First-timer John Sloop shares of adventures in the rain, at 9pm, after too much to drink…
One of the things you discover when you and your best friend decide to hitchhike together at 9PM in the rain after a couple of pitchers of beer is that the only people who will pick you up are the types of people who would think it wise to hitchhike in the rain at 9PM after a couple of pitchers of beer. I’ve tested this theory: it’s a fairly small segment of the population.
Nonetheless, that was the situation in which I found myself in late March of 1982. My best friend Michael and I had gotten this now seemingly ludicrous idea to hitchhike to Chapel Hill from Boone, North Carolina while drinking one Friday night. At the time, Boone was something of a musical desert, and Chapel Hill was a close enough college town (a little over four hours) with a good enough music scene that one of us came up with the idea to go see anyone who happened to be playing in the area that weekend. The idea of waiting another week never even came up. The idea that the earliest we would get there would be after bars were closed was not only not a deterrent; it wasn’t even a consideration. We were drunk, entwined in a powerful bromance and ready for an adventure, so we set out, directly from the bar to the highway—where, again, it was raining.
After standing under a bridge on the outskirts of town with our thumbs out for an hour or so, with our excitement waning, a pair of guys, just having left a different bar—and also fairly drunk–stopped to pick us up. They were on their way home to North Wilkesboro, about thirty miles in the direction of Chapel Hill. This seemed promising. As it turned out, for a brief few minutes, it was heavenly: the car was warm, the guys were playing Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman,” and we all engaged in some nice drunken banter.
The problem was that by the time we got to North Wilkesboro, still over 3 hours to our destination, it was almost 11 PM and pouring down rain. We had the driver let us out on the edge of town, underneath a bridge, where we decided we would have better luck in the morning and settled down to sleep for the night.
The next morning, hungover, cold and achy, we got back on the road with that sense of optimism that always comes with a new day. Several hours and several car rides later—an off duty Sheriff, a local minister, and a farmer each gave us rides of varying lengths–we eventually reached Winston-Salem in time to eat an early lunch from the Kroger Deli. Sitting outside in the sun, I felt optimistic that we could catch a quick ride to Greensboro and then get off on highway 54 in to Chapel Hill by later afternoon.
I did not, however, count on how difficult it would be to catch a ride on the interstate as opposed to the state highways we had traveled on up to that point. No one seemed interested in picking up a pair of disheveled young men. I figure it was a mix of there being two of us and the fact that we were pretty unattractive by this point. After over an hour of trying, watching literally hundreds of cars pass us, we were discussing abandoning the entire project. If we could have thought of other options, perhaps we would have quit. Honestly, however, the idea of triumphantly bragging to friends about our adventure kept us out there.
During this conversation, a green Nova passed us, slammed on its brakes and slid off the road into the emergency lane. I immediately started running to the car, but Michael grabbed my arm and indicated that he didn’t think it was such a good idea: “Something seems wrong here,” he said.
Having waited ninety minutes, however, I was not about to let the ride go. “Come on,” I said, “We’ll be ok.” Michael hesitantly followed me to the car and climbed in the back, with me in the front.
Immediately, it was clear that Michael was right; this was a mistake. Not only did the car smell like a weird combination of liquor and sweat, but the driver was twitchy and his eyes unfocused. As soon as the car returned to the road, he took it to 95 miles per hour. I immediately went into some mix of panic and shock and the situation become more and more surreal (so much so that I’ve checked the facts of this story with Michael to separate fantasy from fact). The driver, who “introduced” himself as Bob, went on a rant about a recent bad break up and repeatedly mentioned that he had been drinking too much and had taken too many pills. Really? Too much to drink and too many pills? Were we on a hidden camera? Could this be happening? Did he just mumble those words? “Too much alcohol. Too many pills.” Again, really?
Those questions were sorta floating in a mix of freaked out panic and white line fear. I remember watching other cars literally drive off of the interstate to get out of our way. For a brief second, I hoped a cop would start chasing us, but I wasn’t quite sure if that would make things better or worse. Just as I was about to ask Bob to slow down, I felt Michael tap me on the shoulder. I turned to see him holding a tiny pocket knife and indicating that he was about to . . . well, about to do just what? Stab Bob? Threaten him? Have me take over the wheel while he held the tiny knife on Bob’s throat? I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind; I only knew it was likely to make the situation worse.
My next move was not thought out well or even at all: I shouted the one single thing about the universe that I was sure of at that moment: “I need to pee really badly, Bob.”
That somehow resonated with Bob, who pulled off the road to let me out to relieve myself. “I’ll wait for you,” he slurred. “No, no, we’re leaving,” Michael said. And, as freaked out as we were, we ran up the bank next to the interstate and over a fence, both of us certain that Bob would chase us down with the car and kill us.
After we got over the fence, we realized that we had travelled 30 minutes and were in Greensboro. Not at all interested in getting back into another car, we went to the first building we saw—an African American church that was holding some type of celebration. While skeptical and suspicious of the two by now filthy young white men, the congregation invited us in, allowed us to use the phone and offered us slices of apple pie.
After discovering that none of our friends were willing to drive from Boone to pick us up, we hit on the idea of going to the local Greyhound bus station and getting a bus ride to Chapel Hill. After buying our tickets, we got on the bus and found two seats next to each other. As soon as I sat down, I felt the exhaustion that replaces an adrenaline rush settling in and fell asleep.
Whenever I told the story of that weekend later-and believe me, I told it a lot–people would say any number of things—in addition to “You idiot”—about what I likely learned from the encounter and about what I would do differently if I was to do it again. “I bet you wouldn’t try that again,” someone might say, or “I bet you wish you hadn’t gotten in that green car.”
And, for the longest while, I agreed. “In hindsight,” I would think, “I shouldn’t have been so dumb as to get in that car. What the hell was I thinking?” Or “In hindsight, we should have planned the trip further in advance.”
But, now looking back on the feeling of sitting in a warm bus, feeling safe, and leaning shoulder to shoulder up against my best friend while we fell asleep, knowing that we solidified a bond we would have forever . . . .thinking back on that, in retrospect, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.