Hitchhiking: a lost art
Whatever happened to hitchhiking as a popular mode of transportation?
Perhaps it is because most families have immediate access to two or more motor vehicles and a paved highway at their front door. Unfortunately, that was not the case when I was a teenager in the 1940s and 1950s.
Our farm family owned a pickup truck that was used mainly to transport agricultural products from farm to market. I quickly learned how to drive it from field to field but was denied the privilege of using it on the road until I turned 16 and had a driver’s license.
When I needed to go to town, I had to rely on my feet, a bike I shared with a younger brother or a tender–hearted motorist who had an empty seat in his car or truck.
Our farm was located on a seldom-traveled dirt road six miles from the nearest town. To shorten the distance, I’d walk or ride the bike a little over a mile to a busy state highway. From there, I’d begin walking toward town and show an uplifted thumb when a vehicle approached heading in the same direction.
I usually walked no more than a few hundred feet before a motorist stopped and offered me a ride.
A fear of putting myself in harm’s way entered my mind only once.
I was thrilled beyond words when the relative of a neighbor screeched to a halt and invited me to crawl on the back seat of his brand new Indian motorcycle. I’d seen the
sleek, high-powered bike before and had heard adults speak of how dangerous it was for him to be out on the highway driving at breakneck speeds.
I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity of taking my first motorcycle ride.
The driver told me to lock my arms around his waist, and off we went. The noise, wind and speed were more than I expected. I knew it was too late for me to ask him to stop and let me off. All I could do was close my eyes and pray that slow-moving vehicles stayed out of our path. That was my first and last motorcycle ride.
My most ambitious hitchhiking adventure occurred when I was 15 and ended in Birmingham.
A close first cousin of the same age and I made plans for the 90-mile trip several weeks in advance. We caught our first ride on a stripped-down empty log truck at 7 a.m. We crawled into the ragged front seat and rested our feet on a pile of log chains in the floorboard. The first bump in the road resulted in pinches to our backsides and left us wincing in pain when the truck rattled to a stop and let us out five miles down the road.
Fortunately, the remainder of the trip, though lengthy, was less painful. We arrived at the home of our uncle’s family in Bessemer seven hours later after hitching rides on seven other vehicles.