Columns

2012.07 18 The perils of hitchhiking

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I guess you could call this our hitchhiking edition. The two pages in the middle of the paper plus a column here—it’s all about hitching.

We asked for hitching stories several weeks ago, maybe months ago, and I decided to save the story for a week when I knew I wouldn’t have time to do much else.

Eventually I knew the exact date that I needed the story. There was a family gathering on the horizon—a three-day weekend at my sister’s cottage with family members arriving from near and far. It happened, it was an excellent time and you’re about to read hitchhiking stories from a dozen people.

My wife claims credit for this collection of stories because she came up with the idea after she heard her colleague Sheri Frost talking about an incident from her past. Sheri’s tale leads off the feature on page 8.

I have one major impediment in the way of meeting our deadline today: I still need this column space filled. So here goes, some quick hitchhiking stories from my past.

I wish I could remember my first time. I’m sure the adventure started on Trowbridge Road in East Lansing. I was probably carrying that old doctor’s bag—some family heirloom of a family without a doctor—and I might have been carrying a sign with the word “Morenci.” 

I probably had a green crayon in my pocket and later wrote the word “Adrian” on the other side. Or maybe I had a revolving sign that flashed “Morenci” and then I would turn it over to reveal “Adrian.”

The odds of getting a ride to Morenci were slim and I knew enough to broaden my begging. Adrian was OK, but there was still that final leg home. I remember getting picked up by the parents of a classmate once and I’m wondering now if it was Sheri Frost’s parents who took me home. Probably not.

I remember hitching from Ann Arbor to East Lansing one morning. I must have been visiting my brother Dan whose hitching experience is very limited. His time by the side of the road might be limited to posing as a hitchhiker for a photograph.

I was picked up by this guy and his girlfriend heading north. Everything was fine until his car blew a tire on the interstate—just as we were approaching an overpass. It’s the only time I’ve ever approached an overpass in a car that was wildly fishtailing back and forth.

I remember thinking, “This isn’t going to be good,” but the driver got control of things before metal hit concrete.

My epic hitchhiking story—the subject to family lore—happened when I moved to Oregon in 1976. After visiting friends in northern Michigan, I was dropped off outside of Sault Ste. Marie in a beautiful spot along Lake Superior. 

It was late afternoon and traffic was light. After an hour or so I began contemplating where I would be setting up my tent for the night.

And then a car slowed. It turned out to be a man named Don who was also moving to Portland. His back seat was packed and when it came time to stop for the night, he slept in the front seat and I set up my tent.

It was just a roadside park, and if a police officer or Mountie or someone saw a tent, we would likely be kicked out. With that in mind, I made a low profile tent. I only put up the low back pole where I put my head and I let the remainder of the tent collapse on me. 

This seems like such an old story. I know I’ve told it here. The sound of a trash can being spilled. The sound of heavy, heavy breathing. The feel of a bear’s jaw lightly clamping down on my right thigh.

She decided I wasn’t trash and went on, with her two cubs. I guess Don could hear the fear in my voice; he let me sleep among his record albums and whatnot in the back seat. He moved some stuff to the top of his car.

Later in that trip I had a fast ride in a sports car, racing through the mountains of British Columbia with someone who might have had a death wish. Later, a long ride with a nurse and her dog, and finally, a ride right up to my cousin’s house. 

I wondered earlier about my first hitching experience. Now I’m wondering about my last one. I know it wasn’t the TransCanada Highway. I still had a trip from Maine to Tennessee and back a couple of years later. Maybe that was the final trip.

I know I haven’t reciprocated as well as I should have. I probably should have given someone a ride to match every ride that I took, but that didn’t happen. 

The last time was with the entire family. We picked up someone in North Morenci heading into town. In the dark. We got a glimpse of him in the headlights and made a quick decision that he was OK. 

I’ve felt some disappointment that my children didn’t grow up in an era of hitchhiking. It’s considered too dangerous now and I suppose I wouldn’t even want them to do it. 

But then along comes Maddie traveling through New Zealand where hitching is allegedly common and safe. She and a friend were picked up by the owner of an organic yogurt factory and a few months later she visited him again and got a job in the factory chiller for a month.

That never happened to me. The girl is always one step ahead.

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