The Vincent Van Gogh memorial truck

Years ago, back in the late ’70s, during one of my annual wolf-circle explorations of western North America, I had a most unusual encounter with an old hippie and his pickup truck. Indeed, as time goes by, it almost seems to me as if it were a dream, or somehow made up, as if it did not really happen in reality. Because it “could not” have happened in reality.

But it did.

I was up in northern Montana, hitchhiking west on a fine bluebird morning, when I saw my ride coming. Sometimes you can just tell, just tell when a car is going to pull over and pick you up. In fact, after a year or two on the road I actually became quite good at spotting my ride as it came down the highway, often knowing before-hand that the driver would stop long before I could see his face or even tell what kind of vehicle it was.

And so it was the day that I met Vincent.

The old white truck had begun to downshift loudly as soon as he saw me, and slowly, gradually veered off the road and came to a dusty stop right next to me and my backpack. It was just a 1961 International Harvester 1-ton pickup from a distance, but as it came closer and closer, I could plainly see that this was no normal truck. For, covering the hood and doors and fenders and tailgate and even the roof of the cab were oil paintings by Vincent Van Gogh! OK, not actually painted by the old master himself, but very elaborate and well-done nonetheless. I had always been attracted to Van Gogh’s work, and instantly recognized a number of my favorites, including “Sunflowers,” “Starry Night,” “Wheatfield With Crows,” “Self Portrait 1887,” and the “Church at Auvers.” Too freaking much!

Not only did I fall madly in love with this old beauty of a truck at first sight but almost instantaneously became good friends with the driver, an old hippie from West Virginia named Don who wore a painter’s cap low over his eyes and smiled all the time. Turns out he’d bought “Vincent” from a starving artist who had gotten it from another starving artist who’d done the artwork in Haight Ashbury during the late ’60s.

The pickup cab was already full with Don’s red-haired girlfriend and another hitchhiker, so I climbed in back and off we went. Vincent roared up and down the mountain passes like a Sherman tank doing 60, picking up every hitchhiker on the highway. Soon we were in Idaho, and Don pulled over by a rushing stream where we ate cheese and crackers, drank Rainier beer, and smoked a big fat doobie. We all agreed it was a gorgeous day to be alive.

Then onward, westward, past lovely, blue Coeur d’Alene Lake and seemingly endless forest almost to Washington state, where I got out at Highway 95, my road north to Canada.

Don shook my hand firmly and wished me luck, and I bid all of my new friends a fond farewell. Then, just before driving off, Don asked me if I would be interested in purchasing a hit of acid?

Why, sure.

So, I took the little piece of “windowpane” (L.S.D. on paper) and put it inside my copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. This delightful little book is about a very intelligent man whose entire perception of “reality” is completely and forever altered by spending an afternoon in his back yard while tripping his brains out on mescaline.

Anyways, I pretty much forgot about the acid in my pack, and went off to dig Canada. About a month later, after exploring the mountains and rivers of Alberta and British Columbia, I headed back down the west coast of Oregon on magical Highway 101, as I always did during September on these journeys, when “something” told me to take a different route this time. OK, so I took a left turn at Coos Bay, and aimed my thumb east, inland away from the ocean.

The next morning found me on Interstate 5, hitchhiking south in the warm sun. In spite of all the traffic (or because of it?) I had a long wait, and was getting hot and tired and bored. Suddenly I remembered the hit of acid I had stashed away in my book.

A light clicked on in my head. I immediately dug the windowpane out of my backpack and put it in my mouth. Shortly after swallowing, I saw my ride coming.

It was Vincent!

I recognized the old pickup truck even before it began to slow down and pull over for me. I whooped and hollered and ran to jump in. Once again, Don was picking up every hitchhiker on the road, and practically had a full load, but of course had room for one more. Indeed, room for me.

When he saw who it was, and recognized me, Vincent, err, I mean Don, jumped out of the cab and shook my hand with a huge, bright, golden smile on his face. We both freaked to meet once again, and laughed out loud like the best of old friends. After telling each other where we had been in our recent travels, Don asked me, with a genuine twinkle in his eye, “Say, brother, how was that hit of acid I sold you back in Idaho a month or so ago?”

“I don’t know yet, man,” I replied. “I just took it!” •

– Curt Melliger

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows