Stuff that people give

Hitchhiker Red Ford (see previous post) wears a hand amulet on a chain around his neck. A truck driver gave it to him.
“People give you stuff,” he says, shrugging and looking as if he can’t believe his blessings.
He shows me bracelets on his wrists: silicone rubber wristbands, braided string, a chain. He got the lavender wristband, with “Erase Hate” stamped into it, in Gillette, Wyoming, while the yellow Livestrong wristband came from a tugboat captain on the Mississippi. He had a purple “Complaint-Free World” band from a Canadian girl, but he gave that away.
“I just like stuff that people give me,” he says, shaking his head as if to say, “I don’t know why.”
Some of the best stuff? “They give you their stories,” he says.  “I feel I get something from every ride.”
What does he give back? In college, Red Ford majored in psychology, minoring in sociology and religion. Hitchhiking calls all those into play.
Sociology: “People will unload on you. They’ll tell you things they’d never tell their family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends. They’re never going to see you again.”
Psychology: He stays, and works, in homeless shelters across the country because, “you can see from a psychological perspective the spectrum of diseases in the U.S.”
When I ask him if he ever carries a weapon for protection, he tells me, “I have my mind. That’s the most dangerous weapon I carry.”  If he had to, he says, he could defend himself by putting a plastic spoon in an assailant’s eye. “I’ve never felt like I was in danger, even with cocaine smugglers in Mexico. I have a lot of faith.”
Religion: “I never have any money, but I’m always full.” He grew up with faith. And he says he’s always liked the ideas of love for strangers; the universal rule: do unto others as you would have done to you; and that one man was willing to sacrifice himself.
He and I talk about black holes of hitchhiking, places where “you can get in, but you can’t get out.” And we talk about waiting. While Red Ford waits, Red Ford prays, or exercises his faith in other ways: “If I wait for more than an hour, I’ll just move. Sometimes I hike as much as 30 miles in a day. If I am in a town, I try to find a bus. If I am nowhere, I find a highway. Or I’ll sing or read a book.” For sure, he says,  “If you’re in a hurry, you’re never going to get a ride.”

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