Maybe I picked the guy up just because it's Christmas. It's a good enough reason, I suppose. Plus there are karmic factors at work, good deeds to build up and strengthen the soul and stuff. Besides, this world ain't always a nice place, nor is it true that our own decisions are the only things that could leave us stranded one day.
But I think the thing that most pushed me to act was looking at the dude in the pale gas station light and getting pissed off at the sudden and clear realization that it was easier to imagine myself as callous enough to just say no and walk away than it was to even begin wrapping my head around the notion of being as down-and-out as he was.
It was strange enough that I was there to begin with. I almost always take the back way from Phoenix to Tucson, which would've put me 20 miles away when I needed fuel, but figuring traffic would be light on the interstate I opted for the quicker route.
So there I was - at a Circle K on Ray Road, just east of I-10 - when a guy asked me if I was headed to downtown Phoenix. Nope, I said, Tucson. I went in for a coffee and when I got back outside, he said he was really trying to get toward El Paso. He'd already tried hitching on the interstate, but a cop picked him up and dropped him back there.
Weighing how helpless he looked against stranger-danger type notions that this was about to be the worst mistake I'd ever made, I kinda nodded and agreed to run him up to the nearest truck stop headed east.
He picked up a couple bags from behind the dumpster and thanked me as I bungee-corded the trunk shut.
His story - or at least the timeline - was a little shaky, but he'd been living on the streets of Phoenix since the end of November, when his car was stolen, and he was trying to get back to Ruidoso to see his eight kids, including an 11-month-old daughter.
The guy had a beard and scruffy longish hair under a ball cap, and even though from his stories and his general appearance he'd clearly fallen to hard times before this homeless stint in Phoenix, he didn't look the 38 he said he was.
He'd left New Mexico for Phoenix with a couple chicks to make a pot run, and he didn't tell anybody because he didn't want them to get the wrong idea about him and the chicks. One of them ended up taking off in his van and he'd been stuck since.
Collecting cans was supposed to earn him enough to get a bus back, but those had been stolen. The only clothes he had were from a dumpster except the coat, which a woman gave him, saying it was a gift of Jesus' love, or some such charitable words that had enough weight that they kept echoing in his mind when he thought to pawn the coat for a hit of heroin.
He quit using five years ago, but he'd been shot in the leg in Jacksonville, Florida during a pot deal gone wrong, and the painkillers led him right back to junk. By Christmas he was three days sober and he said he was even over being sick; he'd eaten a hot dog and a cheeseburger today, the most food he'd had since getting trapped in Phoenix.
I nodded some, and offered the occasional huh, yep or no shit, but just let him ramble. Somebody to talk to must've been at least as big of a gift as a ride out of Phoenix.
I let him off at the Love's in Arizona City. For a bit I considered taking the dude all the way to Tucson, but it seemed the most practical thing was to get him near some truckers rather than simply dump him off in another city where he could get harassed by cops at every turn.
I didn't catch his name, and even though I didn't sense any hint of a threat at any time, I never got comfortable.
I hope he gets home. I hope he actually wants to be home. He said a few years ago, before he got into dealing, some friends had asked him for advice on raising kids. Those were the proudest moments of his life, when he was an example of a good dad, not like the old man he had, who took to beating his kids regularly enough that it seemed he couldn't think of anything else to do.
I hope he doesn't get sucked back into dealing. He'd wanted to be a real G. It was easy enough at first, but you get a little successful and you get enemies. And he'd only gotten beat down because that's the way it turned out, not because he wasn't willing to beat somebody else down.
I hope being proud of his kids' skateboarding and knowing his wife wants to help him means something when he's no longer strung out and staring at a long and seemingly impossible road home.
I've never picked up a hitchhiker before, and I hope the 43 miles actually helped.