The thrill of the unknown. The boredom of the waiting. Hitchhiking can be hard work! You have carefully picked your location and now you stand there thumb out vulnerable, trusting and full of hope you’ll make it at least a few miles up the road. Sometimes depending on where your last hitchhelper has dropped you, there is no careful selection of location, you just stand by some jersey barriers in the middle of “spaghetti junction”, flanked by a homeless encampment and hoping you don’t get shat on by one of the pigeons roosting on the above over-pass. Yes we’ve been in this exact situation in downtown Dallas and oddly enough it was mere minutes which we waited ’til our next hitchhelper screeched to a halt, threw a door open and ushered us in.
Hitchhiking can be it’s own fascinating social study. Both you (the hitchhiker) and the hitchhelper (your lift) are assessing each other and essentially lowering your guards enough to trust each other. This is all done within minutes. You are each laying yourselves vulnerable in your own way. Then there are all the vehicles that pass you but don’t stop, they too are interesting in their own right. Most people look at you and your sign with mild interest/curiosity. There are also the other passers-by who I have categorized as follows:
The “Shoe-Scraper” – these are the folks who cannot hide how appalled they are at your endeavour. The expression on their face is akin to their discovering something vile on the sole of their shoe!
The “Stiff-Neck” – these commuters are aware of your presence but would rather not make eye contact, rather they turn their heads in the opposite direction intently staring at the great yonder all the while looking very uncomfortable.
The “Swivel-Necks” – this final group are kind of self-explanatory. They do a double if not triple take, just to be sure that their eyes have not deluded them. I would wager to say a lot of people are surprised to see hitchhikers in this day and age.
Thankfully there are those we have dubbed hitchhelpers. Where would we be without them? Well, not very far really! Our hitchhelpers encompassed all walks of life – truckers, families, women alone, men alone and surfer dudes. We were privy to all kinds of details from people’s lives, from the mundane to the bizarre, from the tragic to the euphoric. There were even one or two occasions where it seemed the line of hitchhiker/amateur therapist blurred!
In an age where regardless of the presence of company, most people’s hands and eyes pointedly fidget with their phones (in anticipation of the next “earth-shattering”update), hitchhiking brings people together with the elemental, nay old-fashioned expectation of conversation and story-telling.
Disclaimer: I am neither condoning, endorsing nor encouraging hitchhiking. It is something that was integral to our year on the road (and is part of my life prior to our travels). It is woven into our stories and memories and has given us the privilege of meeting some amazing people. Some of whom we are still in contact with. It was one of many experiences on the road that restored our faith in humanity.