One rainy night in 1972, a family of four, and the hitchhiker they picked up outside of Kansas City, get into a car crash. They all survive, and after saying goodbye to the hitchhiker at the hospital, they never see him again. Two decades later, a writer named Denis Johnson publishes a short story collection, Jesus’ Son, which includes a story called “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.” (The book is later adapted for the big screen, made into a 1999 film starring Billy Crudup.) In this piece for The New Yorker, Ted Geltner uncovers this backstory behind Johnson’s literary work.

An ambulance came. Janice and Lori, still unconscious, were taken to the hospital, and Craig rode with them. Cindy was taken there separately. Craig searched for the hitchhiker at the hospital and found him standing with Jones; he asked him what he was going to do now. “I’m gonna take a bus,” the man said. Craig and Jones burst into laughter. “We just couldn’t help it,” Craig recalled. He bid the hitchhiker farewell, and never saw him again.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.