Something about the way he was walking on a humid July afternoon made me suspicious… suspicious that he wasn’t just out for his daily constitutional. Of course, a good part of that observation was due to my keen perception of detail: he appeared to be sane. No sane person would take their daily exercise on the shoulder of Highway 36 between Troy and Wathena. Still, I knew it was possible that he was simply taking advantage of the blessing of being para-ambulatory. He was, after all, walking on the opposite side of the road, following the pedestrian rule for facing traffic.
Nonetheless, I quickly checked my rear-view mirror. Seeing no immediate opportunity for litigation, I hit the brakes sharply and pulled over onto the shoulder. Checking my mirror again, I saw him immediately cross over the highway and walk toward me. I backed the truck up a bit to cut the distance. I’m sure he appreciated every step I eliminated; he’d already walked three miles.
“Where ya headed?” I asked as he slid onto the truck seat. “Elwood,” he responded, “Thank you very much for stopping. I’m Mike,” he concluded, offering his hand in a firm shake. “You’re welcome, Mike. I’m Doc… like Bugs Bunny.” “Good to meet you, Doc. Thanks again.”
He looked to be in better than average shape for a 65-year-old man but I’m not sure he would have looked that way after walking another nine or ten miles.
I actually wasn’t headed to Elwood; our house was only a couple of miles up the road from where I stopped to give him a ride. But, I was planning on going into Saint Joseph a bit later anyway. “I need to stop by the house and get my fence charger. Need to take it in to Saint Joe and get it checked. That be okay with you?” I think anything that didn’t involve walking or waiting more than an hour or two would have been fine with Mike. “Sure,” he said.
He was much more coherent and articulate than any of the other hitchhikers I’ve picked up in this area. He wasn’t out on the road and homeless. Even if it’s nothing but a cheap hotel with low weekly rates, a roof over your head and a bed to sleep on moves you way up the existential ladder, at least in my estimation.
I swung into the parking lot, traded phone numbers and wished him well. “God bless you, Doc,” he said, easing the door shut and limping over toward his wife who stood there waiting for him with the smile of someone who has stood by her man through thick and thin, and maybe more thin than either of them would have ordered. He turned back toward me after a few steps and said it again, “God bless you.”
He already had… more about that tomorrow, God willing.