"Eventually, Washington state," I said. "But heading toward Raleigh today."
He smiled and shook his head. "You have a long way to go, but did you know it's illegal to hitchhike in North Carolina?" he said. Although, it's not. I did my research.
"Really?" I said.
"Yeah, well I'm not actually going to check or write you up or anything," he said. "But If you don't block traffic, you'll probably be fine."
It's definitely not illegal to hitch in the state, it's just so uncommon these days that sometimes even the cops don't know the hitching laws. One reason it's less common is the belief that the country is far more dangerous now than ever. People often tell us we are crazy for hitchhiking in this day and age, but in fact the murder rate in America is at its lowest in 100 years. This day and age is as ideal for hitching as ever.
That being said, there are other ways to die on a hitch, but more on that in a second.
Our first hitch was from a vacationing college cafeteria worker from Pennsylvania. A really nice woman who said she has never stopped for hitchhikers, but picked us up just so a crazy person wouldn't. The second was a guitarist in a local all-ginger punk band called, The Red Scare. The third was a marijuana legalization advocate in a beaten-down pickup who offered us a joint after dropping us off, which we turned down. The fourth hitch was with a nice young couple in love... with heroin.
We had our thumbs out by a gas station when the two lovebirds pulled up behind us.
"We're on our way up to Burgaw," he said. "Where you headed?"
He was obviously stoned, but I figured weed wouldn't impair his driving that much. Once he pulled onto the highway, I realized he was on something else. He was all over the road, drifting back and forth between lanes.
"Billy!" the girl said and grabbed the wheel. "I'd prefer you stayed in one lane You're scaring me!"
"Oh, am I scaring you?" He took offense and started purposely swerving back and forth.
"Stop it!" she said.
Although she was clearly high as well, I felt a little better with her in the passenger seat grabbing the wheel when necessary and easing us back into our lane. That is at least until I saw her unexpectedly nod off. Her chin dropped to her chest and immediately popped back up again with her eyes wide open. She shook her head back and forth to maintain some level of consciousness.
"Hey," Red said to me. "I sent you that picture." I knew he didn't send any picture, but actually wanted to comment on what was happening by text message.
Red: "This dude can't drive, I'm thinking heroin.
Me: "When he stops, get the packs out of the trunk before I get out."
Red: "I thought he was just stoned at the gas station."
Me: "Me too."
I didn't think he'd steal our packs, but rather forget he had them in the trunk and drive away. For the remainder of the ride, I don't think I blinked. I spun around to check for traffic whenever he started drifting lanes. Red kept raising up to glimpse in the rearview mirror, checking Billy's eyes to see if he was still present.
Billy nodded off again and swerved to the right, rolling over the rumble strips, which brought them both back to reality. The girl jerked the wheel back onto the road and he shook his head violently in his own battle for consciousness.
"You guys want off at the next exit for I-40, or do you want to go into town?"
"You can drop us off at the exit, that's fine."
When the car finally stopped, Billy got out to help unload the packs.
"Drive safe," Red said. "Watch that nodding off."
|(Photo: Red's tent on the side of the logging road)|
"You gotta love hitching!" I said.
At the exit, a white SUV pulled to the side of the road to give us our final hitch of the day. A friendly and thankfully sober woman got out and said, "You guys aren't going to kill me are you?" She got us as far as Warsaw, NC where we had dinner and wandered up a secluded logging road behind a Wendy's restaurant. We setup camp on the side of the dirt road. Home sweet home.