On a dark, deserted highway, the kindness of a stranger
I have no idea how long I stood there on that Oregon highway in the deep forest, with just a ribbon of starlight
overhead, but it must have been two or three hours at least. At last a car came along and, to my everlasting joy,
it slowed down as it passed and pulled over. As I slipped in beside the driver, he asked where I was headed.
“North,” I told him, “I’m looking for work.” He nodded and said I’d never get a ride on that highway at
that time of night. "You can sleep at my place," he offered, "and I’ll bring you back out here in the morning.
You’ll catch a ride then."
He was a big man with a soft voice and a melodious accent I couldn’t quite place.
Ordinarily I would have been wary of such an invitation. I had received my share of unwelcome propositions from lonely
male drivers, but there was something about this driver that put me at ease. I thanked him and said I would be grateful
for a night’s sleep in an actual bed. He nodded, and nothing more was said for the rest of the drive.
After a while, he turned off the road and down a long driveway that led to what looked like a large
cabin or log house in the faint starlight. We got out and he walked up to a door, opened it, motioned me inside,
then followed me in and turned on a lamp. What I saw took me aback. There was an olive jacket on a peg with a highway
patrol shoulder patch, a smokey bear hat, a holstered pistol and two or three rifles, all mounted neatly along the wall.
When I turned to look at my host, seeing him for the first time in the light, his features were plainly those of an
Indian (which is what we called native people back then). If my face registered surprise, he chose not to notice.
Since dropping out of high school and growing my hair long, I had been stopped and questioned by police on any
number of occasions, for no more reason than that they didn't like the looks of me. But that was clearly not the situation
here. He showed
me to a small bedroom, brought me a towel and soap, pointed out the bathroom and said he’d see me in the morning.
It was early when I awoke. I washed and dressed and walked down the hall till I found the kitchen.
He was sitting at a wooden table, in a uniform this time, drinking coffee. A nice-looking Native woman stood at the
stove. “How do you like your eggs?” she asked me.
Twenty minutes later we were in his patrol car, driving down a forested two-lane. He let me out near
intersection. "There’ll be some log trucks along soon," he told me. "One of them’ll pick you up."