The Kindness of Strangers
I don’t go to out at night to pick up men. It just happens.
The first time I was driving home from the local Toastmasters public speaking improvement session at 9.30pm. It was dark and cold when I noticed a man in a bus stop waving at me.
I knew there wouldn’t be any buses and he’d be stuck there for a while. No one would risk picking up a strange, single man at night on a dark, lonely stretch of road would they? Except perhaps me.
So I stopped and whizzed down the window to ask where he was going. Not far from where I lived as it turned out. I could tell he was drunk but I trusted my instincts that he was a harmless drunk and told him to get in.
It’s a 15 minute journey. I chatted cheerfully, acting as though I picked up strange men from the roadside every night but all the time I was hoping he wouldn’t touch me or threaten me in any way.
Instead he rabbited on about how he couldn’t believe I’d picked him up.
I’m not sure who was the most nervous.
Finally we were there. I dropped him off and he thanked me for the 15th time before skulking off into the night.
I used to go hitchhiking a lot. I’ve relied many times on the kindness of strangers picking me up and now I have a car I like to give back and pick up hitchhikers if I can.
But everyone says it’s a dangerous practice and of course, you should not pick up strange men on lonely roads at night.
When I got home I confessed to my husband and promised I’d never do it again.
Four weeks later I left Toastmasters again. In case you don’t know Toastmasters is a place where you go to learn public speaking. It’s just about the only time I go out by myself at night.
This time I hadn’t got far when I saw a Japanese man by the roadside holding a sign with my town’s name on it.
I guessed he worked at the nearby Japanese restaurant but I stuck to my promise of not picking up male hitchhikers at night driving past him at least 20 meters before I pulled over.
He was lovely and not at all drunk. He explained that he always cycles to work (a 40 minute bike ride) but that evening he’d forgotten his bike lights. We chatted about Japan, the recent earthquakes, his family and our mutual love of Japanese food.
I took him out of my way to his home and he gave me sushi. A big pack. Plenty for me to share with my husband at lunch the next day.
Once again I promised him never to pick up strange men on dark roads at night.
But I just can’t stop thinking about how yummy that sushi was and how far those poor men would have had to walk home if I hadn’t given them a lift.
Would You Take a Risk to Help a Stranger?
Well now. If I just lived close I would stand out on the road at night with my thumb out. It would be the one night you kept to your promise and I would be picked up by maniacal chainsaw sculptors who would wittle me away to nothing!
Hi Steve, lol, I think it’s funny that both parties are scared:) What a shame we live in such a word of mistrust and fear….
In the olden days when I was a student I went surfing up the coast from Cape Town to Durban – hitching from town to town. I stayed in Durban for a month at some incredibly smart friends of my parents, ate them out of house and home, and then reversed the progress, back in time for the next semester!!! No one ever asked how I traveled, my parents always said they would kill me if I hitched, so I guess they chose to be “ignorant!!!”… Our nation has taken a bit of a ummm turn crime wise since then!!! There is not a chance I would stop the car, even in the day. Too many close friends have suffered severely at the hands of hijackers… round here it really isn’t an urban legend. So unless a hitch hiker is leaping on to our car, which is already packed with people, as we slide past then no, I will not be collecting a hitch hiker anytime soon!!!
Hi Se7en, very wise I’m sure!
Wow Annabel. That is a tough question. I guess no-one really knows the answer until they find themselves in a situation.
I, for one, would never pick up a stranger. Never have. Never will. I’ve probably watched too many murder/crime TV shows over the years so my perception of the possible ‘outcome’ is no doubt tainted.
Would you, for example, come to the aid of someone who was being attacked? I’d like to think that I would but….
Hi Jen, good point, I think the media has a part to play in our assuming picking up a hitchhiker (or hitchhiking) is tantamount to suicide. I hope I’d help someone who was being attacked. My husband does always say just ignore it, walk by but I do have a sense of justice and want to get involved in things even when I shouldn’t. I think those media articles about people lying dead in the street and everyone just ignoring it or walking by me have influenced me!
