The vanishing stuck-out thumb

Is the ancient pastime of hitchhiking becoming extinct?

Vanishing symbol of innocence

Many institutions and activities that we used to take for granted have been rendered extinct, or are well on their way to obsolescence. Many times this is due to the pressures of modern changing times, or the advent of new technologies. Sometimes, society as a whole decides that, you know, it just isn’t a good idea to do this any more.

Consider this example: Between the existence of the so-called “Highway of Tears,” or an incident like the alleged carjacking near Yakh, and other suchlike horrors, the age-old pastime of hitchhiking will soon be dead as a doornail.

I don’t want to get into the details of those above incidences; suffice it to say that if you’re a young woman trying to save a few bucks to get somewhere by hitching, then you’re absolutely crazy. If you’re a young man, don’t hold your breath waiting for a ride. The cultural perception has changed.

Hitchhiking used to be so innocent. Even 25 years ago, it was as commonplace as can be. There was a joyous, small-town feel to it. You could hitchhike across Canada, meeting people and even making lifelong friends.

Now, it is certainly arguable that hitch-hiking is no more dangerous than it’s ever been. Back in the 1950s, you could pick up someone who turned out to be a dangerous renegade. Or you could hop into someone’s car, and find yourself in great trouble. Then as now, the percentage of psychopaths on the road to honest, helpful folks is probably very, very small.

But then again, kids don’t walk to school, or elsewhere away from their homes, like they used to. The perceptions have changed, and it’s not all the media’s fault.

For the record, I too have hitchhiked. I hated every second, waiting out there by the side of the road while cars whizzed by. And I didn’t even blame them for not stopping, although it was frustrating. But I just didn’t have that $20 for the bus.

I’ve also picked up hitchhikers a time or two. Not an unpleasant experience, I suppose, but I don’t do it anymore. I just don’t feel like making the conversation. If someone appeared to be in trouble, of course I would stop to see if I could help. But instances like that recent alleged carjacking near here have probably queered that kind of deal for any would-be good samaritans.

This summer past, I drove to Nelson, and was heading towards Salmo just as Shambhala — Canada’s biggest outdoor electronic music festival — was breaking up. All along the highway, groups of youth were hunkered, thumbs stuck out, hitch-hiking in packs. They looked tired, angry and burnt, with loads of gear, and there were dozens of them, all trying to get a free ride to Nelson. I did the simplest thing — I kept driving, as did the rest of the highway traffic that I could see. The clusters of hitchhikers lined the road for several miles, and the further along this gauntlet you ran, the angrier they looked.

I will confess I felt guilty enough that after several miles of this I decided I would pick up the next solitary hitchhiker I saw. But by that time, I had passed by the whole lot of them, and did not see another.

Sorry about that, all of you hitchhikers, but it seemed that stopping and letting several of you into my little car would have unnecessarily complicated my life, for however brief a time as that may have been. So I kept driving. Perhaps you should lobby the festival organizers for some manner of shuttle service for future years.

Technology and media dominate our lives and our thinking to such a degree that the neighborliness is slowly fading from our lives. Forget about the free lunch — there’s no such thing as a free ride.

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