I used to tell people I went to the University of Wyoming because all they did in Laramie was drink beer and make babies. That was 1971. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do in college. One day, early in my first semester, I cut classes and went to a park to sunbathe. I hadn’t been there long before this guy walked up and asked me if he could bum a cigarette. He was from Ohio, a business major. I told him I was from California, from near the beach, close to Hollywood. He hadn’t been to a beach before, had never seen LA.
We smoked and flirted and decided maybe we should drive out to California, stay at my mother’s house, she wouldn’t care. We could go to the ocean, hang out in the city, miss a couple days of school and drive back in time for the next week’s classes. He had a van, and we had some money for gas. He’d pick me up at the dorms by five. I would make up a story to tell my mother once we got there.
We drove across I-80, into the dusk, smoking dope and cigarettes, getting to know each other. He was tall and stocky, and I liked the confidence of his voice. Maybe he would be my boyfriend. It was possible.
In Salt Lake, I took the wheel, and he slept through the night, pushed up against my side. We drove until late the next morning when just short of Baker, a small California desert town, the van started choking and rolled to a stop. He got out and poked under the hood, while I tried restarting the van, but the engine was done. How far it was to town, I can’t say, but we walked the highway for quite a ways before coming to a small gas station by the off-ramp. One of the station guys drove him back to his van while I waited inside on a bench. A thermometer on the door said 113 degrees.
A good two hours passed before they returned in a truck, the station guy pulling the van by a chain. By that time I’d forgotten the reason I’d made the trip. The station guy told us it’d cost $600 for parts to fix the van, or he could give us 50 bucks to buy it. We took the cash.
Still over a 100 miles west to my house, we thumbed down a string of rides until the last driver dumped us at the corner of my street, after I insisted he not drive us up to my front door. We got out of the car and stood there on the corner for a moment, not speaking a word. Then we carried our suitcases down the street, me and this guy, with nothing more in common than the dirt on our faces, until we got to my house, where my mother had just stepped out on her front porch to grab the mail.