A little purple truck with a crooked fender rattled by, then slowed down, gears grinding. Up ahead I watched it do a U-Turn, well more of a three point turn. The truck coming down the hill behind them slowed down so they could back up across the yellow line and finish their turn. I knew why they were turning around and felt a little bad for causing so much commotion on this little country road.
“You need a ride?” said the man. His pre-teen daughter in the passenger seat looked a little wary, kind of like, ‘where’s she going to fit?’ Of course, I’m not opposed to riding in the back of a pickup truck next to tools and the other detritus that trucks collect, but I don’t take rides except from my hosts.
“Sorry, no thanks. I’m walking to Michigan,” Now the girl looked incredulous. The dad just nodded and said, “Michigan? That’s a long way… OK, you be careful out there.” And they drove off down the road and did another U-turn before passing by again with a wave.
Some days, I get offered rides as much as 15 times a day. Most of these offers come from men in trucks, ranging from the mega-decked-out shiny 18 wheeler to the standard white road crew truck with double back tires to the little rattle trap, mud-coated pickup carrying hay to the antenna-loaded local sheriff’s truck. There is a type of old world gallantry to these offers that surprises me. When I started this project, I assumed that no one offered rides to strangers anymore.
But it’s not just an offer of a ride, they also offer water, gatorade, advice, warnings and concern. They want to make sure I’m OK. Such concern for my well-being is touching.
A guy back in Garfield, several towns ago, pulled off the road entirely and we chatted for quite a while, about the state of the world, the seriousness of the drought, and small town life. He still calls to check in with me and even asked his daughter to stop by and say hello one day. He’s not the only one who has kept up with me. It’s as if I have a lot of extra dads and uncles out there on the road.
Women also offer me rides and beverages. They say, “You know I don’t usually stop for strangers, but it’s so hot out here… I saw a lone woman walking down the road and just couldn’t pass you by without asking if you needed a ride.” It’s been over 100 degrees for about 4 weeks. Being from Tucson, I’m used to the heat, but walking 15-20 miles in the glaring heat takes it’s toll. I am sunburned, gritty, sweaty and hot by the end of each day. And although I never accept any rides, I appreciate the offers.
Even before stepping into a big fat heat wave, people have stopped to check in on me. I have been offered rides since day one. When I started this project, I knew I’d be staying in people’s homes and asking people to share stories and a little slice of their life, but I never expected so much random kindness just walking down the road. If you ever need to feel loved and cared for, just walk down a country highway in a heat wave.