"My dad used to pick up hitchhikers all the time."
Chris and I are sitting on the leather seats of a plush black sedan. The car's driver, Dalton, seems comfortable to talk about himself to perfect strangers, with little prompting on our end.
"He used to pick them up, so I eventually started doing it, too," Dalton continues. "But I stopped for awhile, after I picked up this one guy who would NOT. STOP. TALKING!"
"Why'd you pick us up?" I ask.
"You looked clean."
Yesterday, Chris and I were driven to hitchhike.
Early that day, we set out on foot to get to know State Street; a rather industrial chunk of it, littered with strip clubs and seedy motels. We hoped to prove that this strip of concrete wasteland is simply misunderstood; stereotyped wrongly as an incubator for crime and poverty, instead of recognized for the hub of cultural diversity that it may be, filled with thriving ecosystems, however obscure.
We are pulled first into the orbit of Henry's Inn, a
dive bar manned by an older gentleman whose less than luxe appearance is made ironic by his name, Paris. This lifer bartender has no choice but to deal with 9 a.m. alcoholics and hack-lunged honeys with a sort of jaded sense of humor. One such character starts making jeers our way, and Chris decides we've had enough. We appreciate the role it
plays in the lives of the stoic, shabby fellows sitting glued to a football game and a
Coors Light, but it's not for us.
continue South, passing a large Hispanic man who's walking an even larger pitbull (the
pooch itself, bearing the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger...on steroids). We pass a seemingly aimless woman in mismatched clothing, likely mentally ill, as
well as several vagrants who are cozying up to the side of a Korean restaurant. We
see a motel whose pool is now filled with soil and sod, its owner choosing the cost of a lawn over pool maintenance. We step over an abandoned pair of ripped jeans, whose belt was
still fastened at the buckle. We notice an electricity box,
broken open; its cables naked and stripped of whatever valuable
substance had once adorned them.
We stop into several more restaurants and watering holes - the bars, all steeped in varying degrees of decrepit, which attracts a handful of tobacco-ripe barflys. One place seemed so ashy and hostile - despite being completely void of human life - that we walked right out the door just as soon as we went in.
later, we breathe a sigh of relief as we pull up a bar stool at the
air-conditioned, fully equipped biker bar & grill, Barbary Coast. Its rough-and-tumble facade if just that; the place is really just a laid-back speakeasy where service is quick, and people keep to themselves.
But soon, we grow tired of this place (mostly because Dallas-bred Chris doesn't like watching his Cowboys lose), and begin the trek back home.
The minutes seems long, and each intersection looks further and further away. I start timing each block on my phone, with the first taking us 8 minutes, and the next stretch, well over 12. At this rate, we decided, it would take us a couple hours to get home.
That's when I stuck out my thumb.
"Are you really going to hitchike?" Chris asks.
"Yeah, it's worth a try!" I offer with optimism, which I must credit to yesterday's run-in with the man who gave up cash, Daniel Suelo.
"Well, I'll do it, too," He concedes.
We move off the sidewalk and onto the side of the road - you know, to show we are serious. I feel vulnerable holding my thumb out, in what could easily be deemed the international sign of hard times. Soon though, we see a white truck pull over up ahead, and hope twinkles in my eyes. But before we reach the Titan, it pulls away; the driver, perhaps, losing the argument with himself that picking up hitchikers is a good idea.
We didn't even have time to process that one, though, because in a moment, a black sedan pulls gently in front of us, window rolled down in surrender. I notice an "equality" sticker on his back windshield, and realize I feel safer for having seen that.
"Where are you guys going?" He asks nicely.
"Just straight down this road, not far," We chide.
"Hop in; that's not too far out of my way."
Chris and I look at eachother in wide-eyed disbelief, then shrug and hop in the car. After Dalton's spiel on why he picked us up, he segued smoothly (somehow) into a story about lost love - the dissolution of his relationship with his identity crisis of a partner (he used to be a Mormon, married for 20 years, kids and all). He offers us more information: He's a Math teacher, but when I ask if it's his life's passion, he breathes hesitantly and offers a mild, non-answer answer. I wonder how a man so quick to offer kindness is not living his best life.
Dalton's filter-less in this drive-through confession. For him, it's a one-way conversation - a no-strings-attached human connection - where he believes his words can be met without judgement. After all, he's in control here; he's giving us a ride. And he'll never have to see these forced friends again.
He pulls into the parking lot to let us out. But I feel inspired to tell him one last thing.
"You'll find love again," I say as I shut the door. "It's out there."
"I hope so," he sighs, faking a smile.
And just as quickly as it was made, the connection is broken.
The whole day's experience rang so fully of freedom - walking without burden of fuel, being open to the curiosities of State Street, receiving another human's kindness - that I will never forget it. In fact, it opened up a section of my soul that's pure; a section functioning free of fear. I feel the need to nurture it so it spreads throughout my entire consciousness, letting me live a life where anything is possible. Because in the absence of fear, there is freedom and love, and what in the world can you NOT accomplish with boundless amounts of both?
It's nice to see you a little more clearly.