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A Dozen More

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After the storm

Driving westward yesterday afternoon, the sun sweet on my face through the windshield, on my way to pick up a carload of used sap buckets, I picked up a hitchhiker. It is my rule to pick up hitchhikers; I think the world would be a better place if more people hitched, and if more people invited strangers into such intimate space. For is this not a basis for empathy? And do we not suffer a cultural deficit of empathy? I think it is and I believe we do.

The fellow I picked up looked a little rough around the edges. He carried the yeast-y smell of one who drinks with frequency; it hit hard the moment he opened the door. There were tattoos on his hands, something in script, poorly done and faded, simple blue ink. I tried to make out the words but could not. He was headed for a town near where I was born, and where my parent still hold title to a piece of land. He was going to visit someone he referred to as his “lady friend.”

“It’s a long ways to walk for a piece of ass,” is what he said, and I pointed out that at least now he wouldn’t need walk the entire distance, since I’d be dropping him a good twenty miles nearer to sexual gratification, if indeed he was actually sober enough to experience such by the time he arrived. Truthfully, the longer we talked, the less likely this seemed. Maybe I should have pointed out the exploitative nature of his comment, but I didn’t, and maybe that makes me complicit. I don’t know.

We didn’t talk about much of consequence. He told me about his kids, about the job he used to have working on a horse farm, about how he makes extra money harvesting chaga, about his pending divorce, about the recent storm, and so on. Small talk. He sat leaned over a bit, one hand against his side, as if something pained him.

I dropped him where my path diverged from his, and watched in the rearview as he walked through the juncture of the two roads. He’d told me he travels this route often; he knew he had exactly 19 miles to go. He claimed he’d walked those entire 19 miles a time or two, but I didn’t know whether or not to believe him. Could anyone really not get a ride in 19 miles of highway?

I thought about the last time I hitched, just last summer, actually. The truck’s alternator crapped out, and I had no phone, so I stuck out my thumb and in about two minutes a huge Dodge Ram pulled over, all black, tinted windows, thumpy exhaust, the whole nine. I hopped in and the driver had the gas to the floor before I even had my ass on the seat. Lit those tires right up. He was maybe 45, 50, and was grinning hugely, eyes twinkling like he and I were accomplices to something that was just on the edge of being wrong, and I had to laugh. He took me out of his way to drive me right to my doorstep.

I gave him a dozen eggs, and he was so grateful that I gave him a dozen more.

16 thoughts on “A Dozen More”

  1. Gosh, this gave me a jolt of nostalgia. I used to hitch a lot and give hitchhikers rides a lot when I was young, often involving characters just about like the two you describe. I always thought that in terms of contact with other humans, and in terms of how you spent your time, it didn’t get much better than that. What amazing encounters. I even did a good bit of long-distance hitchhiking, and more or less took it for granted as part of life. Then for some reason (which maybe sociologists could explain but I can’t) the whole thing seemed to wither and die. No one with their thumbs out on the roads any more, people not much willing to pick you up if you were the one with your thumb out. (Though I confess as I got older and less footloose, I wasn’t so apt to find myself in that situation.) Country people will still stop and pick you up on back roads, especially if they think you might be in trouble, but other than that the whole thing seems like a custom that’s just faded away–not part of the culture anymore. I’m sure I could understand at least some of why it had to be, but it does make me sad.

    Your eloquent little description cheers me a bit, though. Maybe it will all come back. That sounds dreamy, but you know, if that localized, sustainable, healthy, resilient economy we’ve all been blathering about for years now were to actually come to pass, I suspect more hitchhiking all around would be a part of it.

    Anyway, thanks for a sentimental journey. Barn

    1. My husband picks them up- village roads- usually elders with parcels. Mist recently, a very old man who asked to try on his sunglasses. He’d never worn any before, wanted to understand why….I do if it is a woman, but I get skiddish if I think harm might come to myself or three girls. You’re right, though, of course about the sense of compassion and community.

