuse," Jimmy replied.
Encouraged by my friend's awareness, I led the way back to the car. Upon entering, we found our driver fumbling with a package of plastic cups. After a brief struggle, he extracted three glasses. We watched closely as he cracked the seal on the vodka and poured several ounces into each glass. The mixer followed, and the drinks were ready. Our watchful eyes had not detected any addition of undesirable ingredients, so we confidently began to pound our drinks as if they were going out of style. Naturally, we forced our acquaintance to pound his drink in the same fashion.
It was a classic situation. We could read our acquaintance like an open book. He had obviously seen us on the Mission Avenue on-ramp and had deliberately purchased the beer and vodka before picking us up. He probably reckoned we would be fair game after we drank the booze and passed out. What the f#$%g moron failed to realize was the fact that Jimmy and I were already hardened alcoholics with years of heavy partying behind us. Being true hooligans, we set out to see just how much liquor this idiot could hold before he revealed his true nature. We pressured him to pound drinks and mix refills, and the vodka gradually disappeared like water under the bridge.
Soon our acquaintance was good and ripped, while Jimmy and I both had a decent buzz. The conversation turned to Mexico, and we listened in amazement as our acquaintance confessed he had never been south of the border.
"WHAT?!? YOU'VE NEVER BEEN TO MEXICO?!? IMPOSSIBLE!!!"
We construed his confession as a blatant falsehood, and we proceeded to bombard him with outrageous lies about our travels and exploits in the exotic, pristine paradise to the south. We told of beautiful, unspoiled beaches crowded with gorgeous naked women, all lolling about under the sun in crystal-clear, ninety-degree water. We told of magnificent mountain lakes where tourists could sip chilled margaritas while enjoying some of the finest scenery in Baja. We told of fabulous lobster dinners which could be purchased for the most trifling sums. We told of legendary whorehouses where entire harems of young, nubile Mexican princesses would fulfill every conceivable sexual desire for a mere handful of pesos. We told of wild celebrations held in Tijuana's famous bullrings. We told of shadowy cocaine deals consummated in border bars. We told of opulent border lifestyles comprising countless debaucheries, all available to gringo tourists for nominal amounts of hard cash. We told every lie we could possibly imagine, and, in his rapt inebriation, our acquaintance swallowed the multitude of lies hook, line, and sinker.
"Boy, would I ever like to go down there," he said, as if in a trance.
"Yeah, it's something else," I mumbled, reflecting upon the enormity of the lies which I had just stated with such conviction.
"What do you guys say? Would you like to drive down to Mexico? I've never been there and I'd love to go, and maybe the two of you can show me some of those places you mentioned."
I turned to Jimmy in the back seat.
"What do you think? Do you feel like going to Mexico?"
"Sure, why not? I don't have any plans for the day. Let's go party." Jimmy always was a wild and reckless young hooligan.
We had been sitting in the rest area for at least three hours, perhaps longer, and a beautiful new day was dawning. While considering the proposed change in our itinerary, I scanned the parking area for discernible signs of life. Several drug dealers still hawked their wares, but most of the prostitutes had called it a night. Trash was strewn across the lot, and the odd used rubber could be seen sticking to the pavement. The squalid sight provided sufficient motive for me to voice my only concern.
"We don't have much spending money, and a good time down there requires cash flow."
"That's all right," said our acquaintance. "I'll buy everything we need."
"F#ck it, then, let's go."
Thus began the second stage of our incredible journey. We pulled out of the rest area, drove north to the nearest overpass, executed a 180-degree turn, and headed south toward our new objective. We ran out of vodka shortly after we hit the southbound lanes, but we planned to purchase more liquor anyway as soon as we entered Tijuana.
Traffic grew heavier as we approached the border, and we decided to pull over and pick up some grinds in order to avoid the morning rush. We chose the McDonald's Restaurant at 522 W. San Ysidro Blvd, future site of the bloody 1984 massacre in which James Oliver Huberty shot and killed 21 patrons of "The Golden Arches." The beer and vodka had made us hungry, and we ordered enough food to feed a regiment. Our acquaintance calmly paid the bill, and we proceeded to fill the voids in our stomachs with the highly-nutritious gourmet fare. After the last greasy morsels were vacuumed from our plates and another elegant dining experience had come to a successful conclusion, we left the fine establishment and continued on our way.
