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Wild Abandon


Claim:   Person in a state of undress is accidentally left behind at a roadside rest stop by a spouse.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Smith, 1983]

As they left the caravan site just after dawn that morning the wife stayed in bed in the trailer while her husband drove. As she drowsily awake she felt the motion of the trailer stop and, thinking they had reached their destination, a remote and secluded site in the hills, she stepped out of the caravan in her sleeping attire — her birthday suit.

At that precise moment, the trailer sped away and there she was left, stark naked, at a set of traffic lights in the middle of town during the morning rush hour.
 

[Associated Press, 1962]

It was really quite simple, an American tourist explained to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who found him wandering along a highway near here clad in his undershorts. His story:

His wife was driving the family car, while he relaxed in a trailer. She stopped to let some bears cross the road and the husband stepped out to see what the trouble was.

His wife drove on.

The police drove 70 miles before overhauling the wife and reuniting the couple.
 

[Brunvand, 1993]

A friend's aunt and uncle, of retiring age, were travelling across the Nullarbor Plain, a long dull trip — dead flat — featureless, treeless, uninhabited semi-desert for hundreds of miles.

Uncle was driving, and as the car was not air conditioned, he suggested that his wife might lie down in the caravan (camper-trailer) as they travelled. She stripped off her clothes down to her panties, and slept.

After some hours, Uncle stopped the car and went to relieve himself by the roadside. There was no sign of habitation, and no other traffic. Aunty woke up and decided to do likewise. But uncle, unaware that she was out of the caravan, climbed back into the car and drove off.

So there was Auntie, stranded in the middle of nowhere in her knickers. A young man on a motorcycle came along, travelling in the same direction. He was amazed to see this middle-aged overweight woman in a state of undress by the roadside, and even more amazed to hear her explanation.

He put her on the pillion seat, and they gave chase. A short time later, Uncle was astounded to be overtaken by a motorcycle ridden by a leather-clad bikie and his nearly nude wife.
 

Origins:   This legend about a naked or scantily-clad spouse accidentally left behind at a rest stop has been widely Cartoon of the legend recorded in both Britain and America since the early 1960s. If lore is to be believed, embarrassed husbands and wives are routinely turning up by the roadside, all of them having gotten there because they dozed off in the backs of vehicles being driven by their spouses, but only after they first stripped down to the bare essentials (or less).

Accidental highway abandonment (minus the nudity) actually does occur on a regular basis, though not always to wives and husbands. One family unwittingly left their nine-year-old boy in a California gas station. A senator from Indiana left his campaign director in a Tennessee rest stop. And news accounts about spouses left behind at gas stations, rest areas, and other roadside facilities turn up regularly, such as this October 2013 dispatch from the Associated Press:
A German couple's marriage got off to a rocky start when the groom forgot his bride at a highway gas station on the way home from their honeymoon, only noticing she was missing after hours had passed.

Police said the couple was heading home to Berlin from France when the man pulled over near the central town of Bad Hersfeld to fill up their van.

The woman had been sleeping in the back but got up — unbeknownst to the man — to use the toilets and he drove off before she returned.

Only after 2 1/2 hours on the road did he notice she was gone and called police, who said she was patiently waiting.
If there's a moral to these real-life occurrences, it's that the driver should always perform a head count before pulling away from any stopping spot. And that head count should definitely include anyone presumed to be napping in the back seat or trailer.

Okay, so if this is a common occurrence, why is it still an urban legend? Folklorist Jan Brunvand explains it thus: "Surely "The Wife (and others) Left Behind" incident did happen — and several times at that — but in telling and retelling the story people tend to focus on the salient details, and the story probably becomes funnier and more pointed with each
telling."

Which indeed appears to be the case. When told as lore, these stories often include elements of nudity, adding levels of mortification their real-life counterparts lack. In real incidents people may be left stranded with no money or credit cards and with no way to contact the departing drivers, but they are usually fully dressed.

Sometimes as a result of these accidental abandonments, money has to be wired to the one left behind to get him home, or police in three states have to give chase to the family vehicle to reunite the abandoned with his unwary relatives. But in the world of lore, even those satisfyingly titillating details aren't deemed enough unless there's also a soupçon of naked flesh and blushing embarrassment. Storytellers that we are, we add what Fate forgot to include.

Barbara "roadside attraction" Mikkelson

Sightings:   This legend is the climax of the 1968 Doris Day film With Six You Get Eggroll, shows up in the 1976 film The Likely Lads, appears in the 1973 Dan and Inez Morris book The Weekend Camper, and was immortalized in "Truckstop," a short story by Garrison Keillor included in the 1989 collection More News from Lake Wobegon.

Last updated:   11 October 2013

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (p. 231-232).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (p. 126).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Too Good To Be True.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 111-112).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Vanishing Hitchhiker.
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.   ISBN 0-393-95169-3   (pp. 132-136).

    Cerf, Bennett.   The Sound of Laughter.
    New York: Doubleday and Company, 1970   (p. 439).

    Dale, Rodney.   The Tumour in the Whale.
    London: Duckworth, 1978.   ISBN 0-7156-1314-6   (p. 128).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.
    St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland Press, 1996.   ISBN 0-7022-2774-9   (p. 133).

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nasty Legends.
    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.   ISBN 0-00-636856-5   (p. 36).

    Associated Press.   "German Groom Forgets Bride at Gas Station."
    11 October 2013.

Also told in:

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.
    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 248).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 31).