I spent several years of my university career hitchhiking to and from university For the first two years, I’d bus to work, then hitch from the campus to downtown Vancouver, or even home to the North Shore. Later, when I moved closer to campus, I’d regularly hitch while waiting for the bus at the foot of the hill, hoping someone would stop and save me a few minutes.
To many today, this hitchhiking must seem appallingly dangerous. At the time, though, it made me only slightly uneasy. I was an ultra-fit young male, so I was in minimal danger. Besides, I rationalized, I further minimized any danger by hitching only to and from campus – as though, just because someone was associated with the university, they wouldn’t be predators. Sometimes, too, I got such a good ride that I saved my bus fare.
People being what they are, I’m sure that hitchhikers, especially young women, must have been harassed and abused. But, if so, the university took care not to publicize these incidents. For many years, the university actually encouraged hitchhiking, setting by three hitching posts where people could wait for a ride. I was a grad student before the hitching posts were dismantled, and many people protested their removal, even though times had changed, and the campus women’s groups were complaining by then about such an irresponsible policy.
All that I can say is that I never had the slightest problem. The first few times I hitched, I was nervous, but in those days I was telling myself that I needed to be more adventuresome, so I overrode my apprehensions, and soon learned to take them for granted. For better or worse, hitching seemed an adventure. It allowed me to meet people I would never otherwise have met. Often, for a semester at a time, I had regular rides, although I rarely knew the names of my benefactors, for all the far-ranging conversations that we had.
Of the hundreds of rides I cadged, several stand out. One was from a battered pickup truck containing two long-haired musicians and their dog. They did a hilarious fire and brimstone preaching routine to a banjo accompaniment, and insisted on performing for me on the spot, the driver wedging his banjo between his stomach and the wheel, and taking his hands off the wheel to strum. They made me feel hopelessly straight, but I was proud that I could enjoy their company.
Another time, a ride let me out at Main and Hastings. Even then, the intersection was the heart of Vancouver’s skid row, although those were prosperous times and the area was much safer then than it is now. But to a sheltered kid like me, the intersection felt like dangerous territory. I walked eight or ten blocks until I got to the business section, and only relaxed when I boarded the bus for home.
Yet another time, in my second year, I got a ride to North Vancouver, a couple of miles from home, which was an easy jog to home. At the time, I was uncomfortably aware that I came from an affluent municipality – never mind that my family was no more than middle class – and went to great lengths to hide the fact.
Consequently, I lied to the driver about where I lived. When he went on to ask if I were interested in car-pooling, I lied again, saying I was about to move. After he dropped me off, I went half a mile out of my way to pretend that I was heading towards the area where I said I lived, and kept looking over my shoulder all the way home in case for some reason the driver might be following me. My nervousness was due to my discomfort at having lied so lightly, and was directly responsible for me resolving to eradicate or at least minimize my lying – not so much for moral reasons, so much as because of the complications that a lie could cause. Even then, I could see how ridiculous and unfounded my behavior was.
All these episodes were years ago, and I haven’t hitchhiked since. Probably I wouldn’t now, unless I was with at least one other person. But, although in retrospect, I think that I was lucky (perhaps my naivety protected me), I can’t help feeling nostalgic for a time when hitchhiking seemed a natural thing to do, and trusting yourself to strangers didn’t seem rash.