Why I hitchhiked the Rust Belt in search of the American man


e had been waiting for hours on the side of the road, thumbs in the air, when a woman in a modest blue car finally stopped. She rolled the passenger window down. “I’m going about 20 minutes south,” she said.

“Is there a truck stop there?”

“I think so. I know there’s plenty of traffic.”

I looked at Alexandre, the photographer. He nodded, so we hopped in. No matter how many times you’ve done it, getting into a car with a stranger knowing you will soon be barreling down the freeway at 70mph is exhilarating.

I introduced myself as a reporter and told her we were writing about the connection between American masculinity and blue-collar work. I turned on the recorder and she said her name was Chrystal. Like others in this story she only wanted her first name used to avoid future distress – whether from the law, a boss, or in this case, her ex-lover.

“My son died about 15 years ago,” she said. “He was beaten to death by his father. I was almost taken with him, five months pregnant.”

We’d been in the car less than 10 minutes.

“When I saw you on the side of the road I literally just visited his grave. I try to come as much as I can but being 15, 20 miles away sometimes it’s hard.”

She was silent for a moment.

“I have been in three different states because [my ex-husband] keeps finding me. And I’m like, ‘Dude, just leave me the hell alone.’”

I asked if she’s scared.

“I am now because I saw him the other day. So I’m kind of a little more careful about where I go, how long I stay in certain places.”

Because the conversation was so short, I never got the chance to ask her why she had picked us up. I have to guess that two male strangers, to her, represented more temporary safety than her former partner. Then again, maybe she was just feeling kind.

“The cliche is I’ve been raped, beaten, left for dead – but that’s the truth,” she said. “You just deal with the cards that you’re dealt.”

With that, she dropped us off.

Read More: theguardian.com