It seemed like a good idea at the time...

by Matt Olson

The prompts for my rambling nonsense come from my daughter, Mira, and in this case from the best son-in-law that one could imagine, Eduardo Rubiano. Perhaps because he has heard me mumble this phrase on numerous occasions, or maybe because he has found himself in his own predicaments, this is the prompt: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

The problem is that there are so many possibilities, so many close calls, so many near disasters. Somehow, the ones that rush to mind first involve hitchhikers. So why not?

In 1970, I was young and single and completely full of shit. So even if my wife reads this, it happened before we met and I can't be held guilty in a here-and-now sense of things. I was driving from San Francisco on 101 up through Marin County, and there she was: a blonde, barefooted, curvaceous hitchhiker. Didn't seem to be packing weapons--just jeans and a t-shirt, and she was out in the open so I didn't suspect a boyfriend hiding in the bushes who would jump in the car along with her. Imagine the possibilities that I was imagining the possibilities of imagining.  

I pulled over, opened the passenger door, and asked if she needed a ride, which is really a good question to ask someone who is standing at the roadside, thumb up. She said yes, held the door open,  and then turned and yelled "King!" A big-as-hell white dog... German Shepard and some other mixed stuff ...who had been laying flat in a shallow ditch just behind her-- bolted into the car and grinned at me. She ordered him into the back seat and slid in.

As King continued to grin at me, she explained that she always brought him along when she had to hitchhike, and, making sure not to make any sudden moves, I told her that this was a good idea. My imaginings were draining away fast. She wanted a ride to a bicycle shop in Novato, and could I take her there, and then drop her off at her place? Drop her off. Well yes I could, I reassured King. 

The bike shop was only five miles up the road, and by the time we got there, King was done menacing me, although I did not chuckle him under the chin and tell him what a good baby he was. She got out-- without King-- ran into the shop and was back only minutes later. Time to take her back home... very near the spot where I picked her up. I drove her back and she directed me to a little motel where she said she was staying for the time. And would I like to come in and smoke a joint? I reckoned that , yes, I would. And those old imaginings, tempered a little by King of course, started to raise their ugly heads.  

I actually thought things were going to go well, if you know what I mean, until we walked into her motel room. There, to my great joy, were two guys. One was a Skinny White Dude with a partially grown mustache and black, oily hair.  The other was an African American Gentleman, big and about 6'4'' with very little hair at all. The special part was that they were wearing their "colors."  "Colors," for anyone who cares, usually consist of a jean-jacket, with sleeves torn off, and an array of patches on the back. The patches identify the motorcycle club that has accepted the wearer as a member, after god-knows-what acts the member has satisfactorily accomplished. These particular patches announced that the club was "Gypsy Jokers," who were known to not get along well with Hells Angels or many other people, for that matter. I thought about who might miss me. Who would be saddened when the papers reported my mangled body discovered in a shitty little roadside motel? I wondered if this was how they fed King.

She (The Girl), and for the life of me I cannot remember her name, introduced me to the guys, explaining that I had helped her out. This seemed to lessen the tension in the room ever so slightly. Further, she explained that she offered smoke and that I was "cool." One more notch down on the tension. As with The Girl, I do not remember the the Skinny White Dude's name. Doesn't matter. The African American Gentleman was introduced as "Black Jim." I said "Cool, nice ta meetcha,"  but I did not go so far as to say "Nice ta meetcha, Black Jim," nor did I conjour up some hip handshake.  Didn't want to press my luck. The Girl happily explained "Black Jim beat a Hell's Angel to death with a tire iron."  I nodded. Some months earlier, I had learned that it is best for a Citizen (me) to say as little as possible and most certainly to ask no questions of Members (them).

"What do you ride Motherfucker?" Ah, conversation. 

"Can't afford a bike. Got a shitty little car." Say as little as possible.  

"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't ride." 

Another nod from the Citizen.

The Girl happily chimed in "Let's Smoke!"  and yet another notch of tension slipped away, and IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME. 

"You got a joint?"  And lo, it so happened that I did. I produced two from my shirt pocket, and this seemed to gain approval. Ahhhh peer pressure.

Black Jim produced two more, and Skinny came up with another. Black Jim took my joints without actually asking, and I didn't complain. And he soon had all 5 in his possession.  The Girl produced an additional joint and a roll of masking tape. I wondered about the tape. Remembering the citizen rule, I did not ask but I was soon to learn.

Skinny Guy herded us into the motel room closet, which contained nothing. I wondered how long, actually, The Girl was staying there. He took the tape from her, and sealed us in. Taped around all the edges of the door. I was actually a little relieved that he didn' t tape me up for sacrifice to King. Black Jim lit the joints--all of them-- and started passing them around. No time whatsoever to make a stupid hippie comment on the flavor, the quality, the source of the weed. "Smoke and pass, Motherfucker." And so with the little closet sealed, we smoked and smoked until all joints had passed and died, and the sealed closet was full of smoke.

When we tumbled out of the closet, way too long later, I was a mess. I did not confess this to the assembled. The Girl reminded them "He's got a car. Let's go get hamburgers." I was hoping that Black Jim and Skinny would be too cool for munchies or, even better, for my little car. But no. Burgers it was.   

They directed me to a Jack-in-the-Box. If you have never been to a Jack-in-the-Box, don't worry about it. By now, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's have probably driven them out of the market. They served nondescript burgers and fries. Nothing special. Back in the late 80s they were hot in the news for a few weeks because they poisoned hundreds of people by serving burger that was contaminated with fecal matter. One of my colleagues suggested that they could get back in the business by advertising "We cook the shit out of our burgers." I guess they never picked up on the idea.

At any rate, we were off to the Jack. Their unique sell in those days was the drive through. You pulled your car up to this huge head--ostensibly a Jack-in-the-Box head on a spring. Then, once you finished reading the menu and decided on your Jack Cheese Burger or Double-Jack or Jack Fries, you shouted your order into the mouth of the Jack head. Skinny and Black Jim and The Girl were babbling their orders to me and I, being in the mess, was suddenly struck with the absurdity of shouting these orders for a Jack Shake and a Jack Fish and all this shit into the mouth of a huge Jack head. The disembodied voice in the head asked "May I take your Jack order?" and I began laughing. "Excuse me?' and my laughter turned into helpless cackling. Skinny and Black Jim and The Girl were now losing their buzz and getting agitated. They were leaning over me, yelling their orders in the general direction of the Jack head's mouth, and I was laughing so hard that I was retarded.

We somehow pulled forward to the window, mainly because Black Jim was yelling at me, and the attendant handed over some bags. Black Jim threw a handful of dollar bills toward the window and told me "Go Motherfucker!"  I wiped tears from my face and drove. Back at the motel, they took their bags, got out of my little car, and went into the room. It was clear that my role in this party was done. No sweet good-byes. No "thanks for driving." Nothing. I suddenly realized my good fortune. The door to the room was closed, and they were, no doubt, deep into their Jack food. They did not know my name. They did not know where I lived. Nothing. I got the hell out of there.  

I never saw Skinny or Black Jim again. Several months later, outside of Sausalito, I saw a familiar blonde, barefooted, curvaceous Girl hitching North on 101. There was a big white dog lying flat behind her. I hunched down behind the steering wheel and accelerated South into the fog and safety of The City.