Don’t Get in the Car
Before he was a respectable businessman & middle-class father of two, my old man was a bit of a hard one to tie down. He spent his twenties as a semi-professional rugby player, sailing instructor and general tough-guy; but before that, he spent his early years of adulthood navigating the local street urchins, Mods & Rockers of small-town Essex, a figure of fun & ridicule in his smart uniform as he walked past the local kids to his nearby Grammar School, a hard-fought position in a time and place when such things were not seen as aspirational, merely different – ‘not us’ – to the local kids.
Small wonder, then, that he decided to have an adventure as soon as he was able and at the ripe old age of 18, shipped off to America to teach sailing on the Great Lakes. And adventures he had; getting into trouble in bars, sneaking draft dodgers across the Canadian border (this was the time of the Vietnam War), and hitch-hiking across the continent from the North East to the South West. This was a more innocent time, when people did such things without fear of predators, psychopaths and paedophiles lurking in the dark alleys of life – after all, paedophiles didn’t even exist back then; they didn’t pop up in to our social consciousness until we gave children a voice, in the 80’s.
And so my pops believed, as he thumbed lifts with truckers, travellers and commuters gradually making his way through the sweltering deserts of Texas on his way to Los Angeles to stay with a friend of a friend of a friend, who was not expecting him, but who my Dad was reliably informed would probably not turf him out on the street if he knocked on the door with a name-check and a cheeky grin.
He probably didn’t even give thought to who was driving him across the desert highways and byways, it never would have occurred to this young man that he could be in any danger as he traipsed and traversed across a continent, tracking dust-devils across the horizon and engaging lonely drivers in idle chat.
Right up until one of them – a middle aged man in a run-down Buick, during a particularly desolate part of a desolate state, turned off the highway and down a by-road that led away in to the wilderness. My father frowned, unsure of what to say; he had no idea where he was, and couldn’t be sure this was the wrong direction, since he didn’t know where the right one was. All he knew was that he was somewhere in the middle of a hot, dry, big and empty place called Texas.
But, as time went by, and the landmarks came fewer and further apart, and the foothills of the mountains rose up around him, and the crows circled in the clear blue sky, and the road turned in to a pot-holed dust track, and the car slowed to a stop, and the man turned in his chair, and put his hand on my Dad’s left leg, at last the penny dropped.
Now not completely blind to the risks, my young father kept a sheath knife for whittling wood, cutting rope and other things they did back in the 60’s that we probably use iPhones for these days, and he now recalled it on his person. Moving with all the speed and clumsiness a shot of adrenaline in the arm will give you he pulled it out and stabbed his would-be suitor as hard as he could in the leg.
The knife bounced off the man’s leg.
What can I say? In the movies, a knife goes in up to the hilt, blood spurts out and the attacker hobbles off with a knife sticking out of his leg. Not in real life it doesn’t. Not unless you are an expert. Jeans in Texas; they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Dad looked at the man; the man looked at my dad. They stayed that way for some time, neither uttering a word. Then, gradually, my petrified Pater reached behind him and felt around for the door-latch, found it, opened the door, and slowly slid out backwards – not taking his eyes of the driver until they were blocked by the beige, dust covered roof of the vehicle.
Everything remained where it was, the engine idling; no sign of movement came from the car. Seconds went by. Then the car drove off with my dad’s weathered knapsack and all his possessions still inside! A few yards on the car stopped and the knapsack was thrown out, so the driver wasn’t all bad. The door shut. The car was put in gear, the engine growled and in a cloud of dust and grit it roared off back down the road.
It was a long walk back in the shimmering desert heat to Route 66.
What’s the moral here? Stab harder? Carry a sharper knife? Go for the throat? No, sir. The moral here is that it’s never wise to rely on your own skill as a person, or the tools you carry to get yourself out of a situation; once you start down that road you can never quite predict where it will end up.
It ain’t like in the movies. Don’t get in the car.