It’s fairly common for me to explore topics here that cause us to pause and remember. Some of that is simply a product of getting older, I suppose. I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking in the rear view window, primarily, because, at this point, there’s more behind me than in front.
For some reason, I found myself thinking about something recently that just isn’t seen much anymore — hitchhikers. Granted, it’s illegal in some states, but I’m not sure how stridently it’s enforced. It’s absolutely discouraged on interstate highways or in busy intersections.
At its very core, it is risky behavior. Would you feel safe jumping into a car that offered you a ride from a total stranger? Would you feel inclined to invite somebody into your own car that had his thumb extended as he walked backward along the side of the road?
It has been some years since I last hitchhiked. I remember having a small flip phone with nearly a dead battery, so it was sometime in the '90s as best as I can recall. I remember the other particulars of that experience in much more detail.
A computer malfunction in my car left me with no power as I coasted off an exit on Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C. The car belonged to a dealer here in Charleston and I used a little of the juice left on my flip phone to seek the dealer’s advice. He said they’d send a wrecker and though it might be four to five hours before the tow truck would reach me, I was certainly welcome to ride back with the driver.
I decided that there were too many cars on I-95 going my direction, so I walked up an exit and stuck out my thumb.
In no more than 10 minutes, a car pulled over with two people in the front seat and I jumped into the back. He was some type of law officer returning to Florida with a guy who had jumped bail. I tried not to think of all the bad ways this journey could end. After some small talk, I actually nodded off. About two and a half hours later, the officer pulled over and dropped me at the St. George exit. I started walking down I-26, once again, with my thumb out.
By now, it was nearly dark. It wasn’t safe. Cars and trucks were whizzing by and I needed a new plan. I had just enough power on my little phone to make one more call. I called my wife and asked her to pick me up at a rest stop on the interstate near my location. I walked a little over a mile and waited for her there.
She seemed happy I was safe, but I received quite an earful on the risk I’d taken. And with good reason.
I think about that day every time I pass that rest stop on I-26. However, I must admit, there was a sense of adventure and gratitude for the ride I received. Maybe that’s why I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker on Johns Island just a few weeks ago.
He was headed “just around the corner,” as he put it. As it turned out, he was trying to get to the grocery store about five miles away. I dropped him off at the front of the store and wished him a good afternoon.
I wish we didn’t have to be so scared of ourselves. This fear and mistrust of each other started long before 9/11 or the War on Terror.
Giving somebody a ride was once a simple but kind gesture that was commonplace. Now it’s dangerous and against the law.
I’m glad I can at least remember when hitchhiking was acceptable, both for the driver and the rider. We seemed to trust each other and were more willing to help each other in those days.
I know we’ve made a lot of advances in technology and travel, but to me, some things from "back in the day" made us seem, well ... more human.