Saturday, June 24, 2006


You don’t see many hitchhikers anymore. In fact, I could probably say you don’t see any hitchhikers anymore and get away with it. Anyway, their absence has a kind of melancholy air about it.

It used to be that nearly any trip either to the edge of town or out of town would expose you to at least one or two colorful characters: at least one dude, smoking, often wearing a leather jacket; occasionally the bereft-looking couple – one of them sitting on a duffel bag, one of them holding a sign that said Hartford or Wichita or Key West. Now and then you might spot someone who looked so disreputable even their own mother wouldn’t have picked them up, and for a time there was a window where even young women felt relatively safe hitchhiking alone.

During the necessary “lost” years of my own youth, a good deal of time was spent on the road hitchhiking, taking buses, and walking a huge amount. Never once was I apprehensive or feel that I was in danger. Well, I did spend a night on the desert one time near Reno, Nevada trying to hitch a ride, but the danger there was that, although it was summer, I thought I would freeze.

State and local laws, of course, have outlawed hitchhiking in most places, especially the interstate highways where the practice is always illegal and truly risky. Years ago it was illegal as well, but those laws were rarely enforced.

What has been lost, though – especially for young people – is the feeling that the road is always right there; that “away” is the safety valve that keeps the psyche from blowing up in the face of family pressures, school woes, love woes, hormonal outrages, money problems, existential angst, all of those things that often find their birth in the teen years and that never truly go away.

The “road” – it was there. The dream of a better life lay always at the tip of an upthrust thumb even if, in fact, the trip was never taken. I wonder if Jack Kerouac could ever have written a novel called On The Flight Deck.