Obviously, Aguirre’s never seen this sign before … (Photo: Juli Ann Sprunger)
By Michael Aguirre
Last week I took the United flight out of Mammoth to San Diego. I parked my truck at the airport and hopped on the plane for the quick 1-hour 20-minute flight down south. It was pretty nice not having to make that 7-hour drive, especially the stretch between Ridgecrest and Interstate 15.
I spent the weekend with my family in Oceanside and had to head back to Mammoth the following Monday morning. My wife Julie and son were going to stay behind. She drove me to the terminal at the San Diego airport and dropped me off. As I grabbed my bag, she asked, “You got everything? You got your keys?”
“You know, your truck keys. Your truck is at the airport in Mammoth.”
Uh oh. A picture of my truck keys flashed on a big screen inside my head. The last time I saw them they were on the countertop in the kitchen back in Oceanside. I put them there so I wouldn’t forget to grab them. I was pretty sure I had them with me. I felt around in my front pockets and then my back ones … and then my front ones again. I unzipped my bag and burrowed through it like a like a Honey Badger. I quickly ran out of places to look.
“Did you forget your keys,” she asks.
“Yeah. I think did.”
She pretty much had me pegged with the D word. There have been many times during our 19 years together when she’s claimed that’s what I was, but most of the time that has only been partially true. I might have been dumb a lot of times, but the ass caboose on the end of that word … wasn’t me. Anyway, I had forgotten the keys on the counter.
I thought about rescheduling my flight for the following day but it would cost a couple hundred dollars to change the ticket and I really had to get back to Mammoth for work. So Julie called a friend of ours who said she could pick me up at the airport. My eldest son had his truck parked at our house in Swall Meadows and I could use it for a couple of days until my keys arrived by overnight mail.
Well, my keys did arrive the following evening. I thought about calling a neighbor for a ride to the airport the next morning, but I really wanted to get my truck as early as possible. So I decided to walk out to Lower Rock Creek Rd. and hitch a ride with someone going to town. Surely there would be someone heading to Mammoth around six in the morning.
I contemplated the walk out. If I went by street, it would take about 45 minutes to get to the main road. If I took a more direct route how the crow flies, or any other bird for that matter, it might be quicker. So I downloaded Google Earth and zoomed down around the Swall Meadows area. Aha! There is a short cut. There was some sort of a path behind a house about a block down from mine that went out to the road. I didn’t know the people who lived in the house but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t mind if I cut through their property.
So my plan was set. I made a small sign with the word “Airport” scribbled on it. That would be the best way to get a ride rather than standing out on the road with my thumb out looking like a hitchhiker.
It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m ready for my big adventure. I’m dressed and ready to go. I wonder if I should pack a lunch or something, you know, the Boy Scout thing. What if I get lost and end up wandering around the high desert of the Sierra Nevada? Who will know where I am? It’s a scary thought. I make a sandwich and grab a lighter, just in case.
It’s pretty chilly out as I begin my walk. My ears are cold. I think about turning back to swap out my baseball cap for a knit hat, but the only one I have is one of those black ones with the holes in it for the eyes and mouth. It would be much warmer, but wearing it hitchhiking? Too far out of the box. So I just keep on walking.
It’s a short walk to the house that has the path behind it. It’s still pretty dark out. There aren’t any lights on. I feel happy about that. But then, I wonder why I’m feeling happy about that? Maybe because trespassing is against the law and if there aren’t any lights on, then no one will see me break the law? Or maybe I don’t want anyone to see me and think I’m a prowler casing out their house to rob it, and that’s what’s giving me warm and fuzzy feelings. Wait a minute … WHAT THE HELL AM I THINKING ABOUT? Knock it off. It’s no big deal. Be cool and relax. Everything will be okay. Just walk behind the damn house, get on the path and walk out to the road. Focus!
I get to the house and start making my way around the back. As I’m cutting through the yard, I look up and notice a glow in one of the windows. Huh. I didn’t notice that from the street. Uh oh … the glow is coming from a computer and there’s someone sitting in front of it … and they’re looking straight at me. OMG … what do I do? I was just thinking about this a minute ago and now it’s happening for real. I must have ESP that I’m not aware of. Either that or I’m a master of my universe and I manifested this because I was thinking about it. Neither is good. I keep walking and pretend I don’t know that someone is watching me. I start to whistle, but I don’t know why. Maybe it makes me look innocent or something, like I’m a carefree hiker, enjoying the outdoors with a good whistle.
I soon find the trail behind the house. No one came out. The whistling seemed to work. “Man that was a close,” I think. Soon I’m over a ridge and out of view. I stop for a minute to catch my breath. I’m breathing pretty hard. I’m thinking that I should probably start exercising more. But then again, if I do that, I’ll just be out of breath more often. I zip up my jacket and start off again.
After about 5 minutes I spot the road. It’s a Lewis and Clark moment. I’m almost there. Then, as I’m walking around a couple trees, out of nowhere a herd of deer burst into an all-out stampede.
The ground rumbles as they scramble. I freak out and stumble backwards. My arms flail like someone swatting at a swarm of bees. I try to catch my balance but end up falling on some rocks. The deer scared me pretty bad. I have a little wet spot down there. “Son of a bitch,” I yell out.
I’m pissed that they startled me. I have this notion that they did it on purpose because, you know, deer can hear stuff from miles away. They knew I was coming. They heard me whistling back at that neighbor’s house. They could have moved off the path and went deering someplace else. But they didn’t. They waited in ambush. The one with the big antlers, he was probably the leader. They were probably all crouched down behind those tress and he was like, “Not yet … not yet … NOW!”
I couldn’t believe they did that. It was so immature of them. “You stupid deer,” I shout. “What the hell is wrong with you? That wasn’t cool.” Unlike dogs, they probably don’t understand what I’m saying, but I feel like they had to be yelled at.
