Hitchhiking

Journal: 033

Image result for r190 international
R190 International

Today’s post was meant to be a review of Nam Le’s short story collection, The Boat (2008) but after the first story, Le keeps writing about everything but himself, and when he got to the bit where he was a thirtyish woman having sex with her boyfriend I tossed it aside. And I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like arguing today about my preference for literature to be written from lived experience.

Sue (WG) tells me Nam Le has been lauded for his ability to present so many varied points of view but I don’t see how you can read the intense first story about a writer in the US dealing with his Vietnamese refugee father dealing with all his demons, and then be happy to settle for the entertainments which follow.

But the space below is still asking to be filled. I will write a story of my own. Toss me aside at this or any other point, I won’t blame you. Better still, go down to the bottom and tell me at what point you tossed me aside.

This brings me to think about the difference between writing a story and yarning. I noted when I reviewed Vance Palmer’s collection the Rainbow-Bird that he found it difficult to get going, fell back on the yarning style encouraged by the Bulletin. Nam Le begins his first story, “My father arrived on a rainy morning. I was dreaming about a poem …” and he begins the second, “In Cartegena, Luis says, the beach is grey at dawn.” This is enough to get me going.


The Young Bride had a problem, too much bleeding. When I met her and persuaded her to live with me in 1971 she had dropped out of high school, left home, taken a room with a couple of mates of mine in Carlton who had an old terrace house later demolished for the (old) Royal Women’s carpark.

RT and I had a much nicer two storey terrace in Drummond Street, had taken it early in the summer break so we would be set for the following year but our Greek landlord sold out to some distant connection of the premier for her two posh daughters. Luckily RT was posh too, Toorak, Melbourne Grammar and all that, and their mother let us stay. But I reacted in the worst possible way to all this poshness so that by the time YB came into the picture RT and I had moved to another old terrace house facing the back of the Windsor Hotel in the City.

That very first night, finding half my bed was empty I went downstairs to find YB crying and bleeding in the outside dunny. This happened a bit, and one night not long after found RT and me piggy backing YB up Russell Street to Royal Women’s where she was admitted, after one of those interminable waits sitting through the night in the Emergency Department that I later got used to as a young parent.

Her parents and I didn’t hit it off.

At 20 doing a third first year, I was skinny, long haired, barefoot, poor and scruffy in a long grey overcoat (RT’s school overcoat, how posh was that) and torn jeans. I sat by YB’s bed, or outside, all day, but when her mum and dad and little brothers and sister turned up that evening I took off. Not with any idea of where I wanted to go, but just wanting to keep moving. Walked across the uni to Royal Parade, faced north up Sydney Road, stuck out my thumb and got a lift through the narrow shopfronts and tired neon of Brunswick and Coburg, out past Pentridge to what was then the outer northern limits of the City.

The first time I had done this was on the very first weekend of my first first year. Not knowing anyone else in Trinity, which in any case was nearly empty, Engineering starting two weeks earlier then the rest, I walked out into Royal Parade on a fine autumn morning and hitched up to Sydney, walked across the Harbour Bridge, which I had never seen before, and was back home Sunday evening.

I’d started hitching the previous year, in high school, to get to other country towns to play football or hockey. Then over summer I’d left my uncle’s farm where I was working while Mum and Dad and the boys were away on holidays, hitched back to Mudsville for New Years Eve, got work haycarting, hitched down to Queenscliff at weekends where Fancy was holidaying with her parents.

After that first time I hitched again to Sydney and came home down the coast road, told one guy I was an orphan and he promised to train me up as a bulldozer driver; hitched up the Calder to Mildura then across into SA, riding through the night in a Lake Boga R190 Inter, Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay blasting out, the first time I’d heard it. Made it to Port Augusta that trip before deciding to turn back, got a lift in an airconditioned Monaro, another first, came home via Adelaide, Murray Bridge, spent hours waiting for a lift south to the Mount and more hours after midnight at Heywood, maybe one vehicle every half hour, engine noise building, building, passing, fading. A truck at last took me right to Melbourne, stopped for a while in Mudsville to drop off some timber. I pretended I’d never been there.

Hitching was easy. Later, when I hitched home from Brisbane for my 21st birthday, Mum and Dad drove me back out to Campbellfield, and there were maybe six kids waiting for a lift, strung out along the road. Honour had it that the latecomer took the furthest spot, but that didn’t bother me, I preferred to hitch walking, looking back over my shoulder. The next morning in Sydney, which was really my 21st birthday an old guy took me home and gave me cornflakes for breakfast, set me back out on the Windsor Road and the first guy to stop, in a Rapid Transport Transtar, was the guy who’d brought me down from Bris. I leaned casually with my elbow on the window until he admired my new gold watch.

So this night in 1970 I’m heading north out of town and a guy fortyish maybe picks me up in an old Customline, says he knows a back way to Seymour and I don’t care, I like new roads, we wind through the bush till he pulls up. It’s time to deliver. I get out, he gets out. It’s dark, cold, silent. In front of the car we wrestle furiously, I want his car keys. He wants … But I’m too young and strong for him to get it by force. Eventually, I break away. He tears off in the car. I struggle across paddocks to a distant light, a farmhouse. Wake the farmer and he calls the police. The policeman is furious. Bloody longhairs. He drives me back to Seymour and warns me never to be seen in his town again.

