White Lightning got its name because the alcohol hasn't been aged. Some people falsely believe that a blue flame means it's safe to drink.

It was midnight before I managed to hitchhike a ride. An old man in a clattering 1939 Ford pickup pulled over to the side of Interstate 40 and motioned me to get in. I'd been standing in the cold with my thumb out for three hours, so I wasn’t going to turn him down. I climbed up onto the tattered seat, little did I know that I was about to experience my worst nightmare.

It was 1962, and I was hitchhiking from the naval base at Norfolk, Virginia to my hometown of Lancaster, California - coast to coast. I didn't have any problems crossing Virginia and Tennessee, but once I hit Arkansas, the rides dried up about as fast as a raindrop on Death Valley. The sun set behind a wall of black mountains, and the temperature dropped to a biting chill. All I could do was wait along the roadside with my thumb out and hope a Good Samaritan would give me a lift.

As soon as I opened the door to get in I saw this ancient old guy clutching onto the steering wheel like it was the only thing holding him upright. He was wrinkly and skinny, with stringy white hair, a long, crooked nose, and eyes like two shiny black inkwells. Not my ideal host, but a ride just the same. After all, beggars can't be choosers.

“Git in sonny.” He said.

After I was situated into the seat, he ground the gears a few times and headed on down the highway. After the usual small talk, he reached behind the seat and pulled out a quart-sized jar filled with a clear liquid. He took a long drink like it was cold mountain water, and handed it to me. I declined, but he insisted, “This here’s genuine White Lightning!” He said. "Stilled it meeself. Can't get this stuff nowhere's else. Come on sonny, ye can't tell me that a sailor boy like you doesn't like to wet his whistle.

By sailor, he was referring  to my navy dress blues. I always wore my uniform when hitchhiking. In those days, it helped. And, of course, he was absolutely right about a sailor wetting his whistle. By that time I had already been in the navy long enough and I had visited enough places to have drunk some pretty nasty liquids, so what harm could a little White Lighting bring? I took a tiny sip. Bam! My lips burned, my throat burned, and my head felt like somebody hit it with a hammer. He cackled, and pushed it towards me again, but I waved it off. You'd have to be a crusty old Marine to drink that stuff and not die. "No thanks," I said.

Suddenly, he turned off the highway onto a tree-lined, dirt road. Of course I asked where he was going, but he just stared straight ahead. The road was barely two rutty ditches with a clump of grass growing down the middle, and the old pickup bounced up and down as he drove farther into the dark wilderness. Again he pushed the Mason jar towards me. “No.” I said. It was pitch black out side, and I was definitely getting nervous.

Finally we reached a small clearing. He stopped the truck, and then looked straight at me with those hauntingly black eyes. I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. He offered me another drink, but I ignored the gesture and kept asking where we were. Now I was really nervous.

“Git on out now boy.” He said.

His face showed no expression, like he was hiding something. I didn’t know if he had a shotgun, or maybe even a machete hidden behind that seat, so I scrambled out as fast as I could. I wanted to run, but I didn't know where to go. It was so dark I couldn't see past a few feet. I was beginning to think my life was over. But then all of a sudden, he slammed the door, laughed out loud, ground the gears, and drove away as fast as he could, leaving me standing there in the dark.

It took me an hour and a half to walk back out to Interstate 40. I was cold, I was tired, and I was scared, but I made it. Now I can look back and chuckle. It was my one and only experience with White Lightning. It was not, however, my last adventure with hitchhiking. © 2008 Learn how to make White Lightning...


Paul Burman said...

This is another lovely piece of writing. I particularly like the line: 'eyes like two shiny black inkwells.' What a gem. And the whole piece grabs my attention and holds it throughout.

I've had a couple opf scarey hitch-hiking experiences myself, but this finely crafted piece of writing moves well beyond the anecdotal.

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Beautiful writing, Swubird, the imagery and pacing are supreme.

I wonder how far the skinny man with the crooked nose would have driven you if you had said you loved his brew?

White Lightning. Whoa!!!

You're the best.

Hugs, JJ

Oswegan said...

That's a hell of a long way to hitchhike. Reading that reminded me of Kerouac On The Road. You got lucky boy.

gt281 said...

Proof once again that bell-bottom sailors can’t hold their liquor... a jarhead would of simply have taken his truck from him...lol

Babs (Beetle) said...

That scared me and I was only reading it!

What a very strange man to take you out of your way and just dump you.

I did enjoy reading it though, it was written so well, it was creepy ;O)

Peter said...

Hi! I think you got out of this one pretty well. Near the end I thought the old guy was going to pull out a sawn-off shotgun and fill you full of buck shot. I had other images, much like a scene out of "Deliverance", but thank heavens that didn't happen.

Take Care,

Bob Johnson said...

Wow, well written, you've had quite a life, I've never hitchhiked, but my wife had a lot back in her younger years, she was very lucky, I laughed at the bottom you have a link how to make White Lightning, no thanks,lol.

Mike French said...

Your scared the sh#t out of me there!

Very good, I was willing you to run.

And you tease - I look forward to hearing your next hitchhicking adventure!

Swubird said...


Thank you very much for the kind words. Someday I'd like to read about your own hitchhiking experiences. When I was younger it was a common thing to do. We never heard of anybody getting killed, especially a serviceman. The killings came later. Now I wouldn't dare hitchhike. It's a whole new world.

Happy trails.

The Muse said...

Swu, didn't your mama ever tell you not to talk to strangers, much less drink with them!

He must have been a crazy old bird. A bit sadistic too.

I'm glad you're here to tell the story because it's a good one.

Have a good day!

Swubird said...


