The Ride

Source: WPClipart

Source: WPClipart

We planned to spend the afternoon studying, but the warm spring sunshine lured us outside. My friend and her boyfriend searched for a Frisbee, while I foraged for beer in the fridge. We were college kids enjoying a Saturday, and the hours passed easily. Unfortunately for me, the unwitting third wheel, the more we drank, the cozier my friend and her boyfriend became.

“I’m outta here,” I finally said, trying to seem casual as I made my hasty exit. My friend mumbled goodbye, barely noticing as I wandered into her house and out the front door. It was then that I realized a slight problem: I had no car. My friend had driven me to her house, but I had no way home.

Shit, I thought. Now what? There was no way I was going back inside to interrupt their love fest. Another friend and I were supposed to meet up a few hours later at our favorite Irish bar, which was only a couple of miles away. If I walked there, he would drive me home.

Walking might have made sense in a college town where it was safe and practical, but we were commuter students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The bar was just off the Southfield Freeway in Detroit, across from a drug- and crime-plagued housing project. My dad, a retired Detroit cop, constantly warned me about how dangerous the Herman Gardens area was, but I shrugged it off.

What did he know anyway? Nothing bad ever happened to me.

I headed toward the expressway, counting the blocks as I walked. I tried to remember how many blocks were in a mile. Was it eight or 12? I knew the sun set in the west. Was the bar west or east of here? My sense of direction wasn’t too keen, even without alcohol.

I didn’t notice the car pull up to the curb next to me until I heard the driver call out, “Are you lost?” Startled, I looked up and saw a man with graying hair and glasses smiling at me. “You really shouldn’t be walking alone around here. It’s getting dark. Do you need a ride somewhere?”

“OK,” I said. He seemed harmless, fatherly in fact, and my book bag was getting heavy. I got in the car, and he asked where I was going. “The Tipperary Pub,” I said. “Do you know where it is?”

“It’s that Irish bar off the Southfield, right?” he asked. I nodded, and we drove the mile or so to the pub in silence. When he pulled into the parking lot, I reached for the car door handle. “Hang on a second,” he said. “Do you know why I picked you up tonight?” His tone was stern, and the smile from before was gone.


“I have a daughter about your age, and the thought of her walking around in a bad neighborhood after dark…Do you know how lucky you are that I am the one who picked you up? Do you know what could have happened to you?”

“Yeah…ummm…thanks for the ride,” I said, unable to make eye contact. “I gotta go.” I grabbed my book bag and climbed out of the car, my face flushed with the shame only a father’s scolding can elicit. I opened the door of the loud, smoky barroom and didn’t glance back as I escaped inside.

When my friend showed up an hour or so later, I was on my third beer. I laughed carelessly as I recounted my hitchhiking adventure. The lesson somebody else’s dad had tried to teach me was already just another story to tell.

What did he know anyway? Nothing bad ever happened to me.

54 thoughts on “The Ride

  1. I love that eerie last line. I remember having that same kind of attitude — that the universe was so secure, that I could never be damaged. But I was wrong. That balloon popped years ago.

    Great piece. Nice and tight.

    I also wrote about a car scene. Kind of.

    I’m here from Yeah Write, and I’m enjoying reading everyone’s stuff. It’s my first time here. Hope to see you over at my place, eventually.

    • Hi, Renee. Thanks for reading and welcome to Yeah Write! I look forward to reading your post.

      The invincibility of youth scares the crap out of me now that I have kids of my own. Fingers crossed that I have guided them well enough that they will make better choices than I did.

  2. You capture the cockiness of youth so well here! I still have a little of that in me – I seem to lack that proper fear ladies should have of traveling alone and hitching rides with strangers, but I know I SHOULD have it…
    Well written!

    • Thanks, Natalie! My husband teases me because at 45, I STILL make friends with strangers in random places and trust everyone I meet. It’s a good quality in some ways, but I’ve definitely gotten burned along the way.

  3. You had me scared for a minute. Wow, you were really lucky. I’ve done so many stupid things that I’m amazed I’m still alive. A friend of mine and I hitchhiked our way to the Rainbow Gathering up in the mountains by way of a series of big rig trucks, hanging out at truck stops. I don’t know how we survived that, except that my friend is pretty ballsy. Don’t tell my mom, okay?

  4. Yes Dear Little Cousin,
    I read your blogs, FB, “writings” as much as I can. And I always say “Yes, that’s my girl she is speaking the truth, I knew that of her or about her.” AND NOW she is living the life of a parent who’s children are “coming of age”. As all of us parents have said to them “Been there, done that. Belive ME I know”. I am sure you (NO POSITIVE!) will always do and say the right thing to you children. You have a foundation and know it. I love you tons!

