It was about five years ago, the day after Christmas, and I was racing to get back to Silver City, NM from a trip to visit family in Tucson, AZ. I had an obligation that afternoon so I was going as fast as the law would allow.
Just as I was turning into the last highway leading into Silver City, I noticed a man walking on the right-hand side of the road. He didn’t have his finger out in the air, he was just walking. Something inside me told me to pull over and offer him a ride.
I told him I could take him as far as Silver City and he replied “that will be great.” When he entered the car, he seemed just like an average person. He wasn’t dirty or smelly. He didn’t seem hungry. His name was John and he had a backpack.
John had been walking for three weeks when I picked him up. He told me that after his mother passed away, he scrounged up all the money he had and flew from Pennsylvania to San Diego.
Funerals can be expensive. John found himself broke and with no one to contact. He did the only thing he knew to get back home. He started walking.
When I met John it was 21 days into his journey and we were in the cold of winter. He explained to me that he was making his way cross-country but had to avoid the interstate. Law enforcement frowns upon hitchhikers and truckers don’t pick them up due to insurance restrictions.
John had a long way to go. He said he wouldn’t make it to Pennsylvania until the summer. His employer had been calling him and was running short of patience. If he didn’t get home soon, he’d be unemployed and completely out of money.
When we reached Silver City, the pastor of my church put him up at a local hotel. I told him that I had to go but would call him later to see if I could get him a ride to Deming. His map told him that Deming was connected to an interstate, and there was this other road — the Black Range.
The thought of John walking, sleeping through the Black Range, a curvy, mountainous and often dangerous terrain was scary. He didn’t know what he was headed into, especially in December.
Later in the evening, the pastor called to let me know that helping John out for just one night wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t be right unless we all knew that John made it to Pennsylvania safely so he purchased him a Greyhound ticket home.
I couldn’t believe it. I had only known John for a few hours but I was so happy for him. I called John and he told me that he was in disbelief. Yet, still, I wanted reassurance that he would really make it home. I gave John my cellphone number and asked him to call me when he made it off the bus 2,000 miles later.
The next Saturday, John called. He was home. I learned a big lesson that day. John taught me to listen to that voice in my head. He taught me to not be afraid to help someone just because they look different or unfamiliar. He reminded me that most people down on their luck, are good people. People like you and me.
Thank you, John. You made your mother proud.