Monday, 9 February 2009


There's a lot less hitchhiking now than when I was young. It's rare these days to see that familiar thumbing motion as I cruise around.

Back in the legendary sixties there would be a dozen would-be hitchers lined up as I left a motorway service station or entered a major cross-country road.

They'd stand there hopefully with their tatty bits of cardboard saying Exeter or Birmingham or Aberystwyth. Or sometimes Glastonbury or Aldermaston as people hitched to rock festivals and political protests.

I'd pick them up and have fascinating conversations about everything under the sun with complete strangers from who-knows-where. A bit like blogging in fact.

I hitched once or twice myself in my pre-car days, but usually the thought of indifferent drivers hurtling past showering me with muddy water was enough to put me off and I caught the train or bus instead.

But now these cardboard signs and imploring eyes are not often seen, and I miss those unpredictable encounters.

Many people are afraid to hitch after stories of deranged lorry drivers raping and murdering their passengers. Others prefer the comfort of trains or coaches. And nowadays we're all more likely to have our own cars.

So this wonderful custom seems to be virtually obsolete, done away with by fear and the desire to travel in style. And our collective wish to have our own little gas-guzzlers rather than sharing someone else's. Hitchin' will soon mean nothing more than a town in Hertfordshire.

There's a very old urban myth about the driver who picks up a young female hitchhiker. When the destination is reached, the woman has disappeared. The driver later discovers that she died several years earlier, on the exact date his wife died.


Anonymous said...

blogging as the new (safer?) hitchhiking - I like it :-)

Nick said...

Conor - And I don't even have to hold up any scruffy bits of cardboard or get splashed in filth!

Grannymar said...

I only ever hitched twice and never on my own. I was no blonde so lifts were usually in little vans with no comfort.

I'll stick to driving my little car for as long as I can.

Wisewebwoman said...

Aren't there always exceptions to the rule, tho Nick?
Hitchhiking is alive and well in Newfoundland and I've learned so much from my passengers!!
I think you also forgot the poverty component in hitchhiking in the old days - no money for train-bus-fare.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Yes, it was always noticeable that the most stunning women got picked up pretty quickly!

www - Oh yes, poverty was a big factor, I didn't mean to exclude it. Especially if you'd already spent a hefty sum on a rock festival ticket. Good to know hitching is still common in Newfoundland.

Queen Vixen said...

I find hitching a scary topic as I only ever did it once, out of desperation as I had run out of petrol. He was a rather dishy executive type who was totally charming and very helpful. Didnt stop me praying for safety in the back of his merc and anticipating ending up in bits in a wheely bin x

Quickroute said...

I tried showing a bit of ankle a few times but it never worked :-((

Baino said...

Still happens here quite a lot, particularly with backpackery types along the Pacific Highway where people want long haul lifts to Brisbane or at Truck Stops . . .Ivan Mulat put the wind up everyone here . . we do have a record for chopping our hitchers into little bits!

Nick said...

Vixen - You do have to be very trusting when you hitchhike. And as you say, at the back of your mind there's always some scary scenario. What if....?

Quicky - What, with gorgeous ankles like yours? What's wrong with these motorists?

Baino - Well, I suppose in places like Oz it's still the custom to hitch your way around. As long as you can convince yourself the Ivan Mulat murders were a statistically remote one-off....

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I have always been terrified by the idea of hitchhiking, and yet you make it sound so appealing. I have a couple of friends who still regularly hitch, although only around mainland Europe. They also participate in "couchsurfing," which seems to be the new hitchhiking.

Nick said...

FG - Considering the number of people who hitch (particularly in other countries), the number of nasty experiences is miniscule. I thought couchsurfing was staying on people's sofas rather than sitting in their lorries?