Barry Smith: Irrelativity
June 24, 2012
Summertime is here! And you know what that means – hitchhiking!
Aren’t you just itching to hit the open road, travel across this great land of ours, find the REAL America? It’s out there – you know it is – and the only way to truly experience it is by using the ol’ thumb.
Or maybe your motivation is a bit more practical. Perhaps you just missed the bus and don’t feel like walking. Or your car broke down and you need a lift to the gas station. Or you just like being driven around without having to pay for gas.
In any case, since some hitchhiking is clearly in the cards for you this summer, there are some practical things you need to know about this dying art. I’ve done a fair bit of hitching in my day, so I feel that it’s only right that I pass on my hard-earned wisdom.
• Danger: Let’s acknowledge this up front – there are some dangers involved in traveling the Opposable-Digit Highway. You’re likely to be spending many hours on the side of the road, and that means you’ll be running a high risk of sunburn. Make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen, and don’t forget to coat both sides of your thumb, as that’s the body part most at risk.
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Once inside a car, you’re not necessarily out of danger. Sure, you’ll feel safe and warm in the vehicle of a complete stranger – the types of strangers who would let a stranger into their car – but you may still be at risk. Not to dwell on the dark side of humanity, but there’s every chance that the person with whom you’re now sharing a tiny, confined space has their radio tuned to a Christian hip-hop station. You’ll likely not notice this initially. No, at first you’ll just think, “Yeah! Kick it!” But slowly you’ll start to catch some of the lyrics, like about how Jesus was such a pimp, and you’ll realize that you’ve put yourself in a very bad situation. Remain calm and wait for the right moment to jump out of the car: preferably when you’ve slowed to under 40 mph, but use your discretion. Sometimes, drastic action is necessary to remove yourself from harm’s way.
• What to wear: As you’re perched on the roadside, it might seem that the endless stream of passing drivers are ignoring you. But they’re noticing. Since they only have time to sum you up in the most superficial way, you’ll need to look your best. When possible, try to avoid wearing orange jumpsuits with the names of prisons on the back, no matter how popular this look currently is with the hipster crowd. Handcuffs and shackles also are deterrents to your lift-getting pursuits. White aprons spattered in blood? It’s not a deal-breaker, but you’ll be limiting yourself to rides with only the most adventurous motorists.
Also, your potential rides need to be able to see your face, so shy away from hats if you can. If you must, make sure it isn’t too low over your eyes. Avoid wearing sunglasses. Hockey masks, though great UV blockers, will only slow you down.
• Where to stand: You want to pick a spot where you can be seen easily and where your potential ride has plenty of room to safely exit and re-enter the road. Highway on-ramps are good. Highway fast lanes are not. An intersection is a good spot. Perched high in a tree branch is not. Learn from my mistakes, folks.
• What to hold: A sign with your destination written on it is your best hitching accessory. But make sure the “destination” is an actual place, rather than a state of mind or a philosophical concept. Holding aloft a piece of cardboard with “Cleveland” scrawled on it will be helpful. Holding up a sign that reads “Forgiveness” will not.
Carrying an empty gas can certainly will increase your chances of a lift. Carrying a Coke bottle filled with gas and stuffed with a flaming rag – just the opposite. A nice, clean backpack is good. A squirming duffle bag, though a great conversation starter, not so good.
Other things to avoid holding: axes, running chain saws, scythes and banjos.
• Final thoughts: Hitching is all about having fun, and a positive attitude and adventure. Don’t do it. Enjoy.