I first saw them holding their “Colorado” sign by the freeway; I was driving through North Platte, Nebraska on my way home from vacation. I blew right past them. “They aren’t my problem- let them find their own way,” I thought. But less than a mile out, I reconsidered. This couple was young…they looked harmless…and I wasn’t in any hurry to get home. So I whipped around and returned to them.
I usually don’t pick up hitchhikers, mostly because I’m a lone female and I don’t want to compromise my safety. And let’s be real, sometimes I’m a calloused individual. If I worked my ass off to get to where I am, then I expect others to fend for themselves too. But the thing is, I didn’t get here by myself. Many people helped: my mentor hooked me up to an affordable used car, a roommate had agreed to move in with me last year, and countless people have had my back when I was in tough situations. Who was I to say no to my neighbor, even if my neighbor was a kid with dreadlocks and his girlfriend who held a cardboard sign?
When I pulled up, I cheerfully asked them to hop in, so they grabbed their backpacks and did just that. I introduced myself and asked their names. Steve had short blonde dreads and Britney was so tan that I thought she was mixed (upon getting to know her on the 4 hour ride, she said she gets that a lot and is actually just a super dark American with Italian heritage). As we kept talking (I was super curious), I learned that Steve is from Wisconsin and has been what he called “traveling” for several years. He met Britney in Illinois and she wanted to try traveling too so they were a few weeks into this trip. I asked them why they hitchhike. Steve replied that he enjoys exploring and the freedom; Britney said she just wanted to try it. I see no freedom in relying on strangers and having unpredictable food, income, or shelter.
We shared stories- they had gotten to North Platte after being ditched there from their previous ride. He was a drunk man who picked them up in Iowa and proceeded to drink beer and brandy simultaneously as he drove. They all stopped at a fast food taco place and next thing you know, their stuff was on the curb and Drunk Driver was nowhere to be found. Britney asked me what I did and I mumbled something about “irreverent youth pastor”. Steve explained that he plays his ukulele (Ha! Hipster identity confirmed!) and sells his art to make money to travel. When he fell asleep in the back, Britney and I kept talking. She said that she’s really close to her baby sister, the latter who drops f-bombs like a champ. We talked about what it was like to have your period when you don’t have steady access to bathrooms. She also opened up about struggling with depression and previous suicide attempts. I asked her how she copes with it now; she gestured to the young man dozing off in the back seat. She told me Steve fights insomnia and that he got yelled at as a kid for not sleeping. He is also an alcoholic. As these two millennials told stories about their families, I understood why they left.
We talked about music (they’re classic rock fans), I played the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, and then I dropped them off at 16th street mall upon arriving in Denver. Their conversation centered around finding work gigs so they could stick around for a little bit…but first they needed to charge their phones at a McDonalds. I wished them good luck and headed home, relieved that I could breathe again since Britney’s body odor had been palpable.
That day, I loved my neighbor. This couple was bubbly, naïve, and hurting. They really appreciated the lift to Denver (I told them straight up that no one would have picked them up in Nebraska). I appreciated being humbled in the reminder that we’re all human. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it 🙂