Many thanks to editor Matt from Pure Slush for including my Flash Fiction story “Hitchhiking to California” in the Twenty-Five Miles From Home anthology. I’m including the story here for you to read if you’d like. Enjoy!!
Hitchhiking to California
It was a frigid five degrees and ice crystals were drifting past the street lights early that morning when we left our south Minneapolis duplex. It might have been pretty if it hadn’t been so bone-chilling cold.
The night before my friend Kyle had said to me, “Screw it. I’m sick of this winter. Let’s get out of here.” He’d been shuffling through our records looking for the new Creedence Clearwater album. We were twenty years old. It was January of 1970 and one of the coldest winters we could remember.
I was curled up on the couch wrapped in a blanket. Our duplex never seemed to have any heat. “I’m with you,” I said, taking a sip of tepid hot chocolate. Nothing stayed warm for long in that place.
Kyle turned to me and grinned for the first time in days, “Really? Far out, man.” He walked across the threadbare carpeting and sat next to me, blowing on his hands to try and breathe some feeling back into them. “Where should we go?”
I didn’t have to think twice. “San Francisco,” I said. “We can wear some flowers in our hair.”
Kyle laughed, “I dig it. You bring your wooden flute and I’ll bring my spoons.”
“We’ll be street musicians,” I said, finishing his thought.
So, at 5:00 am the next morning we shouldered out backpacks, stepped outside into winter darkness and started for the interstate. Our breath curled from our lips as we tried to keep from slipping on the icy sidewalks. By the time we got to Interstate 35W, we were so cold we could barely feel our fingers. Our toes were like blocks of ice inside our boots. But if you thought we might have been discouraged, you’d have been wrong.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Kyle said, almost scampering down the entrance ramp to the interstate. He wore a red knit stocking cap and had a dark blue scarf wrapped around his face.
“Let the good times roll,” I added, following close behind. I was wearing a black watch cap and a dark green scarf my mom had knit me. Plus, of course, a heavy winter coat and boots with wool socks. Just like Kyle.
I joined my friend and we put out our thumbs. Kyle looked and me and smiled a frozen smile and said, “California, here we come.”
I laughed and added, “Let’s kiss this cold good-bye.”
In spite of the frigid conditions, we were having fun. Kyle and I had been best friends since grade school. We did everything together. We even worked at the same restaurant in Minneapolis as dishwashers. We’d lived on the bottom floor of our duplex for nearly a year with two other guys and life was pretty good. Now if we could just get out of town.
The sun had been up for about an hour when we got what we called ‘a good ride’. It was a young guy about our age who looked the worse for wear. “I can take you a little ways,” he told us, rolling down his window and let out a cloud of pot smoke. “Out of town, anyway.”
Sounded good to us. We got in and he took us about twenty-five miles south, down to Faribault.
Well, outside of Faribault would be more accurate. The interstate by-passed it by a mile, so we were let off where the ramps leading into and out of town were located. We waved good-bye to the pot smoker and assessed out situation. Technically, it was against the law to hitchhike on an interstate in Minnesota. Standing on the entrance ramp was usually okay. We had hitchhiked lots during the past year and never had any trouble.
I turned to Kyle, “What do think?”
“I think I’m freezing,” he said, stomping his boots to warm up.
I pointed up the entrance ramp to the interstate, “Should we chance it?”
He started walking, “You bet.”
So, we walked up to I-35W and put out our thumbs.
The first hour wasn’t so bad. Our spirits were high. “Next car will be the one,” Kyle said, every so often. “I can just feel it.”
“It won’t be long now,” I’d add, jumping up and down to stay warm.
After a while, I didn’t say it so much.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of traffic. Semi-trucks and cars were driving by almost non-stop. Some would slow down and look at us, but then speed off. I guess picking up two long hair guys with backpacks didn’t seem like a good idea to them.
Toward late afternoon, our enthusiasm, once so high, had faded to just about zero, and the reality of our situation had started to creep in.
I looked at Kyle. “I don’t get it,” I said, turning my back to the north wind which had picked up, probably bringing colder weather. “We should easily get a ride.”
“What’s wrong with these people? They should take pity on us,” Kyle said, pointing to the traffic speeding by, trying to make a joke. He looked at me, his eyes were watering in the wind, tears streaming down his face. Finally, he admitted, “Man, I’m freezing out here.”
He looked cold, like a human icicle. There was a real possibility we’d be stuck here over night. Not a pleasant thought.
“You know what?” I said.
He turned stiffly toward me. “What?”
“Let’s go home.”
He smiled through frozen lips. “Excellent idea.”
We walked across to the other side of the interstate and got picked up right away. It was a guy and his young family. He and his wife took pity on us and brought us right to our duplex.
We thanked them and went inside, happy to be home. And you know what? It was good to be there. It even felt warm. That night we made a vow never to hitchhike again. And we never did.