Day 1 of my cross country research road trip for my next book took me to the Eastern Oregon desert, where I had a chance meeting with an OIFIII veteran.
Heading east on 26 today after hiking around the Painted Hills, I saw a hitchhiker with a dog that looked a little like Gwen. I wondered if he was a vet as I drove by, feeling a little guilty I did not stop. The GTO is packed to the walls for this research trip, and I had no room for him and his gear. Besides, I’ve never picked a hitchiker up. My mother told me never to do that, and I guess it stuck. 🙂
I stopped for the night in a tiny town called Prairie City, Or. There is a vintage hotel here that is simply awesome. After I ate at their grill, I wandered outside to take some photos.
The hitchiker was there climbing out of a pick up truck. A young couple wished him well and gave him some money. I watched him for a bit, then as he walked by me, I asked, “You prior service?”
He told me 3rd ID, Iraq. Got home in 06. We talked for about 20 minutes as I gave him all the water and snacks I had in the GTO. He gave his pup water before he drank any himself. The couple who gave him a lift to town came back as we talked and pressed more money into his hand. A girl, maybe 13 or 14, came up on a bike and handed him a few dollars of her own.
Chris is his name. He has been hitching all over the country since he left the service. I got the feeling it was not a good parting of ways. He’s wandered the empty neighborhoods of Dayton, Ohio, walked his way from San Francisco to San Jose. He’s crossed and recrossed the country this past decade. He fell in love in San Diego, and when the relationship ended, the heartbreak drove him back onto the road. He is heading to North Carolina now, hitching and camping outside of small towns in the woods.
Earlier in the evening, I met two guys who are bicycling across the country to raise awareness for TBI’s and Cystic Fibrosis. The hotel staff told me they’d just hosted a woman who had walked to Prairie City from South Carolina.
I thought about this as Chris and I talked on this town’s tiny main street. Somehow, in the middle of the Oregon desert, all these stories collided at once.
Chris quoted scripture. We talked about New Orleans, and Pensacola and other places we have both seen. Heartbreak.
I read and see little but hate, divisiveness, anger and rage on the news sites these days.From the way CNN and Fox tell it, we are a country loathing itself and our leaders. But as I watched that young girl ride off into the evening after she gave Chris some of her own money, her younger brother peddling furiously to keep up with her, it was a relief to realize there is much kindness and compassion in our people still. I think that is a bigger story than the divisions and the hate.