Goin’ My Way?

As a pet owner, I sometimes feel compelled to stop for stranded, or abandoned creatures that look like they need help.  Sometimes, I feel compelled to reach out to other people in need.

Although it isn’t always easy.  There certainly are enough reasons to proceed with caution in any circumstance of intervention.  Scooting a parade of ducklings, or a handicapped person  across a busy street is one thing.  But beyond those little random acts of kindness onto bigger ordeals–you never know if the animal is a biter.  You never know if the person is….!  And often enough, what appears as an innocent situation, could in fact become a dangerous entanglement with no good outcome.

And then there is the imagination running wild, reasoning, rationale, and taking a leap of faith.

One day, my friend Rick and I are on our way home from Duluth.  How can anyone go to or come from Duluth without making that famous pit stop to Tobies for their sinfully delicious caramel rolls?  We pull into the always crowded parking lot and head to the main doors with a flurry of other patrons.  The sky is overcast and there are storms off in the distance from the east, south and west.  The wind is picking up.  No one seems to notice anything unusual outside of Tobies as we all dash into the building.

Rick and I are seated in a booth at the windows, looking out the store front.  As we pour over the menu for a quick lunch, our conversation drifts to talk of the great day we had.  Our big adventure.  What our next adventure might be.  Finding ways to afford adventures.  Listing our top ten wish list adventures….

“Look at that girl out there.”

“What?”  I turn around and strain to see what he is looking at.

“I think she’s in trouble.”

“Huh?”  I still don’t know what he is talking about.

I shift and turn around in my seat, lean over to get a better view out the window, and there, plain as day, is a tall, skinny spindly girl with a carrot top head, clad in royal purple leggings, a huge, apple green headscarf tied around that short spikey cut mess of orange hair, several thin layers of tank tops, and some sort of super thin long sleeved black sweater falling down to her elbows, and big black boots with silver metal latches.

We had brushed right past her on the way into the building.

Her skin is pitch white.  As she is pulling her sweater back up about her shoulders, she turns her head.  Her cheeks are flushed red.  Her face is long.  Her features, big, sad green eyes and protruding lower lip, are pronounced.  She has a silver stud through her eyebrow, another through her nose.  Her ears are laced with metal, and her lobes are sporting at least ¼ inch holes.  How could she even lift a foot in those boots?  She does not seem happy as she continues to hoist her sweater back up around her scrawny body, looking side to side, side to side…side to side…..kind of peculiar….is she nervous?  Is she waiting for someone?  Is she even from around here?

We don’t think so.

I turn back around.  My friend shifts to face me squarely in the booth, his hands stretched across the table to me.  “We have to help her.”

“What?  What makes you think she needs help?  Maybe she is waiting for someone.” I could already see the writing on the wall.

“I have a daughter.  I would not want my daughter to be left out here all alone.”

“Come on, you’re over reacting.  For all we know, she’s waiting for her boyfriend or mom.”  I look out at her again.  There is a backpack at her feet.  It looks stuffed to the max.  She looks cold.  She looks hungry.  She looks about 21 years old.

My friend is staring me down.  He has that look, that big puppy dog eyed look that says, I want to be a hero today.  “Let’s just bring her in here and buy her a meal.  I’ll pay.”

And then the sign drops away from her back pack.

“SOUTH.”

“We’re going south.  Let’s give her a meal and a ride.”  He begs.

“What if she is not lost or in trouble or stuck at all?  What if she is actually an axe murderer, or carrying a bomb, or illegal drugs or something, just hoping some sappy people like us will fall for it and take her in?”  I, of course, feel compelled to play devil’s advocate with him.

My friend continues staring me down with that look; that big puppy dog eyed look that says, ‘oh come on, you know that’s not what’s going on’.   I cannot resist that look, actually.  And he knows it.

Before I realize I’ve done it, I’m up, out the door, and standing in the cold wind, talking with this shadow of a girl.

“Hi, hey, how long have you been standing out here?”

“Um, I don’t know.  A while?”  She answers, and pulls her thin sweater tight across her chest.

“Awhile.”  I am not sure about the direction we are about to go. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes, a little.”  She shyly admits.

“Where are you going?”

“South?  I’m going south?”  She looks straight at me with those big green eyes, and answers as though asking me.  It is then that I realize her accent. She is not from here.

