Tuesday, March 13, 2007

19.) The Hitchhiking Years: The 3 Angels of Arizona

By the time I hitched across from the San Diego area into Arizona, I had been out on the road nearly a month. In fact, my 30-day window for signing up for the draft was rapidly winding down. That weighed on me. Plus, there were other forces coming into play. I was slowly burning out on the wandering hitchhiker bit and I began to look forward to going home for the summer.

It was simple really: I missed my family and friends. I missed my hometown. Besides, the road had been tiring and I guess I was just ready for the jet-set life style again. You know, my band had it made in Arabia. We had the beach and girls and rock and roll. It was all happening and it was an absolute blast. Hey, you can only pretend you're Jack Kerouac for so long.

Little did I know that it was about to get pretty amazing in Arizona as well. Indeed, I was about to head into the most action-packed time of the entire trip. First, I made it to Tucson where there was quite an enclave of Aramco students - maybe half a dozen of them. I remember being at a party there and feeling the tribal love from the kids I had grown up with. Most of my classmates in Dhahran had been attending each others little birthday parties since we were 4 years old. Americans living abroad can get very close, and a famous anthropologist once noted the uniqueness of our bond. So being in Tucson was almost like visiting my siblings. I experienced the same thing later in Phoenix and Tempe. I believe this was the trip when I stopped in at the Crockers, a classic Aramco family. Then it was time to head off to Flagstaff.

You never know when the dream ride will come along. She was the type of girl the Eagles wrote that song about: "It's a girl my lord, in a flat-bed Ford." Actually, it was a van, driven by a coed from the University of Arizona, and it wasn't Winslow, Arizona, either. She was heading up to see her parents in Flagstaff. You know, come to think of it, I doubt the Eagles had even written that song yet. Maybe their song would be about her younger sister.

Anyway, she looked at me with a mischievous smile and said, "Are you in a hurry or do you want to take the scenic route?" I'm not an idiot - I opted for the scenic route. She smiled again, so tan and healthy looking - a classic All-American girl. We drove to some kind of state park with a river and some cliffs. She wanted me to jump in with her, but I waited and she went ahead. When she got to the top of the cliffs, she took off all her clothes and did a swan dive, maybe 15 feet down. Before her body hit the water, I was in love with her. Incidentally, she told me quite a story later about the time she did this and a park ranger walked up with a tour group just as she dove in naked. What a girl. I had known her less than an hour and she had already taken off her clothes. This was a free spirit here, and I'll just say it turned into quite a day.

Now comes the silly part: When we finally got to Flagstaff that evening, I asked if I could go with her to her parents house and perhaps - you know - spend more time together. I was ready to sign on for life. She replied that her parents wouldn't appreciate that, and my ride was over. Oh well. I'm sure someday when I'm dying and my life flashes before my eyes, I'll still see her naked body flying through the sky over Arizona.

So it was back to the pavement. I was trying to locate the residence of the rhythm guitar player from the other rock band in Dhahran. It was night and I was walking on what I remember as Main Street although it was just an industrial area with some lower-class homes mixed in. The real main street of Flagstaff was a little thing they called Route 66. I was walking towards the traffic flow if there had been any cars, with an asphalt parking lot on my left. Across the street was a warehouse and right next to it was a little house with a yard and chicken wire fence. Everything seemed dark and deserted.

I had just passed a telephone pole when I began to get the feeling that the approaching headlights were aimed right at me. I looked up and this little pickup truck was angling off the road and accelerating right in my direction. I turned and started to run. I just barely made it to the telephone pole when the truck shot by, maybe 3 feet from my body. As soon as it had passed, I started running across the street towards the warehouse. The psycho driver made a wide screeching turn in the parking lot and was coming right at me again. I could hear the engine revving, and I could see my shadow as I ran. It was growing in size on the warehouse wall. The car was right behind me, closing in fast. By the way, I don't care if the finest Hollywood stunt people did the timing on this - it wouldn't have been any more intense then what happened in real life.

The warehouse had a concrete set of stairs and so the truck had to take an angle and try and clip me. I leapt to those steps just as it went by. I just made it. I mean by inches. The truck swerved and went zipping past. By now I was completely energized. It was like they always say: I didn't have time to be frightened - it was just a burst of pure adrenalin.

After the little Datsun pickup truck had passed, I came back off the steps and ran next door towards the residence. Even with the backpack on, I jumped the fence and landed in the yard in a heap. The little truck swerved back over beyond the initial telephone pole and came to a stop in the parking lot, with the car pointing right at me. Then the driver turned off his headlights and waited. We were in a standoff, staring at each other. I was breathing hard and wondering what to do next.

Suddenly, a car rolled in from the left and pulled up in front of the yard. It was two girls: Angels # 2 and # 3 of Arizona. I'll never forget what one of them said: "Why is that man trying to kill you?" It sounded strange but that was what he was trying to do. I told her, "I don't know - we just met." These wonderful women offered to take me anywhere in Flagsaff and I got in. We even drove over to the pickup truck and circled it. The man had short dirty blond hair and glasses over beady little eyes. He had the classic intense look of a psycho criminal, staring straight ahead, lost in his twisted world. We drove away.

There would be 4 or 5 close calls on the road during the Hitchhiking Years. This one in the Spring of 1972 was the worst. Strangely, I felt no fear or even ill will at the time or since. I just didn't think about mankind in those terms back then. It didn't register with me. Instead, I felt terrific knowing I had survived. Not only was I still alive, but I had been rescued by these two great women. They really were cool, and that's what I chose to think about. It had been quite a day for a variety of reasons. These were the 3 Angels of Arizona, and they'll always have their own place in my heart.


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