(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking” is the first story in Jesus’ Son (1992), an interrelated collection of short stories that traces the progress of a young man from drug addiction to recovery. Told in the first person by a seemingly clairvoyant narrator who claims that he can perceive future events, the story jumps around in time. The bulk of the story is devoted to a description of an automobile accident and its aftermath.

In chronological order, the events of the story are as follows. The hitchhiking narrator is picked up by a Cherokee, a salesperson, and a college student and consumes large amounts of alcohol and drugs with them. The married salesperson, who is on his way to meet his girlfriend, first picks up the narrator in Texas. The salesperson shares his amphetamines and whiskey with the narrator and rhapsodizes about his capacity to feel love for everyone in his life but then leaves the narrator in Kansas City. A student gives the narrator a ride to the city limits and offers him hashish. Overcome by the quantity of drugs he has taken, the narrator falls asleep in a puddle beside a highway.

Eventually a family—a man and his wife, Janice, and their baby—gives the narrator a ride, and he falls asleep. The family’s car is struck by another car, the driver of which apparently has fallen asleep at the wheel. Sprayed with blood and carrying the baby, the narrator seeks help from a reluctant truck driver. He observes that the driver of the other car in the collision is hanging upside down and snoring, still asleep. The police force the narrator to go to the hospital, where he sees hospital personnel telling Janice that her husband died in the accident.

The narration shifts to several years in the future when the narrator is admitted to a hospital for medical treatment of his substance abuse. A nurse injects him with vitamins, and while hallucinating that he is in a pastoral setting, the narrator denies that he can help anyone, including the reader. It appears that the narrator’s experience with drugs will persist for some time.