Among other things, last night, I picked up a hitch-hiker at three in the morning. Before you get hysterical, let me explain.
I was leaving the apartment to pick Linda up from the casino. There was almost no one out: the night of Good Friday, the early morning darkness finally winning over the ambient city-light. At the bus station at the corner of Broadway and Claiborne, there was a ghostly figure. She had no shoes on. She wore a cocktail dress. Her eyes were coal smudges onto her face. There was no indication, other than her standing and breathing, as to whether or not she was alive.
Naturally, I looked away. Living in cities, you find this action easy, if a little embarrassing.
Out of my peripheral vision, I saw her arm jut out, thumb up. I was the only car on the road, but pretended she was not signaling for me. The light was red and I stayed there transfixed for an eternity. She looked at the dearth of oncoming traffic and crossed over to my little car in the middle lane.
Normally, I'd have waved her off. But she was frantic and young. I rolled down my window. "Can you please take me home?" I noticed the pallor and death stain from before was her mascara smudged about her face. "I'm a law student." "Please." I waited until I saw both her hands holding nothing. "Please."
I opened the door. I said, "My fiancée's going to kill me."
Turns out, she was more afraid than I was, though less of a coward. She cried and tried to make small talk. As far as I could tell, her story was true: her boyfriend left her on her 28th birthday, somehow stranding her on the side of Claiborne. When I dropped her off at the Garden District mansion she lived in, she was incredulous that she had no shoes.
Afterwards, I was exhilarated as I told Linda. But what I was thinking the whole time is this: why don't we stop for anyone? Often I see accidents or people with car trouble, and the most I do is feel guilty. Same goes for chairs in the middle of the road, abandoned animals, and certainly hitchhikers. Something's changed here. Maybe it's New Orleans, maybe it's America. But you don't stop anymore.
I think to myself, what if I hadn't stopped this time? But worse, what about all the times I haven't stopped?
In terms of culture, New Orleans bills itself as the big easy, right? A place where people can get along and help one another. Cajuns think this of themselves too. So does about any culture I can think of. But the truth of the matter is that something's gone awry. Nothing is safe. Except maybe the lone hitchhiker, a 28-year-old blonde in a cocktail dress sans shoes.