You pick up a hitchhiker!
Yeah, that’s what I did. Fresh out of Penn State. Bombed that first interview. Picked up a hitchhiker.
It was May 2014, and I had literally left Penn State two days ago to drive down to my parents’ house in Maryland, spend the night, then drive to Black Mountain, North Carolina the next day. My interview was in Winston-Salem the day after that.
I totally bombed that interview. Granted, it could have been worse, but I walked out of that marketing agency thinking “Frick! That did not go well.” I remembered my friend’s advice: she said I would know whether or not it went well. It did not go well. This I knew.
It was swelteringly hot. I was sweating in my business clothes even with my shaved head. I began driving back to Black Mountain—not quite a hop, skip, and a jump at two hours away. On my way back, I felt so confused. I wanted to be a writer, that was a writer’s job. I felt I could do well at that agency. What went so wrong?
I felt pretty disoriented and was pondering my meaning in life after knowing I had truly blown what could have been a great job for me. I had just spent two years in the freezing mountains of central Pennsylvania, worked my butt off to get this degree, all for what? To sit there looking stupid in front of a guy older than my dad while he looked half-heartedly through my portfolio?
Anyway. So I’m driving and I pass a car broken down on the side of the road. It doesn’t really register until a few miles later, I see a dude walking with a tire. I’m going way too fast to stop. Like I’d even consider stopping. Picking up hitchhikers was dangerous, and he wasn’t hitchhiking, anyway; he was carrying a tire.
Then again, I’d always been the type of person that likes to do things the opposite way.
I need gas. A few more miles after that, actually it may have been even ten or fifteen minutes after that, I stop at some gas station in the middle of nowhere near some lake in North Carolina (I later found out it was Lake James). As I pump my diesel, I notice the guy with the tire filling it up at the air station. Wait, what? No way this guy got here before me. He was walking, for God’s sake.
I finish pumping my diesel and get in my dad’s Jetta (jeez, I didn’t even have my own car) and begin to exit the gas station. As I do, I see the guy with the tire walking back out of the gas station and he’s about to cross the street towards the exit to the highway. I guess whoever brought him here wasn’t taking him back.
Then again, I wasn’t headed back that way either.
I hit my brakes and roll down the window as I come up alongside him. “Hey, you want a ride?”
“What?” He says.
“You want a ride? Back to your car?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Hop in.”
We throw the tire in the trunk and he climbs in shotgun. He introduces himself. Justin? Jake? Josh? I think it’s Jake. I don’t remember. He has a thick accent, says he’s from Marion, North Carolina. Works nights as a security guard. Has a three-year-old daughter. He’s only a couple years older than me.
We talk. I tell him I live in Maryland, but just came down from Pennsylvania, where I just graduated college and wanted to be a writer. He says he’s never heard of anyone who wants to be a writer. I tell him I bombed the interview so it doesn’t matter. He says he’s into drawing. We compare cities near our hometowns—Baltimore for me, Asheville for him. He says they sound similar. I tell him I want to move here.
His car is much farther back than I thought. Or does it feel farther because I’m driving a complete stranger to his car in the middle of nowhere?
He’s a nice guy. He’s calm. He’s sweating from the heat. Not worried that his tire was flat. When we pass his car, we get off on an exit and then head the opposite way on the highway. I feel uncomfortable in my business clothes. Just what did I think I was doing, dressing up and kissing ass for that interview?
When we get to his car, I see that his daughter is in the backseat. There’s at least one other person waiting there by the car. He climbs out and retrieves the tire. He thanks me. I don’t remember if we shake hands. We tell each other good luck. I drive away, a little baffled. At the interview. At Jake/Josh. At my life. What was I doing here?
I get back to Black Mountain and my boyfriend comes home. He asks how my day went. What he’s really asking is how the interview went. I say, “I picked up a hitchhiker.” And somehow, that went way better (and was more meaningful) than my interview.
Life is never what you think it is or what you want it to be. It always just is. I learned that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to be a writer. And so here I am. Jake, wherever you are, I hope you’re still drawing! And thank you.