Her name was Lisa. I took her to be about twenty-four but she revealed she had three kids one of whom was thirteen. When I first saw her, I almost didn’t stop. Walking along a country road with no shoulder or sidewalk and cars traveling fifty miles per hour just wasn’t safe. Because I was distracted by the conversation with my mom via blue tooth, I probably wasn’t taking in the whole picture.
“Where are you headed?” I ask, hanging up with my mother.
“Route 9,” came the reply. I toss my bag in the back seat and subtly move my phone to the left change compartment out of her reach.
“Okay, hop in.” I made her buckle up. As she gets in she comments on the school emblem on my shirt. “Yeah, I’m a teacher,” I confess.
“Living outside of Camden, where I’m from, you didn’t need a car. Buses came like every ten minutes…but here….” she trails off as if to say Can you believe Podunkville?
“I hear ya. I grew up outsida Philly and it’s definitely different here,” conspiring now, slipping into my native tongue.
“Do you mind?” she asks having rolled down the window part way. At first I thought she was asking to smoke and I thought, What nerve and I would have said no.
“No, that’s fine,” I say after seeing she only wanted air.
I normally don’t pick up hitchhikers. I can count on one hand the number of times I have done so – four to be exact. Two on two different occasions up in Pottsville, one in Cobbs Creek Park (a prostitute I quickly discovered who got out at the other end of the park as soon as she figured out I wasn’t buying. Although five bucks is a good price I imagine. What are STDs going for these days?) The last one was a young girl, early twenties, who had mascara running down her face after having a fight with her boyfriend. That was the only one at night. This would make five. Only women. I only pick up women. I figure if something happens, I can take her, whoever she is.
“Where on route 9?” I inquire.
“Going toward Lewes, do you know the Donut Connection?”
“Sure, sure, I’m going that way.”
I deliberately don’t talk a whole lot. Don’t want her to think I’m a weirdo or anything.
“You’re …..careful …. with this, right? This getting into cars, I mean,” I pry.
“On yeah, yeah,” she says.
“I’ve only ever picked up women,” I add hoping it didn’t come out wrong. Or obvious, depending on how you looked at it.
“It’s funny but you’re only second woman who has ever picked me up. It’s always been men.”
“Do they try anything?”
“Oh, yeah. Especially the Mexicans. ‘You in business? You know you do business with sex for money?’ Pull the fuck over I tell them, “ she says then adds quickly, “Scuse my language.”
“It’s cool,” I say laughing.
“I got three kids, am I ‘in business,’” she adds shaking her head.
She spoke like a person sort of drunk or on something or maybe a lifetime of being drunk or on something so often her mind was addled. I learned she was originally from Camden, New Jersey, her other two children were ten and two and that she had lost her parents. Her mother had been her rock.
“You in a hurry?” she says. Here we go, I thought and every memory of having been a chump plays back to me.
“Yeah, I’m supposed to meet people for dinner at 4:30 and I still have to go home and change. I can’t exactly wear this or I’ll look like the camp counselor,” I lie. Who goes to dinner at 4:30 I think to myself.
“Do you have any bills I can get for change? I need to exchange about $8 dollars in coins.”
“No, I don’t really carry any cash on me,” I admit and that’s the truth.
“It’s cool. You can just drop me at the Harbeson Deli then,” she says.
“Okay,“ I agree.
As we approached the deli I told her I’d wait for her to get change and then take her farther down the road to the donut place.
“Okay, I’ll be fast, but if I’m not back in two minutes, go on without me,” she says as she leaves her purse in the car.
As she tumbles out of the car I get my first good look at her. She had one of those sort of bent-over walks like she was in a rush. I try to make some type of an assessment as she disappeared into the deli. Black fuzzy sweatpants and a purple fuzzy North Face pullover. Her hair was long and kinky with some type of highlighting not disguising her Italian roots in the least.
I grabbed my bag and took out the knife, the one I had carried for twenty years, and put it in my pocket. I started to get nervous. What if there were drugs in her bag? What if the cops pulled up right now and arrested me with possession or even as an accomplice? What kind of dumb ass picks up a stranger? What would I say?
Before I can react to my wave of semi-hysteria she comes spilling back out of the store.
She was out of work, had cleaned houses but the one company had slowed down and the other went out of business. She was looking for a job. I shared that I cleaned toilets in the summer. She told me I’m probably the coolest person she’s met since she’s been here. Funny.
These experiences always make me wonder about people. What makes me different than her? I am judging even though I don’t mean to. Am I stupid or was that Jesus I just picked up?
We don’t drive much farther when she indicates where to let her out Her friend has a trailer just around the corner. I trust her judgment and decide not to get too close to her final destination.
“Hey, be careful.” I say to the slamming car door.
“Take care,” she says over her shoulder.