The Vanishing Hitchhiker
November 26th, 2009

Today it’s just a vacant lot beside U.S. Highway 50 on the outskirts of Hinckley, which is a suburb of Delta and neighbor to Oasis and Deseret. What I like to call the West Desert Wilderplex.

Hinckley hasn’t grown in recent years; in fact, it appears to be shrinking. Or maybe it’s growing—if you factor in the prefabs and mobiles, split levels and one McMansion. But to my way of thinking, whenever I come upon a vacant lot where once stood a stately pioneer home, I have to say the town is shrinking.Hinckley_House

First time I saw the house it was already long abandoned. The doors and windows were gone, the grass was mostly dead and the sheltering trees had become whitened skeletons. Trees! They don’t grow in Millard County unless you dig some canals and irrigation ditches. Add water and in time you can create that rarest of West Desert commodities: shade. You can also grow a rose bush or two, a vegetable garden and a patch of grass so a person can sit down without risking multiple prickly pear punctures.

It was the summer of 1970; I’d just come in off the desert on my motorcycle and had decided to stop, stretch my legs and take a load off. But first, I would snap a few pictures of the old house.

Everyone_Loves_Hilda

As I drew closer, I noticed that there was graffiti scrawled on the clapboard siding. “Everyone Loves Hilda,” it read. Alas, no phone number.

I was about to turn away when something caught my eye. Framed in the window opening was a man! Not a ghost but a fellow wayfarer like myself, except older. He looked exactly like the sort of lodgers who used to inhabit the old Millard Hotel. Every guy in the place had a story to tell, except that he wasn’t about to tell it. And every occupant of every room had a bad cough, the result of years and years of smoking.Man_Inside_Abandoned_House

I raised my trusty Exakta camera and squeezed off four or five rounds. Here’s the one I like. Why? Body language. This is the proper posture for igniting a cigarillo. You can tell at a glance it’s not his first, nor will it be his last. His hunched posture and pugilist profile suggest he’s led a hard life. He’s most likely down on his luck, out of work, estranged from his former wife and kids. His only hope now is to catch a ride along the nation’s loneliest highway—east or west, it really doesn’t matter.

“So long as I’m not stuck in Hinckley forever, I’ll make out just fine.”

Then just like that he vanished into thin air—followed by the trees, the grass, the house, and the elusive, lovable Hilda.

-Richard Menzies