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On the Road in 1980 (standpointmag.co.uk)
52 points by mstats 68 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments

You’d be surprised how easy it still is to hitchhike across America, and how many good people you’ll meet.

A friend of mine persuaded me to try it a few years back. I was skeptical. I’d heard the cautionary tales, figured the narrative that we’ve become a low-trust society was basically correct, and definitely didn’t expect people to invite two strange men into their car. And yet that is exactly what happened, 3 or 4 times a day, for a week and a thousand miles.

Not everyone was a shining beacon of light, but some genuinely were, and the cross section of humanity was a continual surprise. (The article captures this well.) There was a bagpiper, a young ex-marine, a woman who may have been stealing ming vases, a social worker and her sister who took us on a tour of the Snake River, and an air traffic controller on the way to his mother’s funeral. He only mentioned that about 4 hours in. A common thread was that people were in a “real” place in life. We were too — hitchhiking asks you to be vulnerable. You might stand by an on-ramp for the better part of a day while a stream of cars passes you and passes judgment on you. You learn to let go of things you can’t control.

I had to end my trip in Salt Lake City, a place I didn’t know much about and had never thought of visiting. I loved it so much I left NYC and moved here. It’s been 8 years now. Funny to think it all started with a hitchhike! You never know what’s out on the road.

In poorer countries it is often a necessity.

Romania is being shaken by the case of a serial killer choosing his very young victims from poor rural areas who were hitchhiking, so I'm pretty sure the hitchhiking culture will change.

I've never hitchhiked myself, but I used to pick up hitchhikers before I was married and had children.

No great stories besides children up to no good, a drunken lady who had no idea where she wanted to go,on which I was able to use "the voice" to trick her into leaving my car, but mostly poor and weary people trying to make ends meet.

In the mid-1990s I hitched across the UK.

Not once, but constantly for 2.5 years.

I was homeless, rough sleeping, and instead of choosing hostels I chose to travel the UK - this was a survival tactic, hostels were not nice or safe places. I would hitch from one city to another, and my sign would simply say "North" or "South".

I had the greatest chance of being picked up at the slip road exiting a service station. So sometimes if I woke in a city I would walk 10-15 miles to get to the first service station on a motorway out of town. This is easy around London or in the midlands, but really hard in the South West.

The people I met... oh wow. It was almost exclusively solo male drivers who picked people up. They were doing long road journeys and wanted company and to stay awake and engaged. To not fall asleep at the wheel.

Your role as a hitcher... to be a graceful, clean, respectful passenger and to bring conversation and to know when to be quiet.

The people though. I once was picked up by one of the Birmingham Six https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Six , on another occasion by a man who was dying and using his remaining months talking to people by picking them up hitching. There were saviours who would go out of their way in deep winter to get me somewhere safe. There were others who were themselves a danger and the propositions I received were... out there. I only once felt the need to do a runner at the first opportunity.

Mostly though, people were incredibly kind, considerate, cool.

And universally, everyone that picked me up said that the reason they did so was that they had once hitched and felt a need to continue to offer that kindness now that they had the means to pick someone up and give them a lift.

Back in the 1970s I hitched across the US about 3 times, over various routes, and all of Heren’s story rings true to me, especially the huge variety of drivers willing to offer rides. About a third to a half of the people who picked me up remarked, in almost the same words, “I used to hitch when I was younger, but it feels too dangerous now” [<1980]. It was troubling to find, more recently, that my youthful sense of immortality had faded, leaving me saying the same words to younger people.

I hitchhiked quite often in Europe around the turn of the century. Something that was unheard of in my suburban middle American youth. It seemed like the most normal thing in the world in Central Europe/The Baltics especially with travelers in orderly queues respecting who arrived first etc. Mostly it was great and someone would pick you up in short order and the resultant conversations were interesting. Occasionally you'd get dropped in a bad spot or an unlucky time and you'd wait a while. Only once did I give up and take a train after 24 hours of nothing and sleeping overnight on a park bench in the rain. I'd love to have the health and freedom of those days again.

I experienced everything from dirt poor people in rusting apart cars who were willing to share everything they had with you, to people in obscenely expensive suits and luxury rides who were unbothered by your road grime. A particularly memorable trip was in a high end Mercedes at terrifying speeds from Genoa, Italy through southern France, and having/getting to wander around Monaco for a few hours in while the driver tended to some business there on the way. The cheapest thing I could find to drink was a 10 Euro lemonade at a cafe as I watched private helicopters come and go from a seaside heliport. Definitely too rich a place for me, but one I never though I would see.

The concept of hitchhiking is such an anachronism now that I had to suspend disbelief as I watched “once upon a time I Hollywood” that I spent most of the time reconciling being the hitchhiker and the driver and why either side would feel like this is a rational option.

I don’t know when but hitchhiking from roadways (it’s okay from parking lots and similar) became an offense in California sometime in the seventies I guess. That said I’ve picked up hitchhikers a couple of times but not just random people. The context is broken down car, but not s beater, and people didn’t look out of place (suspicious). But yeah it’s s rarity.

I worked in Boston in the 90s. A couple of coworkers would use a week’s vacation time to just hitchhike around New England. They had a cabin in Vermont, sometimes they made it to the cabin, sometimes they went to other places. They always got picked up and were usually given lodging. But if they slept in a park they were happy too. They loved doing it.

I still hitchhike occasionally. One time when my motorcycle overheated, twice more when I ran into trouble on mountain bike trips. It usually takes a long time until someone offers a ride. Last month I picked up a guy on I-82 who had run out of gas - as a way to repay the kindness I had received on those other occasions.

I picked up a hitchiker about three weeks ago? It's not the norm for me (my wife hates it) but not that unusual. These aren't for mega journeys though. I live in a commuter town near a city so it's usually along that route.


I picked up hitchhikers last week.

I went hitchhiking myself two or three years ago.

I don't understand what's anachronistic about it at all.

It's like different parts of the world had different habits regarding hitchhiking. Intriguing!

Here in northern Mexico, I hitchhiked a couple of times in the early 90s, when I was a poor student and didn't have enough money to travel 100 Km. When I had my own car, I picked up people on the same road if I was riding alone, to pay it forward. That wouldn't fly now, because that region is rife with thievery thanks to government inaction.

I guess now that I'm older, I wouldn't pick hitchhikers even if there was no crime, because while most are just regular people having a hard time, a few were frankly scary.

Indeed. But I'm not sure that makes it 'anachronistic'. More that some places are, well, more dangerous.

On both sides there's a bit of eyeballing I reckon.

At a rest stop you can often chat to hitchhikers before they even know you have a car.

It wouldn't surprise me that in the US (particularly around major cities) hitchhiking is considered dangerous because, well, the US has severe issues with mentally unwell individuals on a scale that simply isn't present in other cities (e.g. the people who have basically fallen out of society you'll see on SF/NY subways; not merely homeless but severely mentally ill).

I would guess without having been there that hitchhiking in the more rural states would be fine.

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