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December 14, 2010 2:56 PM   Subscribe

"Today you.... tomorrow me." Have you ever picked up a hitch-hiker? A redditor shares a moving story.

As a Central American immigrant myself this tale struck a chord in me. It's definitely encouraging to know that, amidst the many sidelong glances, at least a few people aren't looking at me with distrust in their hearts.
posted by papafrita (71 comments total) 126 users marked this as a favorite
Great story. Thanks for posting.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paying it forward, in real life. Thanks for posting this.
posted by vidur at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This story is a nice change from the current of DOOOOOM that is stalking the blue today. Thanks!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2010

posted by gallois at 3:09 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

That was great. I totally teared up.
posted by aclevername at 3:11 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wonderful story. I'm gonna post this Mefi post of a Reddit comment to Digg so more people will Stumble Upon it.
posted by mreleganza at 3:12 PM on December 14, 2010 [15 favorites]

Thanks for posting that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2010

posted by pompomtom at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a non-driver living in an urban centre for all of my life, I haven't experienced anything like this. However, I respect and in my own small way try to emulate the sentiment behind it.

If you can help, help. If you can offer something to someone that might not have thought to ask, do it (without taking pity or being condescending).

Simple things, the proverbial helping an old lady across the street; giving people directions; running after people who forget things, or go out of your way to get (it) back to them. Telling people that have tooth paste all over their face in the nicest possible way ... that they do.

Stuff that doesn't cost you a whole lot, but would probably make your whole day (or at least your morning) if it happened to you.

Engage people without invading. Help out.

Once, in Irkutsk, Siberia, my travel companion and I met a Nigerian man who was in Russia to get a job teaching English. It hadn't panned out, and his visa was nearing its expiry date. He was almost completely out of money (literally not eating) and had been couch surfing with a kind russian for a long time. I've never seen anyone in that much despair (add to that that Irkutsk, the "Paris of Siberia" is pretty damn racist, and you have the perfect storm brewing).

He had a job in Mongolia lined up, but not enough money nor enough functional Russian vocabulary to fix a visa. Without help, he would've been forcibly shipped back to Moscow (his port of entry), detained and at some point been sent back to Nigeria on his own dime.

Luckily my travel companion spoke fluent Russian; we were backpackers on our way to China to spend a semester studying mandarin in Beijing - not well off by any means. We got together with another couch surfer and chipped in for a visa and a bus ticket to Ulan Bator in Mongolia. After a lot of wrangling, we convinced the clerk at the Mongolian consulate, and had him all fixed up.

I've never seen anyone that truly elated before. Radiant.

Point of the story? Helping people is probably the most rewarding thing you can do.
posted by flippant at 3:23 PM on December 14, 2010 [34 favorites]

One of the things I love about living in Texas is I know a lot of stories like this from friends and neighbors. I hear, and agree, with a lot of crappy things about my home state, but knowing that there are people (Hispanic and otherwise) who will stop to help a body with a flat or some other problem out for nothing more than the knowledge they did the right thing does a lot to make up for things I don't like about some of my neighbors.

I'm also not surprised that it's the folks with the least who stop and pull together with others; they're the ones who understand the best that if we don't hang together, we all hang separately.
posted by immlass at 3:28 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

Wonderful story. I'm gonna post this Mefi post of a Reddit comment to Digg so more people will Stumble Upon it. ... and Facebooked.

After tearing up. I am so glad for humans.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:29 PM on December 14, 2010

yeah, at first I was all ಠ_ಠ about seeing this on mefi, but then I read the story and was like, hey, who's cutting onions in here?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:42 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This story is kind of glurgy, and if my mom had forwarded it to me, I'd have deleted it without a second thought, but this made me cry reading it on reddit this morning.
posted by empath at 3:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had to hitchhike once to get back to civilization after a medical issue sprang up on a backpacking trip and my party had to cut our trip short on the wrong side of the Sierras. I really appreciated the ride, but I haven't paid it forward. Hitchhiking is illegal in a lot of places (relevant California laws) and I don't want to be hassled by the man. Or killed by a serial killer like Hitchhiker Joe.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:43 PM on December 14, 2010

A few years back my husband and I were road-tripping down to California and came across a guy whose motorcycle had broken down along I-80 at Bonneville Salt Flats State Park.

It was insanely hot that day, and we figured when we saw him that he must be dying out there, so we booted really fast down the road to a service station and grabbed a couple bottles of water. When we pulled over behind him and started walking towards him with water bottles in our hands, he gave us the biggest smile ever, took a bottle and downed it in about two seconds then poured the next bottle over his head.

I must note here that he had been by the side of the road for almost 2 hours and nobody had even stopped to ask him if he needed a hand or at least a ride to the service station. We couldn't believe it!

- Especially since this was Utah and my small town Canadian worldview says that Utahns are supposedly all Christians :)

Luckily we were driving our pickup truck and had room for his motorbike in the back, so we loaded him and the bike up and headed for the nearest town. When we got there, the car rental company said it would be almost $800 to drive a car to Reno where he had an uncle he could crash with until he fixed up his bike. We all agreed that was ridiculous - and realizing that he'd never have gotten his bike in the back of a rental anyway - we drove him all the way to Reno.

It turned out that he owned a custom vintage bike shop and was breaking in his brand by blogging* his cross-country road-trip from N. Carolina to California, so he had lots of interesting stories to tell.

It was by far the coolest 7 hours of the drive.

I tried to find his site, but this was almost 4 years ago and I couldn't remember his name. Sorry.
posted by empatterson at 3:51 PM on December 14, 2010 [18 favorites]

good story.... thanks...

Let me speculate that perhaps the "difference", the fact that everyone that has helped him has been Hispanic, is probably not a financial difference in standing but a social/cultural difference in beliefs and norms... but, I might be wrong about this... any thoughts?

now, y'all go do something nice for someone you don't know.
posted by HuronBob at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2010

I'm sure, like most things, the dangers of hitchhiking are wildly overstated, but I still can't see myself ever thumbing a ride or giving one.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:57 PM on December 14, 2010

I am posting this comment for myself and the person coming in after me.
posted by special-k at 4:00 PM on December 14, 2010

I have a story similar to this that happened to a friend. He was black-out drunk leaving a club downtown and couldn't find a car. A random guy on the street offered to help him. They spent about 20 minutes trying to find the car, then when they found it and my friend got in the car to drive home, the guy refused to let him go, because he was too drunk. Then he refused to let my friend call a cab, because he was worried he wouldn't be able to find it the next day or his car might get towed.

So this random guy drove my friends car the one hour into the suburbs, filled up his gas tank, refused to take any money for filling up the tank, and then actually carried my friend into the house, laying him peacefully on the couch to go to sleep. Even got him a glass of water and a trashcan to put by the couch, just in case.

