Steve Straight


My mother thought my sister had driven me home
from church, my sister thought my mother had,
so in June, 1963, age eight, about six miles from home,
I walked to the main drag, turned to face the traffic,
and stuck out my thumb. A car pulled over
moments later, and I thought, “This is easy.”

They were strangers, of course,
the first of many in my hitchhiking career,
including 9,000 miles around the country
when I was 25, rides with the lonely, like the kid
who’d dropped out of college heading home
to the parents he hadn’t told, who got 1,000 miles of counseling;

the Samaritans, mostly ex-hitchers themselves,
like the farmhand who insisted on taking me four exits
past his because he knew, he said,
“the perfect ramp to score a dope ride”;

and some crazies, of course,
the Sears, Roebuck heir high on speed
who’d driven non-stop from California to Indiana
and was afraid to sleep, who had a .357 under his seat,
he said, to scare off the next guy who tried anything;

or the guy in the old pickup
in Oregon with the 30-30 across his seat:
to break the ice I asked if he liked to hunt
and he just said, ”No.”

They were hippies and rednecks,
alone or in pairs, mostly poor people
in beaters who offered you water or food or
a place to stay when you knew they had little.

They’re gone now, the drivers and the hitchers,
and today the only one you’ll see,
disconsolate by the curb, is some guy
with an empty gas can whose cell phone has died.

Praise and thank you to all who stopped for me,
with or without a hand-lettered destination sign
like CAL or NY, with short hair or long,
even in the rain knowing I would wet their seats,

but especially those grandparents who stopped
for a little boy, and who let me convince them
not to take me right to the door
but to drop me at the end of my street
so I could waltz in and announce “I’m home”
to the startled family members
who could’ve sworn I already was.