Hitchhikers

14 10 2008

I don’t think anyone who lives in Zuni has a car.

Every morning and evening, I see people hitchhiking on the 602 to get to Gallup and back. If I pass a hitchhiker on my way to work or on my way back home, chances are good that I’ll give them a ride if they’re headed the same direction.

I’m not going to lie — it’s a little uncomfortable sometimes. These hitchhikers aren’t usually the best-looking or best-smelling, either, and sometimes they remind me a little too much of the clientele at the homeless shelter back in Denver. But I feel like if I’m fortunate enough to have transportation and fuel to get myself to town and back, it’s a bit selfish to hoard that blessing all to myself.

But I try to be careful. I’ve adopted my own mental set of rules for picking up hitchhikers, and they get revised as time goes on. Right now, they goes something like this:

Rule 1 – I don’t give rides when my wife or daughters are in the car. It’s one thing for me to put myself outside my comfort zone, but I do my best to shield my ladies from uncomfortable situations.

Rule 2 – I don’t give rides to more than two people at a time. I figure one person is manageable, but a group can jump you. By that same token, there are times that someone looks a little too drunk, or like they might be able to physically overpower me. Even though I feel a little bad leaving them on the side of the road, if something just doesn’t feel quite right, I pass them by.

Rule 3 – (This one’s kind of goofy, but it’s just how things are.) I don’t give rides if I have more than twenty bucks in my wallet. So far, every person to whom I’ve given a ride has been nothing but friendly and thankful, but if (God forbid) something should ever get weird, I really can’t afford to be out more than $20.

Rule 4 – I only give rides if my wife knows when I’m leaving so that she knows if I should have been home already.

Rule 5 – I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. I have no problem shaking their hands when they introduce themselves or when they thank me for the ride, but after they’ve gone, I also have no problem de-germifying my hand.

Even though it can be a little bit awkward, it can be equally rewarding as well. There’s a really delightful aspect to driving these people back and forth because most of them are fascinating, and they’re almost always eager to strike up a conversation.

There’s a Zuni man named Wally who has ridden with me a few times. I remember his name because of how he introduced himself: “Wally, like Wally World.” His English is pretty broken, but he manages to communicate if you take the time to listen. He works in construction, and he’s really excited that it’s pinon season. One day, I turned off the radio when he got in the car, but he pointed at the radio. Then he pointed at himself, thought for a moment, and said, “Elvis.” “You like Elvis?” I asked. He nodded, and then burst out in song. I honestly have no idea which Elvis song it was supposed to be, but it was an adventure to listen to Wally trying to sing.

The Davy Crockett Rock, as pointed out to me by a hitchhiker

The Davy Crockett Rock along the 602 heading south from Gallup, as pointed out to me by a hitchhiker

Another time, two old Mexican men rode with me. As we rounded a bend, one of the men said to me, “Davy Crockett.” I wasn’t sure what the implication was supposed to be. He responded to my confused look by pointing at the rocky top of the hill to the right, and saying again, “Davy Crockett.”

I drive by this rock twice a day and had never noticed it before, but when he pointed it out, the rock really does look like the profile of a man’s face with a coonskin cap. Now I notice it and smile every day.

This morning, I hadn’t planned on giving anyone a ride, but halfway along, I passed a Navajo man and woman who looked so cold I couldn’t help myself. I was going too fast to stop close enough to where they stood, and when they saw me pull off to the shoulder and start to reverse, they both ran as fast as they could to reach the van before I could change my mind. It was one of the more difficult rides I’ve given as they both reeked of stale urine. The woman had a trash bag full of aluminum cans to redeem at the recycling center. They didn’t say much until we got to our destination, at which point they both thanked me profusely and said they had been outside for over an hour trying to get a ride.

I guess I don’t feel like it’s the safest or most convenient thing to do, but it does seem like the right thing to do. I like to imagine that it’s not for the selfish reason of convincing myself that I’m better off than they are because I have a car and money for fuel, but rather that it really is a gesture of goodwill toward someone who’s having a rougher go than I am. If nothing else, it’s what I would hope someone would do for me if I were in a similar situation.

And it’s interesting. Each of these people bring something unique to my day that I would have otherwise missed out on.

Like Davy Crockett.

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16 responses

14 10 2008
Janna

I listen to my ipod when I am in front of the computer at work. Most of the time I don’t even register the song that is playing – it’s just background noise. As I finished your post though, I was listening to an instrumental version (you?) of “I give my all.” I started to think that it is one thing to say “I give my life to you” and a whole other thing to act it out. Do I think giving rides to hitchikers is particularly safe? No. Do I think your rules are completely appropriate? Yes. Do I think that in one small way you are allowing Him to work through you? Absolutely. Love it. Love you.

14 10 2008
Mom2

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Heb.13:2 Mostly, you’re right they are just a group of people that don’t have transportation. Stay safe and use your God given instincts, but you never know…I had never noticed the Davy Crockett rock before!

14 10 2008
Emily Straw

Wow this was so cool to read. I’m so glad you have those rules in place and I am so glad that God is working through you to reach out to those people. Who knows? Maybe someday one of them will ask you why you do it and you will have the opportunity to share your faith with that person. Keep up the good work! Love you cuz!

14 10 2008
Jennifer

Seriously, you should read “Coyotes” by Ted Conover. I just finished it and it reminded me a bit of you; this guy from Denver went to Mexico to sneak into America with Mexicans. It’s his story of their story, and the things they go through; their humanity.

You’d love it.

~J

15 10 2008
Jesse

I have never noticed the Davy Crockett rock before! Not to say that my life has been recently filled with trips down the 602. I would pick you up any day Rob, you certainly do not offend rule 2 and I would even be willing to wave rules 3&5. 🙂

15 10 2008
Edie C.

