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A Long Way

July 27, 2011

I’m in Stratford, Ontario.  I made the eight-hour drive on Monday.  I took a break along I-69 in Indiana when my Complete Symphonic recording of Les Mis was about halfway through Act I.

Heading back to the car, a young guy with a backpack stopped me.

“Excuse me, sir, could I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses.  My tongue was at the ready with, “Sorry, I don’t know how to get there.”

I noticed he resembled that Taylor Lautner from Twilight.  Maybe a few notches higher on the wholesome-smile scale.  And a few notches more trustworthy on the shifty-eyes scale.  (Fortunately for me, he was also a few notches lower on the studly-physique scale.)

I pursed my lips.  I feared that Christian goodness was about to come out of his mouth.

“How far are you driving this way?”

Oh my.

“A long way …” I said, realizing the ugly truth.

“I hitchhiked here from Indianapolis.  Could I get a ride with you for a while?”

I’ve never been accosted by a hitchhiker before.  I didn’t realize they could be tidy, cute and twenty-ish.  I suppose this is beneficial to successful hitchhiking, though.

I was immediately on the defensive.  To say “no,” I would be a jerk.  To say “yes,” I would be a nice guy and willing victim of violent crime.  To be wishy-washy, I would suggest mild insanity.

“Sorry, I can’t help you … thanks.”  I threw on the “thanks” in an effort at politeness, but I knew that it really didn’t work at all in that sentence.  I mumbled odd amendments to the statement over my shoulder as I walked away (opting for the hybrid approach of being a mildly insane jerk).

Much later, I decided that in order to say “yes,” I would have had to talk with the vagabond for an hour and deduce whether he had a screw loose or not.  I’ll remember that the next time I’m traveling and have an extra hour to kill.

But if he were such a wholesome, trustworthy youth, what was he doing hitchhiking?  Couldn’t he afford even a bus ticket?  Where were the fine upstanding parents that raised him?  Couldn’t they have financed his trip?

And why was he asking me in particular?  I do not exude free-spiritedness and generosity.  I daresay I look rather austere and Republican, except when I trip over something—then I look like Jerry Lewis.

I felt some regret as I headed back to my car.  His was probably a perfectly innocent adventure.  It might have been nice to help a frugal or down-on-his-luck (and cute) individual.  And it’s always easier for me to make conversation with someone never to be seen again.  I can speak freely about thoughts and feelings without worrying that inappropriate revelations might come back to haunt me.

I rounded my car, opened the door and glanced back his direction.  His eyes had followed me—still holding a glimmer of hope and expectation.

I closed the door and drove away.  Les Misérables accusingly sang at me: “Look down and show some mercy if you can.”

Given another opportunity, I doubt I would have told him to hop in the car.   I’m sure he found a driver who was friendlier, more generous, and less fearful in the face of attractive potential ax-murderers.

This non-event will live somewhere in the vast kingdom of might-have-beens that exists in my mind.  A long way from my real life.

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