You have to be a very good judge of character to pick up strangers, and I’m very good at it. Even more so for women. However, a friend of my dad once stopped and picked up a hitchhiker. The guy pulled out a gun and told him to drive to a secluded place so he (the hitchhiker) could rape him. Yes, rape him. My dad’s friend fought with the guy inside the car and got shot but survived. I guess he wasn’t a good judge of character.
Hi Matty, I agree. I think I am a good judge of character hence I “vetted” both men by talking to them through the wound down window first. But can we really judge people like that? Blimey, I’ll remember you story next time I see a hitchhiker – they might have to walk! That’s a terrible one and I know some countries are much more dangerous than others. I wonder where that was?
I love this post because it shows how many have internalized the paranoid conditioning of the media and society and forgotten that we have available to use divine guidance that protects us and lets us know whom to offer assistance and circumstances to avoid.
How foolish of us all to live huddled in our illusions of safety. We feel safe in the cocoon of our automobile or in our homes with the doors and windows locked while it should be painfully obvious from prime time television cop shows that anyone could easily get into either one and bullets easily pass through both.
Young people have been taught some really strange things. Hang out in the local convenience store or restaurant where young people work and you’ll find out their first instinct is to call the police because you stayed too long EVEN IF you are eating and the people around you know you.
I met an elderly woman who was simply delightful who invited me in for tea. (To put this in context I was over 50, under 5’3″ and 130 lbs and not carrying anything that could have concealed a weapon or anything else so hardly a threat.) Her son who was probably in his thirties got very agitated about this and minutes after I left a police car stopped me. THAT is how paranoid people are.
I stopped to help a very clean-cut soft-spoken young man driving a truck that had emergency volunteer fire department logos all over it and an antenna for their radio equipment. It was over 100 degrees and he was on a major circle near a highway.
His truck had stalled and when he tried to get the window up it broke and being very conscientious he didn’t want to leave the radio equipment to go get help. He had been there for almost an hour and not one person stopped in that heat! Did they really think someone would go to those lengths to APPEAR to be a volunteer fireman with a broken down truck? Good grief.
Another time I stopped to help an elderly grandmother and her four year old grandson who had a flat tire IN FRONT OF A USED CAR LOT! Again it was 100 degrees. (Many things like fuel pumps and tires are more prone to fail in the heat.) Even though she had a jack and a spare not one young man who worked at that business was willing to change her tire for her – they called her a tow truck 45 minutes before and it STILL wasn’t there. They didn’t even offer them shade or water. Great Samaritans they were!
She didn’t know how to change a tire because her husband had always done it and at her age she might not have been strong enough to do it anyway. I had her cancel the tow truck and changed it for her – over her objections because I was wearing business casual attire and she didn’t want me to get hot or dirty.
What is wrong with people? How can you be so…I don’t even know what to call it when multiple someones would leave an older woman and child out in 100 degree heat and not even offer shade or water. They should have invited them in and changed that tire.
Would you believe she insisted I give her my address and she sewed me a nightgown with fancy stitching (a lost art few know today that – sewing) as a thank you for helping her. Being able to offer assistance was thanks enough, but that gift really touched me.
Imagine if Jesus or his disciples were walking through your town today. Would you do unto the least of his – or not? I would and I do.
Hi Gail, you are getting a big gong for longest ever comment here:) Thank you, and what a great comment too. Yes, we are too busy or proud as well as scared to help other people.
I love that your kindness was repaid with a thank you of a homemade nightgown with fancy stitching just as I got some unexpected sushi.
Thanking people for their kindness is another lost art and I always make a point of thanking people like my children’s teachers and telling them how much I appreciate their help, patience and postivity (or whatever they add) because so often people like you and them give and give but receive little thanks for it:)
Ha! Might have to write about the art of thanking people sometime too.
I really appreciate your sharing your story and positive ideas here. Thanks again Gail:)
No one ever accused me of being short-worded. :-)
Sometimes when my comments get long I turn them into blog posts that link to whatever triggered me to write. In this case though, it wouldn’t fit on any of my current blogs and made sense here so you got all of it. I’m glad you didn’t mind. (Some bloggers do.)
I am fortunate to be active in blogging communities where the bloggers are appreciative (most of the time) and support each other. It really does make a difference to thank people. My most recent post was on how social media savvy bloggers thank each other a little differently.
