“This one little car ride instantly redeemed us and rejuvenated us, offering an almost irrational hope for what lay ahead down the road. This I realized was the real magic of hitchhiking: not how it supposedly affirmed your faith in the goodness of humanity, but how it could make and break the faith, over and over again, often multiple times in a single day.”
From The World’s Best Hitchhiker on the Secrets of His Success – The New York Times – 3/22/2018
The Sunday New York Times Magazine has been producing some very entertaining issues. In the travel issue was an article about a crazed Polish man, Aleksander Doba who obsesses about kayaking to the point where he has kayaked across the Atlantic three times by himself.
In the same issues is the story about “The World’s Best Hitchhiker on the Secrets of His Success,” quoted above. It is 2018. Rarely do we ever see someone hitchhike in the United States on America. There probably is an app for that, or perhaps just craigslist, of this thing called facebook. It is unfortunate that hitchhiking has died out as hitchhiking is ultimately a way to challenge people’s beliefs, perceptions of reality and has the potential to have people from very different walks of life and classes interact. It is a way of taking a true chance on strangers and humanity and in the end it can be profound. In the least, for the hitchhiker it can be a test of patience and a realization of how often it is more beautiful on the side of the road on an empty stretch of highway than in a car. How liberating it can be to throw off the shackles of time and schedules. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
Just about everyone over forty has a tale of hitchhiking. The cross country trip out West. The trip that got derailed in a rainstorm. The trip from New York to Key West Florida and the amazing sunrises in Georgia. The ride down the Snake River Canyon in the back of a pickup. So many tales. All of them true.
In the current fashion of personal narratives I will indulge the reader with my own experiences with thumb exposed. It started in earnest with a cross-state trip of about 150 miles to visit my older brothers who were attending a pottery camp in Iowa. I was just fourteen years old. My parents did not seem at all worried and basically said, “Sure, have a good time. Need a ride to the highway?” What different times we live in now.
I left early in the morning with a map, a backpack, some sandwiches and a few dollars for sure. I do not remember every ride but in the end it took over ten rides. I remember being picked up by farmers heading a just a few miles down the road. Truck drivers were always good as the ride tended to be longer and the chatter on the CB radio was always cryptic yet entertaining. One ride, out in that territory, maybe not on that maiden voyage, was perhaps my most dangerous. A large rusted-out Oldsmobile sedan stopped. Three people were in the car. I got in the back seat with one of the riders and soon discovered that everyone in the car was completely plastered out on a bender. In the backseat was a case of beer and I was immediately offered a beer which being fourteen I politely turned down. We then proceeded to drive away at breakneck speed, flying over the rolling farmland hills of southern Wisconsin. After about fifteen miles of so and going over 100 miles per hour we came to a crossing and the driver stopped, to which I departed the car and thanked them for the ride. I never heard later if they ended up driving off the side of the road or not as we had no internets at the time back then to scour the movements of other humans, but they probably made it home fine and ate brats and kraut for dinner… washed down with five more beers.
To be honest, I was not an epic hitchhiker by any means but I do remember some beautiful hitchhiking with an ex-girlfriend out West in Montana. I remember hitching from Bozeman Montana to Salt Lake City Utah. Somewhere along the way we were picked up by a fancy black BMW sedan. After about 5 minutes the driver’s “fuzz buster” made a sound and we slowed down to avoid the highway patrol and a speeding ticket. We had been moving so fast that when we slowed down It literally felt like we were going twenty miles per hour when we were now going sixty. In a few minutes we returned to the normal 120 miles per hour. Sort of the Montana autobahn perhaps. Rides in the backs of pickups were always a joy with the mountains and open skies, the padding of your backpack, which you used as pillow providing comfort. I remember a ride down the length of Wisconsin from Upper Michigan. We were picked up by a pastor who worked with Native Americans and he seemed like he needed someone to talk to to make the ride easier and perhaps clear his conscience. All of these rides courtesy of “the kindness of strangers.”
The last hitchhiker that I picked up was about twenty years ago. You simply do not see many hitchhikers today. It was some youngsters heading down the coast on Highway 1. I was checking out the surf at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and had a hunch that the waves were better down in Pacifica. The two people in their early twenties had a sign that said “L.A. Bound” and after telling them that I was not going but fifteen miles down the coast they said that it would suit them just fine. I let them off at Linda Mar Beach and by the time I got my wetsuit on I noticed that they were headed south, looking for a good spot to continue the journey. Free spirits on the road.
Hitchhiking. A way to connect with every walk of life and find commonality in the human condition. Way safer than the internets.