Then my friend woke up the next morning, barely remembering everything, and realized that his car, wallet, cellphone, tv, laptop, xbox and car were missing.

Okay, it's a little bit different.
posted by empath at 4:02 PM on December 14, 2010 [34 favorites]

That was great. Thanks for posting it.

When I lived in New England, I sometimes picked up hitchhikers. And once, when my car had broken down in the middle of nowhere, a nice couple of leaf-peeping tourists gave me a lift to the next town, 10 or 15 miles away.
posted by rtha at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2010

After three of the longest and darkest months of my life doing clinic work for the IHS in Sitka, my one shot at getting home was in danger of being destroyed because there was no room on the ferry out of Juneau for walk-on traffic. In my case I just laid my plight bare to the first people I saw and they let me lay down under a tarp in the back of their truck. Sometimes you just have to be direct.
posted by docpops at 4:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ya know, empath, at least your friend is alive... and so are the people he might have killed on the way home.. the price was cheap.
posted by HuronBob at 4:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [15 favorites]

He was black-out drunk leaving a club downtown and couldn't find a car.
Then my friend woke up the next morning, barely remembering everything, and realized that his car, wallet, cellphone, tv, laptop, xbox and car were missing.

I wouldn't trust your friend's memory on this.
posted by vidur at 4:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Delighted, but not surprised. I ride mass transit every day, and there's always at least one poor/blind/disabled soul panhandling up and down the cars. it's always the folks in janitorial uniforms and work boots who give a dollar, hardly ever the suit & tie folks.
posted by memewit at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom has some stories from her college summers, when she worked at hotels in national parks, hitchhiking with the other college kids who worked with her. They're all stories of fun times, like the time they slept in a hearse (no coffins, just someone driving a hearse through the national park). Then she reminds us that those were the fun-loving 1970s, and this is now, with dangerous people on the roads.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:33 PM on December 14, 2010

My family went on vacation in Namibia when I was about nine years old. We were driving to a remote lodge out near the sand dunes in a camel-coloured sedan, a long drive, for hours and hours, up mountains--swerving around hairpin corners--and then down again, until eventually we were buzzing through a big, empty desert, just us and the sun, and the blue sky and the red sand and the endless road disappearing into the shimmering horizon.

I was bored, and had buried my nerdy, bespectacled self in a book until I became conscious of a lurching feeling in my stomach and my entire family yelling at the tops of their lungs. I looked out the window to see dust clouds pluming lavishly around our car, which was spinning off the road into the desert. We eventually came to a stop about fifty feet from the road, which was lonely, long and horribly empty. It turned out that we had blown out two tires on the road, and there was only one spare in the trunk. It had been an hour and a half since the last gas station.

At nine, I was less than conscious of our situation which was: four tourists (including one sulky teenager and one fat prepubescent child), one car, three functional tires, in a desert in Namibia. We'd seen something like five cars in the past five hours, and it was hot.

Less than an hour later, a small white van puttered by and pulled over. It was full of German missionaries. They gave us several gallon bottles of water and drove my dad to the gas station and back to the car--three hours out of their way. I woke up a few hours later as our little sedan limped into a small village.

Sometimes I get down about people, but then I remember this and now, I can add the redditor's story and all the stories above to my little "Faith in Humanity" bank. It's easy to forget that kindness still exists but it does, it really does.
posted by superquail at 4:40 PM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

In the fall, while at the grocery store, I noted a fellow, my age, shopping carefully... a bit bedraggled, long hair, and missing one arm below the elbow, I had seen him once in a while walking in the village.

As I started to pull out after shopping, a rain was starting to fall, he was heading out of the parking lot on foot with two bags of groceries. I stopped, opened the window, and offered a ride... It wasn't far, a couple of miles at best.. we talked about the army, the '70s, being in the service.. I let him off at his house..

Not a big deal, and not something I typically do... but I will always think back on that as a good thing...
posted by HuronBob at 4:41 PM on December 14, 2010

I think there's something characteristically Mexican about this. People anywhere may be generally helpful, but if you are lost or stranded in Mexico (at least the parts where I've been) it's amazing how people will go to the ends of the earth to help you. It's almost impossible to get seriously lost, because you can keep asking your way, and people will do their best to give you correct answers.
posted by texorama at 4:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

My early 20’s were also notable for a naive intuitive rebellion against the current. I lacked the information necessary to know what I was thinking about.

My high school history textbook (Grace M. Davis 1978) ended with the election of J.F.K. for Christ’s sake.

It was 99 miles to hitchhike from San Francisco to my parents’ house in Modesto. Head east on I-580 out of the cool weather of the San Francisco Bay over the Pacheco Pass to the sweltering 100+ degree temperatures of the valley. There the highway splits: North on I-5 toward Sacramento or East on 205, starting in Tracy then I99-S at Manteca a 10+mile stretch notable mainly for the stench of sugar beets being processed.

I was waiting at the 580 / 237 junction int the heat and roar of traffic, a crap place if ever there was one and I would be there, waiting to catch a ride, for what at the time seemed an unbearable one full hour of misery.

A late model van complete with burgundy captains’ chairs stopped for me. The driver was a diminutive Asian women of indeterminate age. I climbed i and and closed the door .

“How’s it going?”

Out of the sweltering heat I answered that I was “okay” and went on to describe the difficulties I was having trying to reach my destination.

“Oh, that’s not so bad,” she responded in a quiet voice. And then she began to speak.

“I come from a village in Cambodia. I was married and had four children, two boys, two girls. My husband’s parents lived with us also. One day, Pol Pot’s soldiers came to our village and we were quickly rounded up. All of the men including my husband and sons were executed before our eyes. My oldest daughter was raped and then murdered.”

All the while she drove, eyes calmly on the road.

“That night with a few others we escaped into the jungle. We knew that we had to get to Thailand. My mother would die along the way as would several others.

“We reached the Thai border and were allowed into a camp where there was a great amount of sickness and my mother-in-law died there but I also met the man who would be come my second husband.

We spent many months at the camp and then received word that we had been granted permission to enter the United States. We were scared. We did not know how to speak English or know what would happen to us there. I am very happy though that I am here and that we are safe. You are very lucky to be here.”

Then she let me out at the exit closest to my parents’ house and continued south.

I stood at the side of the highway stunned.
posted by pianomover at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2010 [29 favorites]

Brought tears to my eyes 'cause a good portion of this week involves working with someone going through some dark emotional times, and in the process I'm relating some of my darkest emotional times, and... well... sometimes that "Today you..." isn't just about physical stuff.

Anyway, as I read through this thread I was reminded of the Josephine and Frederick's grand adventure thread and how there are subtleties in how people help and how they ask for help that I think are worth pondering. Even if I don't have the spare brain cells right now to put some of those thoughts into written English.
posted by straw at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never picked up a hitchhiker, mostly because I haven't driven regularly or owned a car since high school. I did hitchhike once though, by accident.

