It’s an obvious solution to all kinds of problems, really. Car-pooling doesn’t work, but we’ll soon be running short of oil and facing skyrocketing gas prices.
Hitch-hiking is the answer.
I hitch-hiked all over the country in my youth, and it was an eye-opening, sometimes eye-popping, experience.
One lady thought she was pregnant with twin messiahs. One old guy kept putting his hand on my thigh and winking. I rode in every kind of vehicle from a motorcycle to an 18-wheeler. Just about everybody came bearing gifts, many of them illegal.
There’s nothing like riding through the redwoods in the back of a pickup, playing Neil Young on the guitar, and stopping for a swim in a mountain stream.
Except maybe sleeping under the stars in Winslow, Arizona, or eating your first avocado from a roadside stand in Fresno, or sitting in a hot spring on Montana after piling out of a hippie van.
I went up and down Interstate 5 several times in the mid-’80s and finally quit one day in Eugene, when a hitch-hiker told me a guy picked him up, pulled a gun, and stole his pack. I bought a ticket to Seattle on the Greyhound and was almost cured.
Years later, my wife and I were stranded in Las Vegas, New Mexico, when our transmission went out. We brought it to a place called (no kidding) Manuel’s Transmissions.
Manuel was not the most efficient mechanic. It was the holidays, and he had a lot of family gatherings to attend. After three days in Vegas (the other Vegas), we decided to hitch-hike to Santa Fe.
We got picked up by a young guy with a weird Biblical name — Jephtha or Jehosophat or something — and his girlfriend. He was driving a Datsun B210 that rattled like it was held together with baling wire. This was about 1993, and if you know your cars, you know that Datsun had to be on its last legs.
Well, Ol’ Jereboam drove like a bat out of hell through the foothills on I-25, with the tires bouncing and the steering wheel vibrating and my wife’s fingernails digging into the back of my hand. I leaned forward to check the speedometer, and it read 100.
“Um, excuse me,” I said. “We’d like to get out and go for a walk. Can you drop us off at the next crossing?”
He did, and we caught a bus the rest of the way.
Hitch-hiking wasn’t always like that, and it doesn’t need to be. In many countries, it’s a common way to get around. No danger, no drama.
Unfortunately, we’ve been convinced by slasher movies, urban legends and overprotective mothers that most hitch-hikers — and those who give them rides — end up in some serial killer’s tuna sandwich.
It’s sad, really, in this world where most human interaction takes place through the medium of plastic screens. Hitch-hiking is face-to-face contact with strangers, something there’s all too little of nowadays.
When you’re a grownup, talking to strangers should be a good thing, but we’ve insulated ourselves to such a degree that all strangers are to be feared, and the only time we’re comfortable talking to them is when we’re behind a monitor and a phony name, or protected by our professional roles.
By necessity, hitch-hiking will make a comeback. When it does, I hope you pick me up. I’ll sing you a Neil Young song if you’ll give me half your avocado, and I promise to keep my hands to myself.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.