From the March 2011 magazine.

March 2011: A long, strange trip

A dusty red convertible picked up this hitchhiking hippie and showed him the future

"As we drove through the California and Arizona desert, outrunning a thunderstorm, he began to tell me his story."

It was the late summer of 1969, and I was a 21-year-old hippie from Southern California with shoulder-length hair, hitchiking east to Aspen to chase a girl I’d met that June. I drank to excess on occasions, but I was firmly planted in the hippie culture with all its medicinal remedies. Hopelessly trapped for hours on a remote freeway onramp, I took a chance, walked out onto the freeway shoulder and stuck out my thumb, a move that the California Highway Patrol would have immediately arrested me for. Swerving across three lanes and skidding to a halt was a shiny new red convertible with a clean-cut, clean-shaven smiling man in his mid-30s who seemed absolutely straight. He looked just like Bobby Darin. People who looked like him didn’t stop for hippies. “Hop in!” he said.

I surveyed the front seat and saw three thermoses of coffee, sandwiches and two cartons of my brand of cigarettes. Freeloader heaven. He was headed for Albuquerque. I could hitch due north to Aspen from there. As we drove through the California and Arizona desert, outrunning a thunderstorm, he began to tell me his story. He handed something to me. He was, literally, a card-carrying member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He told me of years of stumbling around downtown Los Angeles, years of white port wine, endless degradations, and a final total hopelessness. One morning in some back alley as he lay on his piece of cardboard, clothing filthy, unshaven and unwashed, shaking inside and out, a man had leaned down over him and handed him a card. He said it was a card just like the one he had handed to me. On it was a name, a telephone number and the words “Alcoholics Anonymous.” That had been eight years earlier and now, he said, he had a life beyond imagination.

-- Greg F.

Laguna Hills, California

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