Every time you hitch a ride, you think you'll find something at the end of it. You believe the night's long dialog is worth it. Eyes heavy as a Florida swamp dropping, head jerking back to keep them open, and skin so tired it feels like you're sinking always slipping one way or another, awake or asleep on the passenger end and listening to some driver tell you his wife likes to fuck but not the right way or her boss is a fucker for giving her this impossible deadline or he's never been to Florida, but did you know the ocean is eating away at it? The whole state's run through with underground rivers, and sometimes the ground just drops, collapsing and sucking you down while you sat there sucking shrimp heads and looking up at the wide, virile sky. Someday the whole state'll sink down to the very bottom of all that water just like Atlantis, maybe in your lifetime, and damn you'd be lucky then if you could tell everyone you know something about life they don't know because you're from a town under water.
The deep south is a good place to start if you're a skinny kid pointed in any direction that doesn't sink.
Thick shouldered thick, tanned skinned people who speak in long, thick syllables almost yawning out words will pick you up and scoot you up real close and buckle you in the bitch seat and buy you a coke and burger and drive you as far as they can, maybe even farther. You could hitch alone in the south because mostly grandmas and farmers pick you up, but when you get into Tennessee moving up, never do it alone. This is 2004 not the 1960s after all, and by now everyone knows that a girl hitching is either a prostitute or a psycho killer, so bringing a partner along sort of nixes the pro vibe. Moving north you'll catch rides with people who are too parental or just high or as crazy as the two of you traveling nowhere just to fill up space and time.
Forget what you learned about razor blades and candied apples, and eat everything you can, unless you're bougie or something and can draw on your trust fund. When you meet a good trucker who'll buy you a snack at each stop and all he wants is a good ear to keep him talking through the small hours, don't let him drop you. Even if you have to drive up to Massachusetts to get to Atlanta. One too-long ride is better than ten short rides with crazy asses who spend the whole rainy night talking about their gun collections or how many shady fucks they killed in whichever war fits in their story. Better than sitting on your partner's lap for six hours because the back of a small station wagon is filled with old stuffed animals and broken toys, and the woman driving you is chain smoking sobbing about her babies where are her babies she lost them they took them she'll find them.
When a driver asks you, Where to? have an answer. You say um or anywhere, and the driver will clam up and cock their chin sideways and never trust you for a second because you're obviously just a thief or a panhandler or crackshit crazy or a sex freak or broken or desperate and not a person just something homeless. Lost. Different. And that driver doesn't ever want that to happen to them so they'll ditch you somewhere that blows total ass like an off-ramp with two closed gas stations and an abandoned circus that scares you solid so you can't even pee alone and you make your partner hold your hand around the corner of a rusted clown trailer so he can't see you, but he lets you push into the warm rough fruit of his palm while you squat and both of you go down together and look at the ground knowing that the only way to go up is to let your weight sink all the way down, push down, and let the earth push back.
Asha Baisden's stories and essays have appeared in Sweet, Mothering, and The Clever Title.