We crossed the border without incident, and soon we were roaming the streets of Tijuana in search of an open liquor store. We eventually found one, and I distinctly remember entering the shop and buying a huge bottle of white tequila. Pushing two liters in volume, the bottle was that special kind with the handle glassed onto the neck. After some reflection, I added two bottles of mixer to this purchase. I was unable to score any crushed ice, since the shopkeeper had sold the last bag during the previous night, and the delivery truck had not yet arrived with the current day's supply. Fortunately, the mixer was reasonably cool, and I reckoned it would do well for the time being.
The streets of Tijuana were fairly quiet at that early hour, and we sat outside the shop for a moment as we discussed the entertainment scene. Jimmy and I suggested a run to Ensenada, home of the local Mexican fishing fleet and site of "La Bufadora" ("The Blowhole"), not to mention Hussong's Cantina, a perennial favorite. After hearing about "The Blowhole", our acquaintance expressed an interest in visiting the town, and within minutes the battered VW was lurching over potholes and swaying around curves as we left Tijuana and headed up the long incline leading to the coast.
Jimmy mixed fresh drinks which we began to pound with renewed vigor. Fortified with food and protected by thick layers of grease, our stomachs were virtually bottomless pits into which vast quantities of liquor disappeared. We put a serious dent in our tequila bottle before we experienced our first crisis.
Faced with the choice of paying the toll on the coast road or driving through the mountains at no cost, our driver chose the free road through the mountains. Jimmy and I tried to explain the advantages of the toll road, but no amount of persuasion could have changed the fool's mind. He obviously suspected our good neighbors to the south of being involved in some deep, anti-American conspiracy, and he obstinately viewed the entire toll system as nothing more than legalized highway robbery. We finally abandoned our attempts to persuade him, and we resigned ourselves to a long and arduous journey over narrow, winding mountain roads. At least we had plenty of alcohol, and, what the hell, the sun was shining, albeit in our eyes half the time.
The day wore on, and it soon became apparent that the liquor was producing a baneful effect upon the driving skills of our acquaintance. He began to drift into the opposing lane while rounding blind curves, and each successive recovery was progressively worse. The sun often shone directly into the eyes of our driver, and, of course, he had no sunglasses. Many of the curves lacked guardrails, even though impressive vertical drops and horrible, agonizing deaths awaited those who failed to negotiate the bends. I became vigilant, and I was forced to grab the steering wheel on several occasions in order to prevent a catastrophe. In a desperate attempt to combat his growing fatigue, our driver began to continuously pump the miserable accelerator. The incessant squeaking of the gas pedal only added to the tension in the car, and the tequila in the bottle remained at a constant level for the first time since it had entered our possession.
At last we descended from the mountains and drove into Ensenada. The roughly-paved roads and byways of the town were a welcome relief after our harrowing ordeal. Jimmy and I immediately poured a round of stiff drinks, which we consumed in long draughts while secretly thanking our lucky stars. Our spirits rose as we cruised the town and checked out the funky scenery. A seemingly new lease on life brought inevitable stirrings of hunger, followed by a prolonged discussion of suitable restaurants and lunch menus.
With wits dulled by alcohol consumption, our driver stubbornly refused to patronize any of the traditional eateries, and he eventually pulled up in front of some dive in a filthy, stinking backwater of town. Awkwardly clambering out of our seats, we locked the car and went inside. We experienced no difficulty in securing a table, since no other diners were present. The table we chose was covered with a fine layer of dirt and grease. Grimy walls and tasteless decor characterized the sordid establishment. A waitress appeared in due time and proceeded to take down our order.
In an alcoholic haze, I read several items from the bill of fare. I don't even remember what I ordered; I only remember that, upon its arrival, the food positively sucked. Knowing that, if nothing else, it would serve to soak up the alcohol, I ate every last unidentifiable morsel on each of my numerous plates. Shoveling huge spoonfuls into his mouth, Jimmy did the same. Our acquaintance couldn't handle the exotic gourmet fare, and he soon dropped out of the race. When we were finished, the wanker paid the bill, and with stinking breath and queasy stomachs we left the squalid restaurant.
The harsh glare of sunlight hurt our eyes as we stepped outside the one-arm joint, and the sun's burning rays beat down upon our unprotected heads. Turning toward our acquaintance, I noticed he was suffering on the verge of heat exhaustion. He returned my scrutiny with a feeble smile.
"Do you guys feel like renting a hotel room?," he asked.
Jimmy and I looked at each other, both clearly recognizing the potential bullsh!t involved in such a situation. The last thing we wanted was to share a hotel room with this f#$%g pack rat.
"No, we want to go to the beach."
"Yeah, take us to the beach," I echoed.
