I first noticed him as I was pulling out of the drive-through of my favorite Starbuck’s after getting my now weekly instead of daily (thanks to state budget cuts and furlough days and most of all my oh-so-scary upcoming retirement) grande triple skinny vanilla latte with extra foam (a sorry substitute for whipped cream). He was sitting on the hood of my car, in all his leggy green grasshoppery glory. Or almost all of it, anyway – he was missing one of his back legs, the big long jumper legs.
I thought he’d jump, or fly, or be blown off once I started driving, but instead he turned so that he was faced into the wind and hunkered down, apparently clinging to the accumulation of winter grime on my car with his five sticky little feet (do grasshoppers have sticky feet? I imagine them being sticky, somehow).
As I pulled out onto the road, I found myself silently urging him to hop off, quickly, before I got to the freeway. He didn’t. He stayed put as I accelerated up the onramp and then to freeway speeds – which, in California, are not insect friendly. Instead of jumping into the fast lane and engaging in my usual race with all the other anonymous drivers to see who could cover the next 15 miles the fastest, today I stayed in the slow lane and kept an eye on my little green friend.
Did this poor little five-legged fellow just jump on my car for a little rest, and now found himself being transported so far away from home that he would never be able to find his way back? Was he quivering on the hood of my car, terrified by what must be, to him, gale-force winds pummeling him, clinging to whatever he could find with all his might (and very grateful he didn’t choose to rest upon a car that was waxed to a high gloss)?
“I know how you feel, little guy,” I said out loud. In five months I’ll be retiring from a job I love, leaving the place I’ve lived most of my life, and moving to a whole new world. Everything is in motion now and there’s no stopping it. Not that I want to stop it; I don’t. But … it’s a little bit like being a bug clinging to the hood of a car at 60 miles an hour and not being sure what the landing’s going to be like at the other end.
My day – maybe, if you go in for the hyperbolic, my life – was now inextricably bound up with his, and my earlier urgings of “hop off, dude” were replaced with pleas to “hang on, buddy.” He became the talisman for my day. If he made it safely through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride all the way to work, then it was going to be a good day. If not … well, then.
The big semi that I had been frustrating by driving 60 (in the slow lane, yes, but still, it IS California) finally decided to pass me, and I held my breath as he went by, sure the wind from his rig would knock the little guy off. He got buffeted, but he held on. I ignored the looks and the occasional vulgar gestures of drivers who apparently felt that anything slower than 80 in any lane should be punishable by death or at least life without parole and made my way – finally – to my off ramp. Then to the stop light. Then to the next stop light. He was still there. Now if he hopped or flew or got blown off, he’d probably be okay.
But still, I didn’t want him to. I wanted him to stay with me until I got to work. I couldn’t say why, exactly, but it was important to me.
And he did. I pulled in and parked, and he was still there, right where he’d started, although – or so I imagined – a little more relaxed now.
I got out of the car and look him in the eye (as best I could) and told him thank you. Thank you for being so strong even though, by the world’s standards, you were slightly broken. Thank you for turning into the wind and riding it out. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for facing a new adventure – whether you’d asked for it or not – with courage and fortitude.