In the mid-Seventies I was a student at Durham University and I decided it would be a good idea to spend the summer holidays working and visiting the United States. After an eventful two months in New York, I set off to hitch-hike anti-clockwise around North America. Outside Thunder Bay (yes, it poured) in Ontario I got a ride with two rednecks in a pick-up loaded with beer. The inevitable happened and we careered off the road into a ditch at 60mph - I got out at the next cafe.
All went more or less well until I was dropped off late in the evening in San Luis Obispo, north of Los Angeles, by a bourgeois Hell's Angel (hauling his Harley behind a luxury van also loaded with Coor's beer). I, and a travelling companion, found ourselves unable to get a lift so, at 2am, we tried to jump a freight train heading south. It may look easy on celluloid but it ain't, especially when burdened by rucksacks. One thing I learnt that night is that although the locomotive may pass you slowly, the rest of the train is accelerating and it becomes more difficult, and dangerous, the longer you wait. Desperately I tried to jump on to one of the last wagons, only to stumble and fall across the track. What apparently happened next is that a piece of metal projecting from a bogey- set caught the rucksack and hurled me clear of a very messy death. The police arrived, highly unimpressed by our antics - we only just escaped being locked up for the night.
The last, and probably most frightening brush with death, was in North Carolina, which had an "Easy Rider, let's kill them hippies" mentality at the time - and I had quite long hair back then. I got into a flash car driven by an executive type. I should have realised something was awry when I saw that his idea of fun was to drive fast at the toll barriers, chuck the change into the waiting basket and try to get through without touching the brakes. As always I did not have anywhere to stay, or quite probably any money to stay anywhere, so I accepted his offer of staying the night at his place. Bad move. We reached it at about dusk. It was like something out of Mississippi Burning, a small wooden house raised on stilts above what appeared to be a swamp. I soon met his housemate, a large, bearded, taciturn man in dungarees. We ate supper in silence: the bearded man washing it down with vats of alcohol. He then retired to his room and we settled down to watch TV. An hour later, he roared into the room with a double-barrelled shotgun and started berating his "mate" about something. I tried desperately to become invisible. He was horribly drunk, and kept lurching backwards and forwards, which meant I kept getting a horribly close look at the wrong end of the barrels. In a dramatic flourish he knocked the TV on to the floor with the butt of his gun. Having shown us who was boss, he went back to his room to sleep. In the morning he showed us the gun had not been loaded.
I beat a hasty retreat home to Lytham St Annes.Reuse content