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July 15, 2024

I-75 South

By Amy Probst

A few days past New Year's Eve, Liz and I are alone inside the Neys' house. Neither of us live here, but I have been staying with them for a month or more, since running away from the mother and stepfather's house. Liz is helping me make ham sandwiches, which we stuff into a duffel bag.

Yesterday, we sold most of our clothes to a resale shop, and we have a little over sixty bucks. The cash, bounty of ham sandwiches, and Jim Neys' hunting knife in my sweatshirt pocket will be supporting us until we get waitress jobs in Florida. If need be, we figure we can sleep on the beach until we get stabilized down there. We are sixteen.

Our ride honks outside: time to go. I leave a note for the Neys family, who've been so good to me, and with our duffel bags and gigantic balls, we head out.

Curt says we are stupid little girls as we get into his car. I know he's only doing this because I've let him take me home from parties. There exists some type of warped and extremely weak bond, I suppose. I'll take what I can get.

Very snow-packed and cold today; the car slides sideways at stop signs. Cigarettes are smoked, and fake plans of heading to Oregon are cleverly laid by me and Liz. Curt drives too fast and marvels at what "f---ing idiots" we are.

Time to get out of the car. We are slowing to a crawl on the service drive. I suddenly feel completely retarded that I am to walk down the icy onramp with my duffel bag. But there's no good place to stop the car, and Curt is telling us to get the f--- out if we're going.

We go.

It is a very odd thing to enter an expressway on foot. If you've never done this before, you'd be interested to know that walking past a merge sign makes one feel extremely small and in slow-motion.

I am wearing new mittens. They're from Maryellen, just a week ago at Christmas, and, bizarrely enough, I feel very classy waddling onto I-75 because my mittens are from Saks Fifth Avenue and boast my name on a leather tag.

At the bottom of the ramp, on the slushy shoulder, we learn we have a problem. It seems that hitchhiking actually requires one of us to perform the absurd act of sticking out a thumb toward oncoming cars. It is four o'clock in the afternoon, and this is where we live and know people who might be driving by. Furthermore, it occurs to me that I've never even seen a hitchhiker in our popular suburb. And what about The Law? These are brand-new thoughts.

There is no way in hell I am sticking my thumb out at all those cars. Liz feels the same way. We are too cool for this.

So we are cracking up, shoving each other around, laughing so hard at the absurdity of this situation, saying "I'm not doing it," and "Well, I'm not doing it," and it is really freezing out. So I do it.

My Saks-clad thumb is stuck out into the windchill, and Liz is mocking me, and how bizarre we must look to these ordinary people driving by. We decide that real hitchhikers sort of walk backward as they hold their thumbs out, so we do that. Our toes are super cold. My arm is tired of being up, so we start taking turns on thumb-duty.

Our first ride. Liz sits up front, me in the back. The driver is a lady so kind that the surreal story our lives have become seems suddenly Disney-esque. Where was she when we needed someone on our side? It is too late now; we are already bad kids. We recite our well-prepared story, how we're both 18, are on our way to visit my dad in Florida, and yes, he knows we're hitchhiking. Our sweetness is convincing, and we look at each other, amazed. We are goddamned Sydney Sheldon and Agatha Christie.

Seven or so miles closer to the beaches of Florida, we are back on the frozen shoulder of the interstate ith the sun sinking low, and the realness of it all settles into our bones. But we don't panic or cry, because we are survivors; that's why we're here.

Ride two, and it's my turn to get in front with a stranger. He doesn't talk to us much, but tosses Liz a bag of weed and says if she'll roll it, we can keep a joint for ourselves. I thank God that it’s not me in the backseat, because I don't know how to roll joints, and Liz does. I never made a very good burnout.

When we bid dusky curbside adieu to this ride, we are one joint richer.

Pot makes me very paranoid, but I tough it out to be cool. Every time I am compelled to maintain the persona by hitting what's passed to me, a mantra fills my head the entire night: "I can't wait till this is over I can't wait till this is over I can't wait till this is over." But Liz decides this will be our victory joint, smoked upon arrival in Largo, Florida. We hope to find her true love there, Steve Klotz; he moved away the summer after 8th grade.

Almost dark now. We are extremely cold. People we know -- our families, friends, and enemies -- are inside houses, unaffected by the whipping wind, their t.v.s glowing warm. We are somewhere past Detroit, standing on the side of I-75 South. We aren't talking much now, because the fear is too huge and might steal its way out on any words we use. I can tell Liz is close to tears, and I want to knock her head off for it. Don't make me be this strong alone.

Man, is it cold.

A car is pulling over.

Thank God.

Article © Amy Probst. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-02-14
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