It's been 38 years since I picked up a hitchhiker. The last one told me not to do it again.
Heat shimmered off the farm-to-market road Saturday. I had just enough time to get to the CSA drop site within the allotted pickup time, when I came up on a big red SUV sitting on the side of the road, crammed full of bicycles.
The vehicles that are occasionally stranded along this stretch are usually old and tired. What was wrong with such a shiny truck? How long had it been there? Would the bikes still be there when the people came back?
It wasn't until I'd passed that I saw three young black men in t-shirts and baggy red athletic shorts walking down the road, away from the SUV. They weren't far ahead, must have just left it.
I wanted to stop. They looked like athletes. Short hair, no visible tattoos. The one in front walked with his eyes fixed on the ground, his shoulders slumping. The other two walked side by side, a few feet behind him. I slowed down and watched the rear view mirror. No one had a water bottle. And they were miles from anywhere.
It hurt to drive by. But as a silver-haired woman, I know better than to pick up three teen-aged strangers.
Two miles up the road, I turned around; couldn't take the weight in my chest. I didn't know what I'd do--give them a ride? Call for help? Go buy water and bring it back? But I couldn't leave them on the side of the road without help. Some years back, one of my friends suffered a heat-stroke. It's not hard to dehydrate in triple digit temperatures--possibly only in the time it would take three teenagers to walk to the nearest convenience store.
They were still walking as I pulled off on the opposite side of the road. A part of my brain registered as odd that they weren't any further from the SUV than they'd been when I first saw them, but I was more consumed by what I could/should do. I was comforted to see the lead walker talking on a cell phone as he trudged. Maybe I wouldn't have to do anything.
I rolled down the window, "Hey Guys, are you all right?"
They all looked over at me. No one looked relieved. The lead walker answered, "Yes, ma'am."
The answer didn't make sense, in light of their circumstances, but it was a proper Southern, Sunday-school-manners answer. Maybe it would be all right if I gave them a ride to town.
It finally clicked that the truck was ever-so-slowly creeping along behind the boys. The driver's side window was down and a clean-cut older man looked out at me. He had on a red shirt that matched the boys' shorts. He nodded assent, the young men were all right, and flashed a megawatt smile, with an enthusiastic thumb's up.
The boys were able to call for help and they weren't alone. I turned around. The man smiled again and threw another vigorous thumb's up as I passed.
The truck and the boys were gone when I drove back from town. Where they were going, why the boys were walking while the man drove, and what happened after I turned around, remain a mystery.