True Story for your consideration
Years ago, while living in Los Angeles, business often took me to San Luis Obispo area, close enough, but long drive late at night. One trip, I had stayed the night previously, had spent the day with my clients on one of the area golf courses. It was fun, we mixed business with pleasure, goals achieved.Took everyone to dinner, no drinks for me because I had a long drive ahead.
It was after dark when I finally left the area and headed south on 101. I had made this trip dozens of times before but a fog had rolled in and although vision wasn’t too terribly impaired, it gave an eerie look to roads, a chill to the air, and a spooky feel to the drive. I was tired, no doubt about it. I saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road. I wasn’t usually so eager to pick up hitchhikers but I also felt generous (and knew someone to talk to would certainly keep me awake).
I pulled over, backed up a bit and the guy got into the passenger seat of my car, throwing his worn out bag into the back seat. He said his name was Jack and he was just going to Goleta, maybe as far south as Santa Barbara, but he welcomed the ride instead of walking. I asked him about himself and he told me about his travels after serving in Vietnam. Didn’t stay at jobs too long (PTSD), but cared about others and from his tales, he had a great heart and soul.
An hour passed, the fog was thicker, I had to slow down, our talks went to why I was on the road alone this late, work, etc. Not too much on me – I don’t like talking about me so much. We went back to talking about him, his family, Vietnam time, sights he’d seen across the country..and once in a while, he brought up his caring about others.
We were still going south when we went through the tunnel southbound only – I was surprised that the lights weren’t on – not a single one – but my headlights were strong so seeing ahead was good, and although we suspended our talking through the tunnel, we came out the other side. Without looking at Jack, I said something like “wow, that was freaky, glad we got through there”. I looked over at him and he was gone – gone. As in no Jack, no bag in the backseat, and I hadn’t stopped the car.
I went along a bit further, wondering what happened for the last 90 minutes or so. At Goleta, I got off the 101 and stopped for gas. My knees surprisingly were shaking as I walked into the station and asked for gas at my pump. The man at the counter was a little-passed middle age, pleasant, and said: “you look shaky, you ok?” I looked at myself, then at him and said, “I rarely pick up hitchhikers but tonight picked one up out of SLO (local shorthand for San Luis Obispo) and when we came out of the tunnel on 101, he was gone – and I know he was in my car, we talked the whole drive – and he disappeared on me – I know it sounds crazy, I haven’t been drinking or doing drugs but I know I picked a man up on the road” I was almost to the crying point…and the tears fell when the manager said, “Oh, you mean Jack – everyone around here knows about him”. He told me the story
“Jack was a ‘local’ boy from this part of So. California got drafted in 1960’s and sent to Vietnam. twice, he made it home and was driving south on 101 one night, fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the median up there and hit a trucker head on, died instantly. For the last 40+ years, we get stories of Jack showing up on the side of the road, catching a hitch with travelers heading to Santa Barbara or LA, and talks them through the darkest parts 101, then he disappears just before you all get here.” He went on to tell me that that particular stretch of highway was known for traffic deaths, no highway lights, fog rolls in almost nightly, and it’s a ‘killer’ stretch for travelers. Jack was rumored to show up when people were tired and if they picked him up, they avoided death (at that. I remember a semi passing me and running back into my lane as if he hadn’t seen me – Jack had alerted me that the truck was coming into my lane, I slowed, hit my horn, and took a bit of the gravel on the side of the road, but I avoided the accident because of Jack)
My knees gave way – I had seen and talked with spirits my whole life but Never had I seen one so Real, so Solid, and spent so much time with them my whole life (to that point). I sat on the store floor for a minute, caught my breath, got up, thanked the man – told him if he saw Jack, to tell him thanks for me – paid for my gas and 2 cokes (I was looking for caffeine for the rest of my drive), and headed home.
For the next several years, when I traveled 101, I wondered about Jack and the other drivers he might meet – and I always got through this stretch of 101 before dark if I could. I would have liked to meet Jack again, but the death counts on that stretch of highway were big deterrents.