When I was in high school and university I hitchhiked quite a bit. Those were the days, right? The freedom of the open road and no worries. Well, for the most part that was true. I took a couple hundred rides from strangers. Almost all of them were fine people — a few of them were exceptional.
Then there was the lift I got outside Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. It was the summer of 1973 and my girlfriend and I were hitchhiking to Saskatchewan. I know — strange choice. Everyone else was going to the west coast but I had friends there.
So we got dropped off at the first exit to Portage, coming from Winnipeg. It was late afternoon but the sky was getting dark. But you can never get picked up at the first exit — we had to walk to the next one. As we trudged along the highway, sticking out our thumbs to passing cars, we were surprised when a pickup pulled over. We ran up to the cab and a couple of red-faced prairie boys with crew-cuts looked down at us.
No offer of a ride — not exactly. Instead they offered to take us in to town to a party. We weren’t in the partying mood and kept walking. They pulled off and shouted — on the next circuit you’re going to come party with us. And the party starts with a haircut, hippie. I’d heard about this — forced clippings — and didn’t want to lose my long lovely locks. Though really it was the least of our worries. We picked up the pace and had almost reached the second exit when an old ford came flying along the exit lane.
They must have spotted us as the hit the highway because they pulled over and waited for us to run up to the car, packs bouncing heavily on our backs.
There were two guys in this vehicle too but at least they had long hair. We asked to go to Brandon and they said you’re in luck – that’s where we’re going.
The car was a mess — torn seats and candy wrappers on the floor. Plus the thick smell of weed. There were two giant speakers in the back window blasting hard rock as we barreled down the highway. A lightning storm began — no rain but lots of jagged bolts. They boys were in a hurry and pretty soon we were passing transport trucks — on the right, pulling onto the shoulder to whip by them.
After a few minutes the music ended and the guy in the passenger seat pulled out an envelope stuffed with cash. He said: That guy sure looked surprised when we pulled out the gun, eh?
He glanced into the back seat, where my girl and I were clutching hands and staring. I’m sure our eyes were as big as saucers.
He laughed. “It’s my income tax refund; I was just pranking you.” Turns out they were the managers of the Brandon Youth Hostel out for a joy ride before work got busy. They delivered us to the hostel where we had one of the best sleeps of the entire trip.
And that’s ten minutes.