“Today you … tomorrow me” (or, “why I often pick up hitchhikers”)

The following is a verbatim republication of something written by a member of Reddit in response to the question “Have you ever picked up a hitch-hiker?” It won Reddit’s “Comment of the Year” award in 2010 – it’s a beautiful story! For context, this was written by somebody from the United States, about an experience that took place in the United States.

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Just about every time I see someone I stop. I kind of got out of the habit in the last couple of years, moved to a big city and all that, my girlfriend wasn’t too stoked on the practice. Then some shit happened to me that changed me and I am back to offering rides habitually. If you would indulge me, it is long story and has almost nothing to do with hitch hiking other than happening on a road.

This past year I have had 3 instances of car trouble. A blow out on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out of gas situation. All of them were while driving other people’s cars which, for some reason, makes it worse on an emotional level. It makes it worse on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my car, and know enough not to park, facing downhill, on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Anyway, each of these times this shit happened I was DISGUSTED with how people would not bother to help me. I spent hours on the side of the freeway waiting, watching roadside assistance vehicles blow past me, for AAA to show. The 4 gas stations I asked for a gas can at told me that they couldn’t loan them out “for my safety” but I could buy a really shitty 1-gallon one with no cap for $15. It was enough, each time, to make you say shit like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket.”

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke a lick of the language. But one of those dudes had a profound affect on me.

He was the guy that stopped to help me with a blow out with his whole family of 6 in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice. Right as I am about to give up and just hitch out there a van pulls over and dude bounds out. He sizes the situation up and calls for his youngest daughter who speaks english. He conveys through her that he has a jack but it is too small for the Jeep so we will need to brace it. He produces a saw from the van and cuts a log out of a downed tree on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top, and bam, in business. I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn’t careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off. Fuck.

No worries, he runs to the van, gives it to his wife and she is gone in a flash, down the road to buy a tire iron. She is back in 15 minutes, we finish the job with a little sweat and cussing (stupid log was starting to give), and I am a very happy man. We are both filthy and sweaty. The wife produces a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand but he wouldn’t take it so I instead gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I could send them a gift for being so awesome. She says they live in Mexico. They are here so mommy and daddy can pick peaches for the next few weeks. After that they are going to pick cherries then go back home. She asks if I have had lunch and when I told her no she gave me a tamale from their cooler, the best fucking tamale I have ever had.

So, to clarify, a family that is undoubtedly poorer than you, me, and just about everyone else on that stretch of road, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took an hour or two out of their day to help some strange dude on the side of the road when people in tow trucks were just passing me by. Wow…

But we aren’t done yet. I thank them again and walk back to my car and open the foil on the tamale cause I am starving at this point and what do I find inside? My fucking $20 bill! I whirl around and run up to the van and the guy rolls his window down. He sees the $20 in my hand and just shaking his head no like he won’t take it. All I can think to say is “Por Favor, Por Favor, Por Favor” with my hands out. Dude just smiles, shakes his head and, with what looked like great concentration, tried his hardest to speak to me in English:

“Today you…. tomorrow me.”

Rolled up his window, drove away, his daughter waving to me in the rear view. I sat in my car eating the best fucking tamale of all time and I just cried. Like a little girl. It has been a rough year and nothing has broke my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t deal.

In the 5 months since I have changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and, once, went 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. Every time I tell them the same thing when we are through:

“Today you…. tomorrow me.”

tl;dr: long rambling story about how the kindness of strangers, particularly folks from south of the border, forced me to be more helpful on the road and in life in general. I am sure it won’t be as meaningful to anyone else but it was seriously the highlight of my 2010.

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The original version of this comment and responses to it can be found here.

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4 Responses to “Today you … tomorrow me” (or, “why I often pick up hitchhikers”)

  1. This is a life transforming story. The message is really simple but the way it is described makes it even more profound. Thanks for posting this here. and I hope you’re doing great!

  2. Tim Shey says:

    This is a great story and thank you for sharing it.

    I hitchhiked the United States for most of 16 years and have met some great people on the road. I have also picked up hitchhikers when I had a vehicle. I hope more people read your story.

    “New Camaldoli”

    http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2013/02/07/guest-post-new-camaldoli-by-tim-shey/

    “Few Thumbs Barred From Rides”

    http://hitchhikeamerica.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/few-thumbs-barred-from-rides/

  3. Rosa says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t pick up hitchhikers for a long time either. As a female (and a tiny one at that), well…drummed into our heads are the dangers of such foolishness. Robbery and rape at the least. You know. Can’t be too careful. Even with other women. You know….the age of free love and trusting folks you don’t know went out with the 80’s.

    In almost every instance like this I have been passed up by a variety of folks (the same you mention) only to find those marginalized by society coming to my aid without hesitation. Maybe it is because I’m female. Don’t know. Maybe chivalry isn’t really dead. I like to think It’s because there are people who give a shit about others regardless of gender or skin color. That there is care and compassion left in the world.

    The more insulting and infuriating part for me is when I have gotten grief over helping someone else.

    I was “turned in” by someone who saw my gov truck pulled over on the side of the road in front of a disabled vehicle. A man, his wife and three young children I learned through the daughter they had help coming back their way from another party traveling with them. Water? Did they have WATER? No. No water. I gladly parted with my last 2 gallons of water for the family. The look on their collective faces was gut wrenching. Like they could not believe I would part with something so precious. Might have well been bars of gold. My god, people DIE on the side of the road in that heat. The upshot was that I received an official verbal reprimand. Never stop like that again unless it was to render first aid and my cards for such better be current. Civil servant, indeed. Bah….

    Those construction workers who spoke only a little English and helped me when my boss was to busy to bother? They found another 2×4 to put under my inadequate jack to change that shredded tire. They unloaded and reloaded my field gear and would not think of me helping them in any way. They refused the $20 I had in my pocket. I eked out their names and address. When I returned to work, I asked how our we could thank them.for taking the time and being good citizens. Just a thank you. Official like. What was I thinking, they said. No way in hell that was going to happen. Thanks only applied to those internal to the organization. Another BIG BAH.

    Have we lost out collective minds when it comes to compassion? To helping others?

    I stop. I pay it forward. I don’t take money.

    Yes, today you…tomorrow me….

  4. My husband and my daughter can’t understand either why I give people rides either. They talk me out of it every so often, but sooner rather than later, I’m back to doing it (without my child in the car of course). But I only give women or women with children rides, never men. I always just think, you never know which of these people really, truly need help and it’s good to get help when you really need it.

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