Hitch-hiking: A Communicating Experience Unlike Any Other

August 17, 2013:

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.


  Robert wrote @

I too hitchhiked a lot as a teen and young adult though in trucking parlance I was more of a “short haul” or even “delivery” hitcher compared to you.

Virtually every day I hitched to and from school, (occasionally road trips) and after I moved out at the age of 17 between my apartment and my job.

I had numerous great experiences. My observation is that per capita, hitchhiking has declined and I think this is due to the increase in fear, justified and not, which people feel today as opposed to “back in the day.” My hitching hay day was the late 70s and early 80s… basically post-hippie, Age of Aquarius and through the New Age period when people were really not fearful at all.

To me the decline of hitchhiking is a sad indicator of today’s society.

  Bob Basil wrote @

I agree that “the decline of hitchhiking is a sad indicator of today’s society.” It is a great, great cultural loss. With hitchhiking we had serendipity, the golden rule, and feelings in our breast of the common weal.

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