Tuesday 20 August, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Wanderlust was my watchword, and very much part and parcel of who I was in the mid-late 1980’s. As do many of us during our youth, it was a time when I was ‘trying to find myself’ as the saying goes. Did I ever ‘find myself’, maybe that’s questionable, but I certainly became well-educated about life in general, if not academically, then through extended travel, work and adventures in numerous countries across the globe.
From the age of 14 to my late 20’s I hitchhiked regularly. Sometimes out of necessity, sometimes when I was simply ‘on the road’ for extended periods, and sometimes just for fun. Mostly this involved hitchhiking from point to point on a day by day basis, whereas at other times I would be on the road for a few days at a time if the destination was a considerably longer distance. Hitching, back then at least, was still a viable method of travel and a great way to meet all sorts of interesting, weird, and wonderful people. On average, I usually reckoned on getting to my destination just a little slower than by public transport; sure, driving direct would be the most efficient, but when travelling alone overseas when you are young and financially challenged, hitching was often the most fitting approach. As with any challenging venture, there are varying methods at your disposal; some of which are predictably laborious, whilst some more ingeniously fostered tactics can generate rather more impressive results. Here are just a few examples of what I mean in relation to hitchhiking.
First of all, POSITION is key. I’ve been amazed at some of the crazy people who have whinged and moaned at not getting a ride after 2 hours, having stood there with their thumb aimlessly stuck out in the wind on a blind bend of a single lane road with no space to pull over… dumb or what. The primary rule is to find somewhere that drivers can clearly see you, have time and space to stop without presenting any danger to themselves, you or other road users.
Second is kind of obvious, but largely ignored, BE PRESENTABLE. I’ve even hitched in a business suit. Funny as it may sound; the waiting time was extraordinarily short on average, even just a dirty old sports jacket and a necktie can be enough to make drivers think twice about passing straight on by… Just think about it; it’s no different to those unwritten rules on successful business relationships: presentability, warmth and sincerity.
On that note, number three is your SMILE… it might sound weird, but would you be more inclined to pick up someone who was happily smiling, downright miserable or even hostile looking? You can try the down and dejected look of a lost puppy all day long, but a happy smile is as disarming on the road as it can be in the office.
Next in your arsenal of ways to secure that ride is make EYE CONTACT; making eye contact with each and every driver; making that personal connection count. I don’t know about you, but whenever I meet someone for the first time, their eyes say it all, and it’s no different for a driver making that millisecond of a split decision about a hitcher. Just don’t stare menacingly like some escaped nutter… but show a warm gentle glance in their direction, maybe even just stooping a little to show you are trying to make human to human contact can work wonders.
Fifth on my list is BE INFORMATIVE… I used a 30cm (12”) square chalk board for a year as a hitching aid, showing text such as “London To Athens – Can You Help?” or “Route 30, Exit 8 please”. The latter can work well where there are road junctions ahead, as drivers often assume you are just not going their way. Be specific and you never know – the only loss will be those not going your way anyway.
If the direct approach has not paid dividends within 10 minutes, PLEAD YOUR CASE! I’m not kidding, signage such as “Even 5km would be a big help. Thank you”, or “Sorry I’ve only got $5 towards your fuel” can do the trick; that last one worked a few times, and not once was my cash accepted. If you haven’t got a board in play, plead your case visually. Ever seen a hitchhiker pleading on their knees? Tried that quite a bit and always got a ride. If nothing else, you induce a few laughs from passing motorists and it passes the time.
Failing the honest approach, or if you find yourself in a tight spot where the light is failing or there is just no decent stopping place in sight, one might need to consider employing a slightly more cunning approach. My RESERVE TACTIC was my trusty old plaster cast. Having broken my thumb, amongst other bodily parts, in a motorcycle accident when I was 17, for some reason I never got rid of the cast. After it was neatly removed by the hospital I kept it as a souvenir, as you do. But it was definitely an ace to pull out when the waiting game became tedious. Just slip the cast on and secure with 2-3 pieces of white electrical tape, and hey presto, an instant sympathy generator. Underhand? Perhaps… but it worked a treat.
There are of course, times when all the tactics in the world simply do not work, such as the time I spent 7½ hours at the same damned junction, trying as I was to head north on the A470 in South Wales, from a little west of Newport up to Pontypridd. Then there are those other times when you do get the ride, but it turns out not quite the plain sailing laid back journey you had envisaged. One of those classics was a ride in a huge Mack truck, from just outside Eilat on the northern tip of the Red Sea, all the way up Route 90 through the barren Negev Desert – I got there safely, but at the cost of four t-shirts, $35 cash and even my watch (ouch). Or once, travelling between Brighton and Hastings in southern England, where it turned out the guy was heavily into Transcendental Meditation, ok it was a free ride, but sheesh, I was worried for my soul by that one.
I must admit I haven’t hitched for years, not since my late 20’s, but I still offer lifts where it feels ‘right’. Having been on the other side so many times, and met the variety of fellow travellers doing likewise, I trust my instincts in that 0.25 second evaluation time we all get as we see and pass by those standing roadside with their pollex stuck out in the air.