I am taking a leisurely drive down Highway 1 from San Francisco back to Santa Cruz after dropping off a friend at the airport. (For my friends in Tennessee: Highway 1 in California is simply the most beautiful coastal road in the world. In central California, where I live, the shoreline on which it runs is mostly undeveloped except for a few artichoke farms and some dairies.) It’s a sunlit but windy day. I stop at Waddell Creek to watch about fifty kite surfers. Behind me is a small swamp and beyond it are the redwood-lined slopes of Big Basin.
In the parking lot, a hitch-hiker waves at me. Now, I have a complicated relationship with hitch-hiking. On the one hand, that’s the only way I had to get to school my first two years in this country. On the same hand, I crossed this country hitch-hiking twice both ways when I was in my twenties. Yes, that’s about 12,000 miles total. Of course, I didn’t not know this the first time I started. In addition, I hitched from San Francisco to St Louis, Missouri in the middle of the winter to be with a girl. My journey gave her a lot of face. She showed her appreciation accordingly. On the other hand, I have no doubt that today, a good percentage of hitch-hikers are dangerous by reason of insanity. Moreover, for me, living in Santa Cruz, there is an existential dilemma in picking up many hitch-hikers: Do I want to help reach their destination transient people I consider undesirable flotsam once they have reached that destination, down the street from my house?
But, this hitch-hiker is different, I can tell. He is trim, muscular and handsome. It turns out also that the quick part of my mind has noticed that he is wearing a “hiking hat” that must have cost $40 in the L.L.Bean’s catalogue. There is another guy next to him similarly well-outfitted. Both are in their late twenties. I stop my pick-up truck (my pick-up truck, an important detail, culturally). The first guy explains that he and his buddy just finished their two-day hike through Big Basin State Park and that they need to call their ride but that there is no phone reception where they are standing.
I say, OK but I will only take one of you. The first guy hops in and asks: Why only one?
It’s because, if you turn out to be bandits, I am certain I can shoot one of you in the head; I am not so sure about two.
I tell the guy that I am not going to abandon him on the road wherever he gets phone reception but that I will drive him to the next hamlet, Davenport, where there is a grocery store and a coffee shop. There, he will be able to wait for his girl-ride in near-comfort. There is one condition to my giving you a lift anywhere, I say: You have to tell the next five people you talk to that you got a ride from a conservative Republican.
The guy agrees but he is astounded? How did you know I would mind doing it, he asks.
Easy; you smell of the Upper Left Silicon Valley. You are wearing at least $500 of hiking clothing and you have all the right opinions about everything. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you were a vegetarian, perhaps a vegan.
As I can’t stop bragging about, I have a really good sociological nose. It turns out the hiker in pricey hiking clothes is a corporate lawyer in Palo Alto and a graduate of Stanford Law School. I delight in telling him that I have a more advanced degree from the same university but that I don’t attend his church because the sermons there are too predictable, too boring.
In the meantime, he is fidgeting with his hand-held device that does everything but cooks eggs. He begins talking jovially with what sounds like a woman. He tells her that he and his buddy completed the hike without trouble, that it rained only briefly during the night, etc. I interrupt him quickly. How about your promise, I ask? He stops his prattle and seriously advises his interlocutor (tress?) that he got a ride from a Republican. There is silence on the other end, then my passenger is talking again. He instructs the woman to pick him up in Davenport in about an hour. Then, we arrive in Davenport.
The lawyer wants to buy me coffee, of course. Then, he realizes he left his wallet in his backpack with his buddy, at Waddell Creek where I picked him up. I give him two dollars for a cup of coffee while he waits for his lady friend to come and give him a ride. Then I add another dollar fifty explaining how I know that his kind of people can easily tear up if they have to drink regular coffee rather than a cappuccino or some other effeminate Italianate drink.
He lingers in my truck long enough to tell me how he is completely satisfied with Pres. Obama’s performance. I don’t expect him to complain about the 2700-page health care reform bill, of course, nor about the explosion of crony capitalism under the Obama administration. But he might have said something about the President not closing Guantanamo Bay prison, as formally promised during his campaign, or about his leaving the Patriot Act standing. After all, the hitch-hiker is an attorney. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Then, suddenly, it all makes sense. The Palo Alto corporate attorney graduate from Stanford Law School is the boy who has everything. He has the hiking clothes and the hiking. The young woman who is going to pick him up after his hike will be a stately blonde in a convertible. He has the perfect life. Why would he mar his perfect picture of elegance, success and achievement by having voted for a less than perfect president? There is a logic there.