Be Careful What You Assume - Another Hitchhiking Story

Five Angels In The Panhandle

The tale of some very nice folks in Texas coming to my aid begs for inclusion in my treatise of hitchhiking. This adventure falls under the sub-heading: Forced Hitching as opposed to the tales classified under Voluntary Hitching or Hitchhiking; Picking Up Others.

Like many others of my vintage, the lure of motorcycles was aided and abetted by the movie Easy Rider. I know for certain I did not see it when it came out in 1969. As an 11 year old who lived with his born again Christian mom, attending an R rated movie about selling drugs, tripping on drugs, and crossing the country on two wheels was not even a remote possibility. However, once I did see it after having circled the sun a few more times, my cycle lust went up a couple notches.

The longing for two wheeled travel was initiated by my older brother Les. He had a bitchin’ Kawasaki Big Horn 350 Enduro and he would take me for trail rides. It is worth mentioning that said bike had no rear pegs for a passenger, so our method of riding two up consisted of me sitting in FRONT of Les with my hands resting lightly on the handle bars and my legs swinging free.  Not exactly a recommended form of transport from a safety perspective, but it sure helped me fall in love with the whole wind in your face, knees in the breeze thing.

Inspired by such two wheeled fun combined with the iconic images of freedom engendered by Peter and Dennis in Easy Rider, my post graduation plans centered around the purchase of a motorcycle big enough to cross the country. Being of limited mechanical aptitude, I settled on a used Honda 750 with a Vetter fairing because all the chatter at the time was that Honda’s were “bullet proof” and the in-line four cylinder models were tailor made for long hauls.

Boy did the shit hit the fan at home when I announced my plan - my step mother was NOT impressed at the thought of me making a cross continent journey on a bike. A motorcycle for a teenager spelled certain death in her mind. However, all 18 year old boys are known to be invincible, right? Thankfully, my dad was more on my side than hers and we won the debate. I used my savings for a sizable down payment, financed the rest and the Honda was mine.

Before my fateful crossing of the panhandle this time, I had already ridden to Tucson and back on my trusty steed. A few months after returning home from said journey my life began to fall apart. I was working a lot, going to school a little, and doing a lot of drugs. On top of that, I was breaking up with the girl I lived with. As I look back, I realize that doing speed to get through the day and smoking hash and taking downers to sleep is not the path to making positive, life affirming choices. My addled brain became convinced that everything would be better if I moved back to Tucson.

I am pretty good at packing things. The minimalist approach one needs to pack a motorcycle is right up my alley. My Honda had a sissy bar with a luggage rack behind it. I packed all the clothes I could in a duffle bag and put that in front of the sissy bar so I could rest against it as I rode. The rest of my earthly belongings went into a squarish black bag that fit nicely on the luggage rack and then there was another big pack of stuff sitting on top of that. I also had a tent and sleeping bag and some other gear. All of this was roped and bungee corded to my bike.

I made it to St Louis the first day with some daylight to spare and continued riding, figuring I would get a room somewhere in the Ozarks. (This trip did not include camping - the tent was with me as a last resort.) HA! Silly me. I had no concept of what happens in the Ozarks at the peak of tourist season. I rode all the way through Missouri on US44 reading “No Vacancy” signs until I finally pulled over in a rest stop just short of the border with Oklahoma. I was completely exhausted and camped out on a concrete picnic table with my gear stacked up under the table. When the sun woke me in the morning, it appeared I was not the only one who did not know how to plan regarding motel rooms in the Ozarks. The parking lot was full of people sleeping in their cars, trucks, campers, and RVs. There was even a couple of tents pitched in the grass, but I seemed to be the only one making use of a picnic table.

Good Lord, was I sore. There is nothing like a comfy slab of concrete to properly prepare one for a long day in the saddle. On the plus side, I had a couple of black beauties left in my stash which helped jump start me for the day. (Yours truly did not discover the wonderful benefits of drinking coffee until he was 52 years old.) I rode west through Oklahoma on 44 and switched to 40 at Oklahoma City. Outside of Indiana, I cannot think of a more boring stretch of road on which to ride a motorcycle. I believe there were two curves in the entire state.

