virtualubbock - "Hitch hiking with Jesse Taylor" by Tommy Eaton

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Subject: Hitch hiking with Jesse from Tommy Eaton
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 10:30 AM CST
From: Tommy Eaton

When we were in junior high school we thought we were grown and were fearless (stupid). One Saturday night we were restless and wanted some kind of entertainment. I had told my parents I was spending the night at Jesse’s house and I knew they would not check up on me. Jesse didn’t have a phone and my parents would never drive the three or four blocks to his house so I felt free to do anything I pleased.
Jesse didn’t have a television or even a record player. We were bored, which usually led to some kind of adventure. Jesse came up with the idea of going to see his grandparents in Pep, Texas. I said “OK, how are we going to get there?” He replied “hitchhike.” I was a little nervous, but he said, ‘It’s fun, I do it all the time.” I knew this was not true but I would never say he was lying, so off we went. I asked how far Pep was and he said “Oh, it’s not very far, we will be there in a couple of hours.” How could anyone refuse an adventure to a town named Pep? I asked him how we were going to hitch hike and he thought for a moment before he said “just put out our thumbs.” I knew then he had never done this before, but I didn’t say a word. We walked a couple of miles to the highway and put out our thumbs. A farmer picked us up and we rode in the back of a pickup for what seemed like a long way. He stopped and let us out in the middle of nowhere after midnight. We walked and talked and tried to act like we weren’t scared. I was frightened, but on the surface you would never have known it. I couldn’t tell if Jesse was the slightest bit concerned.
We walked for a long time in the dark and only a couple of cars passed. A big car stopped and a small ancient black man told us he was too drunk to drive. He offered us a ride if one of us would drive. Jesse never hesitated. He simply said “I’ll drive” and slid in behind the wheel. I got in the back and Jesse started off. It was apparent he had never driven before and the car lurched and died. The little old man was waving a bottle and laughing as Jesse tried to get the car started. When he did we were off down the highway with Jesse leaning forward and straining to see over the steering wheel. Luckily in West Texas the roads are straight and flat and I don’t think we ever made a turn. The old car reeked of booze and cigarettes while we all listened to the radio. The old man was laughing and telling us how he had hitchhiked when he was young and how people don’t help each other like they used to. My parents were extreme racists and I had never been in contact with any black people, much less a drunk man in the middle of the night out in the country. Jess hadn’t
either, but to him it seemed completely natural. In about 1963 I can assure you this was unusual.
After a while he told Jesse to stop because he needed to turn off to go to his house. When we stopped he asked if we had any money and Jesse said no. I was extremely nervous because I thought my parents must be right. We would surely be found dead the next morning. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The old man pulled out his last couple of dollars and said we shouldn’t be out on the road with no money for food or change to call someone. Jess told him we were fine and there was no one to call anyway and thanked him for the effort. A while later a couple of guys and a girl picked us up and we rode into the next town with them. I think it was Morton. They were also drunk coming home from some bar after it had closed. We went to their trailer house. We had a beer and they were about to pass out. They said we could spend the night and go the next morning but the little trailer was stuffy and we were ready to go so we started walking.
It had been a warm night earlier, but just before dawn it was cold. We only had t-shirts and jeans and we were shivering. We found Sunday papers in front of a few houses. We stole the newspapers and laid down behind the school and covered up trying to stay warm. I was freezing and hungry, and too scared to sleep, but Jesse never complained. In a couple of minutes he was sound asleep and completely relaxed.
When it was daylight I woke him up and we started again. A farmer picked us up who knew his family and let us out in the middle of nowhere next to Jesse’s grandmother’s farm house. I remember a lot of people and mountains of food. Everyone was so excited to see us and asked how we got there. Jesse said “we hitch hiked.” I held my breath thinking they would be upset and try to call my parents to come get us. His grandmother said “you need to be careful” and then broke out laughing and passed a huge plate of pancakes.
I took a nap while he talked to the family. His grandmother had a thick Czeck accent and called him “Chippie.” When I woke up I could hear them laughing and talking and you could feel the warmth of their family. It was wonderful. I had never experienced anything like it and I wished I had that kind of love and acceptance from my family.
We rode out in the fields with Uncle Felix for a while and then said goodbye. No one seemed to think it was odd for two young kids to go to the highway and start hitch hiking home. A farmer came by and we rode in the back of his pickup all the way to Lubbock. I went home and never told anyone what we had done. The next morning I woke up and went to school as usual.

I learned a lot from Jesse on that trip and many others like it. He was always up for an adventure. He was fearless and never complained when things didn’t go as planned. (He never really planned very much anyway). I learned you could live outside the normal parameters and still be ok. He loved his family and they loved him. But most of all I learned how to enjoy the journey and the adventure of life and not concentrate so much on the goal. When things don’t work out, it is still ok if you learned something along the way and had some fun. He never cared about having a big house or a fancy car, he just wanted to live life to the fullest and enjoy the adventures, his friends, and his family.

--Tommy Eaton

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