Tumbleweeds float like ghosts across the road; bored as hell with hopes of cars smashing them out of their misery. A smoky dirt curtain dusts itself over a long sweltering blacktop road. Miles of barren fields and barbed-wire fence enclose you on both sides.
My drive north on I-5 from Los Angeles to The Bay is as insipidly unchanging as those two metropolitan areas are glittering with diversity.
Before going out like a tumbleweed with a death wish, I pull my SUV off the exit featuring the giant Pea Soup Andersen’s sign. After a quick bite of green slop, I head back to the freeway. Near the entrance, I see a friendly young man holding a basketball with his thumb in the air.
I’m alone. I’ve never picked up a hitchhiker, but this guy sure looks nice and is in need. And he’s holding a basketball, not a football, so I should be safe. What the hell.
I pull over. He gets in.
“Steph? Nice to meet ya. Jesse. Where you headed?”
“Like from The Matrix?”
“No, Oracle’s the name of my home. In Oakland.”
As we drive, Steph fills my car with friendly conversation. He’s from an amazing family and recently started one of his own. He’s polite, well-spoken and sounds genuinely interested in my life and family as well.
He’s halfway through a story about the time he saved an 8-year-old girl from the bottom of a 30-foot well when he cuts himself off.
“Look, there’s another guy who wants a ride too.”
Me: “Should we help him out?”
Steph (sounding like a cheerful Lloyd Christmas): “Pick him up!!”
Completely trusting this Steph kid, I oblige. As my car approaches the freeway exit ramp, the hitcher greets us with a friendly smile and wave.
Harrison is his name and he is just as pleasant as Steph but a bit more soft-spoken. After initial greetings, we hit the road and Harrison politely asks if it would be okay if he continues reading his “Lord of the Flies” iBook.
“iBooks are splendid. You just press on a word and then you can see its definition. My vocabulary has increased 120 percent in the last six months.”
A few more exits were passed, we got gas and Steph finished his child-saving well story. Before he could ask me if I ever saved someone’s life (I haven’t), we grab another young hitchhiker at the gas station. Klay. Nice, but quiet. Then another. David. Very outgoing yet also apologetic.
David: “Yeah!! What’s up guys? Thanks for the ride! Let’s do this! Turnt up!”
In his excitement, he accidentally steps on Steph’s ankle.
David: “Ooh, my bad. That’s my fault. I’ve got to do better next time. I will work on that. I won’t let you guys down.”
Steph: “It’s fine. I’ll move back to the third row just to be safe.”
With Harrison up front, Klay and David in the middle row and Steph now in the back, there’s still room left in the car. So we grab our next hitching guest, Andre.
“Hey, thanks for the ride fellas. Don’t worry about me. I’ll sit anywhere. I can take the front seat next to Harrison. Or sit where Klay is. I can even sit back with Steph or take over David’s spot. Wherever you need me, I will sit.”
Steph: “We get it, new guy. You are versatile and can sit anywhere. Just sit down.”
Andre: “Okay, take it easy, Jesus.”
Steph: “Did you just call me Jesus?”
Andre: “No, I meant it like, ‘geez,’ you know, as an expression.”
Harrison (still looking at his iBook): “Calm down, relax, take it easy, lighten up, loosen up, chill out. Plenty other options there besides ‘Jesus.’ You know, I can move back and take David’s spot too. It would create more space and I can stretch out.”
David: “Would everyone quit trying to take my spot in the car? Don’t forget, I create movement in here. Without me, you’re not going to have as much space to move around and be comfortable. Ha, I’m just kidding. It’s all good. I’ll go wherever you want me.”
Darkness looms in the sky as I drive on. Ahead, I make out a giant of a man with unkempt hair and a scraggly beard. Could be Croatian. Maybe Australian. Hard to know. What I do know is that he’s big and scary looking, and I don’t want him in my car.
As I get closer to this giant hitcher, Harrison is reading out loud to an intrigued Andre. David and Klay are arguing over what Sublime’s best song was. Steph is making comedic Vine videos in the back. No one sees the giant but me. I look away as I drive by him. Thumb in the air, he watches me pass by and then, in anger, flexes his muscles like the Incredible Hulk and growls like a bear. I press harder on the gas and speed away.
A few miles later, I pull into a rest stop to grab a gentleman that I’m more comfortable with than the Croatian bear man. Replacing me as the oldest guy in the car, his name is Mark and has the looks and demeanor of a pastor. He squeezes into the middle row next to Klay and David.
“Thank you so much for this opportunity. What a great group of guys we have in this car. I got inside information that you all are class acts. It was a reliable source. You have bought into the plan and the culture. Now, Jesse, you are a knock down driver, but things be a-changin’ here in this car. You guys have so much character. At the end of the day, I feel extremely confident in this group. We aren’t gonna change who we are. … In case I forgot to tell you guys, I love you. We are truly blessed.”
That was weird.
As I get ready to start heading back onto the freeway Harrison slams his foot on top of mine before I can reach the pedal. Then Andre slides over, gets right in my face and stretches his arms out wide. He has swarmed all over me and I’m unable to move an inch. Klay grabs my head and starts throwing it off the driver’s window. He is bouncing my head hard off the glass over and over again.
Klay: “How you like them Klay-ups?! … I got your Klay-ups right here!!”
I feel Mark’s left hand on my head as he raises a bible with his right hand and begins speaking in tongues.
I reach for my cell phone sitting next to me on the seat. But right when I think I have it in my grasp, David snatches it away from me.
David: “Sorry about that. It was in my vicinity, so I just grabbed it. Anything near me, I grab. Even if it belongs to another person.”
I’m able to wiggle my hand away from Andre long enough to unlock my door. But before I can slip out, Steph grabs a collection of knives from his bag and begins launching long-range daggers from the backseat that dig deep into me. One after the other. All on target. Who’s that on target from so far away?
I am done. This group of friendly, outgoing, smart choirboys have absolutely murdered me. And I never saw it coming.
Now dead, I am sending this in hopes that others who come in contact with these lethal assassins are not fooled like me.
Maybe I should have picked up that Australian-Croatian bear man. He might have protected me.