During my trips across the country one of the things I really enjoyed was all the interaction with people in their cars and even the occasional truck driver. A lone rider was a magnet for conversation pretty much anywhere I stopped. Truckers flashed their lights and folks were always waving as they passed me or vice versa.

I was just beginning to cross the Texas panhandle, when Angel One appeared. No, he was not glowing or sporting a set of white wings. He was by all appearances a regular guy in a car. He pulled up alongside me and waved. Once I caught him out of the corner of my eye, I turned, gave him a quick wave with my left hand and directed my attention forward. Then I noticed he was hanging out next to me in the passing lane.

“Oh shit,” I thought. “Is this guy looking to mess with me?”

I thought maybe I should just ignore him and kept looking forward. He dropped back a little and flashed his lights, then cruised up next to me. Anybody who can remember the ending of Easy Rider can easily imagine where my thoughts went. Here I am on a motorcycle that just crossed into Texas and some guy in a car has decided to hassle me. Being the coward that I am, I decided to just keep looking forward and not engage. He backed off again, flashed his lights and then pulled alongside. My peripheral vision could see him waving like crazy, so I turned for a better look.

He was alternating a big wave with pointing toward the back of my bike with a very agitated look on his face. He meant no harm, he was trying to warn me of something. My first thought was that maybe some of my gear was coming unpacked, so I felt around with my left hand. Everything felt secure, so I looked over at him as we both slowed a little with a tilt of my head as if to say, “What?”. This time he was pointing DOWN. I looked down and just about filled my pants! My rear wheel was wobbling to and fro like crazy. It was really weird because there was no discernable shimmy in the handle bars, but the wheel was going crazy.

I waved my thanks and slowed quickly to a stop on the side of the highway. When I put the bike on the center stand I could move the rear wheel side to side with ease.  Even my non-mechanical self knew this was not a good thing. I got my bike as far off the road as I could, put it back on the center stand and proceeded to take all of my luggage off. I stashed all of my wordly possessions in the relatively high grass next to the highway. I carried the one bag with any valuable stuff in it and stuck my thumb out.

A guy in a truck pulled over almost immediately. Even though one Texan had just done good by me, I have to admit I was really afraid to be on the side of the road with a broken motorcycle. My long hair and pierced ear were now clearly visible with my helmet off. (Kids, this was 1977 - earrings were not an accepted fashion statement for men, never mind the long hair.) Visions of being shot gunned or beaten up were dancing though my head at this point.

Angel Two backed his truck up to me and rolled down the window. Once he determined that my bike was broken and not just in need of gas, he asked what he could do to help. I asked him if he could take me to the next town or exit so I could find someone to fix my bike.

“Are those your bags in the grass?”, he queried.
”Well, you can‘t just leave them there,” he told me. ”Someone is going to pull over and take them before we get a mile down the road. Shoot, they will probably steal your motorcycle before you know it."
I didn't know what to say.
“Tell you what,” he continued. “You wait right here. I have a trailer at my house and I am going to go get it. We can load your motorcycle and all your stuff on it and I can take you into McLean. There is a nice little motel right by the exit.”

Twenty minutes later he made good on his word. Two pulled over with a nice little enclosed trailer and we put the Honda and my stuff inside. The exit for McLean was just a short drive up the highway and there was room at the Inn. Not only was I unharmed, but Two even went so far as to invite me to his house for dinner. I declined, but thanked him profusely for all of his help. I tried to give him some compensation for gas and his time. He would have none of it.

I checked into the motel and asked if there was a motorcycle shop in McLean. Number Three whipped out his phone book and we determined that the closest bike shop was about 35 miles away in Pampa. He showed me the state road that went from McLean to Pampa on my map and told me I could use his phone to call the bike shop in the morning. He also offered to keep all my stuff in his office the next day, so I would not have to pay for the room unless circumstances forced me to stay another night. Before calling it a night, I removed the rear wheel and took it into my room with all of my stuff. Even though the situation sucked, my sleeping arrangement that night was far better than the concrete table the night before.