The wanker was persistent in his efforts to persuade us, and a subtle argument arose. He wanted to check into a hotel and "take a nap," but we didn't see any future in that. A "nap" wasn't in the program, and we firmly reiterated our desire to go to the beach. He stalled, and our initially polite requests soon became thinly-veiled threats. The pack rat finally acquiesced, and we loaded into the vehicle and headed for the beach.
We pulled onto a nearly deserted stretch of rocky coastline one or two miles south of the harbor entrance. A Mexican family was barely visible half a mile away, but otherwise we were alone upon that barren shore. So much for our former claims of beaches thronged with naked women. We told our driver to park the VW right by the water's edge, so we could keep an eye on the car while sitting on the beach and pounding another round of drinks. As soon as the vehicle rolled to a stop, Jimmy and I disembarked with party materials in our hands. By this time, the pack rat was too tired to join us, and in a drunken stupor he sat slumped in the driver's seat. The overwhelming combination of liquor, food, and burning sun had mercilessly hammered the wanker into insensibility. His head lolled back, his mouth opened, and presently he was loudly snoring in a state of utter exhaustion.
I rose and walked back to the car to check the occupant's condition. After the most cursory examination, I proceeded to ransack the vehicle. I rifled the dash, cabin, and trunk, but absolutely nothing of value could be found. The only existing object of theft in the entire stinking VW was the pack rat's fat wallet, which was buried under his weight in his right hip pocket. I slowly shook my head in disgust and returned to where Jimmy sat on the beach.
"I say we roll this geriatric f@g and head back to San Diego. We can leave him here, drive to Tijuana, ditch the car, and cross the border on foot. We can use the money to buy bus tickets and go to Huntington in style."
"Sounds good to me," Jimmy said. "I'm gettin' tired of his sorry @ss anyway."
"We'll have to knock him out first, so he doesn't call the Federales before we reach Tijuana." I had no desire to spend the next few years behind the walls of a Mexican prison.
We both rose and approached the VW. Stooping down beside it, I picked up a rock the size of a baseball and clambered into the back seat. Jimmy sat shotgun, knife in hand, and together we surveyed the sonorous wreck slumped behind the wheel. His snoring was more obnoxious than ever, and one or two flies lazily circled above his open mouth. A tiny rivulet of drool ran down his chin and fell onto his shirt. In a lull between snores, a low rumbling deep in his bowels signaled some intestinal disturbance. All things considered, he wasn't a very pretty sight.
The afternoon sun blazed overhead... even with the doors and windows wide open, the interior of the vehicle felt like a blast furnace. How that wanker could sleep in the stifling heat was beyond my comprehension. I held the rock beside his temple and vigorously swung it back and forth, trying to determine the best way to knock him out for several hours without actually killing him or bashing in his skull. After four or five trial runs, I resolved to carry out my plan. The rock was poised for the decisive blow. A suspenseful moment passed, and then I slowly lowered my hand.
"I don't want to kill him," I whispered lamely. "I just want to knock him out for a while."
Despite my intoxicated state, I was aware of the risks involved in such a criminal action. If I didn't hit him hard enough, he might wake in time to alert the authorities before we crossed the border. If I hit him too hard and killed him, we would run the additional risk of being arrested for murder. Visions of life in a Mexican prison hovered still in the back of my mind. The decision lay somewhere between freedom and murder, and I was unwilling to cross the threshold.
"Give me the rock and I'll do it," Jimmy said in a forceful tone.
I gave the rock to him and he proceeded to do exactly as I had done, swinging the rock in trial arcs against the sleeping wanker's temple. As I watched, Jimmy tensed for the final stroke, held the rock poised for what seemed an eternity, and ultimately lowered his hand with an expression of contempt.
"I can't do it," he said. "I'm afraid I'll kill him."
"Yeah, it's no damned good," I replied, secretly glad that neither of us had struck and accidentally murdered our intended victim. Jimmy hurled the stone away with an oath, and we both stepped out of the car into the bright afternoon sunshine. Oblivious to the danger which so recently had threatened his life, the old man steadily snored away in the blistering heat of the cabin. Jimmy and I merely smiled at each other.
"Let's have another drink," I suggested.
"Yeah, I could use one."
Returning to the beach, we poured two of the stiffest drinks yet. The tequila bottle was gradually being drained, but we still had a hell of a long way to go. We spent the next few hours on the beach, sipping our drinks and alternately talking in desultory fashion. The afternoon inexorably waned, and our thoughts turned to the old man still sleeping in the car.
"I think we had better wake him up and start heading back," I said. "I don't want to spend the night with that pack rat in some sh!tty hotel."
