Saw a hitchhiker today

2014

As I was driving home through my neighbourhood this evening, I saw a man in his forties or fifties standing beside the street. He was holding a plain plastic shopping bag in his left arm. I didn’t have enough time to take a good look at the bag, but judging from the shape he was carrying a bunch of books or just some box inside that bag. He was delicately gesturing with his right hand for passing cars to stop - almost as if he was ashamed.

Where is he going?

Did he miss the bus?

Why is he hitchhiking?

What’s in the bag?

How long does it usually take him to find a friendly driver?

Is he a nice guy or a mean one?

Regarding the buses, I even checked the schedules - he could have caught the last bus going his direction, so he probably didn’t miss one.

I’ve seen him before in that same spot with that same bag, always standing exactly the way I described. I saw him once during afternoon, another time in late evening. Ever since the first time I saw him these and many more questions started running through my head and I have no idea why it sparked such curiosity in me.

Everyone loves a good story. We crave for narrative in everything we encounter. This human quality is pretty much universal in all cultures. That’s why all of us love movies, books, music and just plain gossip - all of these are just different forms of storytelling.

I consider storytelling to be part of our inherent desire to solve problems. Human brain is terrible at handling the unknown. That’s the reason why we tend to have so many biases, stereotypes and even elaborate belief systems guiding us everyday. Human brain is primed to fill in the blanks in any way possible, no matter how unfounded the conclusions might be. We love knowledge, and what we don’t know, we invent.

Have you ever been sitting in the restaurant and watching people coming in and going out? Didn’t you try to judge, at very least subconsciously, what kind of people they are? If I were to put a box on the table in front of you, wouldn’t you immediately start to wonder what’s inside?

Maybe the fire wasn’t our best discovery, maybe it was narrative. Animals do solve problems, but they do not tell stories. Humans do. Maybe this aspiration to tell a good story which would explain stuff around us is what got us where we are today. The best part is that if we keep doing this long enough, striving to improve the story, making it more accurate, eventually it becomes so good that it deserves to be called the truth.

Maybe as long as we continue to do that, we will be okay.

As for that man, I have many unfinished tales about him in my head. Too bad I probably will never find out which ones of those, if any, are true.