“Yes, south is a big place.  South where?”

“New Ulm?”

Oh my.

“Okay.  Let’s go inside and get you something to eat, and we’ll talk about New Ulm with my friend. Would that be alright with you?”  I am imagining driving to New Ulm….oh man, that would be a long haul out of our way, but I know he will want to do it…

“Yes, thank you?”

She picks up her sign and backpack, and follows me back into the restaurant.

Soon our new friend Nicole is feasting on a sandwich, telling us about her brave adventure.  She is visiting from Germany.  She had been staying with her host family in New Ulm where she spent a year as a Foreign Exchange Student years ago.  Her host family began experiencing some awkward problems so she decided to take a short trip up to Canada and back to give them some space.  She has “caught rides” all the way to the border, but Canada would not let her into the country, so she is now on her way back.

“Why wouldn’t they let you in?”

“I don’t know?  They say I don’t have enough money? Even I just want to go there to see it for the day for lunch?”

Rick and I look at each other.  I got nothin.  No idea how Canada decides who doesn’t get to come in.

“Aren’t you concerned about traveling alone and hitching rides with strangers?”  Rick asks.

She looks down at the remains of her fries, “No?  This is what we do.”

“So, who did you ride with?”

“A nice family.  Yes, a family, and a truck driver, and him.”  And she thrusts a crumpled paper onto the table.  It’s an advertisement for an alternative rock concert in the metro, with ‘Joe’ scribbled on it.  “He told me if I come back to town look him up.”  Her eyes now show a slight sparkle.

“So, do you want to go to New Ulm, or to this concert?”  I ask as I look at the promotion.  It’s just a couple miles from our own destination.

“I guess he would be so surprise for me to get there!”  She beams.

Rick and I look at each other.  I got nothin.  No idea what to think.  But I suspect we’re going to be taking this German girl to the rock concert.  We continue with chatty small talk for a while. We talk about Tobies being so busy and famous, and the ominous clouds and weather all around us. Rick is maintaining “that look”.

“Okay, Nicole, we can take you to this address if that’s where you want to go.  Does that sound good?”

“Oh, yes, thank you.”  We have reached the decision to all trust each other. The three of us finish grazing on our meals, Rick pays the bill, and we head for the parking lot.

Just to keep things somewhat under control, I ask Rick to take the back seat with her back pack, and invite Nicole to sit up front as I drive.  The next two hours are full of conversation about Germany, traveling, her aspirations to become a Counselor once she completes college in Germany, and music. She is amazed at my selection of music.  I pull out my Bushido CD.  Yes, this is very dirty German rap music.  These guys are from Berlin. Nicole blushes.  I pull out my Turkish CD.  Very nice.  Much better.   We converse in German.  We converse in English.  Rick talks about when he was in Germany.  We laugh at bad jokes. Those two hours went by in just a few minutes.

As we approach the city limits, Nicole is noticeably excited.  We reach our exit, turn down the frontage road, then arrive to the concert hall. According to the promotion, the concert starts in an hour.

Nicole sits up, craning to look across the parking lot.  “There.  There is his car.  I recognize it!  There!” She is excited.  I pull up to the building entrance and stop.

“Are you positive this is where you want to be dropped off?”   I ask in my most serious and concerned voice.

“Yes.  Yes please!  He is here!”  She responds as she adjusts her scarf around her spikey orange hair.

“Okay then.”

She opens her door, Rick exits from the back seat and pulls out her backpack. We feel the gratitude pouring out from her sad eyes as her face becomes engulfed with a huge smile.  We say our goodbyes.  Nicole runs into the building with sheer glee.

Rick jumps in the front passenger seat and we drive away in silence.

“Axe murderer.”  He murmurs.

“Did you notice anything suspicious about her pack?”

“Nothing except the bomb and the baggie of white powder.”

We look at each other and bust a laugh.

“Thanks for doing that.”  He says.

“Thanks for asking me to.” I reply.

I just love spending time with my friend Rick.  We head back down the highway, smiling. What an unexpected nice surprise to meet Miss Nicole today.   What a brave and adventurous young woman.  Hopefully she takes care during the remainder of her travels.

Next time you see someone sitting alone in the cold with a back pack and a sign, think twice before just continuing on.

Maybe it’s time to defy your imagination, reasoning, and rationale, and take a leap of faith?

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