We gathered our gear and returned to the VW, where Jimmy roused the sleeping man by poking him in the ribs.
"C'MON, DUDE!!! WAKE UP!!! IT'S TIME TO GO BACK TO SAN DIEGO!!!," Jimmy shouted.
Slowly rising to consciousness from the depths of peaceful alcoholic slumber, the miserable bastard was in a pitiable state of confusion. We couldn't tell whether he had received any benefit from his prolonged beauty sleep.
"What time is it?," he asked.
"Time to go," Jimmy repeated, with a gesture toward the fiery sun which was gradually sinking beneath the horizon. "It's getting late and we want to go back."
The old man started up the VW, and soon the car was rolling once more through the streets of Ensenada. It wasn't long before we experienced another major crisis. Even though the sun was setting, our driver adamantly refused to travel via the toll road on the coast. He instead insisted upon returning the way we had come, along the free road. We couldn't believe the stupidity of this jack@ss. We again told him the toll road was much safer and faster, but no amount of argument could possibly have changed the wanker's mind. There was nothing else to do except sit back and mix another drink.
It took ages to retrace our route through the mountains. The headlights of the VW were hardly sufficient to illuminate the endless curves. Perhaps this was a blessing, since we could no longer see the frightful chasms which lurked beneath each bend. At least our driver seemed more alert, for he spent the entire time leaning forward and peering over the wheel. His annoying habit of pumping the accelerator returned to plague us throughout the journey.
Two hours later, we began our miserable descent into Tijuana. By this time, only two or three fingers of liquor remained in the bottom of the tequila bottle. Jimmy and I were tapped out, and we couldn't handle any more of the vile, stinking liquid. Grabbing the bottle by the neck, I hurled it out the window and it fell to the pavement with a crash. Our driver continued to pump the pedal and didn't say a word to either of us.
The border was a clusterf#ck, and we waited over an hour to cross the line. Jimmy and I were still riding out the effects of the tequila, and the concentrated exhaust fumes only added to our torment. We occasionally stepped out of the car to relieve our cramped bodies. When our turn to pass finally arrived, we had nothing to declare except headaches and kidney trouble. Soon we were steadily plodding northward on beautiful I-5.
We were approaching Carlsbad when our driver wanked again.
"I know this girl named Mary," he said. "She lives in Vista, and she really likes young guys like you."
We told him we weren't interested but he kept talking anyway, telling us every base detail of his friend Mary's sexual expertise. Then, without warning, he veered from I-5 onto some connecting highway and began to drive inland toward Vista. The atmosphere in the vehicle suddenly became tense.
"What are you doing? We don't want to go to your friend's house!!!," Jimmy practically shouted.
When the pack rat didn't answer, I said, "Let us out at the next light," which was visible in the distance. The light turned green, however, and the wanker never slowed down as he executed a wide left turn.
I could see that conversation was useless, so I resorted to more drastic measures. I was riding in the back seat, and Jimmy's clasp knife was in my pocket. My hand closed around the hilt, and I extracted the knife and snapped open the blade with a quick flick of my wrist. Flashing the blade in front of the wanker's face, I grabbed his head with one hand and placed the blade against his jugular. Prodding him slightly to emphasize my point, I grimly issued my final directive.
"Pull over, @sshole, unless you want this in your f#$%g neck."
I never saw a VW decelerate so quickly. The pack rat pulled onto the shoulder and brought the vehicle to a complete stop.
"Out of the car, Jimmy," I said, still holding the blade against the wanker's neck. As soon as Jimmy opened the door and stepped out of the car, I told him to push the shotgun seat forward and grab the boards out of the back. He did this, and in one smooth motion I withdrew from the vehicle and joined him on firm ground.
"LATER, F@GGOT!!!!!!!!!," I shouted at the top of my lungs while slamming the car door shut as hard as I could. The car and its wanking driver pulled away, to vanish forever from our lives.
Once the dust of the pack rat's departure settled, we realized that we were in a quandary. We had absolutely no idea where we were. We had no map, so street names meant nothing to us. Seeing a restaurant in the distance, we decided to skate over and ask for directions. The place was closing down as we entered, but a helpful employee momentarily stopped cleaning and gave us the directions we wanted.
"I-5? Just follow that road for one, maybe one-and-a-half miles, and you can't miss it," she said, pointing out the nearest window at a broad thoroughfare.
