Something I’ve noticed about my relationship with strangers: the more they insist on not killing me, the more I foolishly trust them.
As it should be, my initial instinct is to be wary of people I don’t know. But something must be broken in my programming. The more odd a situation seems, the more likely I am to participate in it, probably because normalcy seems too suspicious. Odd situations tend to be specific situations, and specific situations have specific solutions. Someone who would actually want to kill me would probably make an effort to seem entirely ordinary. Basket cases probably aren’t hiding anything. Otherwise, they wouldn’t appear to be basket cases. Perhaps I am naive.
In any case, few things are as fun as meeting strangers on the internet.
If you must know, I spend a lot (too much) of my time chatting on online sports message boards. I do like sports, but what’s better than discussing sports is forging some superficial connection with someone in some other part of the country that you’ll probably never meet, which allows you to open up about yourself a little more than you probably should. Thus, I have eFriends scattered about the country that know the intimate details of my life, but not who I am. The consequence: it’s all too tempting to meet them if I happen to get the chance.
And so, on my many road trips, if I happen to be passing through somewhere where I know there to be a eCamarade, I can’t help but propose a meeting. To this date, they have all been pleasant, hospitable people, and our first meetings often seem as if we’ve always kind of known each other, which, in a way, we have. Online.
But I always have to remind myself that they just might be serial killers…
…so it’s always good to ask them, just to be sure. I remember meeting an eFriend for the first time in Tucson. We had a pleasant lunch, and not quite ready to part, he offered a recommendation for the afternoon…
– “Hey, I know this great hike way out in the desert outside of town. Interested?”
I had to set the boundaries: – “Sure! But only if you don’t murder me.”
– “I won’t murder you.”
More specific boundaries: – “…or rape me.”
– “I won’t rape you either.”
– “Okay great! Let’s go!”
– “You won’t regret it. It’s beautiful. Remote. I go there to meditate. Also to take naked pictures of my wife.”
– “You sure you’re not gonna rape and murder me?”
– “Positive. Let’s take my car.”
– “I dunno… I’m not sure I’m comfortable riding in your car. I just met you.”
– “Dude. I drive a Prius. Would a serial killer drive a Prius?”
– “Good point. Let’s go.”
– “By the way, I’ve got some shrooms in the glove compartment. Help yourself.”
And sure enough, he led me through some of the most beautiful remote desert landscape in Arizona. Also, he didn’t kill me, which is a plus. I’m still grateful for that.
There was another time I met up with an eFriend in Arkansas. I had already met him in person twice before, so he already had my undivided trust, enough such that I was planning on crashing in his extra room for a couple nights while I checked out Fayetteville. As I arrived, he offered me some sweet tea, and then we sat on his back porch looking at his orchard. Then he had an idea:
– “This might sound weird, and you can say ‘no.'”
– “Go on.”
– “You ever see ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’?”
– “Go on…”
– “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind pretending to be dead so I could take pictures of you pretending to be alive and post them on the sports message board. You know, for the lulz.”
– “I’d be pretending, right?”
– “Okay. Let’s do it.”
But these are people I actively talk to online, and even though I don’t really know them all that well in person, there’s a level of trust generated by our superficial correspondences on the internet. Hitchhikers, on the other hand are a completely different ballgame insofar as generating trust goes. I remember this one guy who approached me as I was filling up my car on the north side of Austin…
– “Hey there. I’m sorry to bother you, but everyone else has told me to fuck off. Would you perchance mind giving me a ride south on I-35 like three exits?”
I was immediately suspicious. – “Where are you going?”
– “I was supposed to meet my friends at a fag bar. It used to be in this part of town, but it moved and no one told me.”
– “Look, I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m just some old faggot trying to get to a fag bar. I mean, look at me. You could totally overpower me. I’m wearing a cashmere sweater for crying out loud.”
– “Three exits south from here?”
– “Something like that. Look, you look uncomfortable. Check my pockets. No knives, no gun. Nothing. I would really appreciate it.”
– “Okay, sure, hop in. But no killing me. I’m serious.”
He was particularly amiable and our conversation was pleasant. But truth be told, hitchhikers haven’t always been pleasant. I picked up this one guy from Craigslist who was going to the Bay Area from Los Angeles for twenty bucks – I should have known something wasn’t right when his location kept changing through a series of phone calls when I was driving to pick him up.
– “Yeah, I’m at Glenoaks and Peoria.”
– “I’ll be right there.”
– “Actually, that’s Glenoaks and Pendleton.”
– “No, wait. Tuxford. I’ll be waiting at Tuxford.”
Sure enough, when I pulled up to the requested location, between a junkyard and a garbage dump, the guy looked like a homeless bum. His four layers of clothes reeked worse than rotting fish corpses, and his only luggage was a Ralph’s grocery bag with an assortment of things. He got in the car, and began talking about nothing and everything. He didn’t shut up for nearly the entire car ride, and when he wasn’t talking, he was singing. Seldom have I been exposed to such obnoxiousness.
– “Sir, can you buckle your seatbelt?”
– “Free spirit! No seatbelt gets me down!”
– “Buckle your seatbelt, please.”
– “You da boss, boss.”
– “So sports! Sports! How ’bout ‘dem Rams?”
– “Wowee! Whatcha has it chicks! Hot babes! You got any hot babes?”
– “Jingle Bells! Jingle Bells! Jingle all the way…! …hey! I gotta smoke!”
– “Not in the car.”
– “What are you? Some kinda saint? You a square? A man’s gotta smoke, a man’s gotta smoke.”
– “Not in the car.”
– “You think you’re hot shit, don’t you? You ever do anything wrong in your life?”
– “I just got this car.”
– “OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE…!”
– “Dammit, fine! Smoke your damn cigarette!”
It was the most peaceful 7.5 minutes of the car ride. I had been considering intentionally crashing my car to end the agony, but the brief reprieve forced me to reconsider.
As odd as these characters were, for some reason their peculiarities were somewhat disarming, and I didn’t feel much of any inkling of danger. The only time I’ve ever seriously felt threatened by my companion was when I picked up a hitchhiker in New Mexico. He was a young man, not much older than myself.
– “Where are you going?”
– “Five miles down the road. The Rio Grande Gorge.”
– “Yeah? Ever been there before?”
– “Why are you going back?”
– “To take pictures of it.”
– “I see.”
I spent the entire five minute car ride with one eye on the road and one eye on his hands. Going somewhere where people go to take pictures of something people take pictures of? Something didn’t add up.
Oh yeah, by the way, Mom, please don’t read this entry.