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OutLoud: Rules of Thumb

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Sally recalls an adventure from her Amazon hitchhiking days.

I came of age in the lesbian zeitgeist of the ’70s. A Golden Age of Amazons, the welcoming and woman-empowering era encouraged women to break free of mandatory heterosexuality, cast off our restrictive gender roles, open up to new possibilities.

Women decked their cars out with Sisters Pick Up Sisters bumper stickers, signaling encouragement to get out and see the world. The idea was to make the highways safer for young hitchhikers like me.

I thumbed rides up and down the west coast, once all the way north to Alaska, and frequently to visit friends in San Diego. Occasionally, a carload of women really did respond to my roadside thumb in the air, but most of my rides were provided by men. I quickly learned to take rides only with guys who were well behaved, which was much more common after I started traveling with a dog.

Golda, my yellow Lab-Shepherd mix, became my constant companion. I got her before I came out and relied on her for confidence and protection all through my transition out of the hetero norm. Even before I had discovered the welcoming arms of lesbians, having Golda along allowed me to set out on my own.

Golda and I hitchhiked everywhere. In the 16 years of Golda’s life, we logged several thousand miles, and I was never hassled, unless you call a drunk in a Camaro with his pants unzipped inviting me to “hop in” a hassle.

Golda was a great dog. Mostly.

But she was driven by instinct. The only upside of her occasional out-of-control behavior was that it made me rely on and come to appreciate the hospitality and depend on the kindness of strangers. Call me Blanche DuBois.

One rare blue-sky winter afternoon, I was hitching out the McKenzie River highway and enjoying my freedom. Some river freaks in a VW bus picked us up. It would be cool, they said, if my dog and I wanted to come with them to visit some friends of friends. Sounded fun.

Turned out these friends lived on a remote little farm and were throwing a harvest party. What they had harvested I’ll leave to your imagination, but let’s just say that while I was getting to know these hospitable country folks, I lost track of a few things. Like time. And my dog.

When someone suggested we go for a hike, I suddenly noticed my sidekick was missing. Too wasted to panic, we all bundled up and headed off to retrieve my so-called best friend. But Golda didn’t come, despite the whistles and calls of half a dozen stoners tromping around in the woods.

It was almost dark when she finally turned up, happy tail wagging, mouth drenched blood red, and dragging an unmistakably dead turkey.

“Oh, shit, man,” one of the guys said.

“Whoa,” said a guy who lived there. “My old lady was fattening that bird up for a big dinner party.”

I was horrified, furious with Golda, and seriously bummed about the poor turkey. “I’m so sorry! She’s never done anything like this before.”

The woman of the house came out to see what all the fuss was about. She was a very be-here-now, go-with-the-flow, no-nonsense kind of gal.

My dog, her blond scruff bloodied and feathered, sat panting next to her prey.

“Anything I can do?” I stammered. By rights, this woman could have been royally pissed, called animal control, sued me, or at least made me pay for her bird. Surely, she would kick me and my turkey-ravaging dog off her land. But–and here’s where that kindness of strangers thing comes in–she did none of those things.

Country Woman lifted the limp turkey by its legs and assessed the damage. She smiled matter-of-factly and handed the bird over to me.

“You can pluck it.”

Sally Sheklow received both first- and second-place honors in the magazine column category in the 2005 Houston Press Club Lone Star Awards. She contributes a regular segment, “That Time of the Month,” to the Air America radio affiliate in Eugene, Oregon.

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