You know the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?” Well, it’s true, especially when you are eighteen and quite stupid. My boyfriend, Rick, was a junior at Michigan State University, and I was a measly freshman, far away at Fairmont State College in Fairmont West By God Virginia. I missed him.
We started dating the summer after he graduated from high school. He was two years ahead of me, and my first real boyfriend. It sucked that he decided to traipse off to Michigan State for an education. I thought he was doing ok as a gas station attendant with a part time job during high school. But, alas, away he went. So, he was way over there, and I was down here.
Now, when I graduated from high school, my mom drove me up from Weirton to East Lansing as part of my graduation present. My bff, Ramaine, and her mom, Dora, went with us. How nice was that? I got to see East Lansing for the very first time. It was a beautiful campus. I also got a feel for the road since I drove part of the way. The trip from Weirton to Michigan State was about 340 miles. It takes about five hours and forty-five minutes to get there. And this part will be important very soon.
After I graduated from high school and was given a car to use while I was in college on the weekends, I began hatching a plan. Of course, it was a stupid plan, because I was the one hatching it. I missed my Rick and wanted to see him. Sure, I saw him over Christmas, but we had no place to be by ourselves. My house was a zoo. So, I decided to drive from Fairmont State to East Lansing, Michigan in February. Like, when it was all wintry and snowing. Yeah, that’s what I will do, I thought. I will drive up there for Valentine’s Day. After all, I really missed him.
Well, I couldn’t tell my parents. My mom would have taken away my gas card and maybe even the car if she knew I was going to drive seven hours and twenty minutes all by my lonely. It was nice having a gas card. And no, I wasn’t spoiled. I drove a rusty little Toyota that I creatively named Rusty and talked to the little rust bucket like he was a real person.
So, we made plans for our big Valentine’s Day weekend. A weekend just the two of us…in his dorm room. I was eighteen and was ready to travel by myself. So, I packed my bag, filled my car up with gas, and Rusty and I set off on a great adventure. I called my mom first and told her I was sick and I was just going to stay in Fairmont for the weekend. I was a liar, so this came easily. My roommate, Paula, was going to cover for me if my mom called my dorm room while I was gone. Cell phones were not invented yet. Which would have been nice.
I woke up quite early and headed out of town. I was hoping to arrive at Rick’s door around 3pm. I drove a few hours and was not nervous for the solo drive. I was excited. Sure, it was the middle of February and they were calling for 100 inches of snow, but I was in love, dammit, and would trudge through any sucky weather event to get to my Spartan. I was also a loon for what I was about to do.
I was near Youngstown I believe and stopped to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t lunch time yet and I was ok with gas, but I knew that my bladder would need to visit a restroom every two hours at least. While I was getting a pop, a guy approached me.
“Excuse me, but are you by any chance going to Detroit or somewhere near there?”
I saw the guy get out of a car in front of me when I pulled in. He must be trying to hitchhike to Detroit. Like an idiot, I replied.
“I’m heading to East Lansing to see my boyfriend.” That’s what naive eighteen year old losers say.
“Can I have a ride?”
And I didn’t think anything of it. Except that he did look a little like Ted Bundy. He could have been Ted Bundy. He could have been Jeffrey Dahmer. John Wayne Gacy. The Youngstown Strangler. The Freeway Fondler. The Highway Hacker. The Toyota Torturer….Uh Oh.
We traveled about an hour and I don’t for the life of me remember our conversation. He sat beside me, wearing a dark grey wool jacket. I didn’t ask why he was going to Detroit. I didn’t ask him why the hell he didn’t have a car. Maybe killer hitchhikers don’t use their own cars because, um they are killer hitchhikers. It finally dawned on me that I may have just made a really terrible mistake. So, the guy started to creep me out. Maybe because he sat with his hands in his pockets and his coat collar up around the back of his neck. Why the hell do you have your hands in your pockets, Ted? We are in a warm car.
Well, because he had handcuffs in there, of course.
My imagination started doing a number on me, and I realized that I had to get this guy out of my car. Now, in all honesty, I don’t think he did adamn thing wrong. He just wanted a ride to Detroit and didn’t have a car. But, I had and still have a wild imagination and it went wild like a jungle monkey on crack. (???)