I get up and pat the dirt off my trousers. My hip is sore. I’m having hunter thoughts about those deer as I limp onward toward the road. This is why they invented the Hide-A-Key.
When I get on the road I’m about a hundred yards from the spot where I think I should stand to catch a ride. A car comes up behind me as I walk, but I don’t turn around to hitch a ride because I’m not ready. I have to get in the right frame of mind and psych myself up …like a quarterback before a big game.
When I get to the intersection at Lower Rock Creek and Swall Meadows Road, I position myself across from the stop sign and a little bit down the road, so when a car comes up to the stop sign, they’ll see me across the way and start clearing stuff off the passenger seat to make room for me. I want to make my transition into their car as smooth as possible. I also have some questions ready to go that I think will encourage some conversation, you know, to prevent uncomfortable silence with a stranger. Once I get the seatbelt fastened I get straight to it. “So do you live in these parts?” I think being a little bit country will put the driver more at ease.
The sun is coming over the White Mountains to the west. I’m in position and feeling pretty confident. I have brief flashbacks to my hippie days in the late ‘60s when I used to hitchhike all the time. When I was 15 my mother let me hitchhike from Phoenix to attend the Monterey Pop Festival. I saw Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin there. Those were fun hitchhiking days and the hitchhiking was about to be fun again. I’m an optimistic guy.
I hear a car coming. A blue sedan stops at the stop sign. In a minute, I will be in a nice warm car on my way to get my truck. I hold up my airport sign as the car accelerates toward me. I look at the driver as the car gets closer. Oh my … it’s a woman, and she’s all by herself. She glances at my sign and keeps on driving. I hear a “click” noise as she goes by. I assume it’s her automatic door locks being activated. Wow, was that awkward or what? I felt apologetic, like I should have yelled out, “I’m sorry lady that I put you on the spot by having you avoid picking up a random stranger on a lonely stretch of highway with a gimp leg!”
Gotta shake it off. I’m rattled. I stare at the ground for a minute thinking about what I could have done differently. Was there another way that I could have been more effective? How would a winner have done it? Maybe I could have … wait … I hear another car coming. I snap out of it and get into position. I can see that it’s white car and it has a hatchback. That’s cool. I’ll ride in a car with a hatchback. I can do that. As the car turns my way, I hold up my airport sign again. This time I smile and look all friendly. Here it comes … here it comes … oh no … no … another lady. I can’t believe it. She looks at me and floors it. The muffler on her car makes a zoom noise as it speeds away.
I’m feeling kinda creepy now. I probably look like a freak or something to these people. This is not good for my self-esteem. There’s a large boulder nearby and I feel like crawling under it. I’m thinking that maybe I’m a little too sensitive to be doing this. My inner child is having a tantrum and all sorts of rejection issues are coming up again that I thought I had resolved after years of therapy. I can’t fall apart out here. I can’t end up on the side of the road in the fetal position with sirens approaching from the volunteer fire department responding to “Man down.”
A few mentally self-destructive minutes later, I hear the moan of tire treads buzzing in the distance. It’s a truck. There’s a truck coming. You know what that means? You know who drives trucks, right? My kind, that’s who. I’m feeling relief … the cavalry is on its way to rescue me. I see the truck. It’s jacked up and has huge tires on it. Hooray. The truck turns my way. I’m a marathon runner about to cross the finish line, even though I’m not a runner and I really don’t know what that feels like. I hold up the sign just in time … for … the … two ladies in the truck to read it and speed off. Oh, God.
I don’t get it. Where the hell are all the guys who drive cars and trucks? This is turning out to be a real bad idea. Hitchhiking is not what it used to be. There are way too many freaky movies out there about crazy guys hitchhiking with chainsaws and other sharp garden tools. And as far as these people are concerned, I’m that guy from the movies. I have no way to tell them that I’m not. Even if I could … they wouldn’t believe me. They’d think I was trying to trick them to get in their car so I could go alien on them.
I’m a beaten man now and it happened pretty darn fast. I crumble up the sign and shove it in my back pocket. I’ll just walk out, limp and all. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll show them. They’re not going to have me to push around anymore. It’s over. Even if they beg me to hitchhike, I won’t do it. They had their chance. I went out of my way to be a nice hitchhiker and this is the thanks I get? They used me and abused me. Now they’re going to miss out on all the fun they could have had by having me in their car. But I’m not going to be bitter, no, not me. Do you want to know why? Because what comes around goes around, baby. That’s right. They’re going to have some bad Karma to deal with because of this. I’ll just walk to the damn airport by myself with my head held high.
A car pulls up next to me but I don’t notice at first.
“What did you say?” I ask.
“Do you need a lift? I’m going to town, do you want a ride?”
It’s some guy with a dog. That makes sense. Dog people pick up hitchhikers even if they’re not hitchhiking. I open up the door and get in. I fasten my seat belt and we drive off.
“So, do you live in a house in the parts out here … I mean, in the parts, you probably live in them, right?”
Damnit. I blow the question. I should have stuck with who I am and just said, “Hey, wassup?”
We talk about the weather and other superficialities. For the most part I’m not paying any attention to what the guy is saying. I find myself reflecting on the last 55 minutes of my life as a hitchhiker.
The lessons I learned that day were invaluable. I became a better man because of it. I saw the world in a whole new light. I was reborn. I was proud of how I handled judgment and disappointment. My patience and understanding of people with fears and un-diagnosed issues was commendable. I went with the flow, like a river. I could see that there were some similarities between the Dalai Lama and myself. Not very many people could have done what I did that day. I think the reason was quite simple. I was a hitchhiker. I was born that way. And there was nothing I could do about it except wait, until the day comes, when I’ll have to do it again.