Relationships

Getting Into Cars With Strangers

What it was like to take cabs in New York City and hitchhike in L.A. in the heyday of sex, drugs and rock and roll

I spent my teen years hitchhiking. For the most part, I got to where I was going but often there was something unexpected along the way. When I moved to New York City, I thought those days of getting into a car with a complete stranger, usually male, were long over, but then I started taking cabs.

Now I’m writing a memoir, so lately I’ve been thinking about hitchhiking and randomness. The book is set in Los Angeles of the '70s, when I was a teenager and plunged headlong into sex, drugs and rock and roll. My life was one unpredictable event after another, propelled forward by chance and a little luck, but what I yearned for was to be normal, to have an ordinary life.

There are times when I’m stuck writing this book. I have trouble wading through the disorder and mayhem of my youth to be reflective. Or else I just have writer’s block. When that happens, I work on a jigsaw puzzle or make some kind of a list. It slows down my mind, unscrambles the randomness and organizes it.

I started making a list of what happened to me while hitchhiking but my mind kept jumping to things that happened to me while taking cabs. Were they really that different? A cab has a built-in structure — the cabbie’s name displayed, the license prominent, the exchange of money — to give the feeling of “safety,” but it can be as unpredictable and, at times, as dangerous as hitchhiking.

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So I started a list of things that happened in New York City cabs and hitchhiking in Los Angeles:

Traffic came to a dead stop on Broadway as I was in a cab heading downtown to get my daughter at P.S. 234 near the World Trade Center. The cabbie radioed in and I heard the dispatcher say, “... bombing at the World Trade Center.” I bolted out of the cab — didn’t pay, for the first time ever — and ran two miles to get my daughter.

A guy picked me up hitchhiking and handed me a stack of porn magazines. He said I had to look at them or he’d drop me off in the middle of nowhere. I looked at them.

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I found $20 in a cab once, coming back from the Paradise Garage at dawn as people went to work. I also once found a bracelet and designer sunglasses. Not long after, I lost $20 and a sweater in a cab .

A smelly guy in dirty tennis shorts picked me up hitchhiking, took me two hours from where I wanted to go, and raped me.

“Mahmud the Red,” a World Trade Center bomber, was my cab driver a couple years before the bombing. He had red hair, freckles, sang along to the national anthem on a tape for U.S. citizenship,and told me he was from Egypt.

My first girlfriend taught me how to drive when I was 16 so I didn’t have to hitchhike anymore.

The first kiss from my first girlfriend in New York City was in a cab.

My friend Mark and I were picked up by a man who took us to his fancy house in Laurel Canyon. While they had sex, I stole trinkets and drugs, and read up on architecture.

In the late '80s, in a desolate area of downtown, back when NYC was dangerous, I got in a cab outside a club that smashed into the only other cab in sight. They jumped out and started fighting and I walked home in heels for almost an hour, alone.

A trucker gave my friend and I our first ride from the Valley to Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in Hollywood and shared his booze with us.

An angry cab driver sped onto the curb in front of a restaurant as people jumped back and screamed. He hit trashcans. My co-worker and I tried to jump out. He grabbed my shoulder purse and told me to pay. Someone helped us get away.

A thin white man in glasses picked me up and put religious pamphlets on my lap, told me about Jesus and warned me that a guy like him could kill me … or worse.

My husband opened the door of a cab at 1 am and said we were going to Beekman Hospital. The cabbie turned to look at me, enormously pregnant and in labor, and took off with the back door open. I had to hide behind a mailbox to get a cab.

I stepped in a cab just as a huge piece of an NYU building facade crashed down onto where I just stood. The cab was damaged but the cabbie took me to get my kids. The whole way, he told me I was blessed and looked at me in the mirror, shaking his head and saying how lucky I was. The next day I went back to look at the scene and scaffolding was up — for the next 3 years.

Tags: memoirs
   
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