Ditch your “No Hitchhikers” Rule

September 21, 2014
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Earlier this week, I spent 2 hours and 5 minutes on the side of a busy road in rural England, in driving cold rain, with my thumb up in the air and a sign saying the name of a place I wanted to go to, just 20 minutes drive away. After an hour and a quarter, the cardboard sign finally dissolved, and I was stuck with just the thumb up, and a pounding headache from all the cold and shivering. I calculated that, with about 10 cars passing me every minute, I’d probably had 1,200 cars go past a wet hitchhiker on the side of the road.  Of that number, I would say, at least 60% were not lorries, lone women or already full of passengers*. That still means 720 cars saw me, which is a hell of a lot of drivers choosing to ignore me on the side of the road. Not very much human sentiment there, is there? Why not help out? From talking to drivers, I think most people have a personal mental rule: “I’d never pick up a hitchhiker”.

Ditch your “No Hitchhikers” Rule

As kids, we’re taught “don’t talk to strangers”, and that is a good thing, because you are a child and you are vulnerable and you don’t know enough about human nature to know what to avoid and who to trust. But when you’re old enough that people are referring to you as an “adult” and not a teenager any more, why NOT talk to strangers? Strangers are fascinating, entertaining people whose world views will be different from yours. They can teach you things just by being themselves. We do it all the time when we’re drunk, which is (I think) evidence of a deep psychological need to connect, that we suppress. This, along with financial reasons, explains the recent rise of sites like BlaBla Car and Couchsurfing – it’s an adventure, and you get to meet someone new.

And I’ve always considered hitchhiking to be one of the nicest ways to meet strangers, because, as a hitchhiker, anyone who picks you up is going to be a nice, generous, thoughtful person, just by the nature of the act. And as a hitchhiker, it’s your solemn duty to be an entertaining, friendly, thankful person to the driver who takes you somewhere. It’s an excellent example of good karma for all involved, because the driver gets to feel good about helping out a stranger, and the hitchhiker feels good about being helped. Everyone walks away with a glowing feeling of camaraderie.

But it’s when people say “what if he’s a madman, a psychopath with a knife, what if he wants to kidnap me, what if he murders me?” that I get cross, because here we’re playing with statistics smaller than bungee jumping deaths (which come out at 1 in 500,000). But not even that, guys, because think about it. You have a lot more control in a hitchhiking situation.

Ditch your “No Hitchhikers” Rule

Step 1: Slow down and take a closer look at the poor despondent soaking wet man on the side of the road.

Step 2: Use your powers of observation, adult common sense and judgment on whether this person could be a dangerous violent abusive person.

Step 3: If you’re almost sure he passes your test, you can even ask him where he’s going so you can hear his voice (and deliberately ignore the sign). You still have the opportunity to say “sorry, I’m going to {name of place in the other direction}” and drive off. I promise, the hitchhiker will be grateful you at least considered it.

Step 4: Be aware that the right of refusal works both ways – a hitchhiker might turn down your offer for of a lift for route or safety reasons.

I’m not asking you to pick up every hitchhiker you see. Despite the romantic history of hitchhiking in the United States, poor mental health care and lax gun laws mean I might think a few times before picking anyone up there. And however trivial they might seem, there are tons of excellent reasons not to pick up a hitchhiker. You might want some alone time, you might want to sing along to this song you’re listening to. They might be going a different way, they might dirty up your clean car, or you might not have space for their rucksack. You have no obligation to go out of your way for a stranger.

No, what I’m asking is that you don’t have a rule in your head where “you never pick up hitchhikers”, just as you shouldn’t have a rule where “you never give money to street beggars”, but instead slow down, look at them as humans, and take them in a case-by-case basis. Because you might find that an act of kindness to a stranger will make your day, and even your life, a whole lot better.

*If a 5-seater car has got 4 people in it, it’s full. No one’s going to squash up and be uncomfortable on the back seat to pick up a hitchhiker. Yes, I am a man in my late twenties, so yes, I can completely understand the inclination of any woman alone in her car to not pick me up. Women get sexually harassed enough by complete strangers without stopping to bring a harasser with her. My opinion is that the odds of that grateful hitchhiker trying to grope her are slim, but some men can be pricks who only think with their dicks, so fair play, women alone, don’t pick me up.

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