Hitchers

December 1, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography, Society

I’m starting to see hitchhikers.  Just a tiny trickle.  I saw two pairs while driving from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Now that I think about it, it would seem inevitable that thumb travel would become viable, what with the rising cost of transportation and increasing difficulties buying cars.  There are many of us out there that used to hitchhike.  We could get used to picking up hitchhikers again.

The last time I tried hitchhiking was 1978.  I hitchhiked from Chicago to Florida.  It took far longer than what had been the case in the past.  It was not uncommon to wait an hour or two between rides.  Hippiedom was completing its transformation from political/social statement to person-that-did-drugs.  The longhairs I was meeting on the entrance ramps were street people, runaways and carneys.  There was no sparkle, no feeling of feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self.  I arrived in St. Petersburg after several days.  I haven’t hitched since.  The 60s felt over.

I started hitching in 1969, locally, around the northern suburbs of Chicago.  In 1970, I took my first shot at hitching across country with Lee Goodman, who did so without his parents’ permission.  We were both in high school.  I remember arriving in college towns looking for places to sleep.  Walking through the streets surrounding Kent State, past stores with boarded up windows, we found a grassy area outside closed-down dorms.  We woke to discover we were sleeping in dog shit.

Summers from 1970 through 1973, I hitchhiked many times back and forth across the country and into Canada.  Waking up with poop on my sleeping bag was about the worst thing that happened those several years.  I met a vast variety of people, mostly young folks that were excited, curious and taking risks.  There were the deeply damaged veterans and the brain-impaired hippie burnouts.  Mostly it was folks like me, astonished by the milieu we found ourselves within.  On the road, it was easy to feel lucky to be alive.  We lived day to day, relying upon gifts from strangers.  Experiencing and expressing gratitude seemed our job.

These days, kids are making connections and traveling far through web and cell phone technologies.  The divide between youth and the rest of culture not engaged in social networking, twitter and texting will likely become wider as the months go on.  Whereas in the 60s and early 70s our experience of feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self was driven by the war, the Pill, drugs, music and matrifocal cultural revelations, I anticipate a new youth feeling-part-of-something-larger-than-the-self characterized by the experience of connections made through the new technologies.  Along with it, hitchhiking will return.

When the thumbs start springing up like dandelions, stop and give those young people a ride.  It’s likely that after greeting you, they’ll start texting.  Ask them which social networking application they prefer.  Find out what the neatest thing that ever happened to them was while hitching.  Ask them what feels most empowering to them about the web.

When the young folks start appearing on the highways, remember that it was the web that brought them into the real world.


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