I had a rather unusual encounter while out on a run this afternoon. I was nearly done, about a half mile from home, and while waiting for a stoplight, a man also waiting to cross the street asked me if I knew how to get to Reedsburg. You mean the town of Reedsburg? I said. I'd have to look at a map, but it's pretty far from here. How are you going to get there? Well, he replied, If there's no bus I guess I'll walk.
As we crossed the street together, I gathered the following information from this man: he is from Chicago. I learned his first name and told him mine. Today he took the bus from Chicago to Madison and is going to Reedsburg to visit his brother, who was married recently. He may be staying for a little while. He's never been here before and didn't know how far away Reedsburg is. He does not have a phone, so even though he has his brother's number, he had no way to contact him. I considered for a moment, then decided no way was I going to let this guy walk all night in unfamiliar territory, so I told him to come to my house to use the phone so he could at least call his brother.
Stuart, understandably, was uncomfortable with me showing up at home after a run with a total stranger, to whom I offered our phone and a glass of water. But I didn't know what else to do; the guy seemed stranded. (Meanwhile, Daniel looked out the window and said "Who's that guy?" and Anya bounded out of the house in an uncharacteristically extroverted fashion and introduced herself.) When the brother didn't answer, I invited him inside while we figured out what to do. I checked google maps and found that Reedsburg is about an hour's drive away, too far for one of us to drive him there (even if one of us had felt comfortable enough to do it, which neither of us did). So we sent him on his way. I told him which direction to walk.
And then I fretted about him. On the one hand, this guy is clearly an adult (hard to gauge what age, though maybe 20-something) and should be capable of looking out for himself. On the other hand, how could I send someone on a 50-mile walk in the early evening, knowing he may very well be walking all night? He's probably hungry, I said about 20 minutes after he'd left. I should go find him and give him a sandwich or something. Stuart thought it was best to let it be, so I did.
It started to rain and I fretted a bit more. A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was the young man's sister-in-law, who had been driving around Madison with her family all afternoon looking for him. They had checked their answering machine at home and gotten our number from his call earlier. I told her which direction I'd sent him walking, then set out to look for him myself so that I could call her cell when I found him. After 10 minutes, I spotted him in the parking lot of a strip mall a couple miles away from our house. I pulled up, told him I'd gotten a call from his family, and waited there with him. After just a few minutes, a red van pulled up, and he said, "That's them!" I introduced myself briefly, they thanked me, and I left. I expect they're home by now.
So in the end, it was a happy reunion and I can go to sleep tonight knowing this guy isn't walking all night all alone along highway 12 trying to find his brother's house. But a lot of things about this encounter bothered me. The man wasn't very forthcoming with personal information, but considering he stepped off a bus from Chicago with only a drawstring bag full of clothes, no cell phone, presumably little or no money, and no clear plan for getting to his final destination...well, one could infer all kinds of things about his situation that may or may not be true. (For one thing, he needs to learn some communication skills if he didn't realize his brother was going to drive to Madison to pick him up.)
My own hesitation bothers me a little bit, though. He was a person in need of help getting in touch with his family and for some reason I was hesitant at first. I was taking my own safety into consideration, true, but really there was no danger. We were walking on very public streets in broad daylight, and once we got home I wasn't alone because Stuart was there. Furthermore, this guy didn't ask anything of me other than directions. He was never impolite or pushy. I offered him the phone and the drink of water on my own.
Sometimes I don't know whether I'm too cautious or too naive. I'm just glad it worked out this time.