Good for you Annabel. Incidentally I hitchhike and have been a member of Toastmasters as well.
Hi Roy, that’s good. Then you can entertain the fine people who pick you up with your speeches;)
I’ve ridden my thumb a fair bit. Probably 10,000 miles. Stories for another day.
I haven’t ever picked up a hitchhiker. Given the right circumstance though…
I have hitched once. Was picked up by a neighbor. I was on my way home. If it has been a stranger, I am not sure anyone would have stopped.
I have helped out a couple of people over the years. Saw a guy who’s boat trailer has slipped off the hitch. He was having a hard time getting it back on the hitch. So I stopped and helped him out. It does feel good to help someone who is in need.
Great post. I think we need to remember that most people are just nice, regular folks and not axe murderers!
Hi Bradley, lol so true:) I’ve been lucky never to have met an axe murder yet;)
I admire your kindness – and faith in your inner wisdom.
For me, I would rely on my inner wisdom to tell me if the situation is safe or not. I believe we are nudged to do the right thing when it is indeed the right thing to do.
Thanks for sharing this story,
Hi Alex, that’s a great way to look at it – and as inner wisdom:)
hmm… this is a big question – doesn’t always turn out well does it? Makes you think. A few years back I picked up a pair of teenage boys who were facing a long walk home after their car had breathed its last. They were very thankful and perfectly pleasant young people, but I know I wouldn’t do that every day! I’d like to think, though, that if one of my (perfectly pleasant) youngsters needed bailing out in a situation like that, someone kind like you would stop. I thank the heavens for mobile phones – it isn’t really a problem for them now. I hate to think how our parents survived us out and about back in the seventies! :-)
Hi Cate, that’s true, now everyone has a mobile and can just call their mum to pick them up!
Your post brought back some wild memories of my hitchhiking days in the late 60s and early 70s. I once hitchhiked from California to Peru. I also never hesitated to pick hitchhikers up and even to invite them home for a meal. That was long ago. I wouldn’t do it now, which is too bad. Definitely a fear based reaction. Your story is a charming reminder to help a stranger whenver it is possible to do so. Sometimes we can’t get past our fear, and sometimes for good reason, but we still overlook many opportunities to help just because we are too busy or not paying attention. Great article. Thank you.
Hi Galen, there must be some good stories in that. What an experience – it must be a thousand miles and many different cultures…
I would not stop for a man. I might stop for a middle-aged woman but I rarely see any hitchhiking.
I’m sorry to say where I live, people have created fear. I sense a difference in Europe especially with all the students hitchhiking, but I rarely see them here in California.
Hi GutsyWriter, I wouldn’t hitchhike in the US either… but I might here if forced!
This caught my eye on TDBS and I’m glad I read it. What a great story! I hitchhiked a lot as a teenager in the late 70s/very early 80s, even half way across the US a couple times, though getting hit by a car and almost killed sort of turned me off to the whole idea :) But I’ve picked up people more than a few times with the same idea in mind–other people helped me and why not help them?
It’s been awhile, though. I live in the US/Philadelphia area now (I used to live in a much smaller town), and I can’t remember the last time I saw someone hitchhiking. It might be illegal; I don’t know. In any case, around here there’s a lot of big city violence and I wouldn’t likely do it–if it were even practical to pull over on a fast-moving highway.
But if I lived in a smaller town or more rural area, I’m sure I’d pick someone up once in awhile but for sure have my radar on and keep caution in mind! It might be sort of like how I choose whether to give money to homeless people on the streets or not: I just trust my gut and what I’m seeing and, if something moves me, I know it’s right. A little trickier with picking up strange men (lol) but I never had a problem in the reverse role–even sleeping in the cab of an 18-wheeler truck with another guy one time across a couple of states! Trusted my gut with who I rode with too.
Fun read; thanks :)
Hi Leah, what a story! Or stories… Amazing what we did when we were young and it’s a good point that hitchhiking in towns or places like the States with big busy highways is not an option:)
I’ve never hitchhiked myself. And I’ve only ever picked up a hitchhiker once – in 2008 while driving from Rotorua to Napier in New Zealand. The young French guy said he’d been standing by the side of the road for 2 hours before I stopped to give him a lift at 8am. Not something I’d normally do, but it was one of those instinctive, intuitive things… We had a good chat and made the drive much more enjoyable.