I get a lift home, pick up YB from hospital. We live happily ever after, for a few years anyway.

Currently Reading

BlakWorks, Alison Whittaker
Waterway (1938), Eleanor Dark

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15 thoughts on “Hitchhiking

    • Thanks Karen. Truck drivers keep alive the old conventions: meeting around campfires (and roadhouse tables), yarning, moving on. So I get plenty of practice (though as is my wont, I think it’s 3 or 4 days since I actually spoke to someone).

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    • I hoped you would. Trucking has such a hold on me that I’ve never been able to analyse it properly. I have itchy feet, I love outback Australia, I’m really bad at being a bureaucrat or manager, I’m solitary. So whether hitchhiking led me to trucks or trucks led me to hitchhiking, I’ve never been sure.

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  1. And I read through to the end. Just because I don’t totally agree with your reading preferences doesn’t mean I don’t want to read what you have to say! I don’t want to live completely in an echo chamber after all.

    Enjoyed your hitchhiking stories Bill – as a young woman (then), I was never brave enough to hitch-hike, even when it wasn’t illegal. (Is it illegal now?)

    In Melbourne this weekend for grandson’s first birthday. Went to the Melbourne Museum’s Revolution exhibition. Loved it – so all-encompassing of the 1960s (though now I think about it, there wasn’t much if anything about hitchhiking!).

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    • We are ‘meant’ to be writing about reading and I wasn’t so I gave you an out. Thank you for not taking it. I still see hitchhikers from time to time though it is a while since I picked one up – I use the passenger seat and footwell for storing stuff. Hitchhiking seemed to me to be a big part of the 60s ethos, but maybe that just reflects the fact that I mostly didn’t have a car.

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  2. I love your stories Bill.

    Hitch-hiking is something I’ve never done and quite frankly, frightens the hell out of me. It always seemed to be a fast-track to being raped – but is that the scaremongering of the 80s (when I was a teenage and doing more reckless things)? I’ll never know.

    Once, when I was about 16, I was running down our street (which was very, very long, so my house was far from in sight) to catch the train. It was raining and I really couldn’t miss the train. It was in the middle of the day so looking back, I suspect I was on my way to a school exam. Anyway, I’m racing along with my school bag and this car pulls over and a woman says, “Jump in, I’ll give you a lift to the station.” I got in. It was like a moment of everything I’d been told about personal safety, leaving my head.

    Anyway, she dropped me at the station 400m up the road, I made my train and presumably my exam, but I always think back to that moment and think that it could have been one of the stupidest things I ever did. And following that thought is the fact that as a female, I have always been (and had to be) acutely aware of this stuff – this sense of being ‘on guard’. I talk to my daughter about personal safety and the vigilance required but equally I talk to my teenage sons, and tell them the stuff that will allow women to feel less threatened (eg. don’t walk behind a woman on an empty street at night, cross over and turbo so that you’re ahead and she can see you). I hate that these talks are necessary.

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    • Well, first of all, thank you! Women are right to be wary of hitchhiking, some have been murdered and I’m sure any number have had reluctant sex, to say the least. I have picked up girls and women from time to time, an Aboriginal woman going home from prison, two drunk women who made me improper offers, backpackers, runaway girls – one I persuaded to sit in the passenger seat while I had a few hours sleep (as my own kids used to), took her as far as I could, then got her to ring her mother, another who got out at the next stop because I wouldn’t let her smoke.

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  3. Great story. I read it to the end.
    My own hitching story goes back to the mid 1980’s. Breaking down outside of Yass and needing to get back to Tumbarumba. Slept overnight on the picnic tables down by the Yass River and walked out to the edge of town next morning. Got a ride in a log truck to Tumut within 20 minutes and hitched south from there. Picked up a ride with some seriously stoned fruit pickers driving at about 30km/hr (farrrkkk mate, we’re practically moving at LIGHT SPEED) and took over an hour to make the 40 minute drive.
    One of the picker girls came home with me and stayed the night, but left at first light.
    I still don’t know her name.

    ‘Ah this world is truly rotten,
    but my sins are all forgotten
    And my work will be remembered
    When the alleys beat their drums’

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    • Jingelic. Thanks for reading my story and for adding one of your own. I would have loved to ride in that timber truck, they go to some scary places (My third truck used to belong to Doons of Tumut and was still painted in their colours – yellow and brown). Isn’t it odd, but perhaps typical of our twenties, the people we meet for a day or a week, bond with, and never see again.

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  4. I also read to the end Bill – I enjoy your stories a lot.

    I grew up in a family of girls, and your boys own adventure stories are about as far from my sedate upbringing as you can get! Although I did have one of those yucky experiences walking to school in Yr 7 where a sleazy looking man pulled up in his car beside me and tried to convince me to get in to show him how to get to somewhere…I can’t remember where now.
    I just kept walking…faster and said I was meeting my friend just up ahead and she was waiting for me, so I couldn’t help and couldn’t stop. He actually drove around the block passed me again, but fortunately by then, I had really caught up to my friend and two was safer than one in this case.
    I never walked that particular way to school again and I never told anyone about it either. As a result, I have never considered hitching to be an option for me.

    All good stories lead to even more stories it would seem Bill 🙂

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    • Isn’t that great, one story leading to another. I was in the car with my brother (in Melbourne) when I read your comment and it prompted me to ask him for the first time, about a similar near miss he had as a primary school kid, led under a new house by an older boy.

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