Monday, October 11, 2010

Thumbing It

I was reminiscing yesterday with an old friend about how our society has become preoccupied with risk avoidance at the expense of taking a walk on the wild side. And it hit me. I am over 50 and grew up in a normal middle class household on the East Coast. As anyone of that era can attest, there was a widely accepted way of getting around: hitchhiking. That's right. Need to travel five or six miles and didn't have a car? Stand on the side of the road, put your thumb out, and hope for the best. I started doing it in 6th grade and didn't stop until I graduated high school. And the funny thing was, my parents knew about it and never thought anything of it. My friends and I "thumbed a ride" at least once a week. Things were different back then. People were more trusting. Very rarely will you see a hitchhiker these days and rarer is the person who would pick one up for fear of being robbed or raped. A reflection of our society and not a good one I guess. Here are some of my favorite hitchhiking stories, in no particular order:
1. 1974. I had to stay late at school. Don't remember why. I hitched a ride home. A couple picked me up. Told me to sit in the front with them. Girl was gorgeous. She had a very loose fitting dress and no bra. The ride was 3 miles. I spent 99% of it staring down her blouse and for the first time in my life saw a perfectly shaped breast live and in color. Got out of the car and thanked them. They probably spent the next 20 minutes laughing at how I was ogling her.
2. 1971. I was in junior high. The Red Sox were playing an afternoon game. They called it the "Businessman's Special." Sort of a day when Don Draper would sit in the stands. My two friends and I, on pure whim, decided to leave school, thumb it to Fenway, and watch the game. For me, school was a waste of time. I never learned anything worthwhile anyway. So I left. Just up and hit the road. We made it to the Wellesley train station and took the trolley to Fenway. Sox played Cleveland. Had a great time. We hitched a ride home. A businessman picked us up and for the next 30 minutes lectured us on the dangers of hitchhiking in the city. I got home around 8 at night and my parents were worried sick. My brother told them I was in school and then noboby saw me, My father wanted to kill me. I don't remember how many detentions I got but it doesn't matter. It was worth it.
3. 1972. Early evening. Got picked up in a VW van. Bunch of hippie types were smoking pot. Ride was about 5 miles. Don't know why but I was scared to death. They were not your friendly peace loving types. More like the Charles Manson cult figures. When I got out, I swore I would never hitchhike again. Ten minutes later, I thumbed it home alive.
Well, that's today's salute to yesterday and the lost art of hitchhiking. Now it's off to work where I hopefully can once again accomplish 25% of what I set out to do.