Aha, now you know what I get up to after Toastmasters!
Yes I am a picker-upper as well….but also sit and worry about how silly it would sound if something were to happen! Once I took a ride from 4 drunken men in Costa Rica (it was dark and raining) because I was too embarrassed to act too scared to take the ride…silly huh? They ended up taking me back to their house for a drink where I sat thinking what a nutter I am and how no-one could hear me even if I did scream. Nothing happened except the most sober man noticed I looked petrified and took me home. It is amazing how much of a pickle we can get in when we don’t trust as well as when we do….
Hi Teresa, oh that made me laugh – they were worried they were scaring you:) But don’t do it again!
Very risky business indeed! I trust my instincts but not sure I could size up someone in the dark from my car well enough to feel safe picking them up. Be careful!
I won’t do it again. Unless it’s the Japanese chef…..
I’d probably have done the same as you though maybe, if the man had been drinking, might have hesitated especially late at night. I’d also tend to be more selective. If it’s bad weather or the man might have a long wait or way to go, I’d be more likely. (True motives.) It also depends on my mood or if I want to be alone. Perhaps coming from giving a good speech at Toastmasters (I’m a Toastmaster and until I got too involved in competitions, and it took time away from my writing), I might feel so happy that I’d stop to pick up any poor fellow in need of a ride.
I’ve never regretted helping a stranger and since, like you, countless strangers have helped me when I hitchhiked or needed a lift/ride, how can I not help someone in the same/similar situation?
The danger angle is there, as evidenced by some stories we hear, films or TV series, but they are by far the exception and not the rule. I’m willing to take the risk. Like you with the Japanese man, it has its rewards.
Hi Penelope, lots of Toastmasters coming out of the closet;)
I’m an old hitchhiker from way back… well the 80’s feels way back anyway. As a dreaming teenager I had a very well thumbed copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to Europe got as a school prize. Happy days… although not all the rides were happy experiences and I’d be horrified if my daughter got up to mischief and into pickles like I did.
I have picked up hitchers and will do so again. Much more chance of there being no problem than a problem. But my sixth sense would be on the alert, of course.
Hi Seana, lol re ” I’d be horrified if my daughter got up to mischief and into pickles like I did.” Glad you wrote it, I’m thinking it!
I’ve never hitchhiked, nor have I picked anyone up. My mom used to and only one time did we have a problem. Luckily my mom had a friend in the car so there were 2 adults to the 1 hitchhiker that was not as appreciative as he should have been (so to speak).
My problem is that I watch too many of those crime solver TV shows about serial killers. I like to think I’m a good judge of character but my mind wanders like it’s one of those shows.
I will gladly help people with directions or call for help. I stop when there are children to see if I can offer help in some way, besides driving them somewhere. Again, I’m assessing if maybe they’ve kidnapped the kid(s).
Yes, I have to stop watching those shows!
Luv to you,
Hi Sara, lol, I stopped watching those shows! I’d never pick up a hitchhiker if my kids were with me:)
You are such a good person and I hope the world continues to repay you in kindness. Do be careful!
Of course, the last hitchhiking story I heard about, the man on the road was Bono from U2! You never know…
Hi Jen, well, I’ve quit now so even if it’s Bono I won’t stop for him:)
It’s been interesting to read the comments and see people’s different takes on this. I don’t pick up male or female hitchhikers unless I know them. Which oftentimes I do because quite a few people hitch in my area. I’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past so I don’t feel it’s worth taking a chance. I’m also sensitive to fragrance so that’s another practical reason I rarely give rides.
I’m sure those two men were very grateful to you. You do have a huge heart, Annabel!
Hi Sandra, riding in a car with someone who smells bad is no fun. Your guidelines sound sensible and great people do still hitch round where you live. I think it’s an island? I lived on an island in New Zealand (8,000 people) and even the kids would hitchhike after school!
Jesus Christ Annabel. Don’t scare me with this shit – don’t do that ever again.
I have to confess, I have mixed feelings about this one.
