Sideburns for Days
(in which I hitch a ride from a dive bar)
Chase and I were hanging out at the Bear, a dive bar in my hometown outside of Vancouver. We were hitting the road in the morning to hitchhike to Halifax (I can’t remember why but there must have been some half-baked reason). Chase and I had only met a couple of times, but they were gay and funny, and we had a friend in common, so that was close enough to knowing each other. We were shooting pool at the bar before crashing early at my dad’s place to ensure an early start.
My high school friend Kady arrived, a tiny charmer who’d received the highest praise of her high school career for an essay she’d written on acid in grade twelve English. We got to talking and before long, a man named Chip sauntered up to our table.
The man was wearing an unbuttoned leather vest over a bare chest, and a silver chain dangled around his neck. He was tanned, too tanned for our rainy little town, and he wore sunglasses inside the bar (I don’t think I ever saw his eyes, come to think of it.) His long, blonde hair flowed past his shoulders and he had sideburns for days that framed a teethy surfer dude grin. It appeared that Chip brushed and flossed more regularly than I did.
“Is that you, Kady? How are you, man? It’s been ages,” Chip said, and Kady made a round of introductions. When Chase and I told Chip about our maritime aspirations, a mischievous glint appeared in his eyes (I assume). He motioned for us to follow him outside, where a gargantuan seventies RV was parked along the fence opposite the bar.
“I’m driving this baby to the Kootenays first thing in the morning, man! I’ve got a gig out there tomorrow night. Do you want a lift?” After a quick dart back inside to seek Kady’s counsel (she trusted the guy), Chase and I told him we’d love to come with. Chip grinned like we’d just invited him to a birthday party. “Of course, man! We’ll have a rad time.”
As the night wound down, Chip ordered us “one last round of shots for the road” and we were off to my dad’s in order to convince him this plan made sense, and to grab our backpacks. This went off without a hitch (I’d already hitchhiked from Toronto to Vancouver unscathed and my dear old dad could reasonably be described as overly trusting) so we hit the road around midnight.
Let me tell you about this RV. The driver and front passenger seats were the cushiest leather recliners I’d ever seen—I swear on a stranger’s life they even swivelled (dangerous in retrospect but cool at the time). Chip had lovingly restored this old wonder to its former orange and brown glory, and the kitchen sink was full of ice and beer. To top off the otherdecadely experience, Chip had the chillest beagle I’ve ever met, and his name was Riff.
I’m pretty sure Chip had a lady name for his RV but I can’t for the life of me remember it. Let’s go ahead and call her Stevie.
As we started our eastward journey in earnest, I asked Chip about his gig in the Kootenays. In reply, he shoved a wig onto his head and started belting out Bohemian Rhapsody with a sincerity I’ll never forget. “I’m a rock-n-roll-drag-karaoke DJ,” he said, as if that were a thing, “on my way to a punk rock wedding” because of course he was. He pointed me toward a trunk full of wigs, glasses and other accessories stashed in Stevie’s rear. This guy was Mr. Dressup in a black leather vest.
As we were approaching Kelowna, Chip pulled over to the side of the road for a cat nap. He made sure Chase and I were all set up with blankets and pillows before heading outside for a goodnight toke. When he came back in, he propositioned me, sweet and bashful. I let him down easy; Chip smiled, shrugged and made for his recliner to sleep.
I don’t remember exactly when Stevie began to make some troubling sounds. She sounded like she’d been hitting the bong a little too hard—a bong no one had ever cleaned, probably—coughing, spluttering, wheezing. I could almost hear her say, “harsh tokes, dude”. Frown lines appeared on our cheerful Chip, and soon enough he had to pull over.
Chase and I hung out with Riff as Chip headed out with an armful of tools. Riff did not seem overly concerned, and before we knew it, Chip was back in the captain’s chair, Stevie was sounding like she’d had a tall glass of water and we were off again. Kootenays ho!
Just kidding. Ten minutes later, the wheezing started up again. We’d reached the start of the Rocky Mountains at this point, and although Stevie had handled the flat highway of the Fraser Valley and the gradual slopes of the Interior like a champ, the steep and winding mountain passes were flaring up the asthma she swore she didn’t have. And so before long, Chip was pulling over again, heading back out with his tools, looking a modicum less cheerful than last time.
This happened several more times before Chase and I decided to strike out on our own. We felt bad about ditching Chip, Riff and Stevie, but we were starting to lose the time we’d gained by leaving early, and we could only watch fully functioning cars whizz by us for so long.
So we said our thank yous and our goodbyes, wished Chip luck in making it to the punk rock wedding, and stuck out our thumbs. Before we knew it, a Dairy Queen franchise owner in a black SUV was educating us about how he provided his town not only with ice cream, but with community, too. It was a long ride to Calgary.
The next time I saw Kady, I asked her if she’d seen Chip around. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again,” she said. Apparently he’d had to skip town after a tiny little misunderstanding with the local chapter of the Hells Angels. He left no forwarding address.
You can read my most recent essay here, and you will find both the essay and a short story by yours truly in the Work + Leisure issue of Local Smoke Press’ literary magazine. My dear pals Liina and Kaden run Local Smoke Press, and they do excellent micropublishing and book design work. Keep them in mind for your next papery project!
damn dairy queen really got that guy by the horns. her majesty's community cream doing service from town to town.
i always feel nervous about keeping up conversation with roadtrip strangers. there's plenty of room for silence, but how are you supposed to know when to fall into it and for how long? definitely a very specific feeling you evoked here. stay safe chip!
No one ever told me that being a “rock-n-roll-drag-karaoke DJ” was an option and I fear I’ve made entirely the wrong career choice.
Thinking of sweet Riff and your painfully long ride to Calgary. Thank you for sharing such a gem of an encounter!