Thank you very much. I don't know how far that old geezer would have gone, but I didn't want to find out. I wasn't about to drink any of that rot-gut poison either. Some of that stuff will blind you.

After that experience I didn't quit hitchhiking, but I became a lot more discriminating. You never know for sure though. A lot of serial killers look and act just like normal people.

Happy trails.

Swubird said...


It sure is a long way, but that was the whole idea. I wanted to touch the beach in Virginia, and touch the beach in California. I did it, but like you say, I got lucky. After that I had a few other harrowing experiences, but I thought that this old guy was really going to do harm to me.

Happy trails.

Swubird said...


Believe me, I would have given anything to have seen the Marines coming round the bend. I mean, they don't call you guys jarheads for nothing.

The few. The proud. The Marines.

Happy tails.

Max said...

Hey Swu,

I may have got lost here but; what was the matter with that old man? Did the white lightning go up his head or what? why did he give you a ride if he intended to just drop you off moments later? *nodding*...

Anyway, this story got me hooked. Have I told you that I am hooked on your blog? One of the best in the blogosphere (and I have surfed it a lot)! Congratulations!


Swubird said...


Scared you? It scared me too! Because I don't think he was planning on just dumping me. I think his real plan rested on whether or not I swallowed enough of his White Lightning. Dumping me was just an after thought.

Happy trails.

Swubird said...


Hey. I saw Deliverance, and I don't even want to think about that particular scenario. One thing was in my favor - age. He was about eighty, and I was about 19. I could run a lot faster than him. Of course, if he had a sawed-off shotgun....Let's don't go there.

Happy trails.

Swubird said...


You didn't miss anything by not hitchhiking. I met a lot of interesting people on the road, but I also met a lot of total psycho cases. Hitchhiking is really not safe. But if you were a young military guy, and you have no bucks, it's about your only option. Now I think they make more money. I haven't seen a servicemen hitchhiking in more than thirty years.

Happy stargazing.

Swubird said...


I know (I'm hanging my head). It was a bad thing to do. And you're right. Mom said never to talk to strangers. Believe me, I will never do it again.

Thanks so much for dropping by. I always love to hear from you.

Happy trails.

Swubird said...


Deepest thanks for your nice compliment. I really appreciate it.

THis old guy obviously had something in mind. Maybe he just thought it would be funny to leave a young guy like me out in the boonies to find my way back. And maybe he had something more sinister in mind. We'll never know his exact plan. But one thing, though, he didn't take me too far into the woods, because it only took me a hour and a half to walk out. I figure about five miles, given that it was dark and I had to walk slow. He could've driven a lot farther. So my guess his that he really didn't want to harm me. But I'll tell you this: It was the scariest five miles of my life.

Thanks for stopping by.

Happy trails my friend. And may all of the days of your life be bathed in sunlight.

Swubird said...


Thanks for the compliment. I'll definitely be putting up another hitchhiking story. I still have a few more scary episodes that I need to get out of my head.

Thanks again. And have a great day.

Max said...


"Deepest thanks for your nice compliment. I really appreciate it." - I mean it!

Creepy old man! If he had something more sinister in mind he didn't have the time to put it into practice (perhaps because you declined his constant offers to drink White Lightning), thank God!

"But I'll tell you this: It was the scariest five miles of my life." - I can only imagine, my friend; I can only imagine!!!

It is my pleasure to drop by! :D

Thanks and may the Light be with you as well!


Kathy said...

Another great installment from the Tales of Swubird! Like Babs, I was scared just to read it. The few times I ever see a hitchhiker on the road, I worry for them. I secretly hope no one picks them up. You just never know. As you said, they don't have to look like the skinny old guy to be dangerous.

p.s. Loved the Amazon link at the end. funny!

Swubird said...


Thank you Kathy. What's the matter, don't you want to brew up a little White Lightning for you and your hubby? Sit by the fire (not too close, of course) and sip the delightful flavor of two-days old moonshine. Yum.

Thanks for stopping by.

Have a nice day.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Another interesting and well-written post about your remembered experiences, Swubird!

I know how frightened you must have been. Being a "child of the 60s," I had a few hitchhiking experiences of my own. I shake and quake when I think of them...

You are making me want to start another blog--a personal blog with anecdotes both straight and embellished--in addition to my PV blog. And another blog for my fiction writing. But I don't have time! See, you have inspired me!

I enjoyed your post and since you're still with us, I knew even as I feared for you, that you had survived. :)

Swubird said...


Thank you for the comment.

I can only imagine how interesting your life has been, and I think it is a great idea for you to write about them. In some respects, it's difficult to write about our personal lives. After all, it's so personal. Plus, I try to keep my pieces less than 400 words. That's also a challenge. But making them short helps to move the action along. It's surprising how much detail doesn't belong in the story.

Thank you again for the nice comment. If you can find the time to start another blog, I'm impressed. I try to write for two blogs, and I simply can't do it.

Happy trails.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Swubird, I can barely keep up with my exisitng blog and the "Mindsights" one, which is sorely neglected, and all my many art sites and artist communities. It leaves little time to do the art and photography. Plus, of course there are all the "regular" pursuits, obligations and responsibilities of life!!!

Anyway, thanks for inspiring me!

Sherer said...

On the edge of my seat the whole time, not sure if I wanted to read the rest, but I had to! haha thank you sir.

Swubird said...


Thanks for staying around for the whole story, and, thanks for the nice comment.

Happy trails.

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Max-e said...

Sounds like he was a nasty character. The South African equivalent is called "wit blits", which is literally translated to white lightning.

Swubird said...


Wit-blits - very interesting. I guess there are moonshiners all over the planet. When it comes to booze, humans will find a way to make it.

Thanks for stopping by.