When I picked up two hitchhikers last Friday at 75th and Stony Island, I made several snap judgments: one guy had a sign that said “West Lafayette” so I assumed they were Purdue University engineering students. I assumed they were undergrads (who else would be scrimping by hitchhiking) and I assumed they were Americans. I was wrong on all counts.
But I was right about the “positive vibe” that I perceived and that they posed no threat to yours truly. I had also hoped that they would be good highway companions and that they were! So who were they?
Antoine is French; he’s from a village in Britanny in northwest France. George is Chinese and is from Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China. They are not engineering students and they are not undergraduates.
The two are part of an entrepreneurship program that is sponsored by three universities, one in France, one in China, and Purdue. Antoine and George have known each other since the program first started last August; each has been out in the workforce. The Purdue leg of the program runs through August. They were on their way to West Lafayette after spending several days seeing the sights in Chicago.
We had a far-ranging two-hour discussion on I65; topics included the origins of the interstate highway system, the Constitution’s separation of powers, the NRA and the political makeup of Congress. The low point for me was when I asked George if he had any siblings; he literally did not know the meaning of the term. When I explained what it meant he laughed and said, “Remember China? One child policy? I’m the one child!” Duh. (By the way, their English was excellent.)
It was as pleasant a drive as I’ve ever had. They accepted an invitation to come back to Chicago as my guests sometime this summer. George sent me the photos on this blog, including the one of his hometown’s historic and picturesque “West Lake” area.
I sincerely hope that the opportunity to pick up hitchhikers never, ever presents itself again. Because I now know that I am dumb enough to take it. And the happier for it.