Why I will never pick up another hitchhiker
Lansing Two weeks ago, on my way to work at my new job here at The Current, I did something on a whim I'd not done in several years. I picked up a hitchhiker at the turnoff from the northbound turnpike exit to Kansas Highway 7.
I knew most people nowadays would consider this stupid, but the guy looked harmless and a little pitiful: pudgy, bespectacled and holding a gasoline can. Being in a hurry and several hours into a sleep deficit, I failed to notice some details about the man when he got in. I had reason to recall them soon after. Most important of these details was that he told me his van was in Leavenworth (several gasoline stations away from where I picked him up), and the gas can he was carrying was empty.
Next, a mile or so down the road, he said his van was actually "just down here a bit." He didn't say much after that, except to remark on the music ("Jocko Homo" by Devo) playing on my car's stereo. Several miles later, about to enter Lansing, I asked him if he had in fact left the van in Lansing. He said he did, "at the bar." I said, "Connie's Cafe?" He said yeah, and because I was running late, I let him out in The Current's parking lot. About half an hour later, our advertising representative, Kathy Lafferty, asked my co-workers and me if we'd seen anything funny because the owner of Caraway Printing, our next-door neighbor, had just had his van stolen. I went over and talked to the owner and the police officer taking the report.
The next day I identified the suspect from a photo lineup; it was my hitchhiker.
I feel bad for the near-loss of our neighbor's vehicle; it and the suspect were found near Salina. But mainly I feel stupid for having been taken by a ruse probably stolen from a bad movie and for having missed such obvious details as the empty gas can and the guy's changing story, which made no sense at any point. Why I will never pick up another hitchhiker is that those details I missed could just as easily have been a psychotic gleam in the eye and a machete tucked in the belt.