USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘driving’
Legends

Ghost on MA-70

[The subject is PD. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: PD is a college student from Massachusetts. He is Caucasian, of Irish-Catholic heritage, and has lived in the United States for his entire life. This story was told to a small group of people during a party, just after midnight, when the conversation had shifted to ghost stories.

PD: It was like… this is how I know it was definitely a ghost, because it was like 2 AM, like broad daylight, like I was driving from Clinton to Worcester, and like to get from Clinton to Worcester is like this ten mile stretch of like nothing but woods. Like no people, no houses, no nothin’… and I was like stuck behind this like 19-like 80s, 90s, like fuckin’, like a… it was like a Plymouth, like a car they don’t even like make anymore and shit. And the dude was going like 10 miles below the speed limit, and I was like fuckin’ pissed as shit. And like out of nowhere, the dude just like pulls over to the road, and like gets out of his car, and sprints and just like leaps over the fence and into the woods. And I’m like, ‘what the fuck was up with that?’ So ten seconds later I do a three point turn and turn around, dude’s gone, car is gone, I don’t know what in the fuck happened, but I asked my fuckin’ boss Emily, who’s like been in the parks department for like five hundred years, and she was like, “oh yeah, I’m pretty sure like a bunch of people died on route 70 back in the eighties before we started like improving it.” And I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost!

Thoughts: At the beginning of the story, I think PD meant to say it took place at 2 PM, since it was in broad daylight, and he was sure that this was a ghost because he could see it clearly. I noticed that this legend is very dependent on the modern time frame that it is set in, because the old style of car that the ghost was driving stood out to the storyteller, and connects to what Emily had said about the roads being unsafe in the eighties. I also found it interesting that the car the ghost was driving was said to be a Plymouth, since the story takes place in Massachusetts and Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the oldest towns in the United States and is generally thought of as a place with lots of history and folklore, including ghost stories.

general
Legends
Magic

Gravity Hill

JC: “Gravity Hill is a place in Mentor, Ohio, which is upa round the Lake Erie shore, north of Cleveland. And I have no idea why, how we planned the trip that got us all the way up there, four and a half, five hours up from Dayton. But we had heard about it, and I believe we had even seen it on That’s Incredible, which was a TV show that sort of anthologized folklore and weirdness and Guinness Book things and so on. So we drove up to Mentor Ohio, a group of us, in high school. And the road it’s on, I don’t remember what the road is called, but we had to look it up on a map–a paper map, cause there were no Internets, and we got to the place on the road where it was, and we had to take the car, and put it in neutral, at the bottom of what looks like a hill, and then the car slowly goes up the hill and gathers a little bit of speed. Apparently, somehow, it’s just an unbelievably convincing optical illusion, but it really feels like your car is being pulled uphill. Like it looks like it’s uphill, it really does look that way. So that’s Gravity Hill.”

Background: JC is an Ohio native. He and his friends likely heard about this Gravity Hill, or a similar phenomenon, from television.

Interpretation:

The Gravity Hill phenomenon is fairly common, and dozens of these stretches of road exist around the world. The conditions required to maintain the illusion come about naturally or unintentionally in many places in the United States, and most of these places likely have their own set of stories surrounding them, with some similarities and more variations. JC had no further information about this particular hill with regards to any stories surrounding it. This particular feature was considered just an illusion by JC and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a Gravity Hill nearby in Altadena, California, which has further folklore surrounding it. A range of ghost stories involving crashed school buses or cars of cheerleaders claim that this particular hill is haunted, and perhaps the “magnetic” effect is ghostly hands pushing your car to ensure you don’t meet the same fate as they did. A common practice of “ghost hunters” is to put baby powder or flour on the front or back of their car, and see if handprints show up while rolling “uphill.”

