It is difficult to tell with hitchhikers. I mean you only get about 10 seconds to suss them out, before you are past and on to the next one. (I do like the way they space themselves out on the slip road, though.) I usually go for a girl. No, not for the reasons you are thinking.
God, when I look back; ten years on the road; hundreds of towns, and thousands of miles. Christ knows how many hikers and how often have I gotten lucky? Two one night stands; you know, great at the time, but the awkward smile and "Don't forget to look me up" the next morning; one complete disaster - how I got away without a court case I'll never know - and one, yes just one, magic meeting.
I remember it still. It was that funny little two star hotel near Sheffield. I don't know why I stay there except it is just the right distance to stop, late at night when I am on the way back up after a pitch in London. I suppose I am an old customer, they could see I liked her, and they pulled out the stops. She had a dress in her bag, and somehow she just needed a touch of makeup and a glass of wine to switch to glamorous and sexy. For me it was the setting. Put me in front of crisp linen and shining silver, and sophisticated but relaxed comes easy. Just for one night we all pretended it was the Ritz.
In bed we could do no wrong. I just took what I wanted, forgetting the considerate bit, and discovered every time it was just what drove her wild. She let rip, indulged herself in that pet fantasy she had never dared touch before, and it was like I had a porn star in my bed.
Even the next morning, the smiles were real. Yes, I could see that she was in her thirties not her twenties. Yes, it was obviouly apparent that I was travelling sales rep not an executive business man, but even then the smiles were real.
So it was a shock when she looked wistfully at my card, then dropped it in the waste basket. "That wasn't really me, you know, last night," she explained gently. "And I don't think it was really you." She turned, on her way out, and kissed me lightly on the cheek. I was too surprised to object. "That's the thing with a holiday romance. Keep the pictures, keep the memories, but don't forget to lose his number at the airport."
Was she right, to give up on reality, even an uncertain one, for one perfect memory? I will never know. But up until recently, that memory was the best it had ever been.
So, with hitchers, it is not the chance of sex I am after. It is the company. What I need is someone next to me, a real live person with a different story and a life different from any other person - and the miles melt. The long boring hours on the motorway just disappear. I go for the girls, partly because usually they are less trouble - or there is less risk of trouble. And... well I know I am not going to rape anyone, not even just give them grief. So each girl I pick up is one journey a girl does not have to make sitting next to some stranger, some man that I do not anything about.
Still, it is difficult to pick the right one. It's the clothes the kids wear these days. Just look at that one. Could be a pro on the pull, a fourteen year old on the bunk from the local comp, or some stuck up piece from Cheltenham Ladies College in her latest grunge kit. Same gear would apply - stockings with big carefully spaced holes, short leather skirt, random layers on top. But by now I was slowing, and something in me had decided on that girl. I went with it. I still don't understand my gut instinct, or whatever you call it, but by now I know to trust it.
As she ran up to the door, slung her pack in the back seat and climbed in up front, I wondered what the clues were. Maybe the skirt - it was halfway up her thigh but not a bum freezer - maybe the tops, usual mix of string vest, waistcoat, mans shirt and a wrap - but somehow, the colours went together. No, it was the hair. Hacked, spiky, coloured - but she hadn't hidden that it was healthy and clean. That head had not been on the floor of too many squats.
"Um... Hi. Thanks" she proffered, facing me. I smiled to myself as I picked up speed and slipped into a gap in the middle lane. Definitely Cheltenham not Dagenham.
"So. Going far? I'm Dan, by the way."
"Oh, yeah. Emily. Emily Bradshaw. I'm just aaah... going North. I need to get to... " her voice went blank.
"Nottingham?" I suggested.
"Oh, yes, how did you guess?" she shot back, too eagerly.
Oh, easy enough girl. So, not running to somewhere, but definitely running. Running away from... what? Who? "Just a lucky shot. So, looking forward to the weekend?"
I sat back and let the silence wait to be filled. But nothing doing.
So, not a talker, then. Maybe a listener?
"Had enough of the big smoke, then? Wanting to get out into the countryside?" I probed for an opening.
