HitchHikers and PanHandlers

   Never, ever pick up a hitchhiker or look at a panhandler.

   She squatted by the roadside on 67, a slate gray slattern on a hard surface, obviously overcome by fatigue, or age, or just a poor life. America is the richest nation in history. Some of our citizens still live unaware of this distinction.

   She was filthy, drinking coffee from an old cup she said the convenience store owner threw out when he put her out of his store. The day itself was like her; cloudy, dull, about used up and nearly dark. One felt the darkness would be a kindness to her and to this day. No one would see the wrinkles in her face or the dementia in her eyes and this day before Thanksgiving could end.

   So, she pulled open the door of my truck and cackled.

   "I save cats, mister. I get them their shots. Can you give me some money for my cats?" she wanted to know. "I save dogs too."

   She made me think about what it is I save. I could not think of anything for a moment.

   "Get in," I told the hag. "We need to get off the roadside pretty quick."

   She heaved herself in, babbling about her cats, her MS and the mayor of Dallas who would not let people panhandle anymore, even though he lived in a mansion. We were nowhere near Dallas, a cold wind blew around us and the rain was starting to fall.

   One day I will pick up a hitchhiker or look at a panhandler and he or she will put a dull knife in between two upper ribs or a bullet just behind my ear.

   Would you leave your mother on the side of the road, old and dark, as the day grows old and dark?

   Whose mother would you leave on the side of the road?

  She directed me to her camper in a shanty-town of campers behind an RV camp in Keene, Texas. Hoover would have been proud of the place. Tow headed little boys in cast-off clothes made a play fort out of an old mattress in some trees and imagined themselves great warriors. Old women and young girls peered out of their little campers at me in my boots and jeans, my Toyota truck covered now by the same grime they choked on every day of their lives.

   No one had starved there, yet, but it is not for lack of trying. Someone was cooking meths somewhere around but I did not look to see where. I am not a revenuer.

   She made one last desperate stab at me, wanting a few dollars for the cats or the dogs or her daughter, she was not sure which one. I could have given her a dollar but gave her twenty. She did not know, one way or the other, how much she had in her hand. If she had known, she would have thought a god had come down to earth to artlessly lay a treasure on her hand and drive away in a dirty truck, thick with dirt road dust on the outside and stinking of her road smell in the cab after five minutes.

   A man in a black Lexus blew his horn at me and shot me the finger as I got back on the highway too slowly to suit him. I pulled up next to him at the next light in Alvarado. His obscene hurry past me had come to this; we were both waiting at the same light, at the same town, at the same time.

   He did not look my way when I pulled up next to him. I suppose he had already forgotten our earlier encounter. He shot away very quickly when the light changed, though I meant him no harm, nor paid him any mind. He was much less interesting than the old, dirty woman in the Hooverville behind the RV park, living in a camper with her cats and her madness.

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