We Love You, Sandra Sandra Her Clan Photos Videos Happy Ending In Her Memory
Sandra Stories from Her Clan

Hitching with Sandra, Scandalous Stories, and other Shenanigans - Julie Gerk Hernandez

I first met Sandra in Berkeley when we were 19. Jeffrey and I were living at Chateau, a colorful co-op full of misfits, poets, dancers, hippies, punks, and compost fanatics. She brightened the entire kitchen in a summery white dress and cowboy boots, teaching Jeff how to make peach pie. I thought she was one of the coolest people I had ever met. A bohemian southern belle.   

Our friendship officially began two years later in 1995, when we both attended Forestry Summer Camp in the northern Californian Mountains. Feisty, sparkly, and sun-kissed, Sandra took up the camp by fiery storm, conjuring up all sorts of mischief. We lived next to one another in little log shanties, with mesh screen for windows. Sandra was the first to throw off her clothes and skinny-dip in Silver Lake, the first to jump off the rock into the gleaming deep of water holes, and the first to climb Mt. Shasta (14, 179 feet) with a sprained ankle. Despite her physical impediment, she climbed up and down the mountain in the time it took me to summit. Her energy knew no bounds.  

That summer, Sandra taught me how to hitchhike. It really wasn’t that difficult in Meadow Valley with a population of less than 1000. We’d hitchhike to town or to some of the more isolated swimming spots. And I knew that if anyone tried anything, Sandra’s hothead temper would put them in their place.  

One afternoon, we had a couple of weird rides; one man’s dog humped Sandra’s leg, while she tried to shoo him off politely, and another guy spouted sexist and racist epithets the whole way, while we pursed our lips and waited desperately to exit without inciting his wrath. After swimming and rolling in the sand for hours, we decided that we’d play it safe and ride home only with a woman. Even though we were sun-drenched and exhausted, we stuck to our plan, inspecting cars from our strategic vantage point behind a rock and hiding from any car that remotely resembled the ones we’d hitched down with. We had almost given up hope, when, on the distant horizon, a 70s trailer appeared. As it neared, we saw a dream catcher hanging from the mirror, and two women driving. Sandra leaped to the side of the road, her gorgeous brown locks eagerly bouncing, and stuck out her thumb. The women slowed to a stop. The one closest to us leaned over and said, “If you weren’t two women, we wouldn’t have stopped.” Our sentiments exactly! So we jumped in and putted up the road.  

Squashed together in the front seat, the four of us exchanged pleasantries, each explaining what we were doing in Plumas National Forest and where we were from originally. Abby and Laurel, an older couple from San Francisco, owned a wedding photography business. Being an inquisitive little monkey, Sandra asked, “What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen at a wedding?”  

With a twinkle in her eye, Abby leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you want to hear what happened seven years ago?”  

“Yes!” Sandra and I answered in enraptured unison.  

Laurel and Abby had spent the morning taking photos of the wedding party at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. You could just smell the wealth in the air, they said. Flowers cascaded down the pews, the stain-glassed windows, and the altar. The bridesmaids wore black velvet dresses with a single stand of pearls across their backs, which, according to Abby, was quite cutting edge at the time. So, it got to the point in the service where the groom and bride swapped vows. The groom started by saying how thankful he was to everyone for being there on the most special day of his life. The bride followed. She said that she too wanted to thank everyone for being there on the most special day of her life, especially her two best friends in the world, her maid of honor and her husband, for f---ing last night! And she stormed off stage. 

Sandra whipped around in shock; I remember her face so vividly: her green eyes were wide with bewilderment and her freckles danced. The story seemed suspended in air. We had to stare at each other for a few seconds in order to grasp what Abby had said.  

We turned back toward Abby and squealed, “Then what happened!” Abby said an audible gasp rose from the pews, as people chaotically spilled out into the aisle and out the church. Abby and Laurel didn’t know what to do, since the situation had taken a dramatic turn from standard formula. Apparently, it was such a shock that Abby had to talk about the event in therapy. They had never seen something like that happen at a wedding before, let alone life in general.  

For the rest of the ride, Sandra, Abby, Laurel, and I contemplated why the bride decided to wait for the ceremony to deliver the news. Had she tried to go through with it and then realized in that moment that she couldn’t? Did she want the whole world to know what really had happened instead of assuming she had cold feet?  

Abby and Laurel dropped us off at the local store, and Sandra and I walked back to camp, reveling in the magic of the day. We decided that they were angels who happened to cross our path. For whatever reason, we had bonded during the car ride—the two older women just over the hill and us two at the base of it, brimming over with youth.  

At the height of life, at the brink of death, Sandra taught me to live each moment fully. Though I don’t hitch anymore, I know that someday, on another road, I’ll hitch a ride with Sandra again.

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