As I was driving home from work yesterday, I noticed a man walking along the side of the road. It was raining a bit, and he was nowhere near any gas stations, so I figured he could use a ride. I pulled over and the man hopped in.
He introduced himself as John, although I doubt that was his real name. Not that it matters.
“Where you headed John?” I asked.
“Well, where are you going?” he replied.
This is a bit like calling someone on the phone and then when they ask you, “Who is this?” you reply, “Who is this?” It’s just not normal. But, I digress.
I had quite a way to go to get home, so I just said, “To the interstate up here.”
“465. Why, where you headed?” I attempted again.
“Las Vegas,” he finally replied. “I need I-70 West.”
“You need a bit more than that,” I thought to myself.
That was the conversation that started our brief 30 minute relationship, while I drove him to my neighborhood and I-70 West.
I actually learned a lot about John in that thirty minutes or so. He has a son who’s going to college in San Francisco. John’s meeting him in Las Vegas. He has a daughter who has children of her own, living in Minnesota. He has two more children who I know nothing about.
John is thirty-four years old and has been hitch-hiking around the US (and parts of Europe) for twenty years or so. He just gets the urge to go somewhere (“itchy feet,” is how he describes it) and starts heading that direction. He’ll ride along with anyone going his way.
When John was fourteen, he found out his girlfriend was pregnant.
“Wow, I can’t imagine.” That’s the only reply I could muster when hearing about all of this.
“Yeah, that sure changed my life,” he replied.
John said he married that same girlfriend four years later. But, before they had spent a year together, they had gotten divorced.
“I just couldn’t stand her anymore. I got itchy feet, you know?”
He readily admits that it was probably his fault things didn’t work out with them.
He asked about my wife, and I explained that we haven’t even been married a year yet.
“I hope to God we do alright,” I stated, trying to empathize with this man who had absolutely nothing in common with me.
“You will. You love each other don’t you?”
“You will. You will because you love her. My wife and I never loved each other. We sure cared a whole lot about each other, though.”
I asked if he ever kept in touch with her.
“No, she passed away.”
I imagine John’s probably somewhere outside of St. Louis by now. Maybe further. My encounter with John got me thinking about all sorts of different things, and I don’t have time to talk about all of them right now. However, two things he talked about really struck me.
First was that he understood how love changes everything. Even if his understanding of love is different from mine, there’s something inside him that believes this. And he knows enough about it to know that whatever he had with his wife, it wasn’t love.
John also expressed the longing we all have to live a different life. We’re not supposed to feel comfortable in this world. We weren't made for it. Gonzo put it well when he sang, “I've never been there, but I know the way.”
But I think John put it best when he plainly and honestly stated,
“I got itchy feet, you know?”