I think it has more to do with trusting your instincts than anything else. When I had a car, I remember one time I gave this woman a ride. It was not long at all, maybe a five minute ride. She was drunk and upset. I was nervous and so was my then 16 year old daughter. We told my husband when we met him after. We nervously joked about the fact we thought she was either drunk, stoned, crazy or all of the above.
However, a small part of me was very proud that I did not leave that poor woman out there. Obviously she needed more help than I could provide. She was not dangerous to me or to herself or anyone else. I just hope she got the help she needed.
She was however, a woman. You have picked up men, more than once. I guess it also depends on your town and the people around you. If I had a car in the town I live now, I probably would not pick up any men. Crime is not an issue here in that sense, I just would rather let them know how to get public transportation. I am, after all, an expert on that at the moment.
Be careful and trust your gut.
I did a lot of hitchhiking in Africa… I always felt sooooo grateful for the ride… But now I have to admit I do look at hitchhikers and automatically think they’re dangerous and drive right on by! Your post has reminded me to look at the flip side. Many thanks! I wonder if I’ll pick up the next hitcher I see?!
I hitchhiked a bit in Africa, with my husband and in Europe and always had great experiences. We picked up some people in Europe as well, but I was in a campervan with 4 other girls, so we felt safe enough.
Now that I am older and a mother I tend to analyze things more deeply in terms of risk and safety. I don’t think I would pick up a hitchhiker alone in Australia- weird, I know.
But it does depend on where I was and what my gut instinct was like. But, I think it is too great a risk.
For some reason, I feel the most fear about other people and society in Australia. The other night my husband was saying how he didn’t want me staying in a motel on my own, in our local area. Which I replied as to how ridiculous that was considering we had camped throughout Africa and have stayed in many “dodgy” towns around the world . But he was admanant that he did not trust the people in our area. Strange but I had the same feeling as well.
Hard to explain and define but food for my thoughts anyway. Good for you for not being scared!
Hi Annabel, I’ve hitchhiked quite a bit and it’s always been a positive experience. I am very grateful to people who do give me a lift and gush appropriately pointing out to them, that it’s far more courageous of them to pick me up than it is for me to stick my finger out. You’re very much more vulnerable when you’re behind the wheel I reckon.
Interesting to read people’s views.
Blessed be the hitchhikers and all who pick them up. I say.
Good morning, Annabel.
Are you sure you’re not me?
Reading this sounded so very much like the sort of thing I do – and especially the bit about promising not to do it again. It usually goes something like this – ‘no dear, I promise I won’t…’ with fingers crossed behind back, because I know full well I will!
But the good old mobie helps these days. I usually overshoot my victim – well, they’re going to have to listen to me jabbering on for however long our journey takes, so I think of them has suffering for their ride! Then whilst it dawns on them that I’m actually stopping for them I get someone on the mobile. As the vic gets to the window I make a point of saying loud enough for them to hear, that I’m giving someone a lift; telling the listener where I am; checking with the vic where s/he wants taking and relaying that to whoever has had the misfortune to pick up my call.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect strategy, but it appeases my conscience. I know I’m going to give the person a lift, so there’s no point in trying to pretend otherwise. At least someone knows where and when I was last seen alive in the event that I get it wrong and pick up a mass murderer.
But I really don’t think there are too many of them lurking round out there…. are there?
You are a very kind person. A rarity these days. I know because of a certain ‘guest blogging’ you did when I was too sick to move. (Do you know how much that means to me to this day?)
But these are tough times, even the ‘normal’ person with good vibes is desperate in this economy. While I want to applaud you for taking care of people in need (again in these tough times), I don’t want to see the rare beauty of your kindness get broken in any way. I also cannot pass by someone in need and always, as an example, come back with food, blakets and a pillow for someone who insists on sleeping in our building when it is cold. But being alone in a car is a different scenerio. I’ve been through too many ‘situations’ where my gut reaction, always a good indicator, turned out to be wrong. I don’t want to see that happen to you, dear. I don’t want to see anything but good situations coming your way. It is a gift to be able to help people and it feels good. Just be very wary. This is mother hen ;)
My best to you,
Thank you!!! You brought a sunshine in a rainy day :)