So, here we are, hurtling down a two-lane highway through a deserted section of New Mexican desert on our way home. Outside there is no moon, rendering the desert blacker than crude, a darkness only people who have been to New Mexico or outer space know. 1:45. We crest a hill and lights twinkle from Cold Beer, a random roadside bar, the only thing on 64 between Cimarron and Raton.
I see something out of the corner of my eye. Wary because of the obsession deer have with headlights, I tap the brakes. Suddenly, I stomp on the brakes as what looks like a zombie is hobbling along the side of the road 100 meters in front of us. “What is that?” Ashley asks, fear in her voice. As we slowly drive by a, ghoulish head turns and looks at us, cracking a smile that reveals less teeth than are on my left hand. Ashley screams. I can’t think straight and my mind plays tricks on me. By the time it registered that this man obviously needed a ride, we were a good 50 meters down the road. I stop and put the car in reverse and begin to back up down the road. I squint, trying to catch sight of him in the passenger side mirror. Ashley screams again as we almost run over the guy now standing in the middle of the road directly behind us. I slam on the brakes and we screech to a halt, barely missing him. He walks around to the passenger side of the car. I roll down the window as Ashley gives me a look filled with such trepidation I don’t know what to think. The man is a sight to behold. Grimy overalls, red and black plaid shirt, wisps of dirty blond hair, and a plastic Target bag dangling over his shoulder brings me back to a time I’ve only read about. Or perhaps he is a zombie.
“What on earth are you doing!?” is all I could exclaim, I don’t know if I even mean it as a question.
“Walking,” he states in a whiny tenor.
“I can see that. Do you want a ride? We’re going as far as Cimarron.”
He fumbles outside for a minute and opens the rear passenger door. Only as he sits down does it occur to me that he is very, very dirty and he is sitting down on our brand new seats. Oh well, they will clean I suppose.
I start driving. I realize, we’re about 25 miles away from Raton and a good 12 or so away from Cimarron.
“Were you at Cold Beer?” I ask.
“I don’t… know?” he stammers. Obviously not, I guess.
He has walked a long ways he says, he started that day up in Trinidad, CO almost 60 miles north. We start talking. He tells us he likes to travel. He says that school and work aren’t for him. His mystical voice is almost hypnotic, in a bizarre way, and I get sucked into his unusual tale. He says he is going to Taos and he is coming from Denver, where he has been living on the streets for some time.
All that he owns is nestled into that Target bag.
“You guys don’t happen to have a cigarette, do you? I’m dying for a cigarette right now,” he asks hesitantly.
“Naw, we don’t smoke,” I reply, “But do you need any food or anything?”
“No. I’m okay.”
We drop him off at the gas station in Cimarron and head home, welcoming the bed and sweet sleep.
The guy, I don’t even know his name, is probably out there, right now, walking… Somewhere. Who knows?
Reflecting on this experience, at first I thought it bizarre that a man would walk at night, alone, in the middle of the desert. Then I thought about it seriously, and realized he is quite smart. New Mexico? Yes, I would walk at night too to avoid the scorching heat.
I guess others didn’t think that was the strange part. They thought I was the strange part of the story. The most common reply when I tell someone about this is, “WHAT! You gave a hitchhiker a ride, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the desert?!?! Are you insane?!”
Apparently, because I don’t see anything wrong with it. They always go on to tell me how dangerous it is to give hitchhikers a ride, especially loony ones in the middle of the desert.
I think, isn’t that exactly when you should give someone a ride?
They tell me how they could murder you, or rob you, or stick a cactus-shank into your side. You can’t trust people like that, they tell me.
Where did America’s trust go? Why can’t we pick up hitchhikers anymore? When did that happen?
What do you think? Thoughts on hitchhikers? Would you pick one up (I still do)? Do you trust people?
I want stories and thoughtful comments or discourse on trust and American culture. Tell me what you think.
Please tell me I’m crazy.