As I often do when I have a long way to drive and an empty seat in the car, I offer folks a ride via Craigslist rideshare. It’s a great way to help me save on gas, help someone else get a cheap ride, and have some company for a long drive. Most folks I meet work low income jobs, are underemployed, or students, but almost all of them are friendly and reasonable. Sometimes we talk a lot, sometimes very little- I don’t feel compelled to talk to anyone, but I find that the people who get in my car often come from such totally different circumstance than myself that talking with them helps me really understand the humanity of my world much better. An artist from Seattle, a brick-layer in Salt Lake City, a line cook in San Francisco. I’ve given rides to dozens of people at this point, but the drive from Spokane to Portland was unique.
I picked up Reta (not her real name) at a reasonable looking hotel near the highway, and instantly my prejudice kicked off- “crazy person, oh boy.” She had a guitar, some plastic bags, and an oddly loaded luggage rack/backpack combination, and after loading this in the car I quickly realized she was homeless. While I steered us back to the highway, the first questions out of her mouth revolved around smoking regulations for various substances and whether or not I could help her find any marijuana in Portland. I was battling a fierce cold, and had already been driving for 3 hours. I wasn’t in the mood to play therapist but after a few hours of quiet, the conversation seemed to open up and I found someone with a totally different picture of what life looked like. I dropped her off with the Occupy Portland folks, she gave me the gas money that we agreed on, and I went to stay with friends for the evening.
I’ve spent the past few days frustrated with myself because even after paring down my possessions in March (before putting them in storage), I have too much junk and there is no way most of it is going to fit in the back of my Jetta. I went to Missoula and made friends on day one. I have the option of pursuing whatever it is I feel like doing with my life. I am privileged. When Reta got in my car, all of her worldly belongings fit easily in one side of the trunk. She was going to Portland because it was someplace she could get high. Hope was foreign, friends were uncommon, and life consists of getting by (and getting high) by any means necessary. Apparently, Reta used to have a family. She used to do body work and massage. She used to work in a chiropractic clinic.
It was a sobering and valuable experience. I may fall flat on my face in moving to Missoula, but even then it’s hard to picture myself in Reta’s shoes. There is a totally different picture of life out there, and it reminds me to be grateful for an incredible family, friends, opportunity, and education.