It was late December, I was driving to North Carolina to visit my son and my grandchildren for the holidays. I left Minneapolis in the morning and rounded Chicago after rush hour. By nightfall I was on Interstate 65 heading down the spine of Indiana. The wind blew across the farmlands in freezing gusts that caught my car on the bridges and overpasses and rattled it so hard I had to clench the steering wheel with both hands to keep control, Fuel stops saw me hopping in and out of the car and hustling with the pump.
About an hour into Indiana I saw, up in my headlights, a man standing beside the road with his thumb out and, behind him, a car stopped on the shoulder. I figured anyone stuck out in this weather must really need help
I pulled over and let him in, a young man, well dressed , but the jacket he was wearing was hardly adequate. He had run out of gas and had been standing outside for about an hour before I came along. Ten miles ahead there was an exit and a sign pointing to a gas station. We went that way and drove and drove through the empty fields until we got to a small town. Everyone in the Indiana town seemed to have gone to bed. Every store window was dark and shuttered - not a sign of life at the gas station.
We drove back to I 65 and began to strategize. We didn't know what lay ahead but I did remember passing an exit about 30 miles back that showed some signs of life. That would also mean less driving to get him back to his car, so we headed north, back the way we came.
We started to talk. He was going to see his familiy for the holidays too. He had recently moved to Chicago, on an internship from law school . He told me how much he loved the city, the jazz clubs,, the blues bars, the concerts. I told him about Minneapolis. He'd heard about First Avenue. I gave him a handful of comps in case he ever got up there. He asked me about Prince - yes I'd been out to Pailey Park. to some of his shows.
I asked him where he was doing his internship. "Oh," he said, "I work in the Chicago office of the F.B.I.." I laughed because, as I explained, I was an anarchist, someone who was working towards the overthrow of the government. We both got quiet for a while.But the truth was, he reminded me a lot of myself ot that age. When I was out of college I moved to New York and a whole panorama of the world's music and art seemed laid out before me.
Finally we saw a lit Sunoco sign, above the treeops, I asked him what he had to take the gasoline back to his car and he brought out a 2 quart glass bottle, some kind of juice jar.
Now, I've run out of gas before, several times in my life. The biggest nuisance is, if you don't have an "approved container" the gas station makes you buy one, or else leave your credit card as a deposit for bringing theirs back. And I was pretty sure a glass bottle wasn't going to qualifiy as an approved container.
I explained to my passenger that we were going to stop at the far side of the pump farthest away from the station. While I was in paying he was take the bottle, pick up the nozzle and stand by the gas tank with his back to the cashier. As soon as I paid, he filled up his bottle and kept it hidden as he slid back into the passsenger seat. We took off back down the Interstate with the gas sloshing in the bottle. I couldn't smoke, of course, but we stuffed a cloth into the top of the bottle to keep it from spilling.
We got back to his car and got it started after pumping for about 10 minutes. Then each went our separate ways. That's what the road is all about. Strangers meet, travel together awhile and each one tells his story. Then each one goes their separate paths, back into their own lives.
But I had to wonder if, some day, this young man would come after me, or after my friends, the way the FBI office is coming after my friends in the peace movement right now who frankly haven't done anything that I haven't done myself.
And would he remember that a stranger had taken couple hours out of his life to help him when he was stranded in the cold where no capitalists would stop to help? Or would he remember the glass bottle and realize I had taught him the making of a Molotov cocktail?