I Believe in Hitchhiking

Paul - Ontario, New York
Entered on December 11, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

THIS I BELIEVE

I believe in hitchhiking. This simple act of accepting a kindness from a stranger has allowed me to gain far more than mere transportation from here to there.

I started my hitchhiking career going to and from high school. Each time a car would pull over and the door would open, a new world would invite me in. “Headed home from school?” would quickly lead to “My wife just hates this car” and by the end of the trip was “I always thought there’d be more to life.” I began to look at people differently.

In college I continued hitchhiking and began to take a real interest in the drivers. I felt like a time traveler. Whoosh! I was in the car with a seventy year old man telling me about the war. Whoosh! I was listening to a truck driver ranting about his ex wife. Whoosh! A young woman now drove, confessing she attempted suicide last year.

Each time as I would enter the vehicle I entered a new life. I was told privileged secrets that one could only tell to a stranger you were assured of never seeing again. Most of the ride I would remain silent, letting my drivers’ story wash over and through me. I had the feeling that I was in some type of reverse confessional. People would open up their most intimate feelings and set them out like portraits on display. Their admissions often went on for so long they would drop me off right at my destination. We would both mumble an awkward ‘thanks’ to each other as I left the car, realizing the spell was broken and would not return. I would gently close the door, careful not to damage the fragile, intimate atmosphere I had just left. I was not comfortable. In fact I was horribly shy and rarely spoke. Too be honest, I often didn’t feel worthy of being given access to such powerful secrets. I kept amassing confidential information. The particulars would change but the same themes kept reappearing. Emotions of loss, hope, anger, forgiveness, etc., would weave in and out of their stories.

Years later, after experiencing the first hints of a successful career, I became disillusioned. I quit my job and got a one way ticket to Scotland. I walked out of the airport, took a spot on a brilliant sunny road and stuck my thumb out. I managed to hitch all through Scotland and England. Oftentimes being fed and housed by the same people that had given me rides and bared their souls. I remember riding with the Welsh woman who confided she was battling drug addiction, and then being picked up by the South African businessman who told me what apartheid was really like. There was the couple in Birmingham who had recently lost their teenage son, and an RAF pilot who was ecstatically slapping the steering wheel telling me he had just beaten cancer. I was lucky. I was given the opportunity to see inside a vast array of lives.

Bumping along a rainy highway with a stranger, I learned how similar our struggles and successes all are. . Most of our secrets turn out to be common. I learned my life is extraordinary, but no more or no less so than the one sitting next to me.