In my teens, as I was doing one of my cross-country runs, I decided to hitchhike through Canada to the East Coast.
One sunset, I had my thumb out on a Modesto, CA highway, but the cars kept zipping by. Looking around for some sign of hope, I spotted the Modesto Airport. Why not fly?
I went in, asking the pilots if any were heading north.
“You want to go north?” asked a lanky, sallow guy, without smiling. “I’ll fly you to Seattle.”
“Hey! Great! Thanks!” I enthused.
We walked out toward a lovely Cessna, but went right by it. Behind it was the oldest, smallest, plane I’d ever seen. Its canvas cockpit was faded like an overused tent.
“Your door doesn’t really lock,” he said, as I slid onto the miniscule ripped seat. “You’ll have to hold it closed.”
He fired her up and we bounced along the runway, the plane starting to take off and then jolting down again.
“Interesting plane.” I said. “How long have you had it?”
“I just got it today,” he answered, finally pulling the contraption into the air.
“Oh, that’s great!” I tried to hide my alarm. “How long have you been flying?”
“I just got my license today,” he replied.
Oh. I sat paralyzed, half from the numbing cold that poured in my door, and half from fear. Things couldn’t be any worse.
Abruptly he clutched his chest. “Geez. I’ve been having these pains.”
Criminy! Worse? What if he died? Where would that leave me?
Trying to sound casual, I began quizzing him how to tell where an airport was among all the lights on the ground, and then how to fly and land the plane.
You’d think he’d be delighted to share his knowledge, but he was a suspicious type. “Why do you want to know?” he asked. “Are you planning to push me out?”
Now we each flew in fear, and I made no protest when he said he needed to stop for the night. He swooped down at an airport. But we were going much too fast. I closed my eyes.
“Oops. Not this time,” he murmured, and up we went again. He tried again. Same thing. On the third try the plane came bouncing to a stop. My door flew open.That was the last of my airport hitchhiking.