estimated reading time: 3 minutes

She was sitting on the shoulder of an I-70 west on-ramp, holding a sign that read, “SOUTH.” She was wearing plastic sunglasses and a hoodie, and to her left was a collection of 11 or 12 suitcases and duffle bags. As Launa and I passed by her, we talked for a moment about going back to let the woman know she was sitting in the wrong spot to go south, and we marveled about all of her bags, and we wondered who might’ve dropped her there and why.

An hour later, Launa texted me: “I can’t stop thinking about that woman on the side of the road.”

Her name’s Susan, and by the time we got back to her, she’d changed her sign from “SOUTH” to “WEST.” She’d been traveling for four months or so and was on her way back to Arizona from Pennsylvania. She was hoping for a ride to a truck stop someone had told her about, and she wondered if we had a car big enough for her bags. We did. (Barely, as it turns out.)

We learned a lot from Susan in the half-hour we spent with her:

  1. If you’re hitchhiking, it’s to your advantage to have a lot of bags, because then the only people who stop are “safe rides”—couples or church-goers. Rapists, Susan says, are in a hurry. They don’t have time to deal with your bags, so they don’t stop.
  2. If you’re heading north of Syracuse, NY, you have to leave all of your stuff behind, including 24′ motor homes, if you have them. And “they” will take said motor homes away, and, “Wouldn’t that feel kinda yucky?”
  3. If you aren’t careful, the German will steal your 1964 Chevy Chevelle SS and live in it in the hills near Vegas for 24 years.
  4. A lawyer is required if you want to convince “them” that your losing lottery ticket is actually a winning ticket. It’s an expensive process, and it’s not worth going into debt over. The Canadians will steal your lottery tickets and switch the lines, and then you have to go through their stacks and try to figure it all out. If the führer discovers the mess with the lottery tickets, you’re at risk of being machine-gunned.
  5. Hotels are $150/night. They’ll lie to you and say they aren’t, but they are. It’s silly to pay that much money; $150 goes a long way toward better things like second-hand shoes and socks.
  6. If the Germans turn off your “RIDE” sign, you’ll just have to write your own: “SOUTH” and “WEST.”
  7. There are packs of wolves being sent down from Canada into Arizona, and they’re pulling up the post offices and grocery stores. Possibly the banks, too. It takes about 10 years for the wolves to get there. Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management sit in glass booths watching them.
  8. California is a good place to travel, but they’ll machine-gun you between Long Beach and LA.

Tiny pieces of Susan’s stories made sense, and I’m not sure if the rest of them were paranoid or delusional or simply scrambled. I do know this: She was sweet. Soft-spoken. Articulate. Gracious. And given that she politely declined Launa’s offer to have lunch together, she was most certainly self-sufficient. When we reached the truck stop, we hugged her and said good-bye, and, strangely, I don’t feel at all guilty for leaving her there. When I asked if she was sure she’d be okay, she smiled broadly and said, “Oh, yeah! I’m good!” And I believed her.

I’m tempted to add a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer here. For all I know, Susan carries some sort of weapon with which to fend off Germans and wolf packs, and I’d be lying if I didn’t have a what-have-we-done moment or two during our time together. But I’m not going to add that disclaimer.

Instead, I’ll say this: Find yourself a friend whose heart breaks for the same things that break yours, and agree to do crazy things together. And don’t “but” yourself out of a chance to meet Susan.

She’s precious.