A form of sharing can be reignited if we want it to. Although maligned, hitchhiking is a form of car-sharing, ride-sharing, and mass transit– things we think of as virtuous. Hitchhiking is part of the gift economy: you give without asking in return, at least not directly, until you need a ride sometime. It could reduce road congestion, energy consumption, and reduce car production. It could increase cross-cultural and cross-class interactions to form more of a community in our increasingly isolating cities and suburbs.
I found hitchhiking a wonderful experience and one that helped me find the humanity in our communities. I used to hitchhike explicitly to regain my faith in human nature.
The people that picked me up, now decades ago, were almost always people that hitched when they were younger and needed the help. They were returning the favor. The only people that would pick me up were ones that were interested in having a stranger in their car, so it selected for friendly relations among strangers.
Yes, there were those needy people that were looking to get lucky or looking to convert me to something they believed in, but I found this rare and even when it happened could be redirected and avoided.
California encouraged ride-sharing for a while by bridge toll discounts for carpools and a carpool pulloffs just before the bay bridge. While this was not explicit government endorsement, it worked.
So why not encourage hitchhiking? During the depression, hitchhiking was somewhat encouraged by the US government, but by the 50’s and 60’s educational films trained kids to think of it as dangerous. The media played a shrill role of shouting about dangers to a few, rather than a balanced view of the benefits to the many.
So maybe it is time to bring this old sharing tradition back. Yes, there will be abuses making formal endorsement unlikely, but we can bring it back non-the-less if we want to.
Couch surfing is recently en vogue with a New Yorker article and a small blog wave about it. It’s similar to hitchhiking in that it encourages trust and allows folk to meet spontaneously–not just remain in a circle of friends that we met in similarly minded Meet-up groups.
Filmmaker John Waters is currently hitchhiking his way across the U.S. from his home in Baltimore and plans to write a book about his experiences. Maybe if more people publicize their positive experiences with hitchhiking some of the current stigma will wear off.
Absolutely Brewster. Several times I’ve lived places where hitchiking was common and I knew I could carpool into town and hitch back etc. many neighbors I met when my car, or theirs, was in the shop. I hope it returns someday. Maybe it needs gas to reach its real unsubsidized cost first.
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