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AFTERWORD Lost Highways BY LUCIUS LOMAX The low point of my career on the road came in southern Louisiana, where I was trapped on a rural mutt far between two stretches of major highway. Walking to reach a better flow of traffic would have taken a whole day. On a back road few cars passed and those that did were not stopping for a black man with a duffel bag }{ours crawled by. The sun weakened and began to fall. Halflight, deep pine woods and , stagnant water close by: it was the perfect environment for that scary kind of encounter with one’s own character. Those fundamental fears \(is my life being wasted? straight, hard-working nine-to-five types, particularly haunt.hitchhikers. Then, suddenly, literally sent by God, around a curve appeared a white nun in a red convertible. She slowed to a stop and told me to climb inmy mood improved in direct. proportion to the pressure of her foot on the -accelerator. She didn’t tell me where she’got the sports car. She only said that her brother sometimes ‘hitchhiked and that she hoped that because she helped me, the Lord would protect him. Jesus. You don’t get rides like that any more. A friend of mine recently drove two days through five states, from central Texas to northern Ohio, without seeing a single person, thumb extended, standing on the roadside. Overseas, Israel had been the country where hitchhiking was most a part of everyday life. But when the intifada began, the army barred female soldiers from asking for rides because of fears that they would be attacked. Everywhere, here and abroad, the reasons that people no longer ask for, or give rides, are pretty much the same, fear and time: too much of one and too little of the other. Allowing someone access to our computer is the closest substitute today to that roadway intimacy of the past. Why people hitchhiked was obviousto get from one place to another. Anyone who tells you that he hitchhiked for experience is a fool. The experience might have been a by-product of the ride, but the ride was always the first priority, because anyone with any money traveled by bus or by plane. The motives for giving a ride were more varied. In my more or less ten years on the road, the reasons drivers stopped divided neatly into two categories: sex and drugs, on the one hand, and what can be called “sympathetic” considerations on the other. Once a driver picked me up and explained that he gave me a ride because, “You looked like you might have a joint to smoke.” In fact he was right. But the dream driverthe beautiful woman taking me home to feed and make love to menever stopped. An erotic encounter on the road must be a particularly male fantasy, because all the offers of romance made to me were made by men. A Mexican college student driving a Volkswagen Caribe picked me up south of San Antonio once, and today, ten years later, his words still echo in my ears: “Let me see your deek. Come onnnn, let me see your deek.” The Reagan years were difficult for me, for personal more than political reasons, and during the ’80s most of my free time was spent in Mexico. But despite feelings of comfort and well-being in Oaxaca and in Veracruz, to me home was still the U.S. My last twenty dollars were always kept in reserve to pay for the bus ticket from Mexico City to the border, where my favorite bridge over the Rio Grande was at Nuevo Laredo. Across the river, catching a ride northbound was never easy. At Laredo, dozens of trucks were usually passing on their way to Dallas and beyond, but at that time truck drivers had already largely ceased the practice of picking up hitchhikers. The truck companies’ insurance would not cover an accident if there were an unauthorized rider–or so the truck drivers said. Really they were probably just afraid like everybody else, but as truckers they were too macho to admit it. The only exception to their rule was girlsthe drivers couldn’t stop fast enough. At Laredo there were also a lot of middle-class middle Americans in motor homes returning from vacation in northern Mexico. Their license plates were from Iowa and Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas, places like that. In the half-second that it took for the motor home to pass, you could get a good look at the driver and know immediately why he wasn’t stopping. The most revealing features of the face behind the windshield were the tight mouth and the eyes that looked only straight ahead. This driver hadn’t lived to retirement and saved the money to buy a motor home because he believed in taking chances. Twenty years earlier he might have stopped for reasons of common courtesyor because of the natural curiosity of youth. No longer. “Sentimental” considerations, on the other hand, were what prompted the nun to stop for me. And on another cross-country trip a driver bought me breakfast and gave me ten dollars; he was an aging cowboy in a rusting Buick. Looking back on that ride now, despite his generosity it’s clear that he wasn’t being generous to me. Although he didn’t talk about his younger days he must once have been a hitchhiker. The breakfast and money were repayment for a ride that he had once received. Most of the drivers who stopped for me were like him: they had hitchhiked, or they knew someone who did. Lack of that reciprocityone generation to the nextis the reason hitchhiking is disappearing now. Hitchhiking is dying because people don’t give rides any more. That may seem 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 14, 1997