I’ve got a bucket list. Do you? I don’t have anything written down. It’s more of a mental bucket list. It has things on it like, “go indoor skydiving”, “visit the Ireland and the UK” and “meet Kermit the Frog in ‘person’ and shake his little, felt, hand.” That last one is my version of the quest for the Grail. Another item on my little list is “Pick up a hitchhiker and take them where they need to go, or at least get them closer to their destination.” This last one could be viewed by some as one of the more insane feats a person would want to accomplish, because we’ve been taught not to trust strangers.
Especially strangers who don’t have a car. As Americans we tend to assume that if you don’t have a car, something is wrong with you, or you live in NYC. If you lived in NYC, you wouldn’t be hitchhiking, because their public transportation rocks. So, if you’re not from NYC, you don’t own a car AND you’re hitchhiking – that’s a lot of deviant behavior to swallow for most working-class to wealthy Americans.
Because then the questions start flying through our heads. Why doesn’t this person have a car? Are they homeless? Are they non compos mentis? Are they a serial killer? We have been trained to assume the worst of people, rather than the best.
When you pick up a hitchhiker, you enter into a contract of mutual trust. You’re trusting that the hitchhiker is not a crazed murderer on a spree, and the hitchhiker is trusting you to also not be a crazed murderer on a spree. You must assume the best of each other, and hold each other to that expectation.
So, the other day, I was running a few errands at a shopping center in Federal Way, WA. As I was heading back to the interstate to head home, I started to pass a 76 Station near the on-ramp when I spied three young girls, with matching t-shirts and back-packs (obviously tourists) holding a little cardboard sign with the words “To Portland” written on it. In a split-second decision, I decided to cross “pick up a hitchhiker” off of my bucket list.
I wasn’t willing to go as far as Portland (a solid 2-Hour drive), but I could at least get them closer, so I offered to drive them as far as Olympia – the state capitol – and, depending on how fast you drive – minding speed limits -, only about 90 minutes or more to Portland. (I tend to drive pretty fast…)
Turned out the girls were all au pairs, finishing up their time in the U.S. before heading back to their native countries (two from Germany, one from South Africa). Their names were Rebecca, Valentina and Laura, and they had been traveling across the country from the East Coast, after wrapping up their nanny assignments.
I asked them if they’d hitchhiked the entire way, and they said no. They’d been riding Greyhounds and Couch-Surfing and had only started hitchhiking this particular day, thinking it would be a fun way to get from Seattle to Portland (where their next couch resided), since it wasn’t too far a distance. It had taken them 4 rides to get them as far as FedWay – a distance of only 20 miles. They were thrilled when I told them I would get them at least another 45 miles closer to their destination.
They were very sweet, and grateful, and they loved almonds. One of them had a plastic figurine of a praying mantis and she was taking pictures of it a la “the roaming gnome” wherever they went. Did I mention they loved almonds? This was a big deal. They had a bag of almonds that they were sharing among the three of them.
One of the girls (Laura I think), said in the sweetest, light-German, accent, “Vhen I realized how expensive they vere, I realized, ve had to make this bag stretch!” It was adorable. You had to be there.
I half-wondered, after I had dropped them off at yet another 76 Station outside Olympia, whether they had been subsisting just on almonds, and whether I should have offered to buy them another bag. But really, it was all about the journey.
I hope the Almond Sisters made it to Portland that day. I pretty sure they did. And gals, if you’re reading this, let us know how the trip was for you!