A little over a month ago (or about 2 years in internet-time), I promised a story involving a man named Narawa-san. With my ride-count up to five I was on a great streak that day, and my luck continued to hold. Literally seconds after wandering out from the convenience store, dried-squid-snack in hand, a quiet, humble man in a quiet, humble sedan slowed to a stop beside me.
He was headed to the town of Nemuro to attend his recreational hockey team’s annual summer party. We listened to his favourite CD (a Japanese version of Diana Krall) and discussed his job as a Xerox employee. He described it as “not exciting but not boring,” a category into which I imagine most jobs fit.
About half an hour later, he pulled over onto the shoulder and asked if I’d excuse him to make a phone call. I had a few minutes alone with Diana. When he re-entered the car, he turned to me and explained the situation.
“I’m sorry, I know this is a strange question, and it’s ok if you don’t want to, but … you seem very friendly and … would you like to come to the party? I just called my friend and I think everyone would like to meet you. It’s at an abandoned school, and lasts until tomorrow morning.”
Now, I know that sounds a bit iffy, but I could plainly see that Narawa-san wasn’t a serial killer. Not that I didn’t consider the possibility, but you see, I always look for clues to expose potentially dangerous drivers: what music they listen to, how they drive, what they’re wearing, whether there's a bloody knife under the seat hastily covered by an extremist anti-establishment magazine ... a person’s car is a world of clues – but Mr. Narawa’s character profile was exemplary, its margins doodled with rainbows, baby pandas, and unicorns.
So I happily agreed to go to the party, and soon found myself among the friendliest group of townies you’ll ever meet. If I ever join a rec hockey team, I hope they’re exactly like these people.
I learned all of their names, and answered their many questions as best I could. (How many kinds of fish does Canada have? Do you know any NHL players? What’s your favourite kind of fish?)
After a great meal, we played midnight basketball in the school's gym. I don’t remember whether my team won, but I will say that the influence of alcohol does little to help your jump shot.
We slept on the floor in sleeping bags (or rather I slept while random tickle-fights broke out among the more inebriated of us) and in the morning we ate fresh fruit and sweets for breakfast.
Sometimes I think about how differently my trip would’ve turned out if my departure had been off by a week, a day, or even a few minutes. A different set of people, and a different set of adventures. To quote Will Ferguson,
In these days of global tourism it is becoming harder to have authentic travel experiences. Hitchhiking, however, is a completely singular activity. It is unrepeatable, unpredictable. No two hitchhiking journeys, or rides, are ever the same.
So true, Will. So true.