Hitchhiking is a terribly dangerous thing for anyone. For a young woman, it means taking your life in your hands and hoping everything works out. Out of desperation and hard circumstances, I have had to do that a few times in my life. This was one of those times.
I was about 24 years old, a college graduate with no prospects, and like most of my life before and after, I was working more than one job. I was substitute teaching during the day. Several afternoons a week, I worked as a short order cook at a truck stop restaurant. On other nights, I worked as a bartender across the street from the truck stop. I was still just barely making ends meet, which is what happens to single people living on their own and making minimum wage.
I had a piece of crap car, an old Cadillac that I had bought from my brother, who I call S2, when the other car I was driving went belly up. The doors on the other car I had were either permanently locked or would not lock. Windows would not roll down, and finally, the bottom rusted out of it, and I could see the highway speeding by under me when I drove down the road. Not safe. I bought this Caddy from S2 and immediately found out why he was doing me this favor for $400.00.
It had problems with the fuel pump, then the alternator, and then the solenoid went bad. The power steering went out three times. Trying to drive a massive old Caddy without power steering is like trying to steer a ship without a rudder. It goes wherever it wants to. On this particular night, I had worked at the bar until closing. I had locked up and went out to start the car, but it would not turn over. It was about 2:30 in the morning, no pay phone nearby, and no one to call if there had been. Cell phones were the stuff of science fiction then. It was January, very cold, and I had just a thin jacket to my name.
I could either go back in the bar to sleep on a cot in the back room, or I could hitch a ride home. The bar was located on the corner of M-46 and M-24 in Tuscola county Michigan. Follow M-24 about ten miles south, and I lived there, on the only main corner of Mayville, in an upstairs apartment, above a former barbershop and next to an antique store. I opted to hitchhike, and I began to walk out on M-23, toward Mayville.
I was shivering. I had on that thin jacket, a long sleeve tee shirt, and old jeans, socks and shoes – no gloves. I don’t think I owned any. I stuck my thumb out at every passing car, but no one stopped, until I heard the brakes on a semi that stopped just beyond me. I ran up to the cab, and the trucker leaned over to swing the door open for me and told me to climb on up to the cab.
I was so cold by then that I was shaking all over. I was able to find the handrail, and climb up the steps into the cab, but it took real effort. I am just over five feet tall, and the steps seemed impossibly high. When I reached the top, he held out his hand. I felt it more than saw it. No light came on in the truck cab when he had opened the door. I was entering into full darkness.
I was terrified of not being able to see, but I was more terrified of dying by freezing to death on the road. I got in. I had to sit on the floor because for whatever reason, there was no passenger seat in that truck. As I sit here writing this, I am shivering for the girl I was in that truck. I was genuinely terrified, and I was so very cold that the heat coming at me made me tremble even more.
“Where are you headed?”
“Mayville, just down the road here, about ten miles.”
“Why are you hitching?
“My car won’t start. I work at that bar there, on the corner you just passed.”
“I’ll get you there,” he said, and we were on the road. I never saw his face. It was too dark to see him. We talked a little. He asked why there was no one to come and get me. I told him a little about my life. I really had no one to call, and if I had called someone in my family, not one of them would have come to get me. All the while I was in that truck, I was wondering if I would make it home, or if I would end up a story of a lost or dead girl in the local paper.
When we got to Mayville, a few minutes later, I told him he could let me off there at the highway. Instead, he took me into town and let me off at the corner where my apartment was. I got down faster than I got up because I missed the second step and fell to the street. I got up, scraped and shaken again, but I was able to run up the steps to my apartment and unlock the door. I shut it behind me, and I leaned against the door a few minutes, panting, heart racing.
I was alive and almost unharmed. Did I ever see that guy again? It’s hard to say. I never really saw him that night. I know I had angels watching over me, despite all the bad things that happened that day. I know that because I am here to tell my story.