When I was 18, I was hitchhiking across Minnesota to get from my school (fall of ‘99) back to my hometown where my mom lived. She’d fallen ill, and I wanted to see her in case anything happened. It took me three hours to get the first 80 miles. My pre-owned, rundown car that I’d bought for $500 had broken down a quarter of the way there, and I had to abandon it. Hotter than heck outside, nobody was stopping, then it started to rain. And it kept raining. I made it to a gas station where I was camped out for a couple of hours. I said “damn” again. Panicked, flat broke, down to about five cigarettes. Black as sin outside and pouring down rain and I was really starting to think I was spending the night in the park.
An older gentleman sat down directly across from me in the booth I was sitting at in the A&W in this gas station and said: “You look like you’re having a rough day, young lady.”
That guy, who lived two miles from that gas station, drove me home – first to see my mom who’d been ill – and then back all the way to school. I knew it was a bad idea to get in a car with a stranger – especially since I was a woman stranded and alone. But I took my chances, and the guy had really honest eyes. It was 130 miles each way. Turns out when he was a kid in the 1950s. He got stranded hitching through Arizona and was rescued by a total stranger. He told me the story on the road. The guy had literally been waiting for forty years for the opportunity to pay that forward when he walked into that gas station that night in 1999.
When I got out of his van at my school, he said “Two things. One, don’t ever do anything this stupid again, young miss. At least keep a twenty on you for emergencies, for God’s sake, And two, one day you will know that your time has come. Remember this.”
I will remember him for the rest of my life.
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