FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America, Land of the Fearful, is No Place to Hitch-Hike

Yesterday, I hitch-hiked to the gym.

If I tell that to any of my friends, they look at me like I’m crazy.

Yet if I had said the same thing 40 years ago, it would have been like saying, “I just drove over to the store” or “I just had lunch.”  No one would have batted an eye.

Actually though, it was a remarkable experience.  The day was pretty cold, with a biting dry wind, and I had planned to walk the three-mile distance, because my wife had one car and my son had the other, my bicycle had a flat tire, and I was happy for the extra exercise.  But then, when I got into the little market center of Maple Glen, about a quarter mile from my house, I decided it would be a good time to stick out my thumb and take a reading on the state of American community-mindedness. It’s a week before Christmas, after all, so people should be in an especially friendly, sympathetic mood, right?

Wrong.

I watched in wonder as over 100 cars drove past me, most of the drivers averting their faces or staring stonily ahead so as to appear not to notice me. Some of the cars were driven by women. Okay I get that. Everyone’s a potential rapist when you’re a woman alone, but then again, it’s daytime, and I’m a 62-year-old guy with a Santa-like white beard. And how about two women in a car or three?  Well, I’m a forgiving guy, so I still get that.

But what about all the guys who drove past?  Big guys in pick-up trucks. Often two guys or even three guys in a car. What are they afraid of? Really nothing. It’s more about not wanting to let anyone else in your bubble, I think. Having to converse with a stranger. Having to be a minute or two later getting to the mall (this was a Sunday afternoon).

Remember too, Maple Glen, PA is a small town. Certainly some of the people passing me had seen me in the local stores. But because they were so intent on avoiding my gaze, they weren’t really looking closely.

I was musing on all this, and thinking about how, whenever I’ve mentioned hitch-hiking, the immediate response is, “Oh, that’s really dangerous. People are crazy these days.”  That’s immediately followed by a line about how, “I never pick up hitch-hikers.”

My own background with regard to hitch-hiking is, I confess, a bit extreme. I hitched everywhere as a teenager, criss-crossing the country several times, making one trip at 17 with a friend from high school all the way from Connecticut to Alaska and back over the sumer of 1966. My wife and I, back in the early 1970s, hitched a lot of places together — from New York to Florida, all over the northeast, and from Aspen, Colorado to the Grand Canyon and back (with a stretch on a freight train from Moab, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado).  Hell, we hitch-hiked to our own wedding, from Cambridge, Mass. to Middletown, Connecticut!

There were some difficult times, to be sure, like in Moab late at night when some rowdy teenagers with nothing better to do than race up and down the main street in pick-up trucks, who tossed some empty beer bottles at us (that experience led us to opt for the freight hopping to get out of town). But in general, as long as you stayed out of the cars that reeked of alcohol, thumbing was a pretty safe way to travel, especially by twos.  Same for picking people up. I have never had a problem myself giving people rides who were thumbing, though a couple of times I admit I’ve had qualms — but never if there were two of us in the car.

Are things crazier today?

No! They are safer. That’s what is so weird about people’s unwillingness to give a hitcher a ride these days. All the crime statistics show that crime is way down compared to the 60s and 70s.  What’s up is fear. We have a media that live and breathe crime reporting, and always as lurid as possible. The more gruesome the story, the better. And we have a government that is all about generating fear — fear of crime, fear of immigrants, fear of terrorists, fear of poor people, fear of the 99%, fear of hitch-hikers, you name it.

My grandfather, back in the Second World War, was a traveling salesman. One night on a long intercity drive, he picked up a hitchhiker in uniform–a sailor. It was at night, and the guy, dog-tired, fell asleep almost right away in the passenger seat. As he drove along, my grandfather turned on the radio for company, and heard a news report about a killer who was hitchhiking, last seen in a Navy uniform.  My grandfather drove on, and left the guy off at the nearest restaurant lying that he was turning off the highway.  The poor sailor was probably not a criminal — just one lonely guy trying to make his way home on leave.

It was probably a prudent move on my grandfather’s part, but it shows that there has always been an element of risk in hitching or in picking up hitch-hikers, and yet people used to do it easily, so that hitching was a viable way to get around if you didn’t have a car.

In fact hitch-hiking was a way of life for people without cars for nearly a century, before fear took over this country. Now almost nobody will pick up a hitch-hiker.

It’s gotten so that almost nobody even thinks to hitch-hike. What that means is that the people who still hitch-hike tend to be real down-on-their-luck types, often winos and homeless folks.  I generally pick people up, figuring that I owe a lifetime of favors to such people for all the thumbing I did over the years, but there are times I wish I’d put down a newspaper before the rider sat down! The odor of urine can be overpowering.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society that today most–or nearly all- Americans in cars will not stop for anyone trying to hitch a ride, however well dressed or coifed.

I did finally get a ride Sunday. It was a big SUV that stopped. When I got in, I found myself seated in a vehicle among three immigrants from India. I was sitting in back with the teenaged son. The father, who was driving, said he had “only stopped because my wife said she was afraid you were one of those people with dementia, who was lost. I was afraid if I didn’t pick you up, I’d be hearing about it from her all day long!”

The wife, my benefactor, sitting in the passenger seat, laughed in embarrassment.

It took this family from a whole different cultural background from our own fear-crazed American society to see the human need before them, and to act out of generosity or concern, offering a fellow human being some assistance.

I thank them, but end up thinking: how sad for us that we’ve come to this as a nation.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new Project-Censored Award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail