Picked up a hitchhiker on the way to work. Waiting at the lights, holding a red-on-white trade plate and blue marker scrawled sign, “Services”.
I lifted my hand, in a non-commital wave; could’ve been “hello”, could’ve been “okay, I’ll take you to the services”. He took it as the latter. I killed the radio, unlocked the doors. He got in, the lights changed and we were away.
“You’re going to the next services?”, I asked.
“Yeah,” as he began to speak, the car’s atmosphere filled with the sweet, thick smell of last night’s drinking. “Well, junction four’s best. I’m going to Longbridge, back to Rover.”
He was wearing a thick coat, so I turned the heating down; opened the window a little, too, to freshen the air.
“Have you put your clock back?”, he peered across at the dashboard. “It’s not twenty to nine is it?”
“Nah, the clock’s right”, I replied.
“I’m shattered; been up all night.” Without a pause he switched thoughts and continued, “Is junction four okay? Where are you going?”
Switching lanes, I glanced at him. Slightly bulging eyes, red face; nothing to reassure me.
“Gloucester. Yeah, junction four’s fine.”
He began furtling in a large black bag. “I’ve got a Rover sign here somewhere.”
Not a knife, I hoped. Instantly focused, I played through what might happen in the seconds following the sight of a knife.
“Got it!” He pulled another tatty, blue marker pen sign from a ring binder.
No knife. Relieved, I made conversation: asked if he delivered cars, did he find it hard to get lifts? He made minor concessions to my questions, but seemed primarily concerned with an internal dialogue.
“I’m not sure if the services or junction four is best.” He paused. Continued, “Junction four shouldn’t be too busy, if that’s okay. I can get to Longbridge round the back.”
I glanced at other cars in my mirrors, felt detached from driving decisions. Adrenalin was beginning to take over.
“But the services might be better”, he paused and I slowed the car a little. “I’d better decide soon, they’re only half a mile away.”
Did he want my input? We passed the services, sped round the bend towards junction four and up the slip road.
He got out, thanked me for picking him up and walked off to find another lift. I turned the radio back on, “…man who bit off a woman’s tongue in Blackpool…”
I’d got away with my tongue.
The new LugRadio episode is out today. It’s Sparkes‘ final appearance, as a member of the team. I’m sad to see Sparkes leave, as he combined genuine hacker passion with some very funny, memorable lines.
I’m pretty certain he’ll be back, at some point or other.