As part of my East Coast tour, I decided to spend ten days in tNorth Carolina and Virginia. My host: Anna who I’d met the previous summer at a Yoga Teacher Training at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia. What I had loved about Anna was her giving, independent, and clearly rebellious spirit. I told people, “Anna is one of those people that adventure always attracts, but everything always turns out all right.”
So, on this particular part of our journey we took off from Shallotte for the Outer Banks with Anna’s sweet 12-year old German Shepherd, Deja, in the back seat. About half-way through the journey I learned of Anna’s mandatory traditions when we stopped at a liquor store for Crown Royale, and then at a convenient store for a bottle of Sprite and an over-sized styrofoam cup filled with ice. We got back into the car and expertly, she pulled off the bottle cap with the rum still inside the purple velvet bag and poured herself a drink. “Want some?” “Oh no,” I said eyes getting big.
As we drove along I clutched the side of the door watching for any erratic driving. She laughed as she packed herself a bowl, took a sip from her oversized cup, and pretended to wave at police officers who were on the road. I prayed that if a police offer stopped us we could somehow explain the smell of booze and weed away in a single explanation of….? I’m a terrible liar.
But the drive wasn’t aaaaalll that terrible. We chit-chatted and continued our “You know when you’re in North Carolina when…” game (more churches than coffee shops was one). Anna explained that the journey was divided into three parts: highway, pretty, and, no-man’s land. At one point when I thought we might be entering no-man’s land she said, “Oh no, I’d still feel safe breaking down here.”
Well, the Outer Banks is a large strip of land. As we entered the area (I only know because Anna mentioned it) we passed a woman on the side of the road who clearly was looking for a ride. As we passed her, Anna looked at me and said, “Should we pick her up?”
I thought about it. I like meeting new people. “Sure!She doesn’t look dangerous. She’s gonna be a trip though. ” I smiled.
So, we flipped-a- bitch and stopped across the street from the lady. “Hey!” Anna shouted. “It looks like you’re looking for a ride. Where ya going?”
The lady was in her late forties, and she wore a string bikini with a shirt tied around her waist. Her gut hung out over the bikini. She held an empty Coors can in her hand. “Oh my god, you ladies saved ma life. This aint what it looks like, Ai swear. I’m goin to Manio.”
“Oh yeah, we can take you there, but you’ll have to ride in the back with my dog. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, that’s faine, that’s faine, I love animals. I’m just happy to get a ride. I was just comin from Alligator Junction. Hey! I’m like one o’those swamp ladies! Ahhahaha!”
It turned out that she had gone along drift woodin’ with two friends and they had taken a canoe. “Well, have y’all been canoin’ before? Cus they’are tipsy! And the whole thing tipped over dumping ma cell phone and ma belongings into the water. When they said they were goin back to get the boat with a motor, I said, “No thank ya , I’ll find my own way home!”
“Do you want some Crown Royale?” Anna offered looking at the Swamp Lady in the back seat.
“Oh my Law, this is my lucky day! I was just hopin for a ride! But y’all got Crown Royale! Y’all don’t got nothin to chase it with? Oh, ya finished it? Man, wait til I tell Jimmy!”
“You want to smoke a bowl?” Anna said again holding her pipe up and looking in the rear view mirror.
“Oh no, I don’t smoke. But oh my law, I take care of this man and he got bone cancer. And I know he’d sure ‘ppreciate you smokin’ with him. Would you be so kind?”
And without a moment’s hesitation she said in that beautiful southern polite drawl, “I sure will.”
And so the Swamp Lady directed us into the low-income housing section of the Outer Banks. As we were nearing, I watched in half-awe and fear as Anna handled her pipe in one hand, the styrofoam cup in another and her phone to her ear answering a call from her boyfriend, as she steered with her knees. “Stop at the palm tree! Right there!” the Swamp Lady shouted.
Nonchalantly, Anna said into the phone, “I gotta go. I’ll call you later.” And resumed her hands to the wheel.
We walked into a dark, dank apartment where stale smoke reeked, and a man, not weighing more than 60 or 7o pounds lay on the couch.
“GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TO ME, TOMMY!” the Swamp Lady shouted and repeated the drift woodin’ story and how we girls were so kind to pick her up.
Anna handed him the pipe. She just let him smoke the whole thing and we could all see the relief in his face.
“Y’know, y’all, I wish I got some shrimp or pork to offer. I mean, I aint got no money but I’m sure Tommy would sure ‘ppreciate it if y’all had s’more. I mean there’s nowhere to get it here, y’know?”
Anna did not have anymore, much to my relief, because it meant the sooner we got outta there. I wasn’t scared. It was just a very depressing place.
When we arrived at Anna’s boyfriend’s house he immediately chided us. “LADIES! YOU DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS AND THEN GO TO STRANGE PEOPLE’S HOUSES!” Oh, but it’s okay to crack open the hard liquor when you’re behind the wheel? (When expressing my concern about that he laughed, and Anna said, “Welcome to the South!”)
The next day as we got into the car Anna picked up a pair of sunglasses from the back seat and looked at me with that twinkle in her eye. “Wanna wear them?”
It took me a minute to realize what they were. “Holy shit! The Swamp Lady left those?”
Anna nodded. “She sho did. And one o’ these days I’m gonna go give’m back to her.”
I believe her too. And, hey, Anna, when you do, tell the Swamp Lady I say, “hey.”
I do not condone drinking and driving and made that clear when we safely got to our destination. Why, then, can I justify picking up complete strangers in a car when society clearly condemns any kind of close interaction with “unknown” people? Perhaps because of the kindness that strangers have shown me as of late or because of Anna’s luck with adventures, or because certain intuition I had and a quick scan assured me that she was not dangerous. But then also, I like meeting new people, we gave someone a ride in need, and also helped to relieve, for just a few minutes, someone from their pain. Not bad for a day’s journey.