We rented a cottage this week, and for the first time in quite a while were able to get our whole family together for a holiday. We have no Wifi and as a result monitoring of comments will be spotty, so play nice! We have been staying at Sauble Beach, a beautiful sandy beach, seven miles long, on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. My son Josh was only able to join us for three days, and so I offered to take the five hour return trip to drive him back to the town where he was working. The plan was that I would arrive back at the cottage at about midnight. Traffic was very light, and I was making good time. It was just after 11:00 p.m., and in the middle of nowhere, when my headlights illuminated a couple at the side of the road, their arms out stretched, and thumbs out. I had to make a split decision, and I decided to stop.
It might help to know a bit of back ground that went into my decision.
I can remember the first time I hitchhiked. I was fourteen years old and living in Africa. My parents had sent me away to camp for a week in the neighboring country. Now, who knows what goes on in teenage brains, but for some inexplicable reason a few of us decided to use our free time to swim the half mile across the lake. Once across, and having garnered wisdom from actually swimming half a mile, none of us wanted to swim back. The problem was that it was seven mile back to the camp, and so we decided to hitchhike. We walked and put out our thumbs, walked some more and put out our thumbs some more. It was almost two hours after we started, before a vehicle pulled over to give us a lift.
“You do know it is is illegal to hitchhike here, don’t you?”
We didn’t. But that did explain the long wait to get a ride.
When I was fifteen, our family moved back to Canada. At High School I became involved in a lot of clubs, and would often miss the last school bus home. We lived outside of the city, about three miles from the school, and so, on a very frequent basis I would stick out my thumb and catch a ride home. Often it would be neighbor, driving home from work, but just as often it would be a stranger who would give me a lift. It was the late seventies, and it was still quite common to see hitchhikers on a regular basis.
A couple of years later and I was off to University. It was a four hour trip from my home to the university I attended. Bus fair was expensive, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Plus, if going by car took four hours, the bus took over five, and I found I could hitchhike the distance in about six hours. My dad would drop me at the south end of the city, and usually within fifteen minutes I would have my first ride. I don’t think my parents worried to much about me, I had trained in the Armed Forces Reserves, and they thought I could take care of myself.
My parents moved half way through university and my six hour hike became a nine hour adventure. I didn’t do the trip as often, as the train became a viable, albeit costly, alternative.
I did however have hitchhiking down to a science. I dressed in a suit and a tie, and carried a sign with my destination in large letters. I knew which highway on ramps worked and which didn’t. I learned from experience that if you got stuck on the highway half way through Toronto that your best bet was to find public transit to the other end of town. I also learned that once darkness hit, you could forget it. No one would pick you up.
Most of my experiences were good. Some were a little comical. A little old lady once stopped and rolled down her window. “You aren’t going to beat me up are you?” she asked. “No, Ma’am”, I replied. “Okay, you can get it then.”
I did have three bad experiences. One pervert, one drunk, and one person who kept driving past my stop. In all three cases I asked them in no uncertain terms to stop the car and let me out, and in all three cases they did.
A brother of a family friend was not so lucky. Twelve year old Robbie Brown was walking home from the beach as he had a newspaper route to deliver. It is believed someone offered him a ride. He was never seen again. You can read about his story at couragetocope.org.
Now that I have a vehicle, I feel quite compassionate towards hitchhikers, and tend to pick up most hitchhikers. Most have no other transportation options. If they did, they wouldn’t be sticking out there thumbs. I don’t think I have ever felt unsafe when picking up a hitchhiker, though I am sure that there are stories out there. Probably my strangest experience was being propositioned by a pair of drag queens!
So, getting back to my story of the couple at the side of the road. I honked to let them know I was stopping, and then pulled off to the side of the road. They couple introduced themselves as Craig and Cindy. They had been hitchhiking for seven hours and had only made it about fifteen miles. They had another thirty miles to go. Craig was going to help his brother-in-law fix his car, and then together they were going to go on to visit his mother in another town. Where they were headed was only ten minutes out of my way, so I was happy to drop them at their destination.
People, including my wife, look askance at me when I say I pick up hitchhikers. To them it is like a game of Russian Roulette. You never know who you might pick up. I would agree, but to the hitchhiker it is a game of Russian Roulette as well, and by picking them up I am ensuring that at least one ride is safe.
I think however, that a lot of my motivation comes from the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the Good Samaritan is taking a real risk in stopping to help. It is known that there are bandits in the area. But stop he does. Like the Good Samaritan, I will also sometimes give money to help the hitchhiker along their way. Loving your neighbor means going beyond what is easy, or comfortable, or even safe. For me, among other things, it means picking up hitchhikers. What does it mean for you?