Hitchin’ A Ride

Ted, over at SightsN Bytes, had a recent story about not picking up a hitchhiker carrying an axe.  I was under the impression that hitchhiking had reduced significantly over the years.  It probably varies from area to area.  His story made me think back to my teen years, when hitchhiking was a way of life for me.  I have travelled a lot of miles in other peoples’ vehicles.  I met a lot of interesting folks and had a lot of interesting rides.

I was bused five miles to high school.  The bus home left the school 15 minutes after final bell.  If I wanted to do anything at school after normal hours, it was up to me to get myself home.  Hitchhiking was the usual solution.  Sometimes traffic between the two towns was light, or drivers simply didn’t want to be bothered with a schoolboy, and I would have to walk/trot home in time for supper.

When I first moved to this city, I didn’t have a car.  I lived in a boarding house with my brother, who did.  I attended my Adult Education school at night.  Friday nights I was off at 9 P.M.  If he worked till 11 P.M. we went home to visit our parents together, early Saturday morning.  If he was through at 3 P.M., I hitchhiked home alone.

I would walk out to the edge of town and hope for rides.  Directly from here to my hometown was a two-hour drive, but on county roads.  To have some greater assurance of available traffic, I hiked 15 miles east, then two hours north, then a half-hour west, to my home town.  A greater distance, which usually took over three hours, but all on Provincial highways.

I stepped out onto the highway one Saturday morning.  The clock in the bank on the corner said just 7 A.M.  I turned to face traffic and stuck my thumb out.  A car travelling at way over city speed limit screeched to a halt, and I jumped in.  The driver peeled away in a cloud of smoke.  We were soon just hitting the high points of the road at 85/90 MPH.  He would take me to the next city, where he was going to work.  I asked what time he started work.  At 7 A.M.!!  That’s why he was speeding.

He dumped me out at the city’s edge, and I walked across the intersection and turned to solicit rides, when three young men, not much older than me, stopped.  They were going to the beach for the weekend.  With one of them piloting a hopped-up muscle car, we were soon humming along at 85/90 MPH again.

As we approached the city of Owen Sound, the driver complained about having to go down over the 50 foot cliff, bumper-to-bumper, traffic light after traffic light through the town and back up the cliff on the other side.  I suggested taking an unmarked bypass, and saving half an hour.  It would bring them out at a point where they planned to turn further north, and I would continue west.  They were thrilled to have found a quicker, easier way past the city.

The little beach town where they were headed didn’t have a liquor store, and the beer store was small and always crowded.  Did my town have a liquor store?  Yes.  Did it have a beer store?  Yes.  If they drove to my town, it would only be a little extra distance, but I’d already saved them lots of time.  They drove me right into my parents’ driveway.  I climbed out and went inside, to see that the clock read just 9 A.M.  I travelled forty extra miles, and still got home in two hours.

I used to start hitching near a Weston’s bakery.  One Saturday morning I got a ride with a man driving one of the original Minis.  He pulled out and passed a Volkswagen Beetle, and I was looking up at the Bug’s door handle as we went by.  Those things weren’t cars; they were the first motorized skateboards.  I tried not to think of how close my ass was to the pavement.  If we’d run over a squirrel, I’d have sung soprano.

The next week I watched a Redpath Sugar truck pull out of the bakery, after making a delivery.  I could see the, “No Riders” sign on the windshield, so I didn’t even stick out my hand.  The driver stopped anyway.  It was a cab-over Peterbilt.  With my arm extended above my head, I could barely put my carry-bag on the floor, before I clambered up.   I traveled the same road as last week, but this time, I was looking down at roadside power poles.  What a visual difference.

One cool morning in early November, I caught my second ride, and was heading north.  The driver had no urgent destination, but was tightly wound.  We passed through a small town situated on a river.  It was still just getting light, but there was a heavy fog off the water.  We hit the outer edge of the town, just in time to get behind a fully loaded lumber transport.

The big-rig took some time to get wound up, especially considering visibility.  I thought steam was going to erupt from my driver’s ears.  He kept trying to pass, but couldn’t see far enough to make it.  Suddenly he wheeled over onto the gravel shoulder, and passed on the inside.  Just as we reached the front of the truck, out of the fog loomed a two-posted wooden sign giving mileages to the next few towns.  I thought I was riding in a toothpick maker, but he managed to crank the wheel and get in front of the truck.  He smiled angelically at me and said, “He’ll be thinking we’re crazy.”  Whatya mean we, white man?  After I could breathe again, I answered, “As long as he doesn’t think we’re dead.”

Riding with random unknown drivers was a social learning experience, but I’m glad I no longer have to do it.