The next morning found me standing alongside TX-273 North in the Texas sun. In addition to my long hair, earring, and leather jacket, I was also carrying the rear wheel from a Honda 750 as I stuck my thumb out in an attempt to get to Pampa. The very first car pulled over. I could see it was a woman. Really? I approached the window of her car very tentatively and explained my situation.

Angel Three immediately got out of the car, opened her trunk and told me to toss the tire in there.
“I am on my way to work in Pampa,” she told me with a welcoming smile. “I know exactly where that motorcycle shop is and I can drop you off on my way.”

On the drive to Pampa, she inquired as to whether or not I was hungry. She made sure I had eaten breakfast. We talked about her life in small town Texas and then she doubled down on her kindness.

“I tell you what,” she drawled. “I get out of work at 5. Let me give you the phone number where I work. If you are still at the shop and need a ride back to McLean when I get done, I will be happy to pick you up and take you back to the motel.”

She drove me right to the bike shop and repeated her generous offer one more time and stuck a piece of paper with the number into my hand before she headed off to work.

As you might guess, Angel Four worked at the bike shop. He examined my wheel and explained that the bearing was shot. He did not have the correct part in stock, but offered to order it for me and assured me it would be there in a couple of days. Three at the most. I explained my situation. Once he heard my plight, he thought about it for a couple of minutes. Then he told me to give him a little bit of time and he would get me all set up. He took my wheel back into the garage and I wandered around outside for a while.

In hardly any time at all, Four re-appeared to explain he was able to effect a repair on my wheel. He emphasized that it was a temporary fix and that I needed to keep a close eye on the wheel as I completed my journey. As I recall, he charged me something like $25 for his work. Since all of this happened before noon, there was no need to call Three for a ride back.

I made my way back to TX-273 South and stuck my thumb out once more. My Fifth Angel was not driving the first vehicle to appear, but he was easily one of the first dozen or so to pass me. He pulled over in his white Ford pick-up and told me to get on in after I tossed the repaired wheel in the back. Can you conjure up a mental image of a modern Texas cowboy? Five was exactly that: Boots, hat, belt buckle, the whole works. If one operated using the stereotypes that seem to plague us these days, Five was not the kind of guy you would expect to pick up a long-haired Yankee, much less one carrying a motorcycle wheel.

Five explained that he lived and worked on a ranch near Lafors, which was around the halfway mark on the road back to McLean. I thought to myself, so far, so good. It is not even noon and I have my wheel fixed and a ride half the way back to where I need to go.

Maybe he read my mind. Maybe he did not. However, Five was not about to be out done by any of the other angels, so he drove right on by his place and delivered me and my wheel to the motel. He did not inform me of his decision to do so beforehand. He just gestured out the window as we passed his house and said, “Thats my place over there, but I’m going to get you where you need to be. Its no big deal, nice day for a drive anyway.”

My kind of angel - not a lot of words, lots of action.

Thanks to Five Texas Angels, yours truly found himself back on the road less than 24 hours after the flashing lights and waving arms of Angel One saved him from a potentially nasty, nasty incident. After re-mounting my wheel, getting my gear from where Two had stashed it in the motel office I got back on the Honda and headed toward Arizona.

What ever magic Four worked on the Honda held up for the remainder of the time I owned that Honda. I rode just over 800 miles on the route that took me through Albuquerque, NM to Tucson with no problems. You better believe I was looking at the wheel about every 2 minutes for the first day or so. I also rode the bike all around Tucson for a couple of months before eventually selling it. I explained to the new owner how the “temporary” fix had held up so well that I had pretty much put it out of my mind until selling it.

The concern, kindness, and the willingness to help out a total stranger has stayed with me for decades. I cannot for the life of me recall even one of the names of The Texas Five. It could be that I never got them in the first place. However, their efforts on my behalf are forever burned into my memory. Not only does this story celebrate the Art of Hitchhiking, but it also serves as an example of how dangerous pre-judging and making assumptions can be.

Assuming things about people who look a certain way or who dress a certain way or who live in a certain part of the country that may be unfamiliar to you is dangerous. Compounding the error of such thoughts by assuming they will act in a certain way is just plain dumb. The people you dismiss by making assumptions about them based on their appearances or location may turn out to be angels sent to help you in your hour of need.
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