Spring break 1974 was the last time I hitch-hiked. It was still in the vogue. Thanks to movies like the Texas Chain Saw Massacre that came out that year it would soon be in decline. Over the next few years, drivers viewed picking up a stranger as a risk. We learned some people picked up hitchhikers to do harm to them. They would rape and kill them. Had I know that I would have never stuck my thumb up and hitched a ride, but I did. Here is that story.
The story of the last ride I hitched is straightforward. It was spring break 1974. The effects of the Arab Oil Embargo, which were put in place during the Yom Kippur War of late 1973 were taking effect. Due to shortages, cars, and their drivers lined up at service stations to get gasoline. The traditional full-service filling station became extinct during this period. Sometimes you had to wait days to fill up your car’s tank.
March of 1974 found me completing my junior year at The University of Texas at Arlington. Fortunately, I lived adjacent to the campus. This proximity meant I could walk or ride my ten-speed bicycle to class. More and more frequently, I opted for my ten-speed as my preferred method of transportation.
During this same time, Interstate 20 (I-20) was under construction in south Arlington, Texas. Lake Joe Poole was a future development dream.
I was dating my future wife. She was a senior in high school. She lived in DeSoto, Texas 25 mile away. The Tuesday of her spring break, I decided to ride my bike to her house. I left the campus of UT Arlington and headed south until I ran into the construction on the future I-20. There I went on the new concrete roadway and headed east several miles until I got to Belt Line Road in Dallas County. There I again headed south. Belt Line Road in just a few short years would be under Lake Joe Poole’s water. There was a huge mountain to go up. My ten-speed zipped up with great ease. As I continued riding past all the television broadcast towers in Cedar Hill, Texas, I quickly crossed the then two-lane US Highway 67. Belt Line Road intersected just east of US 67 with Texas Farm Road 1382.
The ride on my ten-speed from Cedar Hill to DeSoto was only five miles. Unfortunately, about hallway between the two towns the rear axle on the bicycle broke. A broken rear axle is bad. It meant I could not ride a bike because the rear wheel would no longer turn.
I had to carry the ten-speed the last two plus miles. It was a hot March day with temperatures in the middle 80 degrees. I was not very smart in my travels as I had only one one-quart canteen of water with me. It soon was gone.
I arrived at Miss Benita’s house. She was happy to see me. Her eleventh-grade sister was not happy I had invaded their space. They could not believe I had ridden my bike 25 miles. They were even more concerned, well at least Miss Benita was, about how I would get back to college. I remember making a fist with my right hand and extending my thumb.
The girls were afraid of hitchhiking. I seemed very scary to them. From 1967 to 1972, I thumbed many rides. It was still an accepted method of travel.
Well, I chained my bike to their chain-linked fence. I walked down to the Fina gasoline station. Joe Castle owned the business. He asked where my car was. I told my sad tale. He carried me to Cedar Hill and wished me luck. He made sure I had a cold Dr. Pepper.
At Cedar Hill, I got out of the Castles old American Rambler station wagon. I took my place at the side of Farm Road 1382 (FM 1382); my thumb extends this time trying to go north when a Jeep stopped and gave me a ride.
The driver was a machinist headed for his swing shift at Ling Tempco Vought (LTV) Aeronautics in Grand Prairie, Texas. He let me out where FM 1382 crossed the Pioneer Parkway that was also called Spur 303. He used to be in the US Air Force. That is where he learned his trade of building airplanes. He tossed me a Coca-Cola as they left me at the side of the road.
I was not waiting even two minutes when a Chevrolet Camaro stopped. As they rolled down the window, two girls about my age greeted me. “Hey, aren’t you in our English class?” were the first words they said. They followed with “You’re one of those ROTC guys, aren’t you?” The both had an open can of Old Milwaukee beer. The hollered for me to get. The girl riding shotgun got out, had me get in, and then sat in my lap. They replaced my Coca-Cola with beer. We zoomed down Pioneer Parkway until we got to Cooper Street in Arlington. We turned north and headed near the campus. They took me to my apartment. They didn’t drop me off. They came in where we listened to the stereo and did what college kids did.
The return trip to my apartment took me about 20 minutes less time than riding the ten-speed to my girlfriend’s house had taken. I still am amazed.
I haven’t hitched a ride since that March day in 1974.