Chris Rice wrote these words:
“How did I find myself in a better place
I can’t look down on the frown on the other guy’s face
‘Cause when I stoop down low, look him square in the eye
I get a funny feeling, I just might be dealing
With the face of Christ.”
I’m sure in Matthew 25, it says something about, “When I needed a ride you picked me up by the Davy Crockett rock.”
I love how Christ is working through you!

15 10 2008
Terri

Great Blog Rob..I think you are doing what God is calling you to do in a safe matter of course with rules that are very smart, but giving those in need a ride. You are a amazing friend and person who is an inspiration. Thanks for being you and a awesome friend.

15 10 2008
tigerlilysandybanks

I’ve thought about it before, but I never have and I probably never will only because I’m a girl. Not only am I not strong enough for even one old bum, but I am more likely to become prey than any man. I think about it every once in a while, though. I even think about going out and asking one to lunch or something to talk to someone to see what their specific situation was. I feel as though if I knew the person and knew that they actually needed money for food or for their kids I wouldn’t be so tight fisted. Fisted? Fistted? Fist-ed…. Yeah. I’m just afraid that the extra dollar or fifty cents that I give them is going to be the amount that bought that coke or that bottle of boose that killed them, you know?

17 10 2008
pennepasta

Giving a ride WAY eclipses giving money. Almost any help one can give WITH their time and money eclipses the actual giving of money–money in irresponsible hands has a way of corrupting rather than helping. Your personal rules are good ones. I would NEVER give a man a ride, but I’ve given rides to women–only one at a time. And each did bring something unique to my day, and just now, to my memory! And since I’m weighing in with all sorts of opinions, here’s another. You write well, Rob. Your style is engaging and provoctive, and you have a way of making each subject come alive for your readers…..even if, upon hearing the topic only, we might have decided to wash our hair instead……

17 10 2008
pennepasta

Sometimes Davey Crockett’s eye is painted blue!

17 10 2008
Mom2

Seriously, Penne? They go up there and paint Crockett’s eye blue? Rob, if you ever see it you HAVE to take another picture! And I agree with pennepasta. Just handing out money is not usually a good idea.

12 11 2008
Rebecca

Dear Rob,
Isn’t it interesting when we “get out of ourselves” that the mundane and everyday can become beautiful and so full of wonder? You seem like such a giving person; perhaps God allowed you to see through His eyes that day.

PS Do be careful though

Warm Regards,
Rebecca

28 11 2008
Noel

As a ‘successful’ hitch-hiker myself, your rules seem appropriate. I hitch in the UK and, although I’m not sure how different it is in the states, I’ve not heard one story about a bad hitch-hiker.

My own recommendation – trust your first impression. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

And this goes for both hitchers and those who pick them up – have a brief conversation before you get in/let them in the car. This will instantly let you both know if you’re going to get along.

15 07 2009
Beata

Thank you, Rob. I’m going to hitchhike tomorrow for the first time in my life and it made me hopeful to read it 😉

13 01 2010
Poll

Why, why, why is everybody talking about God??? Can’t one be nice without a ‘force from above’? Social solidarity? no?

21 02 2010
Katie

Hey, hope you’re doing well. Hitchhiker here of 2 years. I’ve also picked up several hitchhikers in my time, as we often pay it forward. Thank you so much for giving us rides!

About picking up multiple people. I feel that it works better to pick people up based on the vibe I get from them, vs. how people people are wanting a ride. This is because it’s not uncommon for people to hitchhike in pairs for safety, though I’ve never seen more than three hitching together. I’ve never gotten a bad ride, and I’ve given a few dozen rides to hitchhikers. I’ll give people a ride if I get the right vibe from them, which is pretty easy to pick up within the first minute of communication before you step into the car/open the door.

Something not mentioned here is that you have a huge amount of control over any situation by how you act in that situation. Muggers will report that they often choose prey based on whether the person is looking afraid and submissive. Act with confidence and self-assuredness. Believe that you are in control of the situation while remaining aware and your body language, your tone will reflect this. You can convey a lot with this, helping someone to feel comfortable with you and also encouraging safe interaction. Also, conversation! Whenever I’m picked up by someone getting flirty, I ask about their spouses, their children, their golf scores and the like. =P Another technique that works- throw in that they seem like a good, decent, trustworthy person at some point in the conversation, and this will remind them that they -are- decent, and that they need to -act- decently with you. You have a huge amount of control over how the situation turns out simply by how you act in the situation.

Also, the media is culpable of sensationalizing bad news to scare people, and the vast majority of hitchhikers are very nice, interesting people. We hitch for economical reasons. We hitch because we want to leave less of an environmental imprint when we travel. We hitch for the risk and the adventure and the story. I’ve gotten rides from multi-millionaires and Amish folk in buggies. Outside Seneca Falls, NY I was picked up by the local historian, who took me around town for the day and told me the history of Seneca Falls and of the women’s suffrage movement, which was fascinating. You pick up good stories. Even when I have the means to travel otherwise, I choose hitchhiking- it’s much more adventurous and connective.

And yes, sometimes hitchhikers can look kind of ragged and be smelly, but you have to remember that many of us have been on the road for days, perhaps thumbing in the hot sun for hours, without a place to shower, and finding sleep where we can, often in unusual places that don’t always provide the best sleep. (I’ve crashed under bushes and behind dumpsters before, because I was tired and they offered the most privacy.)

Wow, that wasn’t 2 cents, that was 5 bucks. 😉 On behalf, thanks so much for giving rides, you have no idea how much it’s appreciated.

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