I don’t know when exactly this happened, but sometime between when my dad’s best friend would hitchhike from his hometown thirty minutes south of Boston to his college in Providence, Rhode Island and to the time when I was born it became this huge thing in the States where hitchhiking was something that just never, ever happened.
When I was in elementary school, I remember having to ask my dad what that guy was doing walking along the highway (something my parents had told me never to do) and he had to explain what a hitchhiker was. Hitchhiking was just something I never saw and, therefore, I never really had any desire to hitchhike and never really considered it an actual mode of transportation.
Maybe it’s because I never saw anyone or knew anyone who did it when I was alive, so that made me want to do it. Maybe it’s because of horror stories or movies about the innocent person who picks up the creepy hitchhiker or the creepy driver who picks up the innocent hitchhiker and, well, something undesirable always happens after that. Maybe it’s because everyone stopped being hippies and got jobs and cars. I don’t know.
But I do know that whatever contributed to this change of public opinion has not happened in Europe yet. Or, at least, the Europe stretching from the Netherlands to Paris.
There was a guy who had hitchhiked with his friend from somewhere in the Netherlands (never asked where specifically) to Paris—and as if that wasn’t crazy enough, it was just something they had decided to do for a weekend trip, completely in-the-moment and absurdly, admirably spontaneous.
“We were very lucky. It only took 12 hours and three car rides,” he proudly told me.
“You were very lucky because you didn’t get killed,” I replied.
He threw his head back and laughed. “You are such an American. You are so American right now.”
I shrugged. Yeah, I know. He was right.
“So how are you going back home? Are you going to risk hitchhiking across country borders again?” I asked.
He said yes, but he was shaking his head at much. “Such an American,” he muttered.
I didn’t shrug this time.
I think he was just as taken aback by my incomprehension as I was taken aback by his spontaneity. He was the first person I ever met who had hitchhiked in the modern era. And I’m twenty years old!
“You are an American and you are abroad, so that shows me you are open-minded,” he said, echoing what many Europeans have said to me. “Why wouldn’t you want to try hitchhiking one day?”
Because I want to live, I thought to myself. “I’m a girl. It’s different for me,” I said, stupidly thinking that would be the argument-ender so we could move away from this topic.
“Nonsense. I know girls who hitchhike all the time. You should try it. Maybe you could hitchhike when you are abroad,” he persisted.
He didn’t stop there. It was life-changing (not life-ending). He felt like he grew more as a person because of it (because the driver didn’t hack off his limbs with a machete). It was cheaper (but riskier and deadlier). If he was a candidate in the Mister World competition, he would wax poetic on the advantages of hitchhiking as a way to bring about world peace.
Hitchhiking, hitchhiking, hitchhiking. Blah, blah, blah. Kill me now. And not by forcing me to hitchhike.
This was one of those instances I just couldn’t win and had to forfeit. Usually when that happened, it was about French people telling me how Romney is Satan and Obama is God and regardless of my political beliefs, I don’t agree with that and don’t think it’s as black and white as that.
But do I say that? No! Mostly because I’m a weenie who doesn’t want to debate or have an argument in any language. So in those situations I swallow my ideas, my thoughts, my opinions and my words, and just suck it up.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said glumly. And then I hitched a ride out of that conversation thanks to the bathroom excuse.
Funnily enough, one of my friends that I went to that bar with had actually recommended hitchhiking to me the first night I met him. We were in an Irish bar talking about my upcoming vacation in Dublin and how he went to Ireland this past summer. And guess what he did? Hitchhiked.
He just went to Ireland by himself. On a whim, for a week or so, just because. He’s that kind of guy (I guess I keep meeting a lot of them around here). And that same kind of nonchalant attitude carried over into Ireland, because he started hitchhiking in the countryside to get to Irish Place A to Irish Place B (I want to say Dublin to Gallway but I don’t really remember).
When he got picked up by this gruff middle-aged man, the guy only agreed to take him a little bit. And then once they started talking (this guy’s English is really good), then the guy said he would go out of his way to drive him to his final destination. And then later the guy said he’d still drive my friend to the end place but first they could have dinner at his place.
“And you did that and nothing happened?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“Of course!” he cheerfully responded. Oui, of course!
Obviously, my friend’s still alive. But his experience, as fun as it seemed, is not one I want to replicate anytime in the near future.
“You should try hitchhiking in Ireland,” he gushed.
“Um … we’re four girls, so I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I replied. The large number of people, coupled with our gender, was enough to make him back off.
So am I just being an American wuss? Have any of you guys ever hitchhiked? What was it like?