We thanked her and left the premises. Slapping our boards on the pavement, we skated toward our destination. Taking the restaurant worker at her word, we never bothered to check the street signs. After dodging cars for a while, we came to the stinking freeway. Imagine our consternation when we discovered that the northbound on-ramp was the same miserable stretch of asphalt from which we were picked up by the pack rat nearly twenty-four hours earlier. Like some recurring nightmare in a cheesy episode of "The Twilight Zone," we were back on Mission Avenue in Oceanside. So intense was my frustration, I could have sat down in the dirt and wept.
Fortunately, my misery was short-lived, ending when some guy pulled up in a brand-new four-wheel-drive truck. It was a choice Blazer equipped with every available option. Loud, progressive rock music blasted from the stereo, so we figured the driver was probably normal. We threw our boards in the back and climbed into the front seat. The driver stepped on the gas pedal, and the truck shot forward with a squeal of tires.
The guy in the Blazer took us all the way to Westminster, three or four miles from Jimmy's house. Tired as I was, I still remember particulars of that penultimate leg of our journey. The side windows of the Blazer were tinted, and our driver insisted that they stay rolled down. He was paranoid about being pulled over and cited by a policeman for cruising with limited side mirror visibility. Maybe he was a drug runner transporting a shipment of cocaine, or maybe he simply had a side window/mirror complex. I can certainly tell you that it grew damned cold in the front seat of that truck. I was actually glad when traffic slowed to pass a bloody wreck.
Getting out of the truck at Westminster, we skated the remaining distance to Jimmy's house. Some thirty-six hours after leaving my house, we arrived at our original destination. We entered the front door at 0400. Too tired even to eat or shower, we immediately crashed in Jimmy's room. I slept the sleep of the dead for twelve hours.
When I finally woke, I crawled into the shower to wash the nasty alcoholic funk from my body. After Jimmy did the same, we stormed the kitchen in a comprehensive quest for food. A heavy grind session ensued, during which we consumed every edible substance in sight. Jimmy's mom Carol came home before the session ended.
"Hi, Jimmy! Hi, E---! I haven't seen you in a while! My, you guys aren't hungry, are you?," she enquired in a joking manner, after seeing the multitude of wrappers and boxes which littered the kitchen table.
Through mouthfuls of masticated slop, we told Carol about our adventure in Mexico. She could only listen, shake her head, and occasionally laugh as we related details of our sketchy experience. When I told her how I held the knife against the pack rat's neck, she nodded her head in approval.
"The next time you hitchhike, you'd better take Dave's gun," she said. Dave was and still is her faithful second husband. At the time, he worked for the Torrance Police Department.
"Tell him about your trip when he gets home," Carol added. "He'll get a good laugh out of it."
Thus our incredible journey ended in an upper-middle-class suburb of Huntington Beach. Many years have passed since that particular adventure came to a conclusion. Jimmy's married now and has two or three kids. He and his family live in northern Idaho, far from the beach where he grew up. I talk to him regularly over the phone, and every once in a while we discuss our bizarre hitchhiking experience. The ties that bind, and all that bullsh!t. No matter what happens in the course of my life, I'll never forget the moments we shared on an isolated beach outside the peaceful Mexican village of Ensenada. Those memories bring a new meaning to the phrase "vehicular manslaughter." I don't think I've ever been as close to murder as I was on that sweltering afternoon, when the life of a wretched pack rat hung precariously in the balance.
Author's note: This story first appeared in print nearly two decades ago. A few years ago, Jimmy Howard died an untimely death in a freak accident, leaving his wife and several children in northern Idaho. I miss Jimbo... he was a damned good skateboarder, pulling the most insane wrapover microedgers and laybacks on the halfpipe outside his house in Coronado. You can read all about that scene in my story "TRIX ARE FOR KIDS." It's weird, how several of my closest friends have died untimely deaths in recent years. All I can say is: "REST IN PEACE, JIMMY... GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. I'LL BE JOINING YOU, J.R., AND GRAEME IN DUE TIME."
In the years since Jimmy and I shared our bizarre hitchhiking experience, many people who subsequently heard our story have commented upon the nature of sexual predators: how they gravitate toward young men or women in situations like ours, at the side of the road or on the fringes of society. My advice to any and all prospective hitchhikers: don't go alone if you can avoid it, carry a razor-sharp knife or some other weapon with you when you go, and be prepared to use that weapon if necessary. Killers like William Bonin prefer enclosed vans or vehicles with heavily-tinted windows, so be alert and never enter a vehicle without fully scanning the interior. Bonin was executed years ago, but there are others like him out there. That's not paranoia speaking, as I'm easily capable of defending myself... those are words of wisdom meant for a younger generation of hitchhikers, if such a generation exists.