Photo credit: irez.me
On my way out of Antelope canyon I passed a hitchhiker.
I had driven past many hitchhikers but never felt compelled to pick one up. There was something about this guy though.
I don’t know what it was, maybe his suitcase, on wheels, completely inappropriate for the surroundings. I couldn’t tell you, but he really just didn’t seem like a threat to me. So I stopped & picked him up, like a good Samaritan.
He hopped in my car and after he fastened his seat belt but before he introduced himself, said to me, through a distinct native accent. “Oh thank god you picked me up! I forgot my cowboy hat, I thought I’d be standing there all day.”
“Yah, no problem man.” I responded. “I’m Jade, good to meet you. What’s with this cowboy hat thing?”
He was in his late 20’s, working class, obviously from a native community that was still connected to its roots, as connected as you can be when your culture’s been diluted by blue jeans and rolling suitcases.
“oh” he responds in the same tone my flute-playing antelope canyon Navajo guide had used, which made me feel like they must have spoken the same language. “It’s a Navajo thing”
yeah, ok, didn’t take long for confirmation…”We only pick each other up if we’re wearing cowboy hats, but I forgot mine this morning so I was worried. I’m going to Flagstaff to find some work, I gotta be there before the end of the weekend.”
The cowboy hat thing still didn’t make any sense, but he was well into his story about work in the “city” and being reunited with his daughter before he took a breath, so I just let it go.
“It’s nice to have some company in the car” I thought to myself.
He talked forever, but not in an annoying way. He told me what all the hills were called in the Navajo tradition, I remember none, of course, and I have no idea if he was making them up as he went or not, but still, it was entertaining.
He had a CD with him that a couple of his buddies recorded of some traditional Navajo music. He asked if he could put it in and I was more than happy to oblige.
We spent the next couple of hours talking about his life and my life, and the land we were driving over, which he seemed very connected to.
He was a tattoo artist, he showed me some of his photos and sketches from a homemade portfolio, he was actually really good if you’re into balled eagles and casino culture, but I mean really technically talented, some of his freehand sketches were even more, how shall I say, poetic and beautiful, and not so pop-culture kitsch.
He told me about how his baby-momma had to move to the city for work a few years back and it had been really hard on them, and he really missed his daughter, but they were trying, and now he had this huge opportunity to work in a tattoo parlor in the city and he was so grateful I’d picked him up.
He said it a million times. He was clearly excited about life at this moment in time. Almost manic, but you could tell he was normally a really chill guy. He talked slow but couldn’t seem to get enough words out of his mouth fast enough, so he took short gasps of air between sentences and just kept going.
The fact that he might be high crossed my mind a few times, but it didn’t make sense; he wasn’t fidgety, his pupils weren’t dilated, he wasn’t scratching at his arms, chewing gum, or drinking excessive amounts of water.
He was just high on life. About to be reunited with his family and incapable of seeing the bumps in the road that were inevitably going to come with his giant transition.
He showed me pictures of his little girl. She was really cute. Aren’t all kids?
I told him about my life too, but not too much, just that I was driving cross-country by myself and I’d left my whole life behind.
He was fascinated. He’d never left the state, only gone to the city twice. “We’re both in transit, and we’re sharing the road for a bit” he said…
About half-way through the ride he suddenly realized I was a lady, alone, picking up hitchhikers.
“You shouldn’t be doing that, man!” he said to me calmly “that’s really dangerous”
“Should I be worried?” I asked.
“Nah, man, not with me, man, I wouldn’t hurt nothing, I don’t even like tattooing people sometime ’cause they’re in so much pain” I believed him
“You’re glad I picked you up right?”
“Yeah, man, for sure, but really though, you shouldn’t be doing that”
He was probably right. I had had plenty of opportunities, but I’d never done it before, and I don’t know why I had with him, but I felt better about it every minute that passed.
I wanted to tell him that there was something special about him, but I wasn’t sure how to do that and not risk sounding creepy, or overly mystical, or just opening myself up to more trouble than I bargained for, so I just dropped it and we went silent for a while, both propelled back into our individual realities, until he remembered the name of the next hill.
I dropped him off at a gas station before turning off my own way toward the Grand Canyon, and we exchanged Facebook names.
I was curious to see how his adjustment went, he was curious to see pictures of foreign lands.
He shot me a last “don’t be picking up hitchhikers no more!” and we went our separate ways.
I stalked him a bit on Facebook until mine got hacked that Christmas and I lost him, but for the next two month, it seemed at least on Facebook, his life was going just as he’d hoped. I saw smiling pictures of him, his girl and his baby-momma, fresh tattoos on punctured & bleeding skin, mystical and tacky Navajo proverbs and occasional pitches for his buddies’ band… and I hope the universe continues to manifest happiness for him and his family.
I listened to him and I didn’t pick up another hitchhiker, it wasn’t hard, I didn’t really ever feel compelled to again. I think it was some sort of Navajo spell his watchful ancestors had cast for him because he’d forgotten his cowboy hat.
He seemed like a genuinely content guy, happy to just hold his family and permanently imprint his art on other people’s skin. I was happy to have helped him get to his destination.
I was getting closer to mine…
That’s all for today kids, but come back next week for more.
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Episode 6 (out same time next week)