I’m afraid we’ve set a bad example for our daughter. One of those “do as I say, not as I do” kind of moments. Problem is, the experience turned into something positive.
My husband and I picked up a pair of hitchhikers when K was in the car with us.
We were on our way to Woodstock (actually the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which is on the site of the iconic music festival) to see Bob Dylan. How we got 17-year-old K to come with us to that one is another story entirely, but I digress.
About five minutes into the drive, there they were, two young women standing on the side of the road, huge backpacks sitting next to them, thumbs out. I kept driving.
“We have to go back and pick those girls up,” my husband said almost immediately. I argued, giving the logical reasons why we shouldn’t (first and foremost, I had always been taught never to pick up a hitchhiker!). But their images were burned in my mind. They didn’t look like they were much older than K. And it was hot out. And they had those big backpacks. Surely they were simply on a long journey and not a tag team of young criminals!
So I turned around. Got off at the next exit and circled back.
The girls, Katie and Susie (I don’t know if I’m spelling their names correctly because we didn’t ask) from Chilliwack, British Columbia, near Vancouver, didn’t hesitate to take us up on our offer — especially after we told them where we were going. Just two and four years older than K, they’d left home five weeks prior and had been hitchhiking the whole time. No money in their pockets, relying on providence and the kindness of strangers.
Sitting crowded together in the back seat with K, they told us about their adventures and some of the people who’d given them rides. They talked about how their families felt about what they were doing. They talked about their possessions, and how they’d learned to bring only what they really needed (they’d hitchhiked before).
They talked about spending several days in New York City and how they stayed up all night, afraid to fall asleep in a park, and then slept in the morning. How they volunteered at a homeless shelter and then were able to sleep there for the night. How they ended up at a Yankees game after standing outside the stadium singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” — making up some of the words because they didn’t know the whole song — until somebody bought them tickets.
They were so in the moment, so interested in people and experiences.
After we arrived at Woodstock my husband tried to show them a map, let them know exactly where they were — their goal was to be in Quebec in a few days to meet up with Katie’s family, who was flying out from B.C. for a family reunion. They smiled and were polite, but weren’t really interested in those details. They’d make it there — they weren’t worried. Right now they were at Woodstock, and that’s all they cared about.
They pulled their backpacks from our trunk, slipped them over their shoulders, scoped out the surroundings, thanked us and walked away. “Should we buy them lawn tickets?” I asked my husband, thinking if he said yes the girls were still within earshot and we could call them back. After all, my mother’s inclination the whole time they’d been in the car was to take care of them — invite them to come back home with us where they’d have a bed to sleep in, could shower and have a good meal, call their families. Then we’d figure out how to help them get to their next destination.
“No” was his answer. They were in their element, in the moment. It was all about the adventure, the challenge, the experience.
I’ll always wonder if they made it into the concert. And whether they made it to the family reunion in time. And where else they ended up and when they made it back home.
I hope K absorbed some of their sense of adventure. I hope they inspired her to think outside the box. To see that life is meant to be experienced on all cylinders.
I just hope she never decides to hitchhike in the process!