I was moving from a dorm in Manhattan to an apartment in Queens. It was raining and I only had a few things with me, after having moved bigger stuff over multiple trips with friends on the subway. I was exhausted and decided I would cab it for the last trip. It started raining and all of a sudden no cabs would pick me up. They'd pull up, ask where I was going, and hit the gas as soon as I said "Astoria" knowing they could make way better fares just shuttling people short distances in Manhattan who had got caught outside in a sudden downpour.

Then a car pulls up. Not a private hired car or a cab, just a normal dude. He asks where I was going, and I told him where. He invited me to hop in, saying it was on the way to where he was going. I must have been truly exhausted, because I took him up on the offer. The second I sat down, I felt panic. He told be he'd seen multiple cabs refuse me service and was shocked I was only going to Astoria. He said he had to pick up a friend, and I was stone cold convinced I was about to be raped by a couple of guys and murdered. We drove a few blocks and he picked up a woman. I felt a little less nervous. We started talking about nothing in particular. What I wanted to do after college, the neighborhood I was moving to, I even invited them to the apartment warming party. They dropped me off, I tried to offer gas money and they refused.

I never heard from either of them again. But I know for damn sure I will offer some poor sucker a ride in the rain if I have a car.
posted by piratebowling at 5:23 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I look forward to the impending documentary in which this nameless Mexican humanitarian is lengthily tracked down, his history plumbed and his family's soul-wrenching day-to-day plight exposed for the soul-wrenching shame it is for us all. It will be much like Winnebago Man only with more despair.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:50 PM on December 14, 2010

Thanks to all of you that have shared a story of compassion, each account is meaningful and moving....

And, for those of you who feel a need to piss on every flower you pass, karma sucks...
posted by HuronBob at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Years ago, my motorbike stopped dead on a freeway, middle of nowhere, middle of summer. Turns out the ignition controller had gone to god and nothing I could do was going to start it. This was in the pre-mobile phone days and I was stranded, wondering what the hell I was going to do. After a few minutes, a guy in a regular car pulled up and he and a friend jumped out. They asked me what was wrong, we ascertained that the bike was as dead as a dodo. He then took control of the situation. "Right. I need to drop Bill here off at his house or his missus will kill me, but I'll be back in 20 minutes." I was a bit mystified, but just sort of nodded.

20 minutes later, he turned up, this time driving a pickup with Ducati sticker on the back window. He loaded my bike onto the bed and then drove me and the bike about 30 miles to my parents' place. He refused any compensation for it - not even petrol money.

His explanation: "Mate, I've been riding bikes for 30 years. I ride old an old Ducati. I need to spread the love around as much as I can because the odds are that I'm going to be sitting on the side of the freeway a lot more than you."
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

This video sums up the weird perceived dangers of both picking up hitchhikers and hitchhiking itself. On both sides of the activity, there's always the charged stigma of worst case scenarios, but it's like, they can't both be true at the same time. If hitchhikers are criminal lowlifes, but people who'd stop to pick up a hitchhiker are murdering pervs, then wouldn't it just be a weird cycle where they'd moot each other out?
posted by redsparkler at 6:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was in Madagascar recently and our car broke down near Ilakaka, which is supposedly not a very safe town (sort of like the Wild West, except its a sapphire rush rather than a gold rush). I was worried we were going to either be stuck for a long time or maybe even robbed. In the next twenty minutes, almost every single car or bus that passed stopped to see if they could help. We had 10 people playing around under the hood, running to their vehicles to get water and tools and trying to indicate to us in Malagasy and French that we were going to be OK. I don't know what exactly was wrong with the car, but it was fixed and we were on our way. I was told that in Madagascar everyone helps one another when there are problems on the road and that this was normal. I am very grateful to the random people that stopped to help us out.
posted by Falconetti at 7:05 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom was a single parent, worked at a job that kept her just 30 min. under the hours/week needed for decent insurance and cleaned toilets in houses, churches, and businesses to make ends meet. Along with growing a garden and canning stuff because it was cheaper that way in the long run. Our weekly treat was one of those Totino party pizzas you can get for a dollar, microwaved and shared three ways. But one thing we always saved money for was a vacation. She scrimped for a few years so we could go to the Grand Canyon, but our van almost had a blow out in the Petrified Forest--one of those big air lumps appeared on the sidewall and we thought we were probably done for out in the middle of nowhere.

We stopped and started unloading everything to get to the jack when this family in an RV shows up and offers to help. Now my mom's a farm girl and perfectly capable of changing a tire, but we didn't turn down the help when it turned out that our tire iron didn't actually fit the jack. In talking to the family, though, we asked them why they stopped in the middle of their vacation, and they told us all the trouble they'd had on the road--a rock shot out of a roadside lawnmower that shattered the big RV window and almost took out little sister, a tire blowout that ripped a hole in the floor right where grandma was sitting at the table int he back of the RV, and a few mishaps with the plumbing, if I remember correctly. They were supposed to be days away from Arizona by then, but they said there was no way their vacation was going to go as planned, so they were just driving around and stopping every time they saw someone who might need help. "Our vacation is all but ruined, and we're never going to get to where we were going," the guy said without any bitterness, "so we figured we'd make sure other people had a good time instead." I always thought that family would be a good one to travel with...
posted by BlooPen at 7:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [22 favorites]

Until the 90's everyone in my family hitchhiked, and their stories are hilarious and sometimes terrifying. They successfully discouraged me from trying it myself. My dad quietly told me that my mom had had a bad experience with a truck driver, and they all warned me that yes, many drivers do expect blowjobs. (They told me to stay far away from any men who mentioned the word "lollipop" to me when I was travelling alone. Parental advice can be so mystifying.) So I stuck with Greyhound during my backpacking years.

My sister was once picked up by a man who went hours out of his way to deliver her safely to her destination. He said that his own daughter was hitchhiking in Europe at that time, and he hoped that people would look after her the same way.
posted by Toothless Willy at 7:33 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think there's something characteristically Mexican about this. People anywhere may be generally helpful, but if you are lost or stranded in Mexico (at least the parts where I've been) it's amazing how people will go to the ends of the earth to help you.

I'll vote confirmation bias, but I feel the same about Turkey.
posted by pompomtom at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always stop for hitchhikers and to offer help when I've got the time to stop or make a little side trip. We're so obsessed with being fearful in this world, fixated on the risks and dangers of being alive and human instead of on the tragedy of having never opened up all the doors and windows into our hearts to let in a little light.

I'm sure I could end up eviscerated in a ditch somewhere, with some fiend at the wheel of my little red roadster, laughing the miles away on his escape, but I can't help but think that I'd at least have been able to say that I was never so bored with life or so drowned in empty time that I took up golf.

