The Bridge—Surprise encounter on a country road

(1974, age 27)

When driving, I don’t normally pick up strangers from the side of the road. Once, I made an exception.

It was a beautiful fall day in Massachusetts. I was in spending a few weeks at Digital Equipment Corporation at their facility in Maynard, a suburb north of Boston. The company was training me as a computer technician, but the topic that day was microprocessors, which had been my specialty in a previous job. I skipped class and decided to take in the fall colors. The back roads beckoned me with their autumn leaves in brilliant color. I knew several routes that wound through hills and valleys on twisting, two-lane, isolated roads.

That afternoon in my car, I came over a hilltop and started winding down through the woods. After a minute, the road flattened out to cross a narrow bridge. That’s when I saw her. I wasn’t expecting to find a young girl running ahead of me about halfway across the bridge. I was even more surprised when I realized she had no clothes on, nothing at all. Then I noticed another girl, waiting and holding some clothes about thirty yards away at the far end of the bridge.

There were no other cars on the road in either direction. So as I approached her, I slowed down. She stopped, backed against the guard rail and covered herself as best she could with her hands. I stopped the car. I wanted to ask if she needed help, but after I rolled down the window, neither of us said anything. She looked about seventeen, with long sandy blond hair. The wind was blowing her hair into her eyes but she couldn’t raise either hand to brush it away. Nothing was said - we just looked at each other, perhaps equally surprised: me to find her on the bridge, and she to have picked the exact wrong time to take her girlfriend’s dare of running across, naked. “Streaking” like this was a temporary fad at the time in America.

Her eyes pleaded for me to please just drive on. I would have, too. But then we both heard it: the unmistakable sound of a diesel engine. A big truck had just crossed the ridge and at that moment was winding down through the same woods where I had just been. As she looked toward the sound, I saw the expression on her face at the instant when she realized it, too. The truck would be here in only a few moments. Now she turned back to me with a new look: a frozen, helpless panic.

“Get in!” I blurted. Her eyes widened and she looked terrified. But the truck’s diesel engine kept growing louder as the driver wound the big rig down through the woods leading to the bridge. My words were an offer of safety, nothing more, though she couldn’t know that. Once she made up her mind, she acted without hesitation. She grabbed the handle on the car door, forgetting modesty and all else, and jumped in the car. She sat down, put her knees tightly together, covered herself again, and stared straight ahead. That’s the first time I noticed that she was quite pretty.

Her friend watching from the far end of the road must have been terrified. The girl she dared to streak across the bridge was now naked and in a stranger’s car. But my passenger had decided to trust me with whatever would happen next. Just as she closed the car door, the truck emerged from the woods and started across the bridge.

I accelerated quickly to get off the narrow bridge, as there was no room to pass and no time for the truck to stop safely. In just a moment, I reached the end of the bridge with my beautiful, if petrified passenger. I pulled off the road just before the truck passed. Then she opened the door and ran to her waiting friend. I watched her as she ran to safety from my car. I saw the thankful look in her friends eyes, though once again nothing was said.

Slowly, I drove away. I didn’t look in the mirror. The entire encounter on the bridge had taken under two minutes. I marveled at how life can intersperse magic in such short increments, almost as if it never really happened. As I drove over the next hill, I again noticed the beauty of the autumn leaves. I wondered if there was another bridge on the road ahead.