    • Oh, I think I would roll over and die if my daughter did ANY of the stupid, dangerous things I did when I was younger. I know she will make mistakes, but I hope she will have more sense than I did.

      Thanks for reading, Marsha. Love you too!

  5. I have done many many stupid things like that all the while thinking the same as you…nothing will happen. I wonder if he went home and told his daughter about giving you a ride? I heard a smart ass, untouchable college girl as I read this.

    • You hit the nail on the head, Robbie. I was a total smart ass, untouchable girl — and, to make matters worse, I thought I knew everything. I guess the latter part is typical at that age. So many bad choices. Ugh.

  6. I am so glad those days are behind us, but it’s really nice to know there are still people out there who care enough to give a young girl a ride and chastise them for being careless. I hope those people are out there still for the next generation.

  7. So glad you were so lucky. I thought for a minute it was going to take a creepy turn with the guy when he started warning you. You seem to have touched a nerve with parents remembering their stupid decisions and hoping their children don’t follow suit, and that was my reaction as well. What is it with kids? Is there any way to protect them? I sure don’t know.

    • I don’t know either, Marcy, and it scares the crap out of me. My daughter is very impulsive. Gee, I wonder where she gets that from… I just hope the stability and love she has at home will keep her on the right path.

  8. I was holding my breath so long, I want to cry. Please don’t let my kids make the same choices I did growing up. And if they do, please let them be picked up by your father figure guy, shame and all. Deal? Your writing never disappoints. Well done.

    • Thanks so much, Mary!

      I hear ya. My 11-year-old daughter is an impulsive, sometimes reckless, little soul. I worry so much about her in the teen and college years, and how she will react in potentially dangerous situations.

  9. I’m a 911 operator, and stories like yours scare the heck out of me. So many of our calls begin with people who never even thought of the neighborhood they were in, the people they were going with, what they left in their car, that they should have locked their house up, that they shouldn’t loan their car to people they only know by their street name, and so on. Onthe other hand its also possible to become to paranoid about ones interactions in the world too. I’ve tried to get my kids to see both sides of the fine line between caution and crazy.

  10. That really packed a wallop. I was afraid something awful was going to happen. Great foreshadowing to hammer home his point rather than making him seem pedantic.

  11. Oh, the decisions we make in our youth that in our infinite wisdom and maturity (ha!), we would not make again. Or would we? I sometimes wonder if too much knowledge breads too much fear about things. Not saying you should have been walking that walk, but you know what I mean? Where’s the line between responsibility and trust? I have no idea where it is, but I sometimes wonder about it. . . thanks, Kathleen, for making me think about it a little bit more today. . .

    • I have to agree with you about the fine line, Jared. I am a very trusting person. I see good in most people until they prove me wrong. It’s a quality that usually serves me well, but it has been tainted by some bad experiences along the way.

  12. You are such a superb story teller. When I think of the idiotic things I did only ten years ago, I want to punch myself in the face. I know that the Good Lord protected me many times. I once hitched a ride with a dude that looked like Skeletor from He-Man. No daddy-ish figure, freaking SKELETOR! And somehow I made it out alive! Great post, as ALWAYS!!!

  13. I always listen to those people that tell stories about picking up a backpack and wandering around the globe, without any idea where they’re headed and living off the kindness of strangers and their whits. I used to think that might be sort of cool, Now I consider a trip a success if I don’t end up stabbed.

    I’ve done dumb things when I was young, some I still pay for. But I’m not nearly as invincible as I once was.

    Nice post! 🙂

  14. And that is what terrifies me about having my own kids! Thinking back on all the insanely stupid things I did. Oh man and isn’t that the truth. In you teenage years/early twenties you always seem so invincible! I’m glad you made it to the bar okay!

  15. I can’t believe you walked there! Crazy college girl 🙂 But that guy was so sweet to both pick you up, and try to give you a fatherly lecture. You know his daughter got a lecture, too, based on you as a bad example 🙂

  16. Wow! I was surprised that you got in the car and expected bad things…what a different story that he was a good Samaritan. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I didn’t get scared about walking anywhere or doing anything until my late 20’s, and since then, I’ve swung right the hell the other direction, being afraid of going anywhere I don’t know well. For no reason; nothing ever happened to me, either, and I lived in NYC for a year and navigated that just fine. Maybe I’m turning agoraphobic. That’s the last thing I need.

    Very glad you made it safely through, even if the driver made you pay for the help by listening to a scolding. I hate when strangers scold me.

    • Sadly, I think the fear is just part of getting older and knowing all the bad things that could happen. It’s hard not to let it get the best of you. We have to keep forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the world. This whole insular Internet-based world of ours makes it way too easy not to do that, though.

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