I quietly inched forward in my seat behind the driver, not wanting to attract his attention in the rearview mirror. My fingers were wrapped tightly around the Swiss Army knife in my pants pocket, and all I kept thinking was, "Am I really going to do this?"
Haley and I had practiced several hitchhiking nightmare scenarios before embarking on our journey from D.C. to Montreal, but to be perfectly honest, we weren't all that worried. It was 1969 and the world was giddy with peace, love, and music.
"Sure, man, hop in. Where ya goin'? I can getcha as far as Terra Alta, West Virgina, we're heading to a music festival on a farm, man. You're welcome to join us," was a typical greeting from those willing to share a ride. People were on the move. There were drugs to take and bands to hear and the trip itself (pun intended) was more than half the fun.
Haley and I were all of 14, street savvy and pretty good at sizing people up the moment they opened the car door. Was it clean inside? Were there weapons? Were there beer or liquor bottles in the back seat? Was the driver stoned or tripping? Were his pants zipped and belt buckled?
Hitchhiking left little time for mistakes. We had to agree 100 percent on accepting a ride. If either one of us had "a feeling" about the driver, it was "No thanks, man, we're good. Have a great day!" Being teenagers, however, our instincts were not so finely calibrated.
The driver of the Cadillac DeVille seemed fairly harmless as I hopped into the back seat while Haley took the front. After the usual small talk, the conversation turned south to him having some "good stuff" and how we looked like "wild girls" who were up for "some fun." That's when I saw him put his hand on Haley's leg and begin sliding it up her thigh.
"Pull over, man! NOW!" Haley screamed, pushing his hand off her.
"Oh, come on, baby—let's have a little fun. Show me a good time and we can go out on the town," he persisted, pawing at her breasts.
Haley shot me "the look" as she struggled to get his hands off of her. At this point, the car had come to a stop on the shoulder of the Interstate. The driver shifted his body toward Haley when I wrapped my left arm around him from behind and held the sharp blade of my Swiss Army Knife to his throat with my right, just enough to draw a trickle of blood.
It was sheer luck that I didn't kill him. I'd never used a knife before and had no idea how much pressure to apply. "You get the fuck off her right now, mister, or this blade is going in," I shouted. He surrendered immediately, putting both hands in the air. Haley leaped out of the car and in a frighteningly calm voice said, "Keep the knife there. If that fucker moves, kill him!"
She grabbed our bags and slung them onto the shoulder of the road. This is where our emergency practice came in. I had to exit the car but once I removed the knife, I'd be trapped in the back seat.
"I'm going to hold this pepper spray right to your eye, you fuck, so go ahead and make a move, I dare ya!" Haley said, as I bolted out of there. "We have your tag number and you're getting reported. I know that'll please your wife and family!"
He pulled out so fast, he literally left us standing in the dust. We took a few breaths and then began to laugh hysterically, mainly from pure relief.
We arrived in Montreal safe and sound, with no other problems for the rest of the trip. In fact, every other ride we accepted was pretty incredible. The drivers were all cool and kind, several offering us meals at diners along the way. One sweet elderly couple gave us a small basket of fruit from the orchard they had just come from.
We were so young back then and didn't realize how lucky we were to be alive.