March 3, 2013 by Angel Pricer
I’m not the sort to pick up hitchhikers. I’m the sort who silently blesses their safe passage, hoping someone other than a vulnerable lone woman will help them reach their destination. Today, of all days, should have been no exception. But it was.
I detest driving this heavily truck-travelled, traffic-light-laden road. It is 2:30 on Saturday afternoon and I am free from the demands of home and children for a scant few hours. I can’t wait to sip tea and do some writing before steeping myself in the salt cave to cleanse the tension that remains of the past few days.
The phone vibrates. It’s a text from my daughter. She left the twins’ diaper bag in the trunk and they are crying. Thankfully, these are mechanical babies, part of a school project, and not actual grandchildren, but the need is real. If she fails this project, she fails to graduate.
I’m irate. The slowly fading fury of the past few days resurges inside me as I take the first right to turn around and redouble my travel along this weary road. Approaching the intersection I see a man with a cardboard sign and garbage bag encased luggage and I hope I make it through the green light. Life has other plans and I stop at the red light.
I may be frustrated by the constant stream of texts and phone calls from my frantic daughter that I am choosing to ignore, but I can’t turn my back on this older black man who stands alone on the windy median. I hurriedly search my surroundings for something to give him. A box of chocolate covered pretzels, gifted to my daughter from her boyfriend. The $20 my husband gave me for my unwinding time. The light is still red.
I roll the window down and half-heartedly tell the man I don’t have anything for him. “Miss, I don’t need any money, all I need is a ride to the truck stop in Carlisle,” he says, as I see yet another call coming through from my daughter.
Sighing, I gesture to my cell phone, replying “I’ve got to take care of my girl.” The shallowness of my words is reflected back to me in his weary eyes. There, I see the disappointment and suffering of humanity. There, in his eyes, I see love. Unbelievably, the light is still red.
“Miss, I’m not a bad man,” he says, “the truck stop is just about 5 miles down the road.” He gestures back the way I just came, the way I’ve just been called, literally, to go again. All sense of fear, right and wrong vanish with my reply, “Okay, your luggage can fit in the back. Get in.” The light is STILL red.
The light turns green just as the trunk door closes and he hurries into the passenger seat beside me. My whole mind has been turned inside out. He thanks me and we’re off.
He thanks me again. “It’s cold out there,” he says. “I been standing there over half an hour and ain’t nobody so much as looked at me.” I can see he’s grateful for the warm car. I notice that his hat, gloves and coat have not protected him from the twin brutality of the piercing wind and the fear-shackled hearts of passersby as he stood outside, alone.
“That cold, it’s like…hmmm…it’s like getting bit by a bunch of little animals or something. It goes right through these gloves,” he says, as if in response to the notice I took of his weather worn winter gear. “Some people ain’t got no love, but some do. Sometimes it takes a while,” he continues, “but you know God, He always provides.”
I’m nodding along in agreement, still trying to recover some sense of equilibrium since my psyche has been jolted out of its former poor-me prison. “I’ve been places where there ain’t no love at all,” he relates, “Detroit, Chicago. It’s awful hard there.”
Finally able to put some words together, I reply, “I believe it.”
“Yeah,” he says, “I don’t know why people want to do bad things, hurt people. I don’t know why they can’t just love life and enjoy the scenery, enjoy God’s creation.”
I haven’t noticed a single traffic light, truck or the ticking clock. I am here, with this hitchhiking man, talking about love and God on a Saturday afternoon.
Thinking of these forsaken places I’ve never been, I wonder out loud, “Maybe they don’t know how to live any other way.”
“Why, that may be, miss. That’s sad. I was raised as a Christian in Roanoke, Virginia, and we had lots of love in our town,” he recalls as if he’s back in his childhood home now. Wistfully, he describes the way the people in his town stuck together and felt safe, able to lend a hand or lift to someone lone stranger walking down the road.
“That was long ago though, miss,” he says as he removes his hat to uncover his unruly gray curls. “You won’t believe it, but I’m 65 years old now! And you, you must be what…30?” He finds it hard to believe I’m 40 with three kids. I find it hard to believe we’re approaching the area where several truck stops line both sides of the road.
“Right up here past this light is where I’m headed miss. It’s called “Love’s.” A truck driver gave me a coupon book and one of them gift cards with some money left on it I can use to get a meal there.”
“What is your name, sir?” I ask as we approach Love’s, feeling the perfection in this named destination and our travelling there together.
“Mr. Will D.,” (full name withheld) he replies, “and you?”
“My name is Angel Pricer. And it’s been a real pleasure to spend this time with you Mr. Will D.,” I say as I pull into the parking space.
I feel the urge to hug this man, but remain glued in my seat, still shell-shocked from the reality shift of this whole scenario. I accept and return his blessing for safe travels. Pulling out of the parking lot is the biggest THANK YOU sign I’ve ever noticed. It was white, and the words were black. It simply said “THANK YOU.”
My entire body lights up with the tingle of significance as I travel back down the road to meet my daughter, contemplating my time with Mr. Will D. I begin jotting notes now at the now blessedly convenient red lights, and marvel at how much I learned about him during our short trip together. Silently, I wish this traveler safe passage as he leaves behind the corpus-torturing cold New York winter in favor of the warmth of his brother’s Florida home.
I muse over what hard times he might have fallen upon, about how he hadn’t had a drink in 30 years, never smoked a day in his life, and about how much he loves and trusts in God.
My husband loves and trusts me. I tell him what I saw in the eyes of Mr. Will D. and he regards me with that sense of wonder I sometimes feel from him as I share parts of my world that, to him, seem the stuff of dreams. He says he wasn’t there when Ted Bundy lured his victims to their demise, but he imagines his eyes probably didn’t appear to be very menacing either, otherwise he would not have been so charismatic a killer.
I wasn’t there either, and I can’t say for sure what his eyes were like. But what I can say is that we live in a world so full of fear about the things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future that we often miss out on the love that is here, now, and hitches a ride under the most unlikely of circumstances.
A Story Behind the Photograph…
My search for a photo to capture the essence of the man behind this story went on for days until, frustrated, I let it go for awhile. A few days ago I was ready to use some new search terms and found this photo on freedigitalphotos.net with the search term SEE ME. The photographer, Thomas Hawk, shares the series of events behind the photo here. After reading, it felt to me that somehow, across an entire content and several years, we were all connected.
My thanks to the photographed, the photographer, and my Messenger from God, Mr. Will D.