© 2020 by Raymond Cannefax
Though the adventure of picking up a stranger with thumb extended seems to have vanished in metropolitan regions, there continue to be the occasional stranger in rural America seeking rides from other strangers. There, the adventure lives on. The tradition of hitching a ride continues to endure the passage of time.
I drive back roads, State Highways, and byways because they are more interesting. These lesser traveled roads with lower speeds, pass through forgotten towns and provide visual stimuli that is vanishing from our urban environments and infrequently seen by the masses. Back roads offer visual and auditory stimuli that cannot be enjoyed when flying down the Interstate, disengaged from most things other than the traffic around of me. It is on those back roads where I still encounter the hitchhiker.
With the high speeds of cars on the Interstate, the probability of someone slowing down to pick up a hitchhiker is virtually nonexistent. Those flying down the Interstate highways have place to go, people to see, and are generally in a hurry; perhaps a car taking its occupants to a wedding for which they are a half-hour late, and still have thirty-three miles to go. I too, have places to go and people to see, only I’m not often certain where those places are and who the people are that I might see. Hence, there is no urgency to get there as fast as I can; I might change my destination, or perhaps even stop in some small town and wander about. On yea, it is also illegal to thumb a ride on an Interstate, along with being considerably dangerous.
On these smaller highways and byways, I can alter my destination on a whim, as my fancy strikes me. The name, Montezuma Creek on the highway sign has a nicer ring to it than Blanding and I turn off the State highway, onto a smaller byway and check out Montezuma Creek rather than driving directly into Blanding. It may be a 30 mile detour, but with a name like Montezuma Creek, unique items of interest must exist. By next year those things may have been sold or removed, maybe even destroyed.
In my youth, I often pleaded to the driving public, arm extended, thumb in the air, asking to hitch a ride to wherever I needed to go. Usually the trips were short, six to twenty miles, but regardless the distance, it was usually a pleasure to ride with a stranger and chat about whatever; topics often previously unexplored by me. I was young and learning about life The rides I hitched were often learning experiences, and most were enjoyable.
Weather is a factor. People are more apt to offer a stranger a lift if it is excruciatingly hot outside, or if it is raining, or if it is incredibly cold. In inclement weather, drivers show pity for the less fortunate, those asking for a lift by standing roadside, arm extended, thumb in the air. Good weather brings fewer drivers to slow and stop to pick up a hitcher, but those who do stop inevitably engage in conversations about whatever, maybe even politics. Sometimes the conversations reach a level of intensity that the drivers will deviate from their route to take hitchhikers to their desired destination or a convenient junction just to keep the conversation going longer. And there have been incidents where the drivers pull over and ask the hitchhiker to get out, regardless of where they might be. These sort of incidents are usually caused when politics become the primary topic of the conversation.
When rolling down the road on your journey to wherever, I suggest allowing yourself extra time and avoiding the Interstate highways by cruising down older highways, through small towns. Along with savoring the beauty offered by so many of these small communities, you'll be enjoying rural America before it is gone. It is on these roads where you may find the opportunity to give a hitchhiking stranger a ride and learn of things you had never imagined before your conversation with this hitchhiking stranger.
Risk? I have not experienced adverse situations while hitchhiking during my younger days, or when I’ve giving a hitcher a ride. But yes, risks do exist. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “There is no reward, without risk.” Take the risk, give the hitchhiker a ride and learn of things you may have never previously given thought or consideration. Back roads offer rewards that may not be experienced in the coming years, perhaps by the end of this decade, 2020. Like a fine wine, they are there to be enjoyed before the last drop drips out of the mouth of that bottle. In the words of a more current writer, Ernest Hemingway borrowed Jefferson's words and firmly declared: “What reward, without risk!” - It was not a question.
COMMENTARY AND INPUT IS ALWAYS APPRECIATED AND ENCOURAGED:
In the not too distant past, when rolling down country roads, I would spot someone with arm extended, thumb in the air, politely and silently standing at the side of the road, asking to be given a lift, a hitchhiker, a hitcher.
I postulate that our Interstate highways, or perhaps our nation’s economic improvements, are responsible for not having seen a hitcher in years. I drive back roads whenever possible, roads where the pace is slower, the scenery is better, where there are fewer cars. Even on these back roads, the hitchhiker seems to have slowly melded into America’s past. Occasionally I encounter farm implements and my pace slows even more until it is safe to pass, allowing me more time to enjoy the beauty of these back roads I travel. And on rare occasions, I still encounter someone with arm extended, thumb in the air. Almost always, I stop and offer assistance with their need for transportation.