I started picking up hitchhikers back in college, in my little two-tone '72 Saab with a working freewheel, and I'd head out of College Park after a long day of classes and take the side roads as my way of decompressing before hitting the night shift, where I'd spend eight hours doing intensive quality control inspections of high resolution scans of old PHS records on infections and parasitic infestations of the scrotum. Anything not related to diseases of the scrotum were a welcome change of pace in that stretch, so I'd pull over at even the most meekly extended thumb.

Some were good, some were merely dull or relatively odiferous. One girl, picked up in a semi-drunken state near Fraternity Row, took issue with my reluctance to drive her all the way to Columbia and suggested that she was going to tell the police I'd attempted to rape her if I didn't acquiesce to her demand.

"Good luck with that, hon," I said, pulling over to eject her from the car. "Tell 'em to come see me when I'm working the phones at the Gay & Lesbian Student Union office, okay?"

Going through Berwyn Heights, I stopped for a scraggly looking guy with an army knapsack. He leapt in, an exuberant passenger, and started laughing right off.

"Dude, you are fuckin' driving this crazy old car barefoot? That's fuckin' classic, man."

Actually, I've always enjoyed driving barefoot, but I loved to think that I might be classic. Plus, he had lots of great stories to tell, and was looking to be dropped off at a spot along my route home. It became a sort of standing arrangement, and I'd pick him up most weekdays, when he was leaving work at the little transmission shop in Berwyn. He'd tell me these insane, complicated stories about his insane, complicated existence, and occasionally politely ask if he could stoke up a doob in the car. I always said "yes," even though I don't really touch the stuff, because I happen to like the smell of other people smoking pot.

"Dude, I'm out of here this weekend, but it's been crazy," he said, just before I dropped him off, and that was it. Never saw him again. The stories, though—all the dialect and the history and the experience as a long-form character study of a kind of guy I'd never encounter in my usual circles—those are still here, with me, the perfect trade for a few dozen diversions on my way to examine the 731 most fucked-up things that can happen to a guy's scrotum.

It's that intersection, that interrupted moment that matters.

Difficult cars exposed me to a lot of world. Having to reassemble the rear drum to my Citroën in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot near Savannah because, as my mechanic would later admit, "yeah, I got some new acid while I was working on your brakes, and it kinda made me a little distracted that day." A crowd gathered, and I talked to a lot of people, some with tools, some with questions, some with a raised eyebrow and a friendly laugh. People brought me barbecue and an Arnold Palmer, and I put on the Citroën dog & pony show, raising and lowering the suspension on cue.

The world's a mix, really. Hostility, curiosity, warmth, suspicion, all of it. You gotta ride it out.

I stop when I can. I look a bit like a biker or a science-fiction professional wrestler, depending on the day, my little gay red roadster notwithstanding, so women shy away, but I've changed a few tires, performed a number of jump starts, and done a few on-the-spot repairs that should be used in commercials for the Leatherman Wave, if there were commercials for that particular product.

Before I finally gave in and bought a goddamn cell phone, I had a few moments that stay with me in a way that makes it hard to ignore people on the side of the road. Breaking down in a Cavalier at the very top of that giant bridge in Philadelphia next to the Navy Yard and having to walk down the bridge in traffic, looking for help, for one. Having my Datsun crap out at three AM as I was trying to get home from where I was working as a stripper, in a neighborhood in DC so post-apocalyptic that it's probably okay that it's now entombed under a big glass stadium. Taking almost any long trip in my MG or either of my Fiats. It just softens you, and makes it harder to be a modern American, looking straight ahead to avoid eye contact at all costs.

Nearly did myself in on a Mobylette, falling off the edge of the asphalt and skidding endlessly on my back in my favorite paisley shirt that got hot enough as I scraped along that it printed paisley onto my back, like those people in Hiroshima, at least between the places where gravel actually went into my skin. Guy in a pickup truck came along, with a wincing smile, wrapped me up, put the Moby on his truck, dropped the bike off at home and me at the doctor's office, and didn't speak a word of English, except that he knew.

So, it's '92. My brother and I are absurdly behind the wheel of our father's ridiculous twelve cylinder Jaguar with a hood so long and broad that you sort of drove it around, and tagged along for good measure. It was midnight, we're somewhere off the beaten path in South Carolina, and we're going at least ninety-five miles an hour, because that car would just lull you into speed, and if you didn't watch the speedo like a nurse over a cardiac patient, it would just creep up and up and up until you were suddenly over the ton and could never believe it. You just couldn't hear the engine in that car, and it was the way my father handled his mid-life issues, with silent power.

We're singing along to Apollo 18 at the top of our lungs, belting out "Mammal" with precision harmony after playing that CD over and over for several hundred sing-song miles, and we whip around a bend at a hundred per, in pitch blackness because we're a million miles from anywhere and it's a new moon. A white car comes into focus, a beat old Cadillac sedan with a short, round black woman trying to pull a tire out of the trunk.

We pull up and stop, and step out. It's this alien scene, this spaceship of a car lurching to a halt in the sandy dirt at the side of the road, with the dust marking the beams of our headlights, and the woman backs off.

"Ma'am, can we help you with that?"

She looks uncomfortable, like she fears us. In the light, we can see that there are five kids in the car, clustered at the back window, eyes fixed on us.

Will gets into the trunk and gets out the portable zillion watt spotlight that my father carries because he's a closet survivalist, plugging it in and lighting the scene up like a late-night construction site. I get out tools and a jack, and the woman steps back, leaning in to an open window in the old Cadillac to hiss at the kids to lock the doors. We're not supposed to hear this, but we do, and in the aftermath, before the singing starts again, it triggers miles of talk about how different it is down here, where the social shrapnel of the civil war is still out there, little reminders that the world isn't all like where we come from.

We wrap it up and start to pack up. The woman steps forward, offering up a few wrinkled bills.

"No, ma'am, you don't have to give us anything."

This isn't the right answer, and I worry that I'm insulting her, forcing charity where it's not wanted, but it just feels fucked up to take money from a women in an ancient wreck of a car on some little back road when we're standing in front of a car with an absurd, stratospheric pricetag, and I refuse until she reluctantly folds the cash in her palm.

"Well, you'll be in my testimonial this Sunday," she says, climbs into the car, and lumbers off, with five pairs of eyes still shining back from the back seat.

We take off and talk for hours until we finally find a little old motel that's remarkably still in business, and it's just a perfect moment of strangeness, wrapped around a little story in which nothing happens, that I can pull up with the clarity of a clear, moonless night sky whenever I forget that my experience of the world isn't as universal as I tend to think it is.

