I hitch-hiked to work today.
Not on purpose. It’s not like I leave my building in the morning and head out to the closest thoroughfare, hike up my jeans, show a little leg hair and hope to grab the first Manhattan bound pederast freight driver. While the great romance of the road is not entirely lost to me, this happened totally by chance, and I’m really glad it did.
Maybe a little backstory would help here. Last night I stayed at my girlfriend, Eileen’s, apartment. She lives in Bayonne, New Jersey. It’s not the most accessible part of the Garden State, at least not by public transportation. Most of the coming and going takes place in crowded commuter buses, home to terminally rude cell phone users and happy hour drunks. What would normally be a 15 minute trip by car is generally anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.
One of the upsides of course is that given the chance, you can catch an extra hour of sleep on the ride in to Port Authority. Be careful when you do this, I’ve awoken to the old “Unsolicited Hand on Leg” more than once, and just once the “Gratuitous Leg Spread and Stare.”
It’s a love-hate relationship, which goes mostly as evidence to my state of mind this morning when Jane pulled up in front of where I was waiting for the bus. It was a rather nippy morning, and standing at a bus stop, next to a busy road certainly doesn’t make for any warm gusts. It’s kind of like sitting on Jack Frost’s anus after a trip to Tijuana.
I’d been waiting for about ten minutes, getting blown back and forth, and I can only assume I’d taken on the, “my balls are making icicle sounds” face of pain, when a car pulled up in front of me. It was a red light, so I didn’t notice anything until I saw the window start rolling down.
At first I didn’t even look at the car, I just took out my headphones and waited for the inevitable request for directions that I would undoubtably be unable to answer. Instead all I heard was, “You going to New York?”
That was when I turned and looked. She was obviously offering me a ride. The first thing both parties involved in a hitch-hike do is size up the other, trying to make sure that the other isn’t crazy, or a born again Christian (take this one on personal experience).
“Yeah,” I said.
On this occasion, my ride was a forty five year-old black lady on her way to work. She reminded me of a camp director I had when I was thirteen, and when she smiled and asked if I’d like a ride, I said, “That’d be fantastic, thanks.”
I’ve told about ten people so far today about this story and the reaction has been split right down the middle. On one half, I get the, “Are you fucking crazy? She could have been a psycho killer.” Which is certainly a valid point, considering how many middle-aged African American female psycho killers out there regularly troll for fresh meat in Bayonne, NJ.
The other half has been in agreement with me that, a) That was a very nice thing of her to do (it was freezing), b) The world would be better off with more people like her and c) What makes ME look so harmless that I’d warrant a pick-up? (I’m guessing it was the, “Gay for Clay” button on my lapel)
We had a lovely ride in. We traded small talk, what we do for a living, where we’re from, our names, our likes, our slightly glossed over “for the sake of conversation” political beliefs.
Her name is Jane, she was originally from St. Martin (I think), her accent had been sanded down by nearly two decades of living there in New Jersey. She’s a paralegal at a law firm in midtown and apparently she gets free parking. She’s a Catholic and voted for Kerry in the last election. She knits in her spare time and tries to get her son to come home from college at Rutgers for a visit once in a while.
When we were nearing the Lincoln Tunnel, after we’d nearly run dry of niceties, I said, “You know, I have to ask, do you normally stop for people and offer rides? Is that entirely safe?”
She said, “Not really, but today, when I saw you standing there in the cold, waiting for that bus, I said to myself, ‘here’s a person who wouldn’t mind some help, and I can offer that help and it won’t mean any skin off of my back, so why not?'”
“But what about the crazies, psychoes out there?” I asked.
I’ll never forget what she said then, “We’re the crazies if we’d rather lock our doors to people in need instead of offering our help.”
When she let me out on 8th Avenue, near a subway station, I remembered that my parents used to pick up hitchhiker’s all the time when we were kids. That someone on the road might just need some help or a lift was the assumption we’d make.
Now a days, if I saw someone on the road for some reason I’d think he was an escaped mental patient with a penchant for eating sauteed genitalia. When did we start fearing our neighbor and stop fearing for their well being? The greatest thing about what Jane said was that the help she had to offer, just a lift in the direction she was going, was so insignificant that it would be crazy not to offer it.
Maybe we have all gone crazy, because I certainly can’t say with any kind of honesty that I would have acted the same way she did in her situation. At least with people like Jane driving around offering up societal prozac in the form of politeness, maybe we can keep the straight jacket off for a few more years