I recently came across a Roald Dahl story called The Hitch-hiker, published in 1977. Dahl is best known for his children’s books, but — and this isn’t so well known today — he also wrote books and stories for grownups.

The title of the story caught my attention because in my younger days, I hitchhiked a lot. Before I was 20, I had thumbed from Oklahoma to New York, from New York to California, and from California back to Oklahoma. To say nothing of numerous trips to Texas and back.

In those days (the 1960s), it felt much safer to hitch a ride and much safer to give a stranger a lift than it does today.

Dahl’s stories for adults are often macabre and sometimes have unexpected plot twists. Knowing this, I decided to give The Hitch-hiker a try.

It’s about a man who picks up, as you can guess from the title, a fellow who is thumbing for a ride. The man has an expensive car, a BMW 3.3 Li, with a top speed of 129 MPH. The hitch-hiker admires the car, but doubts it could really manage its advertised speed.

“All car makers are liars,” the hiker says. “You can buy any car you like and it’ll never do what the makers say it will in the ads.”


The driver is sure that his BMW will.

“Open her up and prove it,” the hiker says.

I was confused. The story takes place in England. Instead of miles per hour, shouldn’t the characters be talking about kilometers per hour? I looked it up. Nope. To my surprise, the U.K. uses miles just like we do. Huh.

They come upon a long stretch of straight, double-lane highway, and the driver, determined to prove the BMW’s fleetness, presses his foot down on the accelerator.

As the story describes it, the big car ‘leaped forward as though she’d been stung.’ In ten seconds or so they are doing 90.

Encouraged by his passenger, the driver mashes the pedal to the floor and keeps it there. Steadily the car accelerates until the speedometer reaches the advertised mark.


At that moment, there is the sound of a police siren. It’s a motorcycle cop riding a BMW R90S. The big bike pulls along side the car, and the cop motions for them to pull over. The bike zooms ahead, gradually slows down, and stops on the side of the highway. The driver slows down, too, and pulls off right behind the motorcycle.

I won’t spoil the plot by telling what happens, but don’t despair, you can easily find a reading of the story on YouTube. Also, Dahl’s story, The Hitch-hiker, is similar in many regards to a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled Hitch Hike.

The Hitchcock episode features John McIntire, Robert Morse, and a 23-year-old Suzanne Pleshette.  I’d forgotten how entertaining Alfred Hitchcock Presents can be. All seven seasons can be watched for free at archive.org.

And I enjoyed Dahl’s story so much, it has given me a taste for more.

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