The hitchhikers are few and far between, and the people I stop to help just as often say "thanks, but Triple-A's on the way," and we're not as isolated, I guess, with the advent of constant wireless interconnection, but it's still worth stopping, because there's life on the side of the road, so close that you'd never know that there are lessons to learn out there, and stories, and little adventures borne out of random mechanical failures.

I just don't mention it quite so much these day, lest I get the standard lectures, delivered with breathless sincerity from the people who do the same thing about poisoned Halloween candy, another fearsome touchpoint based on stories that never happened. I guess I should be glad to be someone worth the worry, but I dunno.
posted by sonascope at 7:44 PM on December 14, 2010 [47 favorites]

Illegal Mexicans (they're all illegal) stealing the jobs of good, entrepreneurial American tow-truck companies that could have charged $120 for this and made a profit for their investors.

When will people learn that giving things away is socialism? It's theft, theft from a company, a legally fictitious person, which could sell that same service while gouging every penny the stuck motorist could afford.

Yeah, I'm being sarcastic, but frankly, I think that you could find many Americans -- at least when they're not the ones stuck on the side of the road -- who would sincerely agree.

There's no virtue in being poor -- I know, I've been poor --, but we may have been more virtuous, or at least more empathetic, when we had less.
posted by orthogonality at 7:50 PM on December 14, 2010

I heard this on NPR years ago - one of the members of the Second City comedy troupe had died, and they were talking about his life. I can't remember his name; maybe someone else heard this story and remembers. Or maybe I hallucinated it...

Seems this guy had a few eccentricities. He owned a Rolls Royce and kept a revolver in the car. He liked to do dinner parties with friends, all of whom dressed in formal evening clothes (including, in his case, a top hat). And he liked to pick up hitchhikers.

One night he's on his way to such a party, and he picks up a hitchhiker. As they drive along, he's uncomfortable with how the hitchhiker seems to sit too close to him on the bench seat of the Rolls. He quietly feels for his wallet in his coat pocket, and it's not there.

He swings the car to the shoulder, pulls out the gun, and says to the hitchhiker "let's have it." Hitchhiker hands over wallet. "Now get out." Hitchhiker hastily complies.

He arrives at the dinner party and realizes he has two wallets now.

As he told the story, he said "The wallet had ID in it, and I know I should have returned it, but it only had a few bucks in it and I didn't want to deprive him of the story."

No idea if the story is true, but I almost hope it is.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I stopped for a stranded motorcyclist on the side of Atlanta's I-285 this past summer, on my way home from work. The guy didn't want a ride, he didn't want a tow truck, he just wanted to call his wife and tell her he was running late because he was trying to get his bike running again. So he used my phone, called his wife, refused all offers of a ride, etc., and I went on home.

The very next day, my husband came home from work and told me about stopping for a stranded motorcyclist on the side of 285 on the way home. The guy didn't want anything but use of a cellphone to call his wife and let her know he was having bike trouble again and he'd be a little late getting home.

My husband has no idea we both stopped for the same guy on subsequent days -- if I told him I stopped to help some guy on the side of the road, he'd kill me. Ha!
posted by 2xplor at 8:18 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

A couple of years ago, my scooter died. The good news was that I was only a mile and a half from home. The bad news was that it was all up hill. I had no cell phone.

Before I was sure the scooter was dead, a woman stopped and asked about me, and offered her cell phone. I was trying to convince myself the scooter wasn't dead, so I thanked her, and she drove off. Then I confirmed the situation. So I started pushing the scooter home.

I probably got 5 more offers of help. What was really incredible to me was that every single person who offered to help was African-American. 7% of the population in Portland (where I am) is African-American. All of the lily white Portlanders (like me) who drove by ignored me. The white hipsters I walked by looked right through me.

It took me an hour and a half to push the scooter home, and I just pushed it home because I could. But I haven't forgotten this. Time to pay it forward.
posted by vjpdx at 8:40 PM on December 14, 2010

It's almost impossible to get seriously lost, because you can keep asking your way, and people will do their best to give you correct answers.

Or maybe just give you wrong answers or misdirections instead of admitting they don't know because they are too ashamed of not being able to help you. You'll find your way, anyway...
posted by omegar at 8:49 PM on December 14, 2010

So on the way to and from work I saw a total of three cars stranded on the side of the road, and each on had another car there with a guy helping out. I'd like to think those people read that post and they were inspired to help.
posted by hellojed at 8:56 PM on December 14, 2010

I always found it interesting that the justification for so much morality is for the potential payoff. The whole "be nice so that others will one day be nice to you" stinks of stuff like The Secret and the empty promises of religion. Of course, its a practical philosophy if enough people do it.

Lets say 25% of the people in a population are willing to help a stranger on the assumption that one day they'll be helped. That's a 1 in 4 chance that the favor will be payed forward. The family with a bad crop gets a little something from their neighbors and makes sure to give to the family next year with the same problem. Society runs a little smoother, the chances of making it through a rough winter are increased, etc. Survival rates increase, chances of passing on your genes increases, etc. I'm sure no village or hunter-scavanger tribe could exist without this kind of ethic, but at the end of the day its more an economic exchange than charity - a kind of informal insurance paid via barter.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:28 PM on December 14, 2010

Driving through west Texas on a blazing hot day in August, some fifteen years ago. My pretty little wife and I were coming back from a camping trip, and that I-20 out there is just some of the most beautiful and most desolate road I've ever been on. On a weekday, you can go for miles without seeing another car, and the exits can be an hour apart. And hot, my sweet Lord is it hot. That part of Texas is in the northern reach of the Sonoran Desert and it's just rock and sand and burnt hills for as far as the eye can see.

So we notice on the side of the road a motorcyclist looking rather desperate, and after thinking about it I stop a hundred yards away and leave my wife in the car with the keys (just in case) and I grab a Coke from the ice chest and I walk up to the guy, and he's just a kid, maybe 19 or so, trying to get to New Orleans to visit his mama but his bike has run out of gas. He falls over himself thanking me, and fortunately I've got a gas can in the trunk, so I tell him to hang out under a bush and wait for us to return with some fuel. It takes a while, but I'm glad to do it, and he shakes my hand and tells me next time I'm in N.O. to visit his mama.

And yeah, he tells me about the half-dozen other cars that passed him that afternoon, some of them pick-up trucks that easily could have hauled him and his small bike, and not one of them stopped for him.

And then there's the time someone asked me for $20 in a parking lot in order to fill up their tank to drive home, and I offered to get my gas can, but he got a funny look on his face and walked away. So yeah, the world's not perfect, but there's still hope, I have to believe. I have my own children now and of course they've got cell phones and such, but there's always the chance that they'll end up stranded on the side of the road somewhere in west Texas, and I pray that there will be a nice family who will stop and help them.
posted by math at 9:31 PM on December 14, 2010

As I've been reading The Gulag Archipelago recently, seeing the English phrase evoked initially for me only the similar slogan Solzhenitsyn attributes to the thieves in Gulag: "You today, me tomorrow," which is actually sort of completely the opposite sentiment.
posted by adoarns at 10:19 PM on December 14, 2010

I always found it interesting that the justification for so much morality is for the potential payoff. The whole "be nice so that others will one day be nice to you" stinks of stuff like The Secret and the empty promises of religion.

