The hitchhiker diaries

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, Sept. 24, 2009

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It's been my long-held belief that everybody has a story, which I think you have to believe to end up in journalism. But Navajos seem to have the most interesting stories.

When I pick up a hitchhiker, I always ask them to tell me a story. It makes the drive shorter and I get an insight into another life. I usually don't ask the person his or her name, and I seldom reveal that I am a reporter. You get more honest stories that way.

A couple of times, the story has been so wonderful that I pull over as soon as I drop the person off, get out my notebook, and write down as much of the conversation as I can remember. Here are some of the better ones. I've changed a few details since the people weren't expecting to end up in the newspaper, and if they recognize themselves, I can only beg forgiveness. The stories are too good not to share.

The guy who (almost) saw Bigfoot

"I was drinking with some buddies at a windmill out near Klagetoh. I must have passed out at some point.

"I remember waking up for a minute and thinking, 'OK, I guess I'm sleeping outside. I hope it doesn't get cold.'

"Everyone had left. I only saw my own truck in the shadows. It was a dark night, not much of a moon.

"Sometime in the middle of the night, I heard some rustling. Then there was a sound, a human sort of grunt. We had brought some snacks with us, and I thought maybe my buddies had come back to get the food or something. I was still out of it and went back to sleep.

"In the morning, I got up and dusted myself off. I looked down and my heart jumped. There was a huge bare footprint in the dirt just a few feet from where I was sleeping.

"It looked human but not quite. The toes were too long, and it was huge. Plus it was early fall, too cold for people to be going barefoot.

"I put my own foot into the footprint. The footprint was maybe four inches longer than my foot.

"That's when I got scared. I jumped in my truck and drove away. To this day I haven't been back to that place."

The meth mom

"I'm glad you picked me up, because I'm almost late for work. I just got out of prison and I'm real lucky they gave me my job back. I can't even believe it.

"I was in prison for meth. I know I don't look like the type. I'm not the type. Believe me, if you had asked my high school friends who was going to end up in jail for drugs, it wouldn't have been me.

"I was living with this man. I always knew he was no good, but I just kept having babies for him. Soon I had five children and it seemed impossible to leave. Finally he drove me to the edge.

"Alcohol, other women, all the time. I kicked him out. Of course I couldn't get any child support from him. I gave two of my kids to my sister, and I went to look for a job.

"I found a job as a maid in a hotel in one of the border towns. But I was still just barely getting by, even with just the three kids. I gave the other three kids to my sister and I moved to the town, so I wouldn't have to hitchhike to work every day.

"I sent money back to my sister, but I knew it wasn't enough to support my kids. She never said anything, but I knew my kids were a burden on her and I didn't want that.

"My roommate in town was also a single mom. She was working two jobs, a day job and a night job. One time I asked her, 'How are you doing that?' She said, 'You need some of this.'

"She gave me a hit of something. I didn't even know it was meth, that's how innocent I was. All of a sudden, I had all this energy. I felt like I could handle anything.

"I took a night job as a security guard. I would come home from my night job, sleep for two hours, change into my maid's uniform and go to work. Sometimes I didn't sleep at all. I'd just take a hit of meth and I wouldn't have to sleep.

"At first it was working out fine. Then it got so I would be at work, just looking forward to using. I started missing work sometimes. I lost one of my jobs. I stopped going home on my days off to see my kids and just hung out with my roommate and her friends.

"The day I got busted, it was funny. I was at the house where they sold it, but that time I wasn't buying because I didn't have any money. But the cops arrested all of us and took us in. I decided to just plead guilty. I didn't want to go through a trial.

"I won't even tell you about prison. It's awful. But it was my salvation. I think it's the only way I would have stopped using. Once I got clean, I just cried, missing my kids, thinking about what I did.

"I've stayed clean since I got out. I don't stay in town anymore, I just hitchhike back and forth. I haven't seen my old friends. I don't even know where to get drugs anymore.

"One day my son came home smelling like meth. Oh, I screamed!

"One thing about being a user, you know when your kids are using. I told him if it happened again, I would call the police myself. And I will. There are worse things than going to prison."

The star-chaser

"This is my first time back to the rez in years. I've been out in California, but they laid me off.

"California isn't like here. They hate old things. If a building gets old, they just tear it down and build a new one.

"And the traffic jams! You can just be standing still on the freeway. You wouldn't believe it. People are just used to it, they don't care.

"I've been out in California since I was in high school. I used to watch 'CHiPs' all the time. It was my favorite show. I thought Erik Estrada must be the best actor in the world. I got it into my head that I wanted to meet him.

"We knew a family that moved to California. I asked my dad if I could go stay with them and go to school. He said, 'All right, as long as you don't get into drugs or do anything stupid.'

"I enrolled at Hollywood High School. I thought those kids would know how to meet stars. I learned that if you hung out at the Chinese Theater on Saturdays, you had a good chance of seeing somebody famous. They usually had a bodyguard and maybe there would be some police around, but that was a place they would shake your hand and maybe give you an autograph.

"It didn't take me long to meet Erik Estrada. Then I decided to see how many stars I could meet. I met so many stars, I can't think of them all. I met Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, Don Lee ... I met so many. And they were all real nice, too. Not stuck up like you might think.

"At first I worked at a 7-11, but then I got a job as a bus driver. That was fun because I got to meet all sorts of people. Not stars, of course. Stars don't ride the bus. Just regular people. The city ran out of money and shut down my bus line, that's why I'm back here.

"I met a lot of pretty women, and some of them were nice to me, but I just ignored them.

"L.A. is an expensive place to live. You don't want to be having kids. Kids these days, they want $90 shoes. You meet some woman, before long you're having a kid and buying $90 shoes.

"That's not for me. I like just worrying about myself. I don't need much to live on. I don't need to be buying any $90 shoes."

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