 

For more information on Gravity Hill in Altadena, see another local account of this gravity hill: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=34587

general
Legends
Narrative

Backseat Butcher Horror Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a fire-pit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to Jacob during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told among a group of friends sitting in a circle around a fire-pit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“A young woman spent the night out on the town. As she decides to come home, she takes the back-roads to avoid having to stop at lights. That, and she can speed a bit haha…. It’s quite a far drive in the dark, so she decides to listen to music on the radio to stay awake. A few minutes into her drive, she notices a large truck driving up behind her. She slows down to let them pass, but the truck just drives directly behind, matching her speed…Nobody else is on the road and the truck flashes its high beams. No matter how fast she drives, or which turns she takes, the truck stays right behind her. Terrified, she speeds home and pulls into the driveway. The truck is still there… She considers locking her doors but opts to get out and run to her house. She opens her car door and starts to run. The driver gets out of his truck, as well, and aims a gun. Time seems to stop… She can feel her heart beating… *Thump*… *Thump*… *Thump*… Silence… *Bang*… The shot echoes in her ears as she looks down at her chest to inspect the wound. As her ears stop ringing, she hears a thud as a body falls out of her car, a butcher’s knife in hand…”

Thoughts:

Having someone follow you is a common trope in folklore that invokes fear in everyone. It rattles your nerves and using it in this story subverts expectations. The final part of the story utilized a lot of sound effects to make the listeners feel calm, despite being the crux of scariness. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us. It was obvious that some of the people in the circle were nervous of the shadows, thinking someone was behind them. It was interesting to hear that this was a campfire story told during summer camps due to it being set more in a cityscape. However, I think it works well in that setting because often back-roads had to be taken to get to/from the camps. There are many stories in which events happen in sets of three. This story utilizes it for the sound of the woman’s heartbeat. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story.

general
Legends
Narrative

San Francisco Hitch-Hiker Ghost Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“Okay, this next one is about a little girl from Sacramento… One night, a couple is driving down the road. It’s pitch-black and silent, all except the hum of the tires on the road… The roads are unusually empty, despite it being nearly midnight, and the headlights of the car created a cone of light, barely illuminating the edge of the road… *moves the flashlight in a circle on the ground around the fire*… As they’re driving, the hum of the tires starts to lull them into a trance. *Jacob’s voice began to get more and more quiet* Driving… Driving… Driving through the night. Out of nowhere, the boyfriend slams on the breaks! The girlfriend is lurched awake. ‘What the hell was that?!’ the girlfriend exclaimed. ‘I think I saw something on the side of the road…’. He backs up to find a little girl standing all alone. He stops the car and slowly gets out to ask the girl if she’s okay… Her clothes oddly out of place, her hair tangled, and her skin pale. Immediately, he notices that the girl’s arm is cut, and tears have run dry on her cheeks. ‘Are you okay? What are you doing out here all alone?’ The girl responds only by asking for a lift to her home, only a few miles down the road. Of course, the couple agrees to help the child, and offer to take her to the hospital, instead, but she insists on only going home… So, the couple drive her home, asking her a few questions, creating small-talk… Eventually, the girl stops responding and the couple look back to find she’s fallen asleep. They whisper quietly to each other the rest of the drive… As they pull up to the address, they slowly pull into the driveway. The couple notices that most of the house is dark, all except a single candle on the window by the door… Not wanting to wake the girl, the couple quietly gets out of the car to see if someone is home… *knock knock knock*…. No answer. *Knock Knock Knock*… Still, no answer… *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*… The door slowly creeps open, and an old lady stands in the dark, the candle barely illuminating her. ‘Yes? How can I help you?’ The girlfriend answers, ‘I’m sorry to disturb you this late at night, but a little girl told us this was her address, and we thought we would bring her home.’ The old lady begins to tear up as the boyfriend goes to get the girl from the car. ‘I don’t know of any girl around here, only my late daughter, who died years ago in a car accident.’ The girlfriend turns pale and looks back at the car. The boyfriend stood staring at the empty backseat…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish I could better capture the feeling of this piece. The environment in which the piece was told really played into the feeling of the story. The cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us made it feel like we were surrounded by ghosts. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he was raised in San Francisco, close to where this story is set. Being told at the summer camps, I believe it made it even more terrifying at the time (due to being told to children who lived near this setting). The recurring set of three also shows up in this story when the couple are knocking on the door, each time the knocking getting louder, as well as the repeated “Driving, driving, driving” to lull the listeners into a false sense of security. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story. I’ve also heard similar stories to this about a spirit or ghost making an appearance and convincing someone they are still alive, only to disappear later.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

Foothill Road

Main Piece

“I live off of Foothill Road, and it’s a windy [curvy] street. In the early 80’s, a girl was walking home on Foothill Road and someone came out of a van and stabbed her to death. I know that this actually happened, since she went to my high school. People say that you have to drive slow around there because it’s a ‘cursed road.’”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The road is curvy and very dangerous, in the informant’s life, at least 3 people have died in accidents on it. There has also been a police chase and a double homicide. The informant told me that she always takes especially great care when driving on this road. Teenagers in the area are often given warnings about the road.