It's not The Secret, it's The Golden Rule.
posted by eugenen at 10:44 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay, here's my story.

When I was 12, my dad taught a semester-abroad art history class in Vienna. After the summer semester was over, my family spent some more time traveling around Europe.

We had booked a compartment for the overnight train ride back to Vienna from Paris, which we shared with a very nice Viennese woman who had been out of the country for several weeks visiting a family member. When one of my parents mentioned our flight plans -- we were arriving in Vienna in the morning, and would be heading straight to the airport to fly out in the evening -- the woman said, "well, I hope you're not flying back with [the gloriously named!] Montana-Austria. My husband mentioned to me on the phone last night that they've just been shut down, and there are apparently hundreds of people stranded at the airport."

Well, of course our tickets were with Montana-Austria (an airline so awful, by the way, that it had already become a family in-joke for a sort of aggressive incompetence). And so the four of us were now stranded ourselves.

We arrived in Vienna and, downcast, began to walk with her toward the gate. "Come with me to meet my husband," she said. There he stood, flowers in hand, waiting to greet his wife. He was a little surprised when she introduced him to a sad-looking American family, and more surprised still when she said, "and naturally we insist that they come stay with us until they get this all sorted out, don't we, dear?" The flowers practically wilted in his hands... but he agreed immediately that this was, of course, the only possible action to take.

Of course, he probably wasn't as surprised as my parents were. My folks insisted on trying to get a hotel first, but she pointed out that this was the height of tourist season and that there were already hundreds (if not more) stranded travelers who already had a 24-hour head start on us in snagging what open hotel rooms existed.

So the four of us tagged along to the house of The Nicest Viennese Couple Ever, who put us up for several days until my dad's university -- who had booked us on Montana-Austria in the first place, the cheapskates, rather than a real airline -- managed to get us on a flight back home on Swissair (I remember because they had great free chocolate and an awesome in-flight new wave music channel). She also cooked every meal for us, including the first night's meal of chicken livers -- which I, being the picky 12-year-old I was, nearly made a face at until my parents and sister all kicked me under the table simultaneously, at which point I remembered my manners and ate every chicken liver on my plate.

I don't know if my parents stayed in touch with them, and I never ate chicken livers again, but I've never forgotten how above-and-beyond generous she and her husband were to us.
posted by scody at 11:22 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]

It's the bystander effect: the more people (bystanders) are around, the easier it is to tell yourself "someone else must have helped him/her already" or "since no one else is helping them, they must not need help". You may be better off having car trouble on a less-traveled road than on one with a lot of traffic.
posted by pompelmo at 11:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's funny. I used to go to church in the 3rd poorest county in the state. A couple of times I slid off the road in the snow. Multiple passersby would stop to offer help.

One day in the wealthier county that I live in, I accidentally flooded out my car in an underpass. (Hey, the 3 cars ahead of me had made it through!) I climbed out of my car and stood there crying, soaked from the waist down, waiting for my mom and a tow truck. Dozens and dozens of people drove past at the very nearby intersection (less than 100 feet away), but not one of them stopped to even ask if I was okay.

That said, as a lone woman I will never pick up a hitchhiker. Once when I was about 15, I was riding with my (also female) cousin who was probably about 30 at the time. She wanted to pick up a guy we passed. She is extremely religious and said God would protect her, and that she only picks up hitchhikers that she has a good feeling about. I told her if she did, I'd get out and walk, and that my mom would never forgive her. (The truth!) I will, however, offer to call for help.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:01 AM on December 15, 2010

Hitch hiking. Oh, what wonderful memories I have from this. All over the US, back in the 70's. People can be amazingly nice. Sometimes, you can even be surprised at who picks you up! I remember one ride, a woman and her daughter of about 14 years. Long ride, from the salt flats in Utah to some point where our ways parted. (How I came to be hitching from the salt flats is another whole chapter). (as I think, I realize this trip was 1975, and I was 17)

Not only did I get a pleasant ride with nice people, they stopped for their picnic lunch and fed me, as well. Getting fed when a ride stops to eat wasn't uncommon, and extremely welcome. In those times, it was unusual for me to have any money at all, when going between cities.

Probably the only problem that came up hitching was drunk drivers. I had a policy of not refusing any ride going the right direction, unless it was a case where they'd let me out in a bad place. (You learn to avoid getting let out where people change direction to a different freeway). I've had a few rather scary rides, but actually, most of that happened in local hitching.

Of course I got hit on. Hooray! More than one 'dirty-old-man' got a far better time than his fantasies allowed for. :-)) (yea, as a teen, I really liked 'dirty old men'. So sue me) One actually broke down crying, just because I was sweet to him. Poor dude, probably had never actually 'made love' before.
posted by Goofyy at 2:07 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

The time I picked up a guy on a rainy night and looked over and noticed he's missing a few joints off his fingers I had a moment of wondering if my mother's insistence that I never pick up hitchers might've been right after all, but it turned out he was the most effusively grateful hitchhiker I ever picked up.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:11 AM on December 15, 2010

Several years ago, and couple of friends and I were trying to get from central Honduras to central Nicaragua (about a 6 hour ride on the pan american highway) on Good Friday. No buses were running because of the holiday. It is still safe and very common to hitchhike in most of Central America, so we gave it a shot- literally everyone who could stopped to pick us up- the only ones who didn't stop gave us the standard hand signal for their car being "too full" or "only going around the neighborhood." The last person to pick us up ended up bringing us to his farm for lunch and then driving an extra couple of hours down the road to take us to our final destination. So yes, I do think there is something specifically Latino about the willingness to pick up hitchhikers - it's a nice (and more reasonable) way of looking at life, to view strangers as harmless individuals just like you, maybe in an unlucky situation, rather than potential sources of danger.
posted by emd3737 at 4:25 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

*hugs this thread*
posted by Eideteker at 5:36 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've given some people a lift - people walking away from a broken-down car on the freeway, a couple of through-hikers near the Adirondack Trail - but I've only picked up one real hitchhiker. She was on a highway in Pennsylvania, carrying a huge bag and with one arm in a cast from wrist to shoulder. The more cynical part of me figured using a fake cast would be a great way to trick people into feeling safe/sorry for you and picking you up so you could then rob them, but the more reasonable part of me won out and I picked her up.

This was at the beginning of a four hour ride from south-central Pennsylvania to just north of NYC. She said she was going to New York, I told her where I was going and we were off. We talked a bit (nothing terribly interesting) but eventually she fell asleep.