Plus, I was hungry. I think he was in my car for about two hours and I saw a diner that was next door to a gas station. This is where I would lose him.
“I’m going to get something to eat. I’m pretty hungry.”
He just looked at me. And then I started really getting creeped out. He didn’t say “ok” or “Good, me too” or anything. So, that only meant one thing.
He was going to kill me after I ate my cheeseburger with ketchup, large fries and a Coke.
We went into the diner and the weirdest thing happened. He went off and sat in a booth all by himself. That’s exactly what a highway killer in a roadside diner would do. He wouldn’t sit with his victim. Right? So, there he sat, looking at me while I ate. Waiting for me to finish…my last meal. I took a drink of my Coke and realized something.
My parents thought I was sick, lying in my dorm room in Fairmont, West Virginia. I could see the headline now.
West Virginia Coed Found Dead Behind Diner With French Fries and a Coke
I could see my mother’s face right now, wagging her finger at me. “Don’t ever give rides to strangers, Vickie.”
I had to lose him.
I ate half of my food and then looked at my watch. I knew he was looking at me, waiting to either continue our journey, or to kill me. So, I put my actress hat on and went to work. I got up and went to the pay phone and put a couple coins in it, and dialed a make believe number. Ted Bundy aka The Youngstown Strangler was far enough away to not hear my make believe conversation. I hung up the phone and walked over to him.
“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to drive you as far as East Lansing……..my boyfriend just broke up with me…………….I’m going back home.” And I started crying. I was crying because I was scared. And mainly because I was stupid. But, really because I was a fantastic lying actress. I went back to my table and had the nerve to finish eating. The guy got up and started asking other customers for a ride. He left with two young guys.
The funny part about all of this is that I could not have been on that phone for more than a minute. How the hell does your boyfriend break up with you that quickly? And would you really hang up so soon?
“Hi, Rick. I’m in Youngstown. I will be there in about 4 hours.”
“Go home. I am breaking up with you.”
That guy had to know I was lying. Of course, it was months later when that finally dawned on me. But, I’m not done yet. I wish it ended there at the diner, but it doesn’t.
I stopped in Toledo to get gas. And of course, I had to pee. I went into the bathroom and when I came out, guess who I ran into?
That guy! Ok, just kidding. I scared myself while I was in the bathroom, thinking the guy would have been traveling the same route. What if he was at this same gas station? I didn’t want to come out of the bathroom.
Well, I finally made it to East Lansing and had a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend with my boyfriend. I left Michigan a little later in the morning than I wanted to. I wanted to get back to Fairmont before dark. That wasn’t going to happen.
The drive back wasn’t so bad. It was snowing, but snow was much more preferable than traveling with a serial killer. Really, it was.
I hit the Pennsylvania line and the snow was coming down a bit harder. It was about 10pm when I saw a guy on the side of Interstate 79, at the exit ramp, hitchhiking.
I picked him up.
I really did.
He was about my age. He was drunk. His friends left a party without him. He was trying to get back to Waynesburg College. He was funny and talkative and wanted me to come back to Waynesburg soon so he could buy me a few drinks.
I even got off of the exit and drove him the mile to the campus.
After I got back to my dorm room, I realized that I was lucky that I didn’t get killed. Twice.
And years later, I thought I would finally fess up and tell my mom that I drove to Michigan to see Rick. I didn’t tell her about picking up not one, but two hitchhikers, but I did tell her about the drive.
“Vickie, I knew about that. I was wondering how long it would take you to tell me.”
“How did you know? Did someone tell you?” How the hell did she find out? I didn’t even tell my sister or brother for a long time.
“Are you that stupid?” Well, uh, yeah, I picked up two hitchhikers, Mom. What do you think?
“You used your gas card. Do you think your fairy godmother paid for your gasoline?”
It didn’t even dawn on me about using my gas card along the way from Fairmont to Michigan.
So, yeah, my fairy godmother.
I do think I may have had an angel with me on that trip, though.
Because what I did was stupid and irresponsible. (My kids read these posts. I have to write this.)