Would you invite a hitchhiker into your car?
Sunday afternoon I drove down California’s Highway 1 from Carmel to San Luis Obispo. It’s a beautiful drive…I haven’t done it in about 10 years…and I appreciated the beauty of the California Coast. After horrific fires and mudslides a couple years ago, the highway has been closed in the Big Sur area and only recently re-opened.
Anyway, I was mildly surprised at how many hitchhikers we passed. Maybe it is just because I live in Los Angeles, but the USA has never struck me as a very hitchhiker friendly place. Then again, I’ve hitchhiked twice in my life…in a sense. Both times in the USA.
I am not inherently opposed to picking up hitchhikers. In my roll as husband and father, I took the cautious path and did not pick up anyone, but I did seriously ponder it. Not so much because I wanted to have conversations with the hippy/bohemian-looking backpackers, but because I was reminded of the golden rule.
My first hitchhiking incident was in March of 2006 in Newport, Rhode Island. My brother and I were spending a few days in the Providence and Boston area and wanted to check out the mansions in Newport. We were poor students at the time and took RIPTA, the public transport bus system, to get there. But these are sprawling properties and walking from mansion to mansion takes time. As the crisp March day grew cooler and the sun began to set, we noted that we had to get to The Breakers (Vanderbilt mansion) fast or else we would miss the last tour.
We started running, but were wearing dress shoes and heavy clothing. This wasn’t going to work. So we started making the hitchhiking sign and the very first car that passed us stopped to speak to us. It was an Orthodox Jewish couple who also happened to be headed to The Breakers. They invited us into their car and we all drove over together. We ended up having a nice conversation together during the tour and they took this picture of my brother and me:
A Blessing in West Virginia
The second incident happened in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in May of 2007. I was completing my degree at UCLA and taking a class on the U.S. Civil War. Wanting to see Harper’s Ferry in-person, the site of John Browns’ fateful raid that made war much more likely, I did what any normal college student would do and flew there in first class on United…for a day. Ah the old days of dirt cheap mileage running and easy upgrades…
I was too young to rent a car at the time and so I took Amtrak to Harper’s Ferry and spent the night there. Early the next morning I arose before dawn and spent a wonderful few hours exploring the area. My return train to Union Station. the Capitol Limited from Chicago, departed at 11:31AM and was to arrive at Union Station at 1:05PM. That would give me time to comfortably take public transport back to Dulles for my 5:50PM flight to Los Angeles.
Small problem. Chronically late Amtrak was delayed eight hours! I had no money for a cab back to the District or closest Metro station. So I went to a parking lot, scoped out DC license plates, and hit up a young couple returning to their car with a request: can you take me back with you?
The couple was incredibly kind. After hearing my predicament, they welcomed into their car and said they would drop me off at Union Station. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive…
But it gets even better. As we began the journey out of West Virginia, they decided to take me directly to Washington Dulles. What a blessing that couple was to me that day. I easily made my flight back to LA:
These two stories, I hope, illustrate why I am conflicted on hitchhiking. While I do not want to subject my family to unnecessary risk, it seems only fitting that I return the blessing…
Had I been traveling alone, I would have picked up a hitchhiker or two without much further thought. With my family in tow, the calculus became more complicated. Nevertheless, I hope to pick up many hitchhikers in the months and years ahead.
What do you think about hitchhiking?