I give rides to strangers.
If I’m in my car going somewhere and I see someone walking along who looks like they could use a ride, I pull over and offer them one.
I have given a ride to: a pregnant woman dragging slowly in the Arizona sun with heavy bags of groceries in each hand, an 85-year-old man hitchhiking with his thumb stuck out as if he was daring drivers to stop, a father carrying a child with one huge plastic bag over both their heads against the rain and even a guy who smelled so bad I had to nonchalantly roll down the windows in the car to be able to keep breathing.
Recently I gave a ride to Roy Rogers.
Not that Roy Rogers, but to a tall, thin black man named Roy Rogers who had stumbled by the side of the road in obvious pain.
“Excuse me, sir. How about I give you a ride?” I said.
“Are you sure ma’am?”
“Well,” I said laughingly, “If you’re not going to shoot me, I’m sure.”
And he said no, he wasn’t going to shoot me, and I said, good, because I wasn’t going to shoot him either and helped him to my car.
“Why do you do it?” I’ve been asked. “It’s nice, yes. But it’s dangerous too. Why do you do it?”
I’ve thought about it.
Why do I do it.
First of all, reaching out to a perfect stranger makes me feel good about myself.
Not because I have done something “special” (I am definitely not a “special” person), but because I have been able to offer help to someone that needed exactly the kind of help that I offered. There are not many times that kind of perfect match happens.
What usually happens is that we offer help to someone—“I can take care of your dog while you’re at the doctor’s office,” or “I can pick up some groceries for you while I’m at the store,” or even, “I can take one night with your baby so you can get some sleep”—and for whatever reason, people say no, thank you.
When they say thank you, though, it’s like hitting the jackpot. Everybody feels good about it, and it’s a win-win situation.
I also offer rides to strangers because I don’t want to lose my ability to discern a “dangerous” person from a “not-dangerous” person. It’s a skill—or gut feeling—I don’t want to lose touch with.
Ultimately, being able to listen to my gut is what helps me to see my world as a safe and sane place.
I was stopped by a police officer once when I had borrowed my husband’s car to drive out to pick up a pizza. Having forgotten to bring my purse with me when the officer stopped me I didn’t have a single bit of identification to show him. What’s more, my husband and I didn’t have the same last names and there I was caught speeding with no ID, no insurance card, no nothing but a 20 dollar bill to pick up pizza and a different name than mine on the car registration.
The cop was ready to take me in. For all he knew I had stolen the car, and he said as much.
I could tell he was wavering.
“Look at me, officer,” I said to him. “Look me in the eye. I know you know a real criminal when you see one. I know you have that kind of discernment. I know you know that I am a woman who can be trusted.”
He let me go.
Entirely let me go.
No warning. No nothing.
Both of us had gone with our guts.
We are losing that kind of gut-level discernment today. Today we rely on trusting externals such as how a person looks or dresses or where he lives or what kind of car he drives—or worse, what color his skin is.
Today we go online to check out a person’s background before we have them over to the house to make repairs or before we answer their personal ad or go out to dinner with them. That kind of stuff doesn’t give me as much information as my gut, and it’s not for me.
Finally, I offer rides to people who look like they might need them simply because it’s the right thing to do, and I can do it.
I’m in my car—as warm or cold as I need to be depending on the weather—and there are people out on the streets who don’t have the same luxury. They have to scrapple to get to work or scrapple to get their groceries or scrapple to get their kids back to their mother on time. For some people, everything is a struggle, and that just hasn’t been the case for me.
I have never really had to scrapple for anything. I’ve had a soft life with a regular paycheck and a safety net to catch me if I fall.
Not everybody can say that and I don’t want to forget that.
So, I would say I pick up strangers and give them rides because
It makes me feel good about myself;
It helps me to create a friendly world for myself;
It’s a way to maintain my gut level judgments, and
It’s a reminder that there are people in the world who are not as well off as I am.
Sounds to me like I get whole lot more out of it than the people I pick up do and like I’m the one who should be saying thank you!
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Toby Israel