So… the kids and I encountered a hitchhiker on our way home Saturday night. This is unusual because we live 17 dirt miles off the highway, and there are no other houses on our road besides Our Thirsty Neighbor to the South Who No Longer Speaks to Us. This hitchhiker was walking south — he was about three miles south of Thirsty Neighbor Headquarters when I met him — with no hopes of reaching any sort of civilization before morning on foot.
I’m a suspicious individual, so as I pulled up beside the backpacked hiker with my three little kids in the vehicle, I locked the doors and rolled my window down just a crack. He was tattooed but clean cut, wearing a t-shirt and jeans.
“Whatcha up to?” I asked him through the window.
He seemed relieved to see me. “I’m leaving,” he said with a slight Southern accent, attempting to open the door.
“Ah,” I replied as it dawned on me, “you must have quit the T4.” (Name changed to protect myself from the wrathful Thirsty Neighbor.)
The hitchhiker nodded dismally. This was not surprising news — the Thirsty Neighbor Ranch, which has battled us mercilessly over a shared waterline since we moved here a year and a half ago, goes through hired help like some of us go through paper towels. The ranch manager down there is, shall we say, a little on the hard-to-get-along-with side of things.
“What can I do for you?” I asked the hitchhiker. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
He nodded eagerly. “I just need to get to the pavement.” Evidently he was planning to hitchhike (for real) from the highway.
I knew I could ask him to jump in the back of the pickup; there was no way I was letting him into the cab. But the baby was crying and I wasn’t sure it was a great idea for me to take this guy anywhere by myself. The pavement was 10 miles behind me; our home, with my husband inside it, was 7 miles ahead. Lonely dirt road stretched in both directions.
“I’m going to take the kids home and I’ll have my husband come back to pick you up,” I told the guy. “Are you headed to Ingomar?”
He looked blank. “Ingomar?”
Sheesh. How had this guy ended up stranded at a remote ranch, apparently without a vehicle, and with no knowledge of the only town within 50 miles — a two-horse town at that?
“Just keep walking,” I told him. “When you get to the fork, take a right. My husband will be back for you.”
And I left him in the dust. Five-year-old Asher was beside himself with excitement and questions as we drove away — his first real hitchhiker! — and as soon as we got home, he ran inside to tell Daddy about the new friend we’d made on the side of the road. I felt bad asking Beau to go save the hiker, as Beau had just gotten into the house himself after a long day. But I think he always feels a tiny bit vindicated when he hears that the Thirsty Neighbor (who has kept Beau up at nights with worry) has crashed and burned yet another relationship.
Asher really wanted to go with Beau to pick the guy up, but we decided it was best he stay home with me. So I set about the work of bathing, feeding, and getting the kids ready for bed. An hour later, Beau’s headlights pulled back in to the house. He reported that he’d found the hiker a little south of where I’d left him, picked him up and driven him to town, and dropped him off at the Jersey Lilly with instructions to ask for Boots.
Turns out the hitchhiker was an Oklahoman who dreamed of working on a Montana ranch. Not sure how he ended up at the Thirsty Neighbor’s place — maybe they advertise for help on the internet — but he had come to Billings on a bus, was picked up there, and was driven the two-plus-hours out here. He had worked for Thirsty Neighbor for a week and a half with tension continually mounting until he finally cried uncle on Saturday and asked to draw his wages. Check in hand, he took off walking. He told Beau he was headed for the mountains. And he just might be there by now.
I can’t decide if this is an age-old tale or one in which the internet and media have created yet another unnatural dilemma. Anyhow, thanks for the chuckle, T4.
© Tami Blake
If you really love stories about hitchhikers, try this one: