You guys. YOU GUYS. I just had the sweetest, most interesting experience of my life. You can add hitchhiking to my list. There are a few stories, now and then, which are too long for a Facebook status. When I got off the ferry in Belfast, a cabdriver asked if I needed a ride but I decided to save the 10 pounds and try and find a bus to the city centre instead. The buses did not pick up where I thought, and after an hour or so the passenger terminal was shutting down, I was told I’d missed the last bus for three hours, and there were clearly no more taxis coming. I was basically the only person there now…thankfully, my GPS was working on my phone, so I could see where I was and where the hostel was, I figured the only thing was to start walking and maybe catch a bus on the way there (at a time in my life I would have been completely freaked out at this point, but I was, if a little weirded out, having fun. And I saw my third rainbow this week, which seemed like a good sign) So I started walking, GPS going. I was walking past a shopping center when an old man walking his dog stopped me and asked if I was walking to Belfast. I said yes, and he sort of sighed and started to describe which way to go, saying stuff like, “Be very careful, it’s a busy street!” But after a minute he shook his head and said, “Come on, I’ll give you a ride. It is way too far to walk.” I don’t make it a habit of getting in cars with strangers, but he already reminded me of my grandfather a little bit, so he, and Max the dog, and I got into the car, Max clearly a little perturbed to have his walk interrupted. I gave the old man the address of the hostel, and he knew right away where it was. What an interesting person! I wrote down all I could remember of our conversation as soon as I could. We talked as we drove: he was from India originally but had lived in Ireland for a long time (“They tell me, ‘you don’t sound like us!'”). He was a sailor for forty years and had been all over the world, travelling for eight months at a time, including to Texas. He said something about Belfast having an interesting history and I, thinking about the violent Troubles of a couple decades ago, said, “A lot of conflict?” He sort of rolled his eyes and shook his head: “No, no. They like to say here, ‘We were at war.’ But they don’t know what *war* looks like. They had hospitals, schools. War is what is happening in Syria right now, 100,000 dead, or in Iraq, 8,000 dead since the Americans left.” He went on to talk about history being history: “The British used to rule Ireland, you know. Just like they ruled America, hundreds of years ago, but you don’t have to hate the British; that was before you were born, before your parents even were born. My son in law is German. Can I call him a “Nazi bastard?” No, because he is only 40 years old and the second world war ended 75 years ago. He is a very nice man, he is married to my daughter. Well, they are not married, but they have lived together for God knows how long. They have a daughter whose birthday is in six days time!” Then we started talking about how amazing it is that people like Angela Merkel and Hilary Clinton can hold the positions they do when, not too long ago, it seemed crazy that women could ever have that much power. I asked what I should do and see in Belfast while I’m here and he said, without hesitation, that I should see The Ulster Museum and the local art house cinema. That last one was especially important to him that I do: “You can see a movie there as late as 9pm, you must go.” When we were nearing my destination he pointed out the street I wanted and then said, “I’m going to drive you one more block so you can see where the theater is.” Then were at the hostel. I thanked him for about the thousandth time, and he said he didn’t think people did nice things for strangers enough anymore:
“It’s a little detour for me, but it doesn’t hurt my life!”
“And it makes all the difference to me!” I said.
“Exactly. You won’t be so tired.”
He was right, it would have been a long walk. Doable, at about four miles, but I easily could have gotten lost, GPS notwithstanding, and it would have been hard on my back, carrying my pack. We shook hands and I introduced myself before I got out of the car but he didn’t reciprocate, so I guess he’ll always just be the elderly Indian/Irish dog walker who gave me a ride my first day in Ireland. (I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren about this. Right after I tell them to never, ever get in a car with a stranger…) Then I thanked Max, of course, who had given up his walk to help me out. Hello, Belfast!
“A multitude of small delights constitutes happiness.” Charles Baudelaire