American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser
Published February 21, 2008

U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006
Thirty, 40 years ago, there were lots of hitchhikers -- college students, bent old men and old women -- and none of them seemed fearful of being out on the highways at the mercy of strangers. All that's changed, and nobody wants to get in a car with a stranger. Here, Steven Huff of New York tells us about a memorable ride.


You used to be able to flag a ride in this country.
Impossible now -- everyone is afraid
of strangers. Well, there was fear then too, and it was mutual: drivers versus hitchhikers.
And we rode without seat belts,
insurance or beliefs. People
would see me far ahead on a hill like a seedling, watch me grow in the windshield and not know they were going to stop until they got right up to me. Maybe they wanted company or thought I'd give them some excitement. It was the age of impulse, of lonesome knee jerks. An old woman stopped, blew smoke in my face and after I was already in her car she asked me if I wanted a ride. I'm telling you.
Late one night a construction boss pulled over.
One of his crew had been hit
by the mob, he said as he drove, distraught and needing to talk to someone.
We rode around for a long time.
He said, I never wore a gun to a funeral before, but they've gotta be after me too.
Then he looked at me and patted the bulge in his coat. Don't worry, he said, you're safe.

Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Steven Huff, whose latest book of poetry is More Daring Escapes, Red Hen Press, 2007. Reprinted from the Chatauqua Literary Journal, Issue 4, 2007, by permission of the author.
Introduction copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The sole mission of American Life in Poetry is to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. ER