Scared Straight

Steve Jaeger lives to tell a tale of hitchhiking in the Age of Aquarius.

In the late 60s and early 70s there seemed to be an anti-war protest in Washington, DC just about every weekend. I lived right outside of the city and since I fancied myself a radical member of the MOVEMENT, I made it my business to be at as many of the events as my busy teenaged schedule would allow. I was young, I was broke and had no car and in those days there was no Metro but I had my trusty thumb. With or without company I traveled all over the region without a second thought about my safety. After all, it was the Age of Aquarius, we were all one. Usually I was picked up by like minded young people who were always happy to offer me a toke of weed or a sip of wine and made the journeys not only economical but damned fun. Occasionally I did run across some slight trouble. It was also the age of “Easy Rider” and Washington was still a fairly Southern town back then. My long hair made me a target for the occasional redneck’s empty beer bottle or screamed curses but I knew to just duck and keep my thumb out and my middle finger in.

This one particular day changed it all for me. I had been at a rally on the Mall and I was heading home to Virginia. I’d had one ride to the outskirts of Arlington and it had started to rain. I’d been waiting for awhile when an old Rambler pulled over. I hopped in the back and was a bit surprised to see two middle aged white guys up in the front. Not your typical ride giver. I told the driver where I was headed, the passenger appeared to be asleep. I was pretty wet by this time and my long hair was dripping down in strings. The driver said something I couldn’t hear and I leaned forward and said, “Excuse me sir, I couldn’t quite hear you.” The passenger sat up and turned around and I found the barrel of a pistol in my face. “He said if you don’t keep that long hair of yours off me I’m gonna blow your fucking head off!” He then turned around and said to the driver, “Where’d you pick this one up?”

“I think you might have scared the hippie, Dutch.”

“Just a little ways back,” the driver answered.

“You can let me out here,” I said. “I’m just going right up here.” The driver turned and looked at me. He was probably in his forties, balding, and had bad teeth. He also had a pronounced foreign accent. The passenger called him “Dutch.” He said to me, “That’s not what you said when we picked you up. We’ll take you all the way.” The passenger appeared to be a bit younger but he was one of those people that you would look at and just know he was wrong. He had greasy hair, he hadn’t shaved for several days at least and he also had teeth that looked like he lived on nothing but coffee and cigarettes. He still had the gun in his lap and I was rapidly rediscovering my dormant Catholicism. Then Dutch said something that turned my blood to ice.

“We’ve escaped from prison. How do you like that?”

I must have looked like I was going to faint because the passenger (I never did learn his name) smiled for the first time. “I think you might have scared the hippie, Dutch.”

We were passing an old back country road that I sometimes took to my house. I said, “Really, you can let me out here. I can take this road to get to my house.”

Dutch said, “We know a guy down here, right? Doesn’t Jim live down here?” His friend grunted as Dutch turned the old car down the road. We drove for about half a mile until we came to an old abandoned looking dirt drive. Dutch turned on to it and pulled off a hundred yards or so from the road. He turned the engine off ,which I remember ran on and coughed a couple of times before it died. He turned back to me and began speaking to me in a gentle voice.

“Look kid, we know about the horrors of prison. We just want to set you straight. Clean up your act or you’ll end up like us.”

I said, “But I haven’t done anything wrong!”

The passenger yelled, “Bullshit! Let’s tie him to a tree and fuck him in the ass and then shoot him in the head!”

Now I was on the verge of tears. “Look mister, I haven’t done anything, I was just looking for a ride. Please let me go!”

Dutch continued to lecture me on the evils of prison life and the virtues of being set straight. His friend got to glaring at me or glaring at Dutch. Finally Dutch said, “Enough of this. I think we’ve made our point. Let’s get out of here.”

He turned the key and nothing happened. He told me that I’d have to help his friend push the car to jump it. We got out and as we began to push the car down the dirt road, he turned to me and said, “Do you know where you belong?” I just stared at him without saying anything.

“In bed.”

With that we gave the car a shove and it turned over. He hopped in, shut the door, and they took off up the road.
I began walking up the road towards my house but every time a car came near I was ready to jump into the bushes. When I got home, I took a hot shower and got into bed and even though it was a couple of years before I got a car, I never stood out on the side of road with my thumb out again. I continued to be active in the MOVEMENT—I just made sure I had a ride first.


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Image credit: bradleygee/Flickr

About Steve Jaeger

Steve Jaeger grew up in suburban New York but has lived in the Washington, DC area since his teens. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and worked as a chef for more than thirty years. He is an avid baseball fan, history buff and never misses Curb Your Enthusiasm. He lives in Arlington, VA with three children and a cat.

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