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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Making Adjustments: Hot Peppers and Hitchhiking

Gasoline is now over $2 a gallon and I have a funny feeling that it's going to stay at that price. I personally couldn’t give a shit if gas went to $5 a gallon. I drive so little that gas doesn’t factor into my budget. I probably spend more money on jalapeño peppers than I do on gasoline over the course of a year. Maybe I should use another item for comparison as I spend a lot on peppers and I actually had to learn how to pickle jalapeños myself to save money because the price of pickled peppers is prohibitive and prevented consumption.

Pickling peppers is not that big of a deal. Just buy a bunch of fresh jalapeños (which are inexpensive) and make a gallon of brine from white vinegar, water, and salt. Add the peppers to the brine and heat this on the stove until just before it reaches a boil. Pour this into a big jar and let it sit for a couple weeks. I may be omitting something here and you run the risk of getting botulism so don’t quote me on this recipe. If you don’t hear from me for a week or so please kick in my door, remove my botulism-filled carcass, fumigate my apartment, sell whatever stuff I have, and send the money to the botulism foundation.

My point is that like the high price of pre-pickled peppers, the rising cost of gasoline should be sending a signal to everyone that adjustments in behavior should be forthcoming. I don’t expect people to take chances with life-threatening diseases like botulism just to save money at the fuel pump but there are other things you can do. If we all put our heads together I think we can come up with some viable alternatives to the present energy situation. Let me begin.

HITCHHIKING I think that hitchhiking should be radically encouraged. I always pick up hitchhikers when I’m driving. I have regretted picking up some of these people. One time I picked up a guy when I was driving alone in northern Washington. I was on a backpacking trip and the guy was standing at the entrance of North Cascades National Park. I thought he was a fellow backpacker but it turned out that he was some sort of goofy drifter.

I wasn’t the least bit concerned for my personal safety; the problem was that the guy stank to high heaven. There is only one road through the park so I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of him. I couldn’t very well say that I was going left at the next intersection because there isn’t an intersecting road in the park for miles and miles. I didn’t want to tell him I was stopping somewhere along the road because I was afraid he would hang out with me. I was screwed and I knew it. I just tried to breathe through my mouth. When we did part company I gave him some food. I also gave him some money that I could only hope went towards personal hygiene items.

Since this essay lacks much of a point let me digress and tell you one of my favorite hitchhiking stories. I had just spent a year in Peru where hitching factored into a lot of my traveling around that country. That was the year I read On the Road and I was eager to hitch everywhere. I had spent countless hours in the back of trucks with a load of produce, sharing the view of the Andes with a bunch of campesinos who were always envious of my sleeping bag and rain poncho.

When I got back to the States I spent a month or so in Montana with my older sister who relocated there to teach school on a Crow reservation. I needed to get back home to Indiana so I decided that I wanted to hitchhike. I probably spent three times as much money hitchhiking as I would have spent on a plane ticket but I wasn’t doing it to save money. I loaded my pack, put on respectable clothes, and put out my thumb. I was a clean-cut kid so rides came easy.

Everything was going well until I got just east of Denver. It was fairly early in the morning and there were few cars. None of them were interested in stopping. After about two hours of this I was cursing my foolish idea of thumbing back home.

Finally a car stopped a few hundred feet in front of me. It was a 1974 Plymouth Barracuda with two guys in the front seat. At first I thought they were messing with me. I thought that they were going to wait until I hustled up to the car and then drive away. The passenger door opened and I got into the back seat. My sense of smell told me that they were both shit-faced drunk. I put on my seat belt and we drove east on I-70.

After a few miles of swerving down the interstate I asked the guys if they were OK. I offered to drive and to my surprise they agreed. I told them to pull over at the next exit. When we were making the switch I noticed that the tank was low. That’s when I learned that they were almost flat broke. I was happy to have a ride and itching to drive their fine automobile so I put in a couple bucks for the fill up. They asked me if I would buy a six pack of beer. It was nine in the morning and I thought to myself that I could use a beer myself. Remember, all of you, that drinking and driving wasn’t against the law back then.

I learned that my new drinking and driving buddies had been boozing in a Denver bar a few hours previous and had decided to drive to Florida. How they planned to get there with no money didn’t seem much of a concern to them as they drank my beer and quickly passed out in the back seat. I didn’t really care to delve too deeply into their personal lives and I was content to have a cold can of beer between my legs and a couple hundred horse power at the push of a pedal.

I don’t think I have ever driven that fast for that long any time in my life. Kansas was blurred by the speed if it is possible to blur 500 miles of wheat and fence posts. I got hungry at one point so I pulled in at a restaurant. I locked my pack in the trunk, took the keys, and went in for a meal. I left the two drunks sleeping in the car. I felt bad so I bought them something to eat at the convenience store. They ate it and immediately passed out again.

It took me something like 16 hours to get home. I stopped a block or so from my mother’s house and got out. I felt this bit of subterfuge was necessary as I didn’t want these dudes knocking at her door. I woke them up and gave them directions back to the highway. I had no idea how they were going to manage without me. They had about two gallons of gas left in the tank, no money, and no firm plans for the rest of their trip. Vaya con diós, amigos. Thanks for everything.

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