by Grant McGee
There are plenty of opinions and stories about the pitfalls of picking up hitchhikers. If I decide to give someone a ride I guess it’s because I think “that could be me there.”
I don’t think hitchhiking is entirely a bad thing.
Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton allegedly engaged in what I’d call hitchhiking on a regular basis. Walton would fly into a town to visit a store. He’d wait for a just-landed local pilot to come through then ask if he could catch a ride into town. It may have been Sam Walton, he may have worn a suit and tie, he may have had his own plane, but it still sounds like hitchhiking.
I have been a hitchhiker. Not the coast-to-coast-with-a-backpack kind, but out of necessity.
Once on my way to work my car died. I locked it up, went to the side of the road and stuck out my thumb.
Car after car passed me by. Finally a car that had been flying up the road came to a screeching halt in front of me. The passenger door flew open.
“Get in,” yelled the driver. “I’m gonna be late for work.”
We zipped down the highway at 60, 70, 80 mph with a thunking noise getting louder and quicker.
“Overslept,” said the driver. “Me and the old lady…” and the driver proceeded to tell me in detail about the (using the term loosely here) “romantic” encounter he and his wife had into the wee hours of the morning. I smiled my polite nothing-I-can-do-about-this smile, nodded and spoke not a word.
The thunking vibrated the car as we zipped past all those who had passed me by on the highway earlier.
“What’s that noise?”
“My front axle’s bent, wheel could fly off at any time.”
“Oh,” and again I smiled my polite nothing-I-can-do-about-this smile.
I’ve given a number of folks rides over the years. One time on my way to work I spied a hitchhiker by the side of the road: no shoes, no shirt. The old phrase “there but for fortune go you or I” came to mind so I pulled over and let him in.
“Just got out of jail,” he said.
Immediately I thought about all those folks who had given me a hard time about picking up hitchhikers, that they were right.
“Where’s your shirt and shoes?”
“They arrested me while I was sleeping. This is what I went in with and this is what I came out with. I called my girl but her phone’s disconnected. I think she left me.”
The guy told a good story (it’s what hitchhikers owe the driver). He’d been charged with assault after biting a chunk of another guy’s ear off in a bar fight.
Near the end of my commute it came time to drop him off.
“”Hey, I appreciate the ride. You have any money you can give me?”
I thought about it. Thought how I might feel if I were in his situation (I was about to say ‘in his shoes’ but he didn’t have any). I gave him $5.
I haven’t met too many people who share my easygoing attitude about hitchhiking. True, I’m more reluctant to pick up a hitchhiker these days than in the past, but with a little common sense I can’t see the harm.
Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: