by Don Kern

©copyright 1994

While on my way home a couple weeks ago, I was traveling south on 131 just north of 28th Street, I noticed a guy walking down the side of the freeway, carrying a 2 liter bottle of Coke. I got off at 28th to go to the Jaycees office to work on the RoundUp for a little while, and when I got back on the freeway, there was that same guy, still walking down the side of the road with his bottle of Coke. Well, of course, my mom taught me not to pick up hitchhikers, (advice I’ve frequently ignored) but this guy wasn’t hitchhiking, just walking, and I figured he needed a ride. So I stopped. It was about 8:45 p.m.

He was in his early 20s, tall and slim with messed-up hair--a pleasant looking kid. I asked where he was going. The first thing that I found was that he had absolutely no sense of distances. He said he lived in Marshall, but he was going to walk as far as Battle Creek, and when he got that far, he could call a friend of his who would come and get him.

The ensuing conversation convinced me that this young man, though very likeable, was one of the least intelligent people I have ever met.

I asked him what he was doing in Grand Rapids. He said he was arrested because he didn’t pay a ticket, and they brought him to Grand Rapids. After appearing in court and pleading not guilty, they released him and he had to find his own way home.

He wasn’t quite sure where he was.

“We’re still in Wyoming, aren’t we?”


“Are we still on 131?’


I told him I was going as far as the Martin exit, but that it was still 30 miles to Battle Creek from there if you take the shortest possible route.

“I should be able to walk that in two or three hours?”

“If you walk REAL fast.”

I was saddened that he had himself in such a situation. Here was this young man who earlier that morning was just going through his day, and minding his own business. He was picked up not because he committed a crime, but because of a CIVIL INFRACTION. (Most moving violations in Michigan are not crimes.) He was one of those naive people that just seemed to need protection from the rest of the world. He seemed somewhat defenseless.

I told him that even running, 6 miles an hour is doing pretty good. Most people walk about 3 miles in an hour. And sooner or later, you get tired, and need to stop and sleep. He was in for a long night if he was going to walk all the way to Battle Creek.

Nearly everything I said to him had to be repeated two or three times. He just didn’t get it the first time. It took me a long time to explain the distance from Martin to Battle Creek--about 40 minutes by car. His initial ideas led me to believe that he thought Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek were right next to each other.

We passed by the Dorr exit, about 10 miles south of town.

“Are we still on 131?”

I could tell he was thinking hard about where he was, how long it would take to get home, and the best way to get there. The wheels were turning, but he didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I felt responsible to come up with at least something.

By the time we got to the Martin exit, it was about 9:10 p.m. I had persuaded him that he should call his friend from the Boron station there at the exit, and try to get him to come that far to get him. Otherwise he would be walking all night.

I gave him directions to the Martin exit from Marshall. I-94 west to US131, then 21 miles north to Exit 55. He tried to repeat the directions, and after about 5 times going over them, I think he finally understood.

When he got out of my van, he was happy to have his predicament solved.

“I really appreciate this. You’ve saved me a lot of work.”

“I’m glad I could help.”

“By the way, my name is Gary.”

“Good luck, Gary.”

I didn’t see Gary again after that. But I wondered if his friend ever came to get him, or if he ended up heading back out on the road and walking toward Battle Creek. I felt a little bit guilty that I didn’t just take him to Battle Creek, or all the way home to Marshall.

Several thoughts occurred to me:

1. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

2. What a great blessing it is to be able to think.

3. What kind of government takes someone so defenseless 100 miles away from home and just leaves him there? Keep in mind that he hadn’t been convicted of anything.

4. Ignorance is bliss. Maybe not understanding the magnitude of his problem was the best thing for Gary. Did I help him by explaining his problem to him?

5. I felt bad that I decided not to take him all the way home. Should I have, even though it would have cost me over two hours and some gas money?

6. James 2:16 “and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” Did I meet my obligation to a fellow human being? Did I give him what he needed?

7. Why does doing a good deed result in moral dilemma?

8. In spite of all that had happened to him that day, he still maintained a good attitude. I suppose we can all learn from that.

I hope that his friend came and got him, and that he was able to sleep in his own bed sometime that night. I wonder if he got home ok. I’ll never know.

Good luck, Gary.