A blustery wind tears at the trees which thrash about in their efforts to escape. A gentle cradle-hand rocks my six-wheeled boat. The sound of rain pelting the skylight over the shower imagines my Redding rest stop is a cabin in the forest.
At eight a.m. at a break in the weather, I walk to the travel store intent on buying a directory of truck stops and to see what other RV candy they have.
Near the entrance a dark-haired, young girl squats, a kitten between her legs and a puppy along side—neither more than a month or two old. Beside her a sleeping bag oozes from a backpack. She wore layers of working men’s clothes, rough, durable, the colors of mud and the forest in winter. She was not shivering. Her sign said. “Need ride down I-5”
She did not stare. When I did, her face brighten by a small smile and she became a cute child.
“Where’s home? I asked.
“Where ever I am. My parents have a home in San Diego. That is where I am heading. It is one of my homes,” she said.
I gestured toward the sleeping bag. “I guess you were warm enough in that.”
“I didn’t sleep. I was hoping for a ride,” she said.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Twenty-two,” she is responsive without offering extra facts nor the subtle colors of facial gesture.
I learned she has been here since 5 p.m. last nite.
I was heading south and could go via I-5. “I have a motor home over there. I just made a pot of tea. And the furnace is on. You are welcome to a hot drink and a warm place. I don’t know how I feel about picking up a hitch-hiker, but I will think about it.”
“I have a hot drink.” She motioned to a paper cup of take-out coffee. Her comment was not dismissive but neither was I feeling persuasive.
The rain started up again. Unlike the girl it had an in-your-face attitude.
My morning chores called from the motorhome. I went back to my vacuuming and tidying—clutter and tracked-in dirt never sleep.
I made some journal notes and thought about the young girl. What to do? Only a damned fool picks up hitchhikers these days. I’ve watched too many Forensic Files, Cold Case Files and other cop shows in the last few years not to have serious second thoughts about putting myself in a situation that could turn dicey. Nor do I know how wise it would be for her to get into a vehicle with a lone, granitic-faced man. Or whether I’d feel right about letting her take her chances with some other lone man.
Yet, one reason I am on the road is to find the stories that challenge my soul.
I got out my binoculars and spied across the parking lot through the veil of gray rain. A young woman is leaning over the scene, getting some puppy-luvin’. I see a hand gesture and the bright flash of a cigarette lighter.
I follow the woman as she walks back to her sporty red car at the gas pump. She wore blue jeans shredded at the knees and thighs according to the latest fashion. She got in and drove away.
For twenty minutes I talked to myself between housekeeping tasks
What do you think would Steinbeck have done? What would you have done?
I decided to go get the young girl. I would offer her and the foundlings a dry spot in my coach and try to pry her story from her and trust my intuition about whether to carry her down the road.
I got out the binocs again and she was gone.
In her place was standing a man. A solid looking guy of about six feet wearing a wool watch cap, and a jacket of the type that would sport the name of a sports team. He had a suitcase with a pull handle elevated. And a cardboard sign.
Posted November 8, in Citrus Heights, Ca. on Day 32 at milepost 1934 of my Year on the Road.