Just past the Price Chopper on Route 15, heading home after meeting a guy to pick up a used chainsaw for my son unless I decide to keep it for myself, I stop for a hitchhiker. His name is Ed, and he’s in his mid-60’s I guess, long black hair going grey, old tee shirt, worn-out jeans, faded tattoos on his forearms. Smoking a very thin handrolled cigarette that’s he’s considerate enough to extinguish before entering the car. Carrying a backpack and one of those reuseable shopping tote bags full of his just-bought groceries. A deli-container of chicken wings poking out the top.
Ed lives way up East Hill one town down the road, in a cabin with his dog. He doesn’t have a car but says he might get one, though I don’t sense much commitment to the idea. I tell him I’ll take him all the way home, and this makes him very happy, because East Hill is long and steep and it’s hot out. And he’s got those wings. Plus who knows what else in that bag. As we drive, he points out houses along the way, ones he says he’s worked on over the decades. His voice is soft and I have to lean in a bit to hear him. I learn that he came to own his 10-acre parcel 26 years ago, having traded his Harley for it. Been living there ever since. Or that’s what I think he says, at least.
I drop him at the end of his driveway, which is really just a wide footpath into the woods with a chain across its entrance. Mailbox off to the side. He thanks me, and I say no problem, it’s my pleasure, and it is, in part because it’s been a long time since I picked up a hitcher and Ed’s reminded me of how much I enjoy it, that passing intimacy with a stranger whose life circumstances so often differ so drastically from my own.
And in part because even now, two days later, I like thinking about Ed and his dog in the cabin on the land he got in trade for a motorcycle, the chicken wings presumably long gone, their thin bones tossed out back into the swamp, and maybe tomorrow or the next day he’ll make the long walk down to the main road, where he’ll stick out his thumb and head back to Price Chopper for some more.