The first hitchhiker I pick up has long dreadlocks, a skateboard and has been living on the island of Maui for only four days. The second hitchhiker I pick up introduces herself this way, “Hi, I’m Samantha. Do you want to buy some pot?” as she pulls out a bag of weed from the back zipper on her teddy-bear. This story ends with me damaging my rental car.
I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers. Yet, with the freedom of travel comes curiosity to try different things. Today’s spur-of-the-moment, live-on-the-edge lifestyle change is picking up hitchhikers. It’s a nice thing to do, I figure. Paying into the karmic bank and all that, for the number of times I’ve been broken down on a highway and needed a hand. Besides, I’m a nice guy, really.
It’s a gamble, but I try my best to bank the odds in my favor by giving each potential mark a quick profiling. So many governmental agencies aren’t allowed to do it because they can’t discriminate, but you better believe I use some form of educated guessing when picking up hitchhikers. Will they rob me? Will they kill me? That type of profiling. In reality, most people are harmless, but my intuition has a lesson for me to learn this day.
John is harmless, a good kid, as is my first hitchhiker. In his early 20′s, he has come to Maui just because. Some friends live here, they have a spot and it’s Hawaii, so why the hell not? Young, single and short of cash, he hitches the two miles to work and back. He lived in Colorado for a stint but the short ride I afforded him is over before I can learn much more. Goodybe! Have a good day at work!
Two miles down the Hana Highway I spot a gal by a guardrail, something at her feet and something in her hands. I’m traveling 55MPH and make a snap decision after a quick glance in the rear-view mirror. It’s not my wisest choice. I didn’t follow one of my rules for hitchhiker evaluation: Are they walking? If they are walking towards their goal, no matter how far it might be, it shows they really want to get to where they are going and not just trusting for a hitchhiking handout. I like people that do what needs to be done even in the face of it being a large task. I also like people who help themselves first and then ask for help.
I also didn’t catch the bear. The teddy bear. The beat up, dirty, ragged teddy-bear in the arms of a grown woman. You can’t judge a book by its cover, I know. But teddy-bears in the arms of grown adults are fairly stereotypically the sign that something is off. So be it. Maybe she’ll liven things up? That’s when she offers to sell me some pot. I decline. Twice. No, really, I’m ok (and driving).
We turn down a dirt road towards the ocean and she asks if I’ve seen Jaws, the world famous surf break about a mile off shore. Did I catch the morning swell? All this is a fairly stereotypical stoner voice. If you just repeated those lines in your own mental stoner voice (or anything Jeff Spicoli ever said in Fast Times At Ridgemont High) then you’re a good steroetyper like me, even if you don’t want to admit it.
“What do you do for a living?” she asks.
“I’m a photographer.”
“Do you have your camera with you today?”
I lie, “Nope”
This is when my intuition starts wanting to steer. I push him into the backseat on top of the bag that covers the camera I don’t have with me. “Take a left here then go down the dirt road.”
She tells me she has to drop off the beer (the package that was at her feet when I picked her up and is now in the footwell) at her neighbor’s house but then she’ll take me to a great spot where I can see Jaws. The sugarcane stalks on both sides of this small, dirt path are four feet high, swaying with the wind. Rounding a bend of potholes I spot an abandoned, burnt out car to the right. Intuition taps me on the shoulder from his backseat driver position, wanting to whisper something in my ear.
“That’s my driveway, on the left. My shack is back in there. You can’t see it” Oh. I glance down the lane which is barely visible from the sugarcane growing down the middle of two worn tire tracks. I doubt any car has been down that way in a while. Bumps, jarring my rental sedan, then the views open up to the left. There’s the ocean. The land gently slopes away from our ‘road’ to a headland below sight. Just ocean and more ocean all the way to Alaska. And, oh yeah, Jaws.
“Stop here, this is good. I just need to drop the beer off and then I’ll take you down to see Jaws. It’s awesome. I’ll only be one minute.” A guard dog greets her as she walks an uphill driveway to our right, through a gate and towards a house I can’t see. The dog won’t stop barking at me, parked 100′ away. Intuition has taken her spot in the passenger seat now, he wants to say something. “Shhhh”
“But look at the situation. You can’t see the house. She’s been in there for at least three minutes now. The house is some place above you,” he comments.
“What? Do you think they’re going to sneak up behind us and jack the car?” I reply, annoyed with his interruption of my enjoyment of the wonderful view.
“Maybe. If not, she’s leading you down a dead end road to the beach and you have to come back up, past this house on an easily blocked road.”
“You’re being paranoid. I told her I’d go to the viewpoint and I don’t want to be rude.” I’m fidgeting in my seat, checking the mirrors now.
“No one knows where we are. You cell phone has no reception here. You know because you’ve looked at it impatiently nine times in the last three minutes, checking the clock. Let’s get the fuck out of here, now!”
Foot on the break. A quick shift into reverse. Foot on the gas hard as I look behind me. Politeness be damned, as our argument comes to an end. He’s right. She’s probably a nice gal, but I don’t know about her friends who sent her to the store at 10am to get more beer.
I bounce and dip through potholes until there is a break in the cane stalks on the uphill side. Just enough room to pull a Y-turn. But I cut it too close in my haste (yes, half worried they would see me leaving and come running up the road). BAM!! “Fuck!” Complete the Y-turn while growling at my lack of attention to detail and speed up the road, twice as fast as I we came in, past her shack, past the burnt out car and back to pavement. A left takes gets me back on the Hana Highway and allows my heart rate to slow. No one behind me. And my intuition has left as well.
I’m alone in my car as I pull to the side of the road after four minutes of driving. I will my tight shoulders to relax. Breathe. Time to see what the “BAM!” was.
There is an L shaped crack in the rear bumper, about three inches on both sides, with sugarcane parts sticking out of it. The right side of the bumper doesn’t line up with the right side of the car, either. It’s one of those moments when I wish I had a rewind button to do things differently.
And what would I have done different? Maybe not pickup a grown woman with a teddy-bear? No, that would be prejudice. But look where it took me. Maybe not drive down mystery roads too far from other drivers? Yeah, that’s a good idea for future reference. No more side trips with stoner hitchhikers. One for the rule book.
I pull out sugarcane root from the crack and push the bumper back into place, making it seem like nothing happened. It’s still early and I have one of the most spectacular drives in Hawaii ahead of me. But maybe I should call the rental car company, or Maui Visitors Bureau (who invited me on this trip and rented the car). I look around for my intuition to tell me what to do now. I spot him on the road, back the way I came. He has his thumb out and is laughing at me as a pickup truck pulls to the side of the road in front of him.
“You’re on your own now. Figure it out, smart guy,” he yells as he jumps into the cab of the pickup and rides off in the opposite direction. Staring from the bumper to the deep blue of the open ocean, the only thought in my mind at the moment is a line from a Jimmy Buffett song:
“Some call me crazy, for being way too nice. But it’s just another shitty day in paradise.”