As a young man, if I had to sum up my essence into a single quality, I would have said, “I hitch-hike.” Nothing meant more to me.

I was obsessed with the communications interaction hitching a ride provided:  Standing on the roadside with my thumb out, I could assume that the very next person I saw would be (1) a stranger and (2) somebody who wanted to talk with me.* Situations in which both such things would be true simultaneously seemed otherwise rare in my experience. Conversations brought into being by these situations enthralled me. I doubt I could discern the lies from the truth, the earnestness from the BS, any better than I can decipher these things now. But I could always count on being surprised by the words I heard; I could always count on feeling grateful and lucky. Indeed, hitch-hiking made a virtue out of loneliness; receiving a ride seemed a holier blessing.

I was indeed aware that one could not make a good living out of hitchhiking. One could and did, however, scrape by. Drivers were by and large pretty generous. (One desperado spent his last dollar buying me a hamburger. And a lady from Florida once gave me a pillowcase filled with grapefruits.) Making a living *writing* about hitching was not an option; that genre had lived and died by the time I hit the road, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady having left us in 1969 and ’68, respectively.)

It hadn’t occurred to me, though, that I could aspire to becoming a “professor of hitchhiking.” That would have been the perfect job. (Curriculum: “We will study the styles, methods, and rhetorical forms of ‘the hitch’; the road and the law, throughout history and across cultures; etc.”) But that gig doesn’t exist, so far as I can tell. If it did, I would be doing the next best thing, though, teaching communications to wide-awake and sometimes way-out-there students where I do. But since that particular gig doesn’t seem to exist, I’m doing the best thing *period*, with what I have to offer.


*There were exceptions: You might run into people you knew on oft-travelled routes, and sometimes drivers’d pick you up so that you could take the wheel while they napped shotgun.


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