The Pick-up

Sunset with Greek Flag, Santorini, Greece
Sunset with Greek Flag, Santorini, Greece

 

This is one of my favorite stories from my trip to Greece, and I don’t know how it’s taken me this long to write it up.

I had a jeep (the infamous topless, 37 Euro jeep from the earlier story) on Santorini, quite literally one of the most beautiful places on earth, all wild and craggy and with gorgeous little towns perched high on admittedly earthquake-prone cliffs. I whipped around in that jeep for three days, having a ball, driving up hillsides that I would normally be afraid to traverse on foot, and on my last evening on Santorini I realized I was almost out of gas as I headed back to Oia, where I was staying.

I cruised into the village on E, noting to myself to ask my hotel owner where the town gas station was. The next morning as I was leaving, I did ask, and Johannes replies: “Gas? Yeah, there’s no gas station here. There’s one a few miles down the coast road – you’ll pass it on the way to Thera.”

Yikes.

The drive down the aforementioned Coast Road was a white-knuckler. I kept myself to 50 mph and coasted on the downhill stretches, and held my breath on the uphill bits. At every moment I expected to hear the engine sputter and gasp, leaving me stranded on a two lane road miles from anywhere.

As I am driving, I pass a crossroads where there is  a middle-aged man standing, suitcase by his side, with his thumb out. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t dare – I literally couldn’t afford the few seconds of idling and for all I knew I would run out of gas as soon as I started again, which would be ridiculous. I swept past him, heart racing, eyes glued to the gas gauge, and passed out of sight around a curve, coasting into the straightaway on the other side.

WHERE THERE WAS A GAS STATION.

(cue angels singing)

I pulled in – truly, on an island of eye-popping natural wonders, nothing has ever been more beautiful to me than that gas station – and filled up. And then I knew exactly what I had to do. Karma needed to be repaid.

I turned around and headed back where I had come from.

He’d already started walking – I suppose his plan was to walk-and-thumb til he either got a ride or got where he was going – and so I was able to drive past him, then use the crossroad to pull around in a Dukes of Hazzard-worthy rooster tail of chalk dust and then pull up next to him. Whatever this man, who looked like nothing so much as a 50’s-ish accountant with a Zorba mustache, was expecting, it certainly wasn’t a dust-coated American woman, grinning maniacally and yelling, “You need a ride?”

He had virtually no English. I had at the time ten words of Greek, one of which was “Airport”. Somehow we established, with lots of gesturing, that he was going to Thera, just as I was, and so I was able to put it in gear and head back down the coast road again. Somehow we had a conversation. I don’t think I ever got his name, or I don’t remember it if I did. I dropped him off fifteen minutes later, right where he needed to go, and after he got his suitcase out he leaned back into the jeep, grasped my hand in both of his, and dug deep into his English to say earnestly, “Thank you. Thank you. I love you.”

Santorini was pretty awesome.

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