It was nearing the end of my trip in the USA and of course, money was tight. I had been good so far, trying to eat cheap but sometimes you just can’t say no to a juicy steak. I had a week to try and find a way to get from Nashville to New York, in time for my flight back to London but I was struggling finding something within my budget.
Nashville isn’t an ideal city to try and get to New York from, it doesn’t have an Amtrak station and the Megabus doesn’t go direct. My best chance was to get the bus to Atlanta, GA and then another bus from there to New York. Still this turned out pricey.
While I sat nursing a $3.00 whiskey and coke at a bar in Printers Alley, I decided to check out Craigslist for a ride share. Most of the offers were from horny people looking for ‘experimental women’ to share a ride with but one guy replied who seemed (at the time) semi normal.
So I made arrangements to meet him a couple of nights later to check out whether or not he had plans to smuggle me in his boot and make me join a cult. We decided to meet at the same bar that I had been nursing my $3.00 whiskey and soon enough he had arrived. Sliding next to me at the bar he whispered ‘Are you looking for a ride to New York?’ like it was some kind of secret mission that I knew nothing about.
We shook hands and talked, well he talked, for a solid 45 minutes about religion and how he is on a mission from God. He kind of reminded me of Alan from the film ‘The Hangover’ and as he sat there stroking his beard and rambling on about religion and politics and history and well everything else in between, I had already made my mind up. I was not getting in to a vehicle with this guy, under any circumstance.
Not sure what happened in the days that followed because that Friday, at 5.15pm, he picked me up and we started our 20 hour journey to New York. He had Wifi in the car, made rice and beans for us to snack on and put a blanket in the back seat for when I wanted a nap. He seemed the flip of the person I had met the other night. He wasn’t sweating, shaking or talking about personal things.
Yet the night was to get stranger. When it was my turn to drive and his turn to nap, he proceeded to the boot where he pulled out what I would call, a giant Michelin man suit and climbed in to it. He then lay down on the backseats looking like a giant inflatable man, snoring gently as I drove through Tennessee and into Virginia.
I am not entirely sure how he managed to sleep as he insisted on the music being on full volume for the whole trip. By the end I was slightly deaf and had Daft Punk ringing in my ears for days.
The drive was surreal, the moon was large and red and it lay low in the sky, enticing me towards it. The sky was thick with stars, dim, bright and shooting. Then as the night grew older and the moon began to drift off higher in to the sky, I looked out to see a huge ball of fire with a fiery tail dart down towards earth. I was convinced that it just may be the end of the world.
It wasn’t, of course.
After a near miss with a deer, breakfast at a diner in New Jersey, a pint of Guinness at an Irish Bar in Brooklyn, and towel shopping in Walmart, we finally said our goodbyes after a grueling 20 hour road trip together.
Yes he was strange and yes it probably wasn’t the safest way to get to get to New York but he was harmless, just a man who struggles to socialize, who does’t understand a two way conversation, who kind of reminded me of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. Just misunderstood.
I understand this trip could have been different, could have been dangerous but I didn’t travel on my own, there was two of us that went with him. The world is not what the news scares us with every single day, the bad in the world doesn’t outweigh the good like they want us to believe. I met so many people that helped me along the way, just good people.
He bought the breakfast that morning in New Jersey, the pint at the Irish bar and helped me carry my bags to my Air Bnb. He left by saying to me ‘I don’t want the rest of the gas money you agreed to pay, please just keep it and enjoy your time in New York’.
I learnt something that day.
Strangers will always be strangers if we don’t make the effort to get to know them. Strangers may very well be strange and for this reason, we steer clear of getting to know them but by doing this, we are missing out on getting to know some extraordinary people, people who may not be a friend for the whole of your life but a friend when you need it most.