It was chilly and raining some, the bleak type of fall weather. I was only about 30 minutes into a four or five-hour road trip. I was alone.
Between the swishes of my windshield-wipers, I noticed a dark blob on the right side of the road ahead of me. As I approached the blob, I saw that it was actually three, smaller blobs. It wasn't until I sped past them that I realized they were people, walking beside the highway.
"How miserable." I thought.
Their clothes must have been wet and their bodies must have been freezing.
From what I could tell during the instant that I was able to recognize them as human, they were about my age, two men and a woman, dressed in dark clothing and carrying a cardboard sign I could not read.
I pulled off of the next exit so that I could turn around and pick them up. I don't remember deciding that it was a good idea, I just knew that it was what was going to happen. Kind of like if you see a five dollar-bill on the sidewalk - there is no deliberation, you just pick it up.
During the few minutes that it took me to get off the exit, re-enter the highway in the opposite direction and then repeat that process, I called Jackie.
"Hi. I'm about to pick up some hitchhikers and I thought I should tell someone."
I don't know why I thought that calling a friend who lived 14 hours away would be helpful. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to involve someone else enough to sooth my anxiety, but not enough to surrender any control.
She urged me to be careful.
I ended the call just as I began to brake and pull off of the road. I stopped the car a bit behind them, but they had noticed me and were facing me now. I got out of the car.
"You guys need a ride?"
"Yeah! Thank you so much."
I popped my trunk and they unloaded their backpacks.
They rode with me for two hours. Apart from the slight smell of hours of highway walking and my own anxiety about which questions were not polite to ask, it was a pleasant ride. They were on their way to New Orleans for Halloween. They were intentionally homeless and traveled the country by hitchhiking and sneaking onto trains.
The whole idea seemed so romantic; in many ways, they were free. I, with my recently earned BA, student loans, and a career to begin, was feeling the ever-mounting pressure of the quarter-life crisis while they were happy to not know where they would sleep that night. What was more fascinating was learning that there is an entire community of people with this same lifestyle for whom Halloween in New Orleans is an a annual reunion, similar to the college homecoming at the end of my road trip.
Part of me would like to say that I sold my car in the next city, bought a black hoodie and joined them, but I did not. I dropped them off at a friend of a friend's house where they could stay the night. They were very grateful for the ride and I was grateful for the experience.
Immediately, as a 22 year-old, what I took from the experience was that I wanted to be a street kid, not have a career or pay rent.
Since then, I've learned the value of staying in one place - how the longer you stay in a place or even in a good relationship, the more clearly you can see your own reflection in it. How can I identify and improve myself if I only ever see my vague likeness through the eyes of people and places who barely know me?
Now, I look back on the experience as a small liberation from fear. It is upsetting how capable I am of letting my life be dictated by fear. Those people needed something: a ride and a place that was not cold or rainy. I had what they needed and it cost me very little to give it to them. I try not to tell this story too much because it is met with much criticism. Sure, they could have pulled out an ax and beheaded me right there in my Altima, but they didn't. I don't want my goal in life to be to live the longest with the least amount of pain. I want to fully engage the world around me without fear. If that means being beheaded, then so be it.
This post was written as part of a synchroblog. Topic: Independence. Here are links to my fellow synchroblogger's posts:
nightsbrightdays: hypothetically speaking
the rebel i: independence