June 20th, 1010, I conducted an experiment. As a sociological experiment I tested mankind’s sympathy and willingness to help out a complete random stranger via hitchhiking. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I needed to travel from Columbus to the upper suburbs of Cincinnati, roughly a 1.3 hour drive. I had my friends drop me off at an exit ramp right outside of campus, armed with nothing but a backpack full of clothes, a water bottle, and a sign reading “CINCINNATI I’M GOOD COMPANY.”
It was a very hot Columbus day, something in the mid-nineties. It was still early Spring, meaning I was used to 77-83 degree weather. I stood by a ramp exit waiting patiently for someone to drive by. It was one of the most miserable hours of my life. I stood patiently, losing every bit of hope by the minute. A constant horde of people drove by, clearly showing awareness of my misfortune. Beads of sweet were pouring down my face; I must of looked so miserable and in need. And yet, I was ignored and disregarded. It made me really question the values of mankind. As a species founded on cooperation and social structuring, have we come this far as to not being able to trust another human being? It made me question if I would lend a helping hand out to a stranger I didn’t know, are we all really that indulged in fear?
I am sure many of you reading this are thinking of all the eerie crazy hitchhiker stories you see in movies or read in books. Would you pick up a random stranger? Or is our present culture today engrained with the mindset of not being able to trust a stranger. This is where it is important to mention my attire. I dressed in a bright red aeropostle shirt to draw as much attention to myself as possible. Psychologists declare red as the most visually stimulating and attention-drawing color, so I wore the color red and a nice brand shirt for this particular purpose. I also had on a nice, clean pair of khaki shorts and a pair of Birkenstock sandals. By my definition, a pretty clean cut look. Not to mention I was only 20, no facial hair and the face of a teenager. To say the least – I did not come off as very intimidating, or at least I’d like to hope not. Yet, to no avail, I received virtually no help. One lady was kind enough to drive by and give me a water bottle, but other than that I received nothing but cold eye stares and laughs. When I seemed to be losing all hope, the must unsuspected character drove by and stopped. After close to one hour, but what felt closer to three, a person finally pulled over beckoning me over.
It was a Mexican man driving an orange pickup truck, roughly 40 years old. I graciously thanked him for the lift, and then we embarked on our journey. It’s indescribable the feeling of being thrown into a random situation, with a complete stranger, with the only thing shared in common is the direction you are heading. It was surreal, having to play improve off the top of my head for how to engage the situation. I had never done anything like this before, so I wasn’t sure how the process works. What do I talk about? What to say? What is regarded as proper pick-up truck, hitchhiking etiquette? I certainly didn’t know. I explained who I was, what I was doing hitch hiking and where I was trying to get to. He was driving to the Jeffersonville Outlet malls, the halfway marker between Columbus and my destination. I had no cash to offer, so I told him to take me as far as he was going and I would find my way from there. It was one of the most interesting and influential hour and twenty minutes of my life. Meeting each other for the first time and knowing we would most likely never meet again, we exchanged every minute detail about our lives: where we grew up, family life, goals, passions in life, religion – essentially life in general. This is what life is all about, I thought, exchanging life experiences to gain a more complete conceptualization of the complexities of life.
We slowly came up to the Jefferson Outlet Malls, but he kept driving. Just a bit further, he’d say, let’s stop and get some food at a couple exits past the malls. Yet he kept driving further and further…
The man end up driving me all the way to the exit of my destination; he went more than 80 minutes out of his way to help a complete stranger. I couldn’t help but being reminded of the Good Samaritan passage in the bible. I am by no means racist, but I never would have expected a 40 year old Mexican electrical worker to go an hour and twenty minutes out of his way for a stranger simply because he cared. As we arrive to our last destination, I thanked him graciously over and over. It was easily one of the nicest things someone has ever done for me. He salvaged my pessimistic attitudes, during that hour or so of waiting, towards mankind and its willingness to reach out for a complete stranger. Amazing, isn’t it? He was compelled by nothing but compassion for helping a stranger; it’s pretty awesome to think about the positive impacts a complete stranger can have on your life.