Monday, September 26, 2011

American Hitchhiker, American Heart

He’s doing it. Sean’s* hitchhiking from the middle of America to the Atlantic Ocean.
He left Iowa on Sunday. He’s 24, my former student, a writer. Smart, funny, serious. Tough, hopeful, cynical, vulnerable.
Yes, he’s read Kerouac’s On the Road.
He’s an Iraq war vet-- 2 combat tours, single dad of two boys, a son, a brother, a former Marine.
He currently works as a prison guard in a Midwestern state. Not his first choice of a job, but in this economy, it’s just that, a job. He doesn’t complain. He took the week off from work for this trip.
Sean is staying in daily contact with some friends through Facebook, with brief updates of where he is, how many times a day he was picked up by cops, what rides he got, where he slept.
His mission of discovery asks one big question that has many parts. The big question is—does anyone in America have the heart to take a crazy risk?
The smaller parts of the big question: who will pick up the tall, scruffy, blond guy with the backpack? Will they leave him by the side of the road, cover him with dust, rain, condescension? Refuse to even look at him? Lock him up in jail? Rob him, beat him, leave him in a ditch? Will they take a chance on Sean? Will they fear him?
Sean’s journey makes me look at myself. No way would I pick up a strange hitchhiker of any description, at any time. Well, at least I doubt it greatly. That lesson was drilled in to me at a young age.
Yet I’ll never forget the day my mother, who was 50 at the time, came home and said something about the hitchhiker she’d picked up.
Teenager that I was, I flipped out. How could she pick up a stranger?
“Oh,” she said, “he was just a boy. A college kid, probably. And it was starting to rain.”
How many hitchhikers has my mother picked up in her lifetime? Is she still picking them up? I don’t even want to know. She has a huge heart, but I want her to be safe. Let other people take the risks, is my uncharitable attitude.
But what about Sean?
I’m conflicted. How can I hope or expect other people do what I wouldn’t do? Stop and give Sean a ride? I can’t make any sense of it.
But I want Sean to succeed, to get to New York, to the Atlantic Ocean, to find what he’s looking for. To write a great novel out of the experience, even if that wasn’t his intention. To get home safely to the Midwest.
He’s only trying to find out about America’s heart.
What would you do if you saw Sean on the road? Do you ever, or never, pick up hitchhikers? Have you ever been the hitchhiker, looking for a lift?
*Sean is not his real name.



  1. Sean sounds like a man who has seen a lot, and is willing to face some of life's hardships, is need be. I look forward to hearing about his hitchhiking adventure, and to know what he found about "America's heart."

    Great post, Melanie. :)


  2. Thanks for reading! He is a special guy, and I expect great things from him in the future.