The Miserable Hitcher

You have to be dead broke, or a romantic, to persevere.

“Why didn’t that last car pick me up?”, the constant refrain. With every passing car, the hopeful traveller hones their cynical, psycho-sociological observations, between the points when the driver first spies them and when they decide not to stop. If the car is full or driven by a woman alone, it doesn’t really count – no conclusions can be drawn. Otherwise, vehicle after vehicle disappoints, and thick, helpless misanthropy sinks in.

Of course, every hitchhiker knows that no driver is obliged - by any kind of social duty - to take an anonymous passenger. But as the percentage of benefactors dwindles, it is inevitable to begin to believe, by force of statistics and over-thinking, that at least some are dodging an act of kindness out of media-induced paranoia and increasing societal isolation of individuals. Each and every one afraid and alone, speeding from one protected environment to another. If they’re right to be afraid, it’s a sad, vicious world; if they’re wrong to be afraid, it’s a sad, vicious world.

So, in those few seconds of interaction during which the driver decides, what can the hitcher do to win them over? Well, she can be a female: that’s rather easy. And if male, he can hitch together with a female: drivers tend to trust a cute couple on the road. But otherwise, it becomes more complicated. And between cursing the world, the hitcher will endlessly try to figure out what they could do to increase their odds.

Dressing well must help, but perhaps they don’t want to dress too well. After all, the hitcher is not standing next to a broken-down luxury car: why then are they so spiffily dressed? Clearly something is amiss. When the hitcher smiles, does it make them look friendly, or more like a deranged psychotic? When they have a sign indicating their desired destination, are they losing the unimaginative drivers who think to themselves “well, I’m not going there, I’m only going half-way.”

Should the hitcher display their huge backpack, making it clear they are a serious traveller and not a derelict, or will this backfire because the driver doesn’t want that filthy bag laying in the dust at the side of the road dirtying their pristine upholstery? It doesn’t matter if the driver’s logic is specious: by the time they’ve made up their slow minds, the fast car has blown by and they can stop feeling guilty about it because it’s too late to turn around anyway. They decide it’s okay so long as they pick up the next hitcher they see, some other day.

But the penniless, or romantic, or now irreversibly committed by dint of finding themselves in the middle of nowhere, will endure this taste of bile in their mouths and eventually, be it after 24 minutes or 24 hours, the ride will surely arrive.

How quickly does all the disillusionment about humans and their lack of humanity dissipate when that car pulls over! In a flash, the hitcher believes that all homo sapiens collectively become a species so tremendously magnanimous and so understanding of the connections between them! Even when the driver is taking the hitcher out of sheer boredom and loneliness, breaking the monotony of their drive, they are still temporarily alleviating it by extending a helping hand. They still represent the willingness to be good that can be found in all of us, somewhere. They have demonstrated a faith in human nature, and thereby reinstilled the hitcher’s.

Then they’re on their way. The overwhelming sense of freedom is instantaneous, the heart swelling as quickly as the disappointment fades: the idea that all one has to do is desire something to make it happen; this idea can be the seed that grows into a solid certainty that all in life is possible if one simply tries. This experience, even after only one success, transforms the hitcher from a vulnerable beggar into a master of the roads. The driver is no doubt content with their pretty automobile, but the hitcher... The hitcher is a god that traverses distances without even lifting a finger… It only takes the thumb.



as a cross-section of most of the thoughts other hitchers have confided in indulging while waiting.
...cotton maxwell

totally amazing article, perfectly written and expresses hitch hiking as it really is. Well done!!!!!!

I was utterly blown away by how closely I can relate to this article. I don't think there's a word of it that hasn't passed through my mind at some point whilst lingering with outstretched thumb on a hot roadside. Thanks for the great read.