Context

The informant is from an affluent area near San Francisco, and the road is in a very residential area.

Notes

While people were likely wary of the road before the murder in the 1980’s, the road now has an ominous presence. I find it very interesting that there are no legends about the road being haunted by a ghost; rather, people tell the story of the murder to demonstrate that it is indeed dangerous, likely in an attempt to prevent teenagers from driving dangerously on it.

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Bring Pork on the Pali Highway

“In Hawaii, there’s a big stigma about the Pali Highway. You’re not supposed to carry pork on it from the windward side to the leeward side because it has to do it the belief in the Hawaiian gods The windward side, [my sister] said it was the Kamapua’a, which is the pig god, and then the leeward side is the embodiment of his ex-girlfriend, which is Pele, which is the goddess of fire. If you if you bring poured across the Pali Highway from windward to leeward, you’ll get cursed with bad luck. You’re supposed to bring tea leaves to protect yourself, and that’s why you don’t drive with pork.”

Background Information and Context:

“[I learned about the superstition] through one of my teachers, my Modern History of Hawaii teacher, I believe, because he used to tell different stories and things, so use telling the history of the island and about how we have a really like big mixed culture but also, like, indigenous Hawaiian cultures. So, I would modern Hawaiian culture, at least, is like an amalgamation of a bunch of different things that are mixed into [indigenous Hawaiian culture]. So, different superstitions, too. All of the older aunties and uncles, especially native Hawaiian and aunties and uncles, will be steadfast about superstitions, but I have never met anyone who like really really strict about this one. Still, even if they’re not really really strict about it, like they don’t super believe in it, they won’t do it anyway because it’s just one of those superstition things that you just don’t do.”

Collector’s Notes:

What I find most interesting about this superstition is that, although the informant has never met anyone who truly claimed belief in the superstition, she considers it something you “just don’t do.” This shows the power of cultural expectations and explains why superstitions are so resilient to fading. Moreover, I find the informant’s knowledge of and education about Hawaiian history and culture intriguing because she was neither born in Hawaii nor is she of indigenous Hawaiian descent, showing that the adoption of local traditions does not have to occur from a young age.

Folk speech
Humor

Ukrainian Driving Joke

Informant is a 19 year old college student who grew up to the age of 11 in a small village outside Kiev, Ukraine. He speaks in a mild Ukranian accent and currently attends Rutgers University. This is a joke he tells which according to him “only makes sense if you grew up in Ukraine.”

“In other countries, the sober driver goes in a straight line and when you drive drunk you swerve. In Ukraine, the drunk man goes straight and the sober man swerves!….. Get it? Because of all the potholes.”

Although I didn’t get the joke at first, I do like it. I assume the joke is a bit of an exaggeration, but already I have some idea about the quality of infrastructure in his birth town. Informant says he got the joke from his dad, who is sitting in the other room and does not speak English. Although my informant was not very old when he left Ukraine, he says he was old enough to remember “sights and sounds” from when he was younger.

general

Driving rule in Jamaica

TK is my dad. Before moving to the United States his previous job required him to travel a lot. Luckily he enjoys traveling.

 

This past winter break the whole family gathered in New York and for New Years went on a family vacation to Jamaica. On the flight my dad and uncle shared their stories of their previous visits to Jamaica. On TK’s last visit to Jamaica he was in Kingston and one of the taxi drivers told his an interesting saying about driving in Jamaica.

 

“He told me that when it comes to driving in Jamaica there is one major rule you need to know if you plan on driving. “The left side is the right side, and the right side is suicide.””

 

As in the UK, traffic on Jamaica travels on the left in right hand drive vehicles. So if you drove on the right side, which is the wrong side haha, you will most likely have a car crash; thus being the suicide side. When we landed in Montego Bay the driver to the hotel resort told us the same saying. So obviously it is a popular saying there and how wouldn’t it be it rhymes, it’s catchy, funny and true.