Cue crossing over the GW bridge into NY and she wakes up and freaks out because she is not going to this part of NY at all and wanted to switch highways about 2 hours back, which would have been good to inform me of before she took a nap. She's pretty mad and wanting me to get her back to where she was going, but while I feel bad about the situation I'm not really feeling that responsible for it. It's about 11pm so there are less cars on the road, I've got work in the morning, etc.

Still, I don't want to to drop her off in unfamiliar territory in the middle of the night so I tell her I'll get her a room at the local "cheap motel", which was conveniently near the parkway so she could easily get going in the morning. Looking back, I realize now how sketchy the entire situation must have looked, but I was younger and more oblivious then and was just trying to figure out the least crappy way to deal with this now-irate person I had in my car.

So I go pay for a room and give her the keys and the directions she'll need to tell drivers so she can get where she wants to go and wish her luck. She had a pretty inscrutable look on her face when I left so if she tells this story I don't know if it is with annoyance or with more of a "odd things happen" attitude.
posted by mikepop at 7:03 AM on December 15, 2010

I'll offer this suggestion to readers in the thread who wonder if they could ever about picking up hitchhikers:

Take a First Aid course.

If you're in the US you can do this through The American Red Cross. You can also do it through some small town rescue squads or through some colleges.

At that point you are properly trained to handle just about anything that comes along and will be protected as a first responder under Good Samaritan laws.

I took a year off from college and when I wasn't working, I decided to put what I learned as a Boy Scout to good use. I took an Advanced First Aid course from the local rescue squad to train to do volunteer work for them.

If you've taken a basic first aid course, you know how they say, "don't move the victim"? This is the course that teaches you how to move the victim. Neat course. As a side-effect, I know how to cheaply, safely and effectively get into every car made (Jaws of life? Sure - they're nice, but in the time it takes to set it up, I can take off the windshield, unlock all the doors and remove most of the roof using Vise Grips, a screwdriver, a hacksaw, a lawnmower blade and a hammer), treat a broken femur, deliver a baby, and more.

The training, now nearly 25 years in the past, has stuck with me - and here's why you should take a first aid course - I have call to use what I learned every 5 years or so. For the most part, it is tending to someone until the ambulance arrives and to either keep the hand-wringers away or to give them something to do. Still, last summer I was at a restaurant with my parents and my family and I heard a tell-tale gasp and I hardly had to explain to Mrs. Plinth that I needed to get up and would be a while, and go ahead and order me some soup or something if they come by while I'm gone. And for the next 10 minutes, I checked over a young man who fainted and whacked his head on the way down, taking vitals, assessing concussion, looking for secondary injury and keeping other people from "helping" until the real help arrived.

Mrs. Plinth is very understanding that I do this. To me it is necessary - it's a part of being a member of a functional society. We are more dysfunctional than I would prefer. Take first aid and we all are better for it.

As a side note, about a year ago, I got about 1/3 of the way through the Heimlich Maneuver (back thumps) to dislodge food from my daughter's throat. Handy thing, that training.

Oh and, today you, tomorrow me.
posted by plinth at 7:30 AM on December 15, 2010 [13 favorites]

There's an old motorcycle thing: if you need help, place your helmet facing traffic on the fog line of the road. A lot of riders don't know this one, but it's part of the unspoken language of riding, along with the hand signals for "slow down," "cop ahead" and "deer."
posted by workerant at 9:01 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd been waiting for a ride at this hot, barren interstate interchange for hours. A guy pulls over in a beat up Volkswagen Beetle. We drive for a while, but I'm a little concerned that he's going about 100 mph. I ask him why he drives so fast, and he says, "I never have a map, and I get lost a lot. I find that if I drive at 100 mph, it works out about the same as having a map." I ask him, "Don't you worry about getting pulled over?" He says, "Not really, I'll just pull a U-turn across the median and ditch 'em." Pause. "Course that one time, the car flipped over, rolled about twenty times, and burst into flames. That's how I got this." He takes his hand off the wheel and knocks on his left leg, that is wooden.

I ask him where he's headed. His destination is quite a ways behind us. I think about it for a minute, and whether I want to get back out in that heat again, but I do tell him, and he drops me off and turns around.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:36 AM on December 15, 2010

Of course I got hit on. Hooray! More than one 'dirty-old-man' got a far better time than his fantasies allowed for.

Man. I used to hitchhike all over the West back in the early '70s, and it used to make me so sad when I'd get hit on. Those poor guys, so polite and so lonely. I'd be as nice as I could when I'd turn them down but there was nothing I could do for them. (Well, I guess I could, but I wouldn't.) I'm glad somebody stepped up!
posted by Floydd at 10:30 AM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hitchhiking is still very common in Germany, and so is lending a helping hand.

Case in point- last winter I was foolishly trying to drive a rental Mercedes (a big one) in the snow with summer tires. I got stuck in a parking lot almost immediately, in shabby part of town. I assumed instantly that I was screwed, that no one would help a well-dressed yuppie (ok, i was dressed for work and looked that way anyway, even if the car was a rental) in a Mercedes so I better think of something to do.

Before I even had a chance to think, the VERY FIRST PERSON that came by, a MIDDLE AGED WOMAN, offered to help push me out! Then before I could even answer her, she enlisted the help of two other men walking by. After a short (but hard!) struggle, the car came free.

We must stop being so afraid of one another!
posted by bboyberlin at 12:05 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've only ever picked up one hitchhiker. I had just moved to Seattle and got this awful delivery job, taking cut flowers all over hell and gone to florists and supermarkets. Being the new guy, I of course got the crappiest van, the one with no passenger side mirror, so changing lanes was always a fascinating exercise of "drift slowly and listen for honking."

So one tedious day I had to make a trip up to Marysville. Made the delivery, then hopped on the onramp to return to I-5. A guy is standing there, thumb up and holding a $20 in the air for good measure. I figure, what the hell and pull over.

He climbs in. Nothing much to see; he's just a guy. "Fair's fair," he says, holding the bill out to me. I'm thinking that if he's hitching, he probably needs the cash more than I do and tell him not to worry about it. "Well, I appreciate that," he says, nodding, and then continues to say just about the last thing I wanted to hear. "I just got out of jail."

I perform a mental slump and groan. There is simply no good way to respond to this sort of statement, which I go ahead and prove by croaking, "Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," he replies, "my fucking bitch girlfriend got pissed off at me so she told the cops that I hit her. WHICH I DIDN'T!" He fixes me with a wounded look, then turns back to face the road. "I didn't fuckin' touch her," he says softly.

Something else there's no good way to respond to. "Sorry, man," I manage.