"Not likely. I hate the country. Too many trees. Woods give me the heebie jeebies."
I smiled. "Oh, no. I like woods. I first met Chrissie in a wood." I paused, but no curiosity was offered, about the identity of Chrissie, or anything else. "It's quite a story. Do you want to hear it? Might pass the time." She shrugged, obviously unaware of the honour being proffered to her, and I settled down to get my thoughts in order.
I lke woods. I met Chrissie in a wood.
It was maybe six months ago. I remember I had driven up extra early in case the traffic was bad, but there was no problem. So here I was in Nottinghamshire with an hour to kill, and there on the map was a green bit labelled "Sherwood Forest". It had to be worth a look.
The car park was almost empty. Not surprising, at 10.00 am on a Friday morning. Too late for the early dog walkers, and too early for the mums and kids. As I got out of the car I saw the signs to the sculpture park, so, curious and idle, I trundled along. As you walked through the trees, you came across these wacky "sculptures" carved out of stumps or logs. More jokes than art, but fun. I got out my new digital camera, and shot off a few surreal snaps. My favourite was the Axminster carpet carefully laid out like a living room, but with a tree growing out of the left hand corner. So who sweeps the leaves off to keep it looking good?
Then I struck off the track, to explore a bit and work my way back to the car park. I have a good sense of direction in woodland and the sun was bright enough to be a guide. As I pushed into a small glade I saw another "sculpture", and I had to stop and laugh. A big oak had been cut down leaving the log lying there, and all the branches trimmed except one small one, on what was now the top of the trunk. This had been cut short, and carefully carved... into a phallus.
The workmanship was superb. Slightly larger than life- size (for me anyway!) beautifully detailed, proudly erect and leaning away from the vertical a little to follow the line of the original branch. There was even a suggestion of swelling testicles carved into the main trunk at its base. Someone had put a lot of time and care in to this. I bet the artist was gay. My one gay friend, Glenn, has a fascination with phallic objects that I just cannot share. I think he gets as much kick from looking at them as I would from a woman's breasts or buttocks.
I reached to touch it, but drew back. The slick sheen brought out the grain of the wood beautifully, but who knew where it had been? Or rather, what had been on it? However I shot off a few snaps to show Glenn, and then set off to find my car, chuckling. Nice little example of two fingers to the world, and don't we all need that sometimes?
I turned to look at her. Her eyes smiled back. This was the point where I needed to judge how it was going down, whether "X" rated was on the cards or not. Fortunately her grin said it all. This one was going to be game for whatever I wanted to throw at her.
Unfortunately I met a deer fence a few minutes later. I knew I was going roughly in the right direction, but without a map or compass I was going to get lost and there was no point in wandering around hopefully. I decided to retrace my steps back to the main path.
It was easy enough to backtrack, but as I neared the little clearing I saw a splash of colour through the undergrowth. I slowed down, and stepped out quietly. There was a woman sitting astride THAT tree trunk. (I was sure it was the same one.) Slim, brunette, attractive rather than pretty, wearing a red and white summer dress and a slightly startled expression. She was not expecting to see me.
Nodding politely, I stepped across the glade. "Nice day" I suggested, strolling in her direction. There was no doubt about it. She had to be sitting right next to the thing. But I could not see it - it must be hidden under the skirt of her dress! "Unusual sculptures in these woods" I mentioned, making conversation. She glared, silently.
"Have you seen the one with the carpet?" I enquired. The chat was getting a little one sided. In fact she looked rather uncomfortable. The log was much too wide for her to reach the ground as she straddled it, and she had placed an offcut of wood on each side to stand on. Even then she was on tip toes, leaning forward with her weight on her hands in front of her.
I grinned inwardly and stopped to look her in the eye. Of course she did not know that I knew what she was trying to hide. "That looks interesting. New form of exercises?" I smiled disarmingly and tried to spot the shape of the thing in the folds of her dress, without appearing to stare at her crotch.
"Yes. Exercises." she replied. Icicles formed. "Ones that I prefer to do in private."
.... There is more of this story ...