Wednesday, February 24, 2021


May 1974

I fell asleep in the car en route to Salt Lake.  It was probably not what the driver was hoping for when he picked me up.  You rarely get drivers who are looking for silence, because they already had silence. Usually there is a desire for conversation.   A few years later on the way from Ellenville, New York to Buffalo I was picked up consecutively by women who unearthed heart breaking stories about men in their lives. The first told me, after a spell, about her husband who she found out after twenty years of marriage, was more interested in men than women.  The second provided a very long monologue about a rat bastard that she had married who had threatened to kill her.  When she said the part about being threatened with death, she turned and faced me eyeball to eyeball so that I would understand the severity.  I did, but wanted to tell her--without indicating anything less than compassionate understanding--, that if she did not return her gaze to the road we both would be a statistic in a matter of bone crushing seconds.  I lifted a finger and sort of pointed at the road. She nodded and raised her brows as if to say, “I know. I have this under control, but my husband was a menace.” When she looked back at the highway nodding her head again for emphasis, I wheezed a comment about how awful that must have been.  “You have no idea” is what she said, and again felt a need to stare right at me risking both of our lives.  “He was a rat bastard,” she said deliberately. “Rat bastard,” she repeated. One more rat bastard and I figured we both would be through the windshield.

The fellow driving to Salt Lake was actually traveling to Layton, Utah a destination twenty miles further North.  He dropped me at a Truckstop not far from the intersection of I-15 and I-80. By now it was after midnight.  My first two nights finding a place to stay had been easy.  This was different and I did not know what to do.     

I tried to get someone at the all night Truckstop diner to tell me where the University of Utah was, but I could not get a straight answer when I received an answer at all.  I had wild curly hair and looked the part of an anti- war protestor.  Not many sympathetic faces at this diner.  I ordered something to eat and took my time essentially killing time.  The vibes emanating from the twenty or so others in the joint ranged from apathy to antipathy when I was able to sense any reaction to my presence. I left the diner about 1.

I started walking around to find a spot that felt safe where I could put down my sleeping bag for the night. There just did not seem anywhere suitable that would be off the beat of someone who might be a ne’er do well.  I tried to check if I could find a school yard or park but the area was commercial. There was a strip mall with a grocery, an out of business hardware shop with wooden boards where windows had been, a bank, and a dry-cleaner. All closed of course. The bank parking lot had some possibilities.  I found a corner, not far from a streetlight, but not so close that it would keep me up all night.  There was a level place for the bag and I tried to get some sleep.  

I couldn’t. I was not there for more than twenty minutes when I decided this was not so good. If I did fall asleep and a police officer came by and put a light in my face I thought I might panic.  So, I got up and started walking, not hiking. I thought I knew how to get back to the interstate and figured I would walk towards the ramp--somehow kill the four hours or so until first light.

This plan, as I hatched it and as I started to implement it, was only a little bit wiser than trying to hike from Colorado to Utah. I was nowhere and would not break my no hitchhiking at night rule. I did not see anything approaching a university or a motel.  So, I walked around in what amounted to circles for a long while. And then a godsend.  A fellow pulled up next to me in a motorcycle.


I explained I was hiking cross country and was looking for some place safe to sleep for the night. And asked for recommendations.  He could not suggest any place safe—“not around here”-- but asked me to hop on the motorcycle. And then this motorcyclist from heaven, Phil, took me through the streets of Salt Lake to his suburban home.  I’m not much of a fan of motorcycles, but I was that night.

It was close to 3 when we got to his mother’s house.  He had the late shift at some factory and was coming off work when he spotted me. Phil could not let me sleep in the house because he figured his mother might wake up and have a fit, but he fixed me a sandwich for breakfast that he called a nature sandwich with sprouts, told me I could sleep in his backyard, and I would do just that. It had been a scary night.  There was one fellow in the Truckstop who especially made me nervous.  A buzz cut guy who had eyeballs that were staring at me, the long-haired stranger with the backpack.  I thought that Phil might have saved me just at the right time.  He was going to sleep late, he said, but showed me on my map how I could get to route 80 from his house.  I’d explained that it was my goal to get to San Francisco, a 14-hour drive away, by the following night.

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