Walker_Evans_Hitchhidkers_Vicksburg_(vicinity)_March_1936

The late night ride motif.

An interesting article in the Scientific American examines the evolution of a popular American folk tale. The article begins with the story of a man driving late at night who stops to ostensibly give a stranded woman a ride home. The next day he discovers the woman he was transporting was really a  ghost. The story itself is a common motif, although there is often a permutation of the facts. The article illustrates just how popular the late night ride with a stranger motif is, referencing the story of Philip the Apostle who is given a ride by an Ethiopian whom he baptizes and then vanishes mysteriously.

What is interesting is how the folktale itself has evolved. The story above is juxtaposed with a more modern macabre version where a woman is about to give a strange man a ride but at the last minute she drives off in a hurry, inadvertently forgetting about the man she is supposed to bring with her. Not until later does the female driver remember that the man left a briefcase in her car, the contents of which are a sharp knife and duct tape. In both instances the story could be a cautionary tale, but with a different point. While the original late night ride may be a warning to drive safe, or the importance of community. While the second story appears to admonish going anywhere with a stranger alone.

The late night ride seems to be a ubiquitous story. Is there a similar story in New Orleans that has a local flavor added to it? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section.

Walker_Evans_Hitchhidkers_Vicksburg_(vicinity)_March_1936

Leave a Comment