  2. Love the hitchhiking stories. When I was a kid, picking up villagers at the roadside while my dad drove our old rusted Soviet car from town to my grandma’s farm 15 miles away, was quite usual. Sometimes you knew these people, and sometimes you did not. But to pass someone while they are walking and not give them a lift, was considered unhuman. As a student, I hitchhiked at least once every couple months from the city to my parents town 300 miles away. All students did, because nobody had money for the bus. I believe they still do, although I did not spot too many last summer.
    Last time I saw the hitchhiker was just recently coming back from Grand Canyon. We did not stop for him, but I saw somehow he reached the destination quicker than us. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I have to say, Vermont is a bit of a different universe for hitchhiking and such. Here is an example for you, in Chicago suburbs I had been harassed by police for just sitting in the car at Taco Bell, for a suspicious activity of sitting. In Vermont, on the other hand, no problem overnighting at various pullouts in the woods. Woke up in the middle of the night seeing some lights flashing behind the van, thinking: oh, no, busted. Looking behind, I see two figures in the dark dragging something toward the forest. Oh, no! Now my over alert brain is thinking: they are dumping a body into the woods. So I keep watching, trying to make out what is happening in the pitch dark. It was just two hikers from Maine pitching a tent right at the roadside in the Green Mountains. We left in the morning, while those Maine campers kept snoring still. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I don’t usually pick up hitch hikers, but did pick up a man who was in the middle of nowhere, about 30 miles southwest of LaJunta, CO, in the middle of a cold night in February of 2013. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, so our conversation was, as you can imagine, quite limited. I fed him a bag of Fritos, a bottle of Diet Coke, and a can of Spaghetti Os with hot dogs.and then dropped him off in Trinidad. I hope that he got to wherever it was that he was headed.

    1. BTW, it was 84 in Omaha today. The wild plums are flowering, the wheat fields are emerald green, and I’m wearing shorts again..

  4. I hitched more than I should of as a solitary not-yet-20 year old girl but for at least 6 months as a sophomore in college, I was car-less and lived off campus. I also had a job picking apples at the university orchard. We were allowed to take as much fruit as we could carry so after my shift I’d take my bag and stick my thumb out. I think I imagined I could always lob a few apples at anyone who got fresh. But no one did so instead, I always left some of those beauties behind as thanks.

    1. Tried once my first yr in rural college (Arcata, Ca) but a car full of native american ladies picked me up and lectured me to never, ever try it again๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Ben, I would love to read what you write about your experience of Sacramento, should you ever have one (great trees, rivers). Fear dries up empathy real dusty-like. But thankfully, not always.

  6. 1984: enjoyed taking 5 hours to hitchhike across 5 different rides the journal from Potsdam NY to Burlington VT, what is usually 3 hours. Walked across Malone NY and met some interesting folks, all of whom let my rump find the seat before the pedal hit the metal. There is a lot of growing available in getting such windows into the lives of our relative neighbors. Moving with folk new to us. I am usually unaware of how big and ignorant my ignorance is. Seeing this is a bit like lightning at night. “Did ya see that?!” I think I did. I think I did. It’s a good reason to keep a journal, a relatively lean one.

    1. Beautifully written, Peter. Thank you. Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to work the for the census bureau. My supervisor would often send me to the outer reaches of the assigned areas, giving me a sometimes third world visual within my own community. Humbling.. “unaware of how big and ignorant my ignorance is.” What I remember most was how friendly people were to a stranger that was trespassing into their lives.

      1. Thank you, Karen. I do often feel embarrassed to be writing here, as if I think that I deserve to put up words in the realm of writers such as Ben.

        Typographical error: “journal” from Potsdam should read “journey”, and, ironically, this just days after I teased Ben about his “animal’s” (shelter).

        There seems to be a relation to hitchhiking and this writing. A freedom, a playfulness and unpredictability. Thank you all for participating, even while the masses of men are living their lives as ? HD Thoreau? said.

        Thanks again.

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