I was stopped at a traffic light on the airport-access road when I noticed her sitting on the curb with her head in her hands. She was dressed in jeans and a baby blue sweatshirt. She didn't bother to stick out a thumb. Nobody picks up hitchhikers anymore. I looked for a stranded car. Nothing. A companion walking the berm. No one. What was her story? Was she running away? Miss a flight? Did she need a ride? If not, why was she sitting on the curb? And if so, why didn’t she act like it? She carried nothing, not even a purse.
She was as out of place as the wheelbarrow I once spotted in the middle of a wintering field with snow on the horizon and the crops in the barn. Nothing except in things. Left in the center of a fifty-acre field, a quarter of a mile from a house or an outbuilding. What happened to call the owner out of the field with such urgency he left his conveyance behind? Why can't I get that image out of my mind?
The light turned green and I accelerated with the rest of the traffic, behaving as expected, like a good citizen. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her stand and stretch. Hands in pockets, going nowhere.
Inside at the checkpoint I was checking IDs. The man standing in front of me was shaking so badly he couldn't get his wallet out of his pocket. I waited. He was thin with long blonde hair and an angular face. Shaking. He pulled it free and I checked his license. I let him leave it inside the clear sleeve of his wallet. I could see what I needed to see. He wasn't expired. I followed him down the line and watched him try to take his shoes off. Painful. I pointed him to a chair. He declined. The cops would think him under the influence, or an addict. What's an addict but a person in pain? Maybe his blood sugar was low. That was it. He was hypoglycemic (the disorder of the hour), hair lank and hands shaking, a mess, but he had a plane to catch.
The airport is a bad place to be sick in. Strangers watch, afraid to extend a hand. Everyone's afraid they'll catch something. A cold, an addiction, bad luck, sudden hair loss. I talked to a man at the MSU Organic Conference who fed his chickens a bad batch of Purina chicken feed full of GMO corn and they all lost their feathers. Every last chicken lost every last feather.
Sometimes I want to lock myself in the women's bathroom and stay there until The World leaves.
But back to my traveler. Was there a connection between him and Baby Blue? Only in the interlocking circles of my mind. I didn't stop to help her because to do so would've made me late. (Like the circles of Dante’s Inferno, this was bad. This was probably number four or five.) But what's more important than getting to work on time? Nothing in the beaten-down soul of the American worker. We're all energizer wind-ups.
I didn't help her, but I could help him. I picked up his shoes and set them on the x-ray belt. From a co-worker’s reaction, you would've thought I'd picked up a cow patty and threw it at her like a Frisbee. What? Oh, I'd forgotten to don my smurf gloves. I despise those nasty blue gloves made in some slum factory in Asia we have to wear. You ever notice all those bottles of hand sanitizer sitting around airport checkpoints? Yeah, everyone is obsessed with GERMS. Squirt squirt squirt. Hand sanitizer does not take the place of washing with soap and water and I don't think I'll come down with Rocky Mountain Fever or some other exotic disease because I picked up a man's shoes.
I ate dirt when I was five and probably a little cow patty too. I would've helped him take those shoes off and put them back on if he'd wanted me to. People don't always want help. Is it easier to extend a hand than to take it? I never do enough. But I swear I’ll do better the next time I see someone sitting on the side of the road.