The day my father drove us to the New Jersey state line and then shot eight-millimeter movies of us with our thumbs out getting our first ride. We stand beside a cliff. His green car is parked at the edge. The road between us carves out the rest of our lives.

And one year before this he says to me, “Now look at this road map and pretend I’m still your boss (I am 27 years old ) just to make an old man happy (he is 69). So, he gets out this map and points with fingers wrinkled as the paper – the way I should go – the inter states slicing through pine forests – looping around mountains – surging past truck stops. “This way, you make the best time and I won’t worry about you so much.”

“Okay.” The map etches itself into my brain. Five minutes later, I stuff my sleeping bag and tent into the yellow Ford Maverick which has already trekked up Wolf Head Creek Pass and spluttered through Monument Valley. My father has bought it a tune up at Sears the day before he presents me with the sacred road map. But I am full of wanderlust and hormones.

Richard Nixon has just resigned all over the T.V. screen, bleeding regret and canonizing his mother like he hasn’t just disillusioned and made cynics out of two generations. My father cries because the president is not as honest as he is himself; and he knows better than to believe I will really follow his mapped-out plan for my trip to Kentucky. He choses to pretend I will take those interstates through West Virginia at Nixon’s own 55 miles per hour, and I will be safe.

I back the car down the driveway, turn the corner, waving and head straight toward the New Jersey Turnpike South. Somehow, I end up in Virginia, cruising over endless mountains, adding six hours to the trip – skimming through peach orchards and poetry, fiddle tunes on the radio.

So now a year later, he trusts me again as I stick out my thumb and hitch a ride into an epic. He knows he doesn’t understand it – but anything I do must be okay. I am his daughter and he has raised me well. He trusts God. I trust the universe. No one trusts Richard Nixon. I have sold the yellow Maverick but kept the green back-pack, orange tent and my hiking boots. Cars flow past while John and I hold up out thumbs and finally, one slows down.

As I stuff my backpack into it, I see him raise the movie camera to his eye. The picture in my brain is of him and my mother standing stark beside their green Ford, perched on the edge of that cliff on the New York-New Jersey border. He is stooped now, almost as short as she with her white plastic handbag and polyester pant suit. I watch through the back window of the strange car as they disappear, becoming nothing but specks on the windshield.


Carole Johnston is a poet who dabbles in fiction and memoir. She has published give books of poetry and has been published in numerous journals. She teaches creative writing to kids.