Legends
Narrative

Rest Stop Stalker

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old USC student; she’s studying human biology and is currently applying to medical school. She was born in Macedonia, and immigrated to the Long Beach, CA with her mother and stepfather at the age of five. Her father still lives and works as a doctor in Macedonia, and my informant visits each summer. She speaks the language fluently.

Performance:

“So my boyfriend spends a lot of time on Reddit, and sometimes he’ll send me the weird shit he finds; like memes, videos, etc. One of his favorite things to do when he’s bored is read, like, ghost stories and scary stories and that kind of thing. He sent me this really scary one a few months back that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I don’t remember it, like, word for word, but I’ll send you the link. It’s — it’ll bug you out.”

(I ask her to tell me what she remembers of the story)

“Okay, so it’s about this guy who works in the city but lives like, hours and hours away in another state so he drives home every weekend and stays in the city for work. So one time, he was driving back into the city and had to stop and pee. So he’s in the bathroom and he sees, um, this like drawing thing, a super profane drawing with a note that said something like ‘I want to fuck you’ or ‘I want your cock’ or something, and it was in super neat handwriting and well-spelled — basically, like, not your typical graffiti in a rest-stop bathroom. It was also dated so the guy knew that whoever did the drawing had done it like, that day a few hours before. The guy leaves and gets in the car, which had a University of Michigan sticker on it, or something. So he keeps driving and has to pee again and stops at another rest stop. He’s peeing and he sees another piece of graffiti but this time it’s a super intense picture of someone who’s literally been ripped apart…like, um, guts everywhere and stuff…and the notes in the same handwriting as the last one said like ‘I want to eat your intestines’ and like ‘I want to fuck your corpse’ and really gruesome shit. The date/time on the wall were only from an hour or so ago. The guy’s freaked the fuck out, so he gets in the car but when he passes the next rest stop he’s curious so he gets out and goes into the bathroom and finds a huge message written in shit on the wall that says like ‘almost there, Michigan! You’re so close!’ like whoever wrote it knew that the guy would stop and knew exactly who he was and was taunting him…so the guy runs out of the bathroom and to his car and he hears like muffled laughter coming from in the bushes. On the last stretch of the trip he sees a car pulled over on the side of the road and a guy standing in front of it with brown stains all over him…as the guy passes the guy on the side of the road yells ‘FUCK YOU MICHIGAN!’ and starts laughing hysterically….there was something wrong with his face, like his eyes were wrong or he had too many teeth…something about him that just wasn’t quite…human, maybe? So like whatever it was that was like stalking him the whole time was just trying to torment him for no real reason…just because he could. Or it could, I guess (laughter).”

Thoughts:

Neither me nor my informant could find the link to the original story on reddit, but did find the story on another website: (http://adequateman.deadspin.com/a-rest-stop-stalker-and-more-of-your-real-life-horror-1738356933). While looking through Reddit, however, I was stunned by the sheer volume of collected folklore on the site. There are thousands and thousands of ghost stories and legends that are shared and discussed between users. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that, when bored, someone would go through and look for engaging piece of folklore on Reddit. This story is terrifying because it’s incredibly contemporary; it features rest stops, road trips, and time-stamped stalking. The story is geographically non-specific. This is a world we’ve seen and could recognize; we can imagine his terror and picture ourselves as victims of the same stalker. And most importantly, we can believe that this may have really happened to someone at some time in some area of the country. It’s a terrifying Urban Legend.

general

Using Car Horns in Indonesia

The informant is a 26-year old web developer who has spent much time traveling for work.


 

What was driving in Indonesia like?

BF: Indonesia was excellent. I never drove, I was always in a taxi. The funny thing is… everyone honks on the roads. Here it’s offensive or rude or abrasive–but everyone is doing it all the time in Indonesia. Sounds like New York City, with all the horns.

Were the roads different in any other way?

BF: Yeah, driving was also really tough because the cards weren’t as good and the roads were relatively shoddy. I guess that’s why everyone honks so much more. It’s funny how it’s not a gesture of rudeness there, but just the way people drive.

 


 

Video demonstrating the extreme use of car horns in Indonesia

[geolocation]