Chris stood at the Cassiar Street entrance to the Trans-Canada Highway with his thumb out. On his back, he had a metal-frame backpack with a change of clothes, a few cooking utensils, some ramen noodle packs and not much else. A sleeping bag and an acoustic guitar were at his feet. It was cold for late June and threatening rain. He buttoned up the army surplus jacket. He should have brought a hat.
It didn’t matter. If he got soaked, he got soaked. It was all part of the grand adventure finally about to begin.
He’d positioned himself near the entrance, so potential rides hadn’t gained too much speed making it easier to stop. There was a long stretch of shoulder behind him where they could pull over. He was lucky he had this spot to himself with so many kids hitchhiking that summer. The country was in motion.
Chris couldn’t suppress a smile. He’d been set free, more like escaped. He felt light, unburdened. He didn’t know where he’d sleep that night and that was how he wanted it. They’d tried to hold him, tried to make him conform, tried to make him abandon this dream, but he was determined to live his own life, and they’d just have to deal with it.
Cars and trucks swished by until a RCMP cruiser cut across three lanes, onto the shoulder and came right at him. The car skidded to a halt metres from where Chris stood.
The cop got out and walked toward him. He nudged the backpack and guitar with his foot and knocked them over.
Chris saw his own reflection in the aviator sunglasses the officer wore. He presented his passport and tried to not look pissed off.
The cop went back to the car and called Chris’s information in. He came out.
“It’s illegal to hitchhike on the freeway, Christian.”
“Two thousand dollars or six months in jail or both.”
“I didn’t know. I’ll walk to the next exit and get off.”
“Ignorance of the law is no defence.”
Chris tried to act contrite, but he was having a difficult time. Didn’t this Pig have criminals to arrest? Right now some guy was kicking the shit out of his wife, or driving drunk, or molesting a little kid and he was wasting the taxpayer's money hassling a hitchhiker.
“Do you have any weapons or drugs in your backpack?”
“Okay, throw it in the back and get in the cruiser.”
Was he going to jail? His mother would freak out if she got a call from the cops. Who would post bail? No one he knew could come up with even a couple of hundred dollars. Would his dream end before it started?
The cop took the Burnaby exit off the freeway. He pulled into a gas station and stopped.
“The law was made for your safety, Christian. I wouldn’t want to find you dead in the ditch, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to cause a serious accident because a driver was distracted by you standing on the side of the freeway.”
“If you want to hitchhike, and I’d advise against it, stay on the sidewalk and don’t go near any on-ramps. Got that?”
“Okay, Christian, get out. I’ll be checking, and if I see you near an on-ramp, I’ll run you in.”
Chris felt a mixture of anger and relief as he watched the cop pull away. Hassled a hippie, that probably made his day. What an asshole.
Chris crossed the road and set up about a hundred metres from the on-ramp.
A Cadillac pulled over and stopped just before the ramp. A man in a blue suit and white shirt got out and opened the trunk.
Chris grabbed his sleeping bag and guitar.
“Thanks for stopping.”
“What?” The man stopped rummaging in his trunk. “Oh, I didn’t stop to give you a ride. I needed to get something.”
Chris dropped his sleeping bag, leaned the guitar against it and stuck out his thumb.
“What the hell, you look harmless.” The man opened the door to the back seat. “Throw your stuff in the back, and hop in the front.”
“Where you headed?” the man said.
His ride looked rich: nice suit, fancy watch, expensive cologne. The Cadillac floated over the highway.
The driver raised his eyebrows. “I’ll take you as far as Abbotsford. I’ve got a sales call there. I sell farm equipment.”
“Lot’s of hippies hitchhiking this summer.”
“Just saying to hell with it and taking off?”
“Well, good for you. Believe me, sometimes I’d like to chuck it and hit the road myself.” He smiled. “No worries, no responsibilities.”
“You should do it?”
“Do it?” The man laughed and shook his head. “Not possible. I got a family, kids, a daughter about your age.”
“People who really love you don’t care what kind of job you have,” Chris said. He’d thought this stuff through. He and his Dad had long, philosophical discussions since Chris started dropping by the room he rented off Commercial Drive in East Vancouver They drank beer, talked politics, women, poetry, books – the old man was smarter than he thought, a nice guy, just a shitty father.
“I’m not too sure about that?”
“It’s your life, man.”
“Got all the answers, eh? How old are you?”
“Nineteen.” The man shook his head.
Trapped, Chris thought. The trick was not to get caught. Not to let society dictate how you lived your life. They almost had him. His mother said he should stay at that dead-end job in the shipping department of a clothing manufacturer. His fellow workers, all lifers, were so depressing he couldn’t spend a half hour with them at the lunch table.
He’d told Jennifer right when they’d met he wasn’t into materialism, wasn’t planning to live that life, a life some of his high school friends had already got sucked into. She’d seemed to understand, then two days before he left she’d said he should abandon the dream, grow up, stay at the job and save for their future.
And what future would that be; five days a week coming home from a job you hate and taking it out on the wife and kids? Then on the weekend after shopping, head off to the Legion, get loaded and spend Sunday recovering from a hangover so you can go to that job you hate on Monday again. If he hadn’t of done this, he knew he’d always wish he had and would resent her for changing his mind.
Finally, when all the arguing was done, she’d looked at him like he was letting her down, like he was obligated to buy into the bullshit. No way. It had been tough, because they really cared for each other, maybe even were in love, and there was a good chance this was a deal breaker. Lots of guys would want to give Jennifer anything she asked for. Maybe she’d take one of them up on it because even when he came back (if he came back), it wasn’t like he was going back to the clothing manufacturer to work his way up to head shipper.
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