2008 Contest Shortlist

No Sympathy for a Hitchhiker in Canada

There are bad rides and there are worse.

I stumbled groggily through the streets of Calgary in search of a bus stop. A vicious hangover added to the weight of my backpack. It was two in the afternoon and had been raining for most of the day keeping me locked inside, brooding away like a caged bird. I failed to notice the huge puddle in front of me and was subsequently drenched in oily water; perhaps an omen of the hard nights ahead. I fought off the urge to return to the two beautiful Quebecoise girls I had been staying with to shack up for the night. Deciding instead to push on and make it across the country in time to wish my friends farewell before they departed for Algeria, in four days time.

I found my way out of the cement labyrinth and struggled to find a suitable hitching spot. I stuck out my thumb and was picked up by Susie. A Jamaican drug addict who took great pleasure in scaring the shit out of me as she drove at speeds of 180km; while swerving dangerously using wild hand gestures to depict the most recent, gruesome local murder. We stopped for a toilet break and I found it impossible to remove the smile off my face, as Susie bounced out of the toilet with half a roll of toilet paper trailing along behind her and was left for all the patrons of the diner to gaze upon.

We reached Medicine Hat in record time, thanks to Susie’s amazing lead foot.

I walked up and down the town in search of a truck stop. Exhausted I slumped down out the front of a small one. The young dude inside, on the graveyard shift, invited me in for a warmer seat and free hot chocolate. After a sleepless night in the gas station I set off at first light. Randle picked me up as I walked past the worlds largest Tee Pee (an odd attraction for a place called Medicine Hat). I somehow managed to pass out while Randle’s sound system blasted 2Pac at decibels far too intense for any normal person to enjoy.

I was dropped off in a huge empty supermarket car park in Regina. These places give me the creeps, they are like desolate deserts of cement suffocating the earth, nothing in sight but islands of huge buildings that all look the same. I bought a can of baked beans and a bag of peanuts, than walked straight out of this western paradise, to the flowing green prairies surrounding the city. I was kept entertained while waiting for a ride as little furry animals dived in and out of their holes; a huge novelty for an 18 year old Aussie in North America.

I got a lift with a female Pastor who dropped me ten minutes down the road. After half an hour an old couple with a bible on the dash board picked me up; they were lovely people who lived a rather dull life after their 13 kids left home. I accidently destroyed the friendly vibe when I ploughed into my cold baked beans for lunch as they bought burgers and fries. I suddenly realised between filling my mouth with spoonfuls of beans that I was being watched. They took my hands and we said grace. Feeling ashamed after that incident I accepted a handful of pamphlets on the greatness of Jesus, as they left me at a huge truck stop on the outskirts of Winnipeg. After getting warned that the cops would be called if I tried hitching here, and being laughed at while I wrote on a piece of cardboard; I decided ‘Fuck this shit hole, and Fuck truckers!’.

I began walking as far as my legs would carry me. I stopped to hitch with no success; and began to trudge forwards again as the sun descended behind the horizon. A car pulled over for me out of sympathy as I stumbled dangerously along the side of the road; I was dropped off on the other side of Winnipeg.

It was well after dark, I was floundering, and at this rate I wouldn’t reach my friends before they left. So I set up at some traffic lights, hoping the small amount of light here would ensure I wasn’t run over. I was picked up by a tow truck driver and we had an amazing conversation about the edibility of the native animals, this had my mouth watering, after too many meals of cold baked beans and peanuts.

Just as we entered the quaint town of Kenora he informed me that the town was actually bypassed by the highway and there was very little traffic through here. With that I was left at a gas station at 1am on the far side of town. After an hour of waiting for customers, and not a single word out of the hillbilly looking gas station employee, I set off for the other side of town. After an hours walk I arrived at the other gas station in town, a storm brewing in the distance, occasionally illuminating the sky and rumbling with discontent. I changed my shirt, as it was drenched with sweat from the journey.

The fat, miserable, middle aged women behind the counter; took great pleasure in telling me I couldn’t hang around the gas station (there goes that plan), and that the bypass was 11km from there. Two cops walked in and eyed me suspiciously at the same time the storm reached us and broke the sky with a bone splitting crack, spilling its heavy contents in a roaring thunder. I looked from the policemen to the lady who was staring at me with petty satisfaction, heaved my bag onto my shoulders and ran out into the downpour, finding temporary shelter under some building’s awnings.

I scampered heavily through the torrent until I came across a bus shelter on the fringe of the town. There I sat, shivering with fear, a cold panic running up my spine. I was in some shitty horror film, all alone, as flashes of lightning illuminated the eerie pine trees. My imagination began to run wild; I saw ghostly human silhouettes between the trees and heard footsteps behind me. I sent myself insane spinning around, confronted with the four sides of the graffiti stained and scratched up plastic walls. I stared with huge pupils out from behind my bag. A police car slowly drove past, and I imagined them searching for the killer on the loose; that’s who I saw standing between the pine trees, watching me hugging my bag as fits of shivers took control of my body.

I don’t know how long I was there, as I slipped in and out of an exhausted fear-filled sleep, the rain stopped at 4:30am and I decided to get out of the nightmare. I nervously glanced from side to side as I struggled down the lonely dark road through the pine forest to the highway. I was filled with menace as I imagined being mauled by a bear, or murdered by a crazed redneck hillbilly straight out of Texas chainsaw massacre, ‘Damn why did I ever see that film!’. Fear was the only thing that kept my mentally and physically exhausted body going down that very long and lonely road.

The sun kissed the distant horizon, transforming the sky into a bluey grey sea, this lifted my spirits substantially and my fear disappeared. As if I had angered the gods with this small gain, there was a sudden and bone shattering crash of thunder behind me. I hesitantly turned to see half the sky bubbling forth in a dark angry purple mass, swelling and growling. Somehow the storm had managed to sneak up on me, a sudden fear filled panic overtook me as the distant sound of cascading water, tore towards me. I turned and sprinted with my bag slashing away at my back, I made maybe fifty meters before I broke down. My tears mixed with the rain pouring down my face.

Three hours later I crawled up to the highway, struggling to stand. Tears stinging my eyes every time a car would rumble past, I looked down at my piece of cardboard, the ink ran and dripped, staining my hands and distorting the words ‘Quebec’. The familiar cold grasp of panic and fear battled to return with every car that didn’t stop for me. I sat and ate some peanuts, read a letter from my family and some positive quotes. I tried again, swaying in my exhaustion, balancing the heavens on my thumb.

David, an old hippy pulled over for me, I rode with him for three days, sleeping in the boot, feasting on cans of tuna and crackers, and even getting to drive straight into Montreal (on the ‘right’ side of the road). Missing my friends but gaining one hell of an experience.

Kurt Provost