I omitted this story from my memoir because I am unsure of when it happened and because it is such a strange story it's difficult to believe. That said, I've been encouraged to write about all the interesting stuff. This qualifies. Hitchhiking often brings about unusual convergences. A normal person rarely hitchhikes and normal people rarely pick up hitchhikers. I've covered many miles with my thumb so I have several interesting stories about hitchhiking. I also have a few interesting stories from picking up hitchhikers.
My best guess is this happened in July of 1974, the day after I escaped from the Navy SP's at the Naval Training Center in Orlando. I was seventeen years old. Though unsure of the events leading up to this event, I am sure it was early in the day and I was hitchhiking on Interstate 95 North, outside of Daytona Beach Florida. I was on the run (either from that first escape or something else) without ID, nervous about standing on the interstate with my thumb out. This was one of those rare times when someone stopped after a few minutes. The car was a Porsche. I can't remember the model, but it wasn't a 911. This one was small and boxy looking. Both the front and rear of the car were snub-nosed. It lacked the sleek lines Porsche is known for. I believe the car was only produced for a few years, but I'm not sure about this. It was a new car, so it would have been a 1973 or 1974 model.
The Porsche had South Carolina plates and was driven by a young guy, about twenty-one. The car was new, still had it's new car smell. We did the normal hitchhiker pickup small talk and got along fine. He was a college student playing in Florida for a few months and was now headed to his home in Columbia South Carolina. Columbia worked for me so he agreed to take me the entire way. The car fascinated me, I mean I was seventeen and it was a Porsche, and a model I'd never seen nor heard of, so I asked questions. He answered my questions but his answers lacked both detail and enthusiasm. It didn't make me suspicious of him. I figured he was just a rich kid who didn't think owning a new Porsche was a big deal.
After our initial chit chat died off I began to study the car. It really was new. Brand new. It was more than the new car smell. Everything else about the car indicated it hadn't been driven far. Out of curiosity I looked at the odometer. The car had less than 300 miles on it. The guy said he'd been in Miami for two months. I'd also noticed a Miami car dealer's decal on the back before I got in. I might have believed he'd bought the car in Miami a few days before going home were it not for the South Carolina plates. With less than 300 miles this car had never been to South Carolina.
The guy was observant himself. He saw me looking at the instrument panel then saw me doing the math in my head. "You figured it out," he said. "The car's stolen," I replied. "You bothered by that," he asked. "Only if you can't drive fast if needed." The guy laughed and relaxed. I shared my story and he shared his. He was a college student and had went to Miami for the summer. He was poor and went south to work a construction job with an uncle. A week ago his old pickup truck died for good. Without the truck he couldn't work, so decided to go home and get ready for school in the fall. After pricing airline tickets he decided to steal the car. He'd visited the Porsche dealer near a job site once and had noticed where they kept their keys, so that's where he went. He added the plates from his truck and off he went.
Further down the road he devised a plan. He really did live in Columbia so he'd rather not dump the stolen car there, so asked if I would be willing to drive it further for him. It worked for me except I was broke. Didn't have a single coin in my pocket. He got around this by filling the tank outside of Columbia and give me $20. We stole a fresh set of plates so he could remove the ones registered to him. He didn't want me to know where he lived so I left him at a truck stop and drove away in the stolen Porsche.
I'm surprised I can't remember any other detail of this event. Nine days after my escape in Orlando I turned myself in at Ft. Gordon Army base in Augusta Georgia. I have a vague memory of asking my grandfather (Jack) to drive me to the base from his home in Aiken, South Carolina. I also have an even vaguer memory of leaving the Porsche at a bank parking lot in downtown Aiken. The more I think about it the more I think this was the case, but I'm not sure. If so, I either I spent a week driving the Porsche around then went to my Grandparents home, or I went straight there and waited a week to turn myself in. Whatever it was, it was the strangest thing to happen to me while hitchhiking.
You can read about more of Clayton's adventures in his autobiography "A Life Wasted."