Guardian Angel or Escaped Psycho?


In college, I had a most unusual experience. As I headed back to San Luis Obispo, after spending some time at home in Hanford, I decided to take the old 41 highway. This highway literally weaves through the coastal range between Shalom and Atascadero. It is a two-lane highway with many turns and bends. As fate would have it, I was listening to a tape instead of the radio and did not realize that bad weather was on the way.

Being winter, I didn't really pay much attention to the overcast skies. The Central Coast of California is known for its year-round mild weather. As I headed deeper into the hills, something happened that I had never seen before. It started to snow. After a little bit of time, it was really coming down. I didn't have any tire chains for my truck since this was the Central Coast.  So, the road got a bit slicker and the snow a bit deeper as I pressed on.

I was about 12 miles from Atascadero when I passed a guy walking along the road, heading in the same direction as me. I never saw another car along the road. Now, I normally don’t pick up strangers, but this guy was covered in snow by this time. I stopped and offered him a ride. I asked him if his car had broken down and, strangely, he said no, he was walking to Atascadero. Being that it was snowing heavily and Atascadero was still 12 miles away, I was immediately suspicious of this guy. However, he was already in the truck, so I continued on, albeit with one eye on the road and one eye on him. He seemed a pleasant fellow and we made idle chitchat about the weather. As we were approaching a sharp curve on the edge of a steep hill, he looked at me and said “Steve, this curve can be dangerous.  You should probably slow down.” I slowed down more than I would have if I were alone. Even at that speed, with the snow on the ground, the back of my truck fishtailed on the corner. Had I spun out, I was looking at a long drop over the side of the hill. We made it safely down the hill into Atascadero, where I dropped this guy off at a corner and he disappeared into the snowstorm.

Now the weird part of this tale is that I never gave this guy my name. After he told me he was walking 12 miles in the hills and snow, I decided that the less this guy knew about me, the better. Also, the fact that Atascadero has a state institution for the criminally insane crossed my mind. I left wondering if they had an outpatient center…