We just made chit-chat the rest of the way. I dropped him off somewhere and he thanked me again for the ride. He was a nice guy. I don't think he hit that girl.
posted by Skot at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both times I've picked up hitchhikers, they've been young hippies when I was on vacation in Oregon (two separate vacations). The first time, I was driving back from the quilt store in Sisters, and saw a couple tie-dye guys with their thumbs out. Figuring I had nothing better to do that day, I pulled over. They were headed to Salem, so I offered to take them down the mountain as far as Detroit.

I dropped them off at the diner, then decided to go swim in the lake. The water was icy cold, the day hot, the sky deep blue. As I gently treaded water, I could feel stress leaching from my body. The trip was unplanned, but boy was I glad I made it.

The second time, it was three college kids and an accordion. I'd just landed at PDX and was on my way into the mountains via Salem. They were heading to California. On a whim, I decided to bypass Salem and take them as far as Eugene, where I knew they'd meet up with other hippie children. One of the girls played me an Ani DiFranco song on her accordion to "pay" me for the ride.

I dropped them in the middle of town, where they immediately hooked up with more hippies and wandered off down the road. I went to the U of O law school library and asked for a tour. (Yes, for me that's fun.)
posted by cereselle at 2:18 PM on December 15, 2010

It's really great and heartwarming to read so many positive hitchhiking stories on metafilter; I'm accustomed to much more dire predictions here. Anyhow. I've hitchhiked a fair amount for someone who otherwise leads a fairly stable life. In 2004 I covered ten thousand miles, and two years ago I went from western Montana to Vermont solo. (You wouldn't believe how slow hitchhiking can be, even as a solo white woman who's obviously bathed in the not-too-distant past. If I'm being picky about rides--mostly this means avoiding young truckers--in the upper midwest it can be so slow that by 4pm I start scouting for dinner and a dry/safe place to sleep, and don't even bother looking for later lifts.)

I've had countless rides from lovely, generous strangers who bought me meals, shared water, offered me & my travel companions places to stay, and (very) occasionally become my friends. But unlike many of the stories here which focus on the generosity of people willing to take a chance, my days are made up of person after person who takes that chance. Often they want to hear my stories of 'life on the road'; more often they'd like to tell their own. What makes hitchhiking so powerful an experience for me is the brief intensive intimacy of a long car ride. Ha--right--but really: they tell me hopes and dreams and fears and bad jokes and childhood narratives that they may not tell closest friends, and not because I'm me, but because I'm a easygoing, engaging stranger to whom they have no social responsibility nor will probably ever see again. The kind of hyper-alert (I'm a hitchhiker after all) comfort (but I'm nice) that engenders in drivers allows them to reinvent themselves more honestly than they could otherwise, or to embroider tall tales about themselves that I'm happy to believe.

When I was younger hitchhiking was surprisingly important for me as I figured out how to have--and feel like I had--agency in a world where my own mobility was fairly circumscribed (no car, no license, no money), of accomplishing something that had grown rarer and rarer in American pop-folklore, and of overcoming my fears of the unknown. I wouldn't say that hitching's without danger (though my most genuinely frightening moments have been hash-addled hippies on a too-winding road through the Pyrenees and the daring driving of a diesel mechanic in a big rig through a Montana snowstorm in March); whatever instinct has allowed me to sidestep trouble (or rapists, or scammers, or getting my toes frostbitten the time I invited a someone I had a crush on to hitch to Idaho in early spring (self-link to another mefi thread), and six years later we still like each other a whole lot) is a blessing. But hitchhiking has been as much a force in shaping my post-teenaged sense of self as college was, and perhaps as gradschool went on to be, and I can only hope that other people are able to experience the same kind of luck/providence/discovery of the usually-beneficial world that hitching's offered me..
posted by soviet sleepover at 4:44 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

At the age of 17, while walking across the US (well, up the US, but whatever), I waited for hours for somebody to pick me up on the winding road going over the Smokies from Gatlinburg, Tennessee down to Cherokee, North Carolina to the east. It was spitting rain, cold for mid-spring, and the parade of out-of-state license plates showed no hesitation at passing me by. Finally a suspicious-looking middle-aged Cherokee couple in a pickup pulled over and waved me into the bed of the pickup. Through the back window I informed the wife, in the passenger seat, that I was looking to be dropped off at the trailhead at the top of the mountain.

When we arrived there, I hopped out of the back, waved my thanks, and was about to head off when the husband called me back. Through his window, he asked how old I was. I told him. He conversed with his wife briefly, and told me that she was very worried. They wanted to know how far I was going. "Maine," I said. They were shocked. He gave me a business card—he was a roofer—with a $10 bill folded under it. He insisted that I call them when I get to Maine, that his wife would be worried sick until she heard from me. I promised that I would, thanked him for his generosity (having learned that it was rude to decline such gifts), and headed out.

Late that October, having made it to Maine, I returned (to my parents') home. One of my first phone calls was to the nice Cherokee couple. The wife answered. She immediately knew who I was. I told her that I had made it to Maine safely. She told me that she was relieved, and thanked me for my call. And that was it—our thirty second conversation.

I guess my point is that even these brief encounters can be meaningful. I wouldn't quite call what results a “relationship,” but perhaps we lodge a shard of ourselves in one another.
posted by waldo at 9:04 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ultimately, the Truth that is revealed here: People are generally inclined to be nice to one another. For some strange reason, some people seem to be vested in convincing us the contrary.
posted by Goofyy at 9:31 PM on December 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Being an American myself, if there is one particular group of people that I feel like I can trust more than any other it is the people that the redditor named in the story - immigrants from south of the border. I feel a hurt in my chest whenever I see them labelled as untrustworthy, and looked down upon by the general populace as a nuisance, and even a 'security' risk. These are honest people, the most honest people you can possibly conjure up in your mind, trying to make an honest living in the land of opportunity - the land of plenty. I welcome them, and I always will.
posted by mister-m at 12:41 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a wandering expat who has been lost in more than one country in SE Asia, I have more than one kind soul to be thankful for, and know that the good outweighs the bad. People can be pretty awesome, when they want to be.
posted by the_royal_we at 6:52 AM on December 22, 2010

Since this is now the hitch-hiking story repository, here's another, one of many, acquired during 30,000 miles of hitch-hiking the eastern USA.

We must stop being so afraid of one another!

I'm in a greasy, rusted, DIY muscle-car with unpainted bondo driven by a guy in jeans and a dirty white T-shirt, it's late night on route 80, 20 miles between exits. After about half an hour of him constantly glancing over at me with beady eyes, he asks, "do you want my money?" I say I don't understand the question, he repeats it. Whatever clarification I request, he just keeps repeating, "Do you want my money?" Finally, I say, "Well, I guess, no, I don't want your money."

He pulls his left hand up from between the seat and the door and shows me a gun, with his finger on the trigger. He says, "Good answer," puts the gun back, and we drive on in silence.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:01 AM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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