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  • Too Late for the Summer of Love
  • John Hales (bio)

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[End Page 148]

The guy behind the wheel was really drunk, and getting drunker by the minute, which was probably the only reason he’d stopped to give me a ride in the first place. Against his better judgment, he told me over and over again, hitchhikers always in his experience lowlifes and losers. He leaned into the steering wheel, squinting through the windshield as he steered us unsteadily between honking onrushing traffic and the road’s meager shoulder on the right: the two feet of loose gravel that separated us from a long fatal fall straight into the Pacific Ocean. [End Page 149]

I finally stopped watching, physically exhausted from an hour of guessing which speeding car we’d smack into head-on, which last-minute swerve would finally send us off the cliff, worn down from bracing myself against the tragedy my hitchhiking had brought me to, reasoning somehow that if I stopped keeping track of his no-longer-furtive pulls on his second pint of vodka, maybe he’d start sobering up. Instead, I watched the sun set ominously into the ocean, taking what comfort I could from the postcard-beautiful California view, all crashing breakers and blood-red sky.

I considered, of course, my options. I’d given up on last-ditch scenarios that involved my somehow seizing the steering wheel, but I was still pretty sure that if I told him I’d like to get out, he’d grouse about lowlifes and losers and ingrates and finally pull over. But that would mean another night sleeping on the beach. And not nodding off sleepily to a Technicolor sunset, either, not warmed by a driftwood fire or comforted by murmuring surf sounds and salt-sea smells, not the mellow night on the beach I’d come to California to experience. In a culvert, perhaps, or huddled in some littered stand of brush, cowering from the inevitable night-watch police floodlight that had rousted me the night before. I was amazed that I was sticking with a ride so obviously doomed, but it had been an anxious couple of days, and I told myself I’d managed to survive my earlier ride, so maybe I wouldn’t die in this one, either.

We all knew hitchhiking was dangerous, but this was 1970; hitchhiking was still regarded by some of us as a kind of lifestyle choice, and the odds still seemed to add up in favor not just of survival but of actual experience, which I guess was what I was after. I couldn’t help worrying a little about being hacked to death by a thrill killer trawling for victims (the Manson Family murder trial was in the headlines that summer, documenting just one of the many bizarre ways California could kill me), but I hadn’t anticipated drivers who were deadly in more mundane ways. Earlier that day, I’d been picked up by a wonderfully sweet and trusting woman driving an ancient Studebaker, a car that even then hadn’t been manufactured for years. My first thought was Cool! An old Studebaker! And she was exactly what she seemed: young, beautiful in a tie-dyedsarong, long-long-braids kind of way, hazily, mellowly stoned, sincerely believing that “the more, the merrier” was a way of life, not a cliché, and because hitchhikers on this stretch of Highway 1 just south of San Francisco vastly outnumbered drivers willing to stop for anybody sticking out a thumb—to be fair, we all looked kind of dicey, some of us even [End Page 150] Charles Manson scary—she generously, lovingly, loaded the car with however many would fit: I shit you not, probably close to a dozen. I swear there were at least six of us in the backseat with our various packs and bags and at least one German shepherd, with barely room to pass joints without burning ourselves, numbers I passed along untoked because I was scared, and being scared and stoned was a combination I knew from past experience I really couldn’t handle, and besides...


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pp. 148-157
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