Open Thoughts: HItchhiking, Picking up Hitchhikers, and the Risks:

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

This week, I’m writing about something totally different;  Hitchhiking and its risks.  Chances are that many people will see me as too moral, a  dominatrix, too rigid, too conservative, and not willing to open up to new adventures, or to trying new things.  Hitchhiking was quite popular in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, and, if I said that I never hitchhiked on occasion myself, as a much younger adult back in the early to mid-1970’s, I’d be lying, because I did.  I still recall at least a couple of things that my grandfather told me, regarding hitchhiking;  one good, one rather awful;  during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, my grandparents used to not only pick up hitchhikers, but to also take them to breakfast, for coffee, or whatever.  However, in the mid to late 1960’s, the situation started to get bad, so my grandparents discontinued that practice altogether.  

The other story my grandfather told me was a horror story;  A guy he knew picked up a hitchhiker, who sat in the back seat of his car.  No sooner had the driver looked in his rear-view mirror, then he noticed that the hitchhiker that he’d picked up had a sledge-hammer, and was about to hit him over the head with it.  The driver quickly put his hand on his head for protection, the driver’s hand taking the blow from the sledge-hammer,  and being permanently deformed.   Had it been me, I would’ve undoubtedly chosen to do the same thing;  opt for a broken hand over a broken head or worse.  

Sure, most people are perfectly normal and honest, but there’s really no telling;  particularly nowadays, who may pick you up while you’re hitchhiking, or who the hitchhiker you pick up may be, or what s/he may be up to.  My mom always used to argue that while hitchhikers did sometimes harm or try to harm the driver who’d picked them up, it was mostly people who were picked up who ended up in the most danger.  Having done some research on the matter, I tend to think that, especially nowadays, that the risks that both hitchhikers and drivers who pick up hitchhikers, are pretty equal, imho.  

I never hitchhiked when I was a teenager in high school.  I was too vulnerable, and, besides, my mother didn’t think that I was emotionally mature enough to go out with a boy in a car, let alone get into a car with a total stranger,  because she thought that I was too gullible.  So, I didn’t have dates in high school or college, and have  had few  dates beyond that, either.  Sometimes, I wonder what I’m missing, but well…maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t.  My dad pointed out that I wasn’t really cut out for a social life, which was partly true.  Perhaps I would’ve had more of a social life if I’d gone into a more specialized school or programs (none of which there were back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but that’s another issue.)  Probably very limited, if any, because people like myself, for a long time, were not really welcome to come out into the real world, and the environment would’ve had to be more protected.  So, in a way, my parents were happy when I opted to go on the Summit Trip 40 years ago, with other people afflicted with developmental and learning problems.  As I pointed out in other threads here, however,  that particular summer was a big disappointment.  The group wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, the counselors weren’t that great and (it’s a drag to say it, but) the vast majority of the people in the group weren’t exactly the most delightful to have around.  Yet, to say that I handled this whole state of affairs rather badly was a real understatement.  

Now, back to the subject at hand;  I graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School back in the spring of 1969, spent a whole summer at my grandparents’ house in Tucson, Az, and then came back to start music school, at Longy School of Music, in Cambridge, to study voice and all.  That fall, things started sort of cooking for me, although I still had a hard time making and keeping friends.  Yet, this was still the tail end of the hippie era, and I still managed to have more acquaintances, though not a large circle of them.  I still had a hard time differentiating between real friends and simple acquaintances, and, up until 20 years ago (believe it or not!), still considered anybody who was nice to me, talked to me, or did me any kind of favors as my friend(s).  It took me awhile, but I learned better.  

Back in the 1970’s, especially the early to mid part of that decade, I occasionally hitchhiked myself.  Not that I didn’t worry about whether or not I’d arrive at my destination safely, alive and in one piece, because I did.  One time, my sister and I hitchhiked and were picked up by sort of a play-boy type of guy who sort of enjoyed driving around.  He seemed a bit weird, but normal, if one gets the drift.  Another time,  when I was downtown and had to get to my evening jewelry-making class over at Museum of Fine Arts School, in the Fenway, I hitchhiked, got a ride, and told the guy where I was going.  “What do you want to go to the Fenway for?”  the guy asked  “To get an OD?”  I accepted the ride, and I got to school safely.   When my mom heard about it, she said  “I wouldn’t ride with a guy like that.”  She had a point.  

Another time, when I was  at Northeastern University and I needed a ride to Harvard Square, I hitchhiked and got a rie with a young guy who’d been a  car racer.  He was driving a sports car, and he drove through the city at around 50 miles an hour!  It was more than a bit scary, but again, I reached my destination alive and in one piece.  When I related that to my mom a little later, she said  “Well, a guy like that would at least know something about how to drive a car fast.”  Again, she had a point.    I hitchhiked on occasion all through the early to mid-1970’s, but there were at least a couple of instances (although quite minor), when the people who picked me up seemed sort of weird.  Not knowing when my luck would eventually run out, and a full-blown ugly incident would occur with me while hitchhiking, and my reading and hearing about a whole slew of young women ranging in age from their late teens to mid-20’s who were killed while hitchhiking here in the Boston area, and the fact that, months later, two young guys who’d spent an evening in downtown Boston  and hitchhiked a ride home, were picked up by two white toughs from South Boston, and brutally murdered.

I hitchhiked one last time, getting a real chewing out from my parents,  saying that I could’ve been picked up by a vile old creep, some really sick person, or a macho or drunk/drugged out driver, and had things happen, such as a sexual assault, or perhaps be killed or maimed in a car crash.  I realized that my parents were right.  So, armed with my own slightly weird experiences, the news about the young women  here in the Boston area who were killed while hitchhiking, and my parents’ admonitions, I stopped hitchhiking altogether.    I may not have had lots of adventures like many young people of that time did, but I not only lived to see another day, but remained unharmed and in one piece.  

On doing research, I read a number of horror stories, where people were badly hurt, killed, sexually assaulted, or worse.  This is not just here in the United States, but throughout the world.   I still remember hitchhiking to my voice lesson afew times and my voice teacher warning me that one of these days I’d end up “getting more than I’d bargained for”.  Although I didn’t listen to her warnings at the time, years later when I thought back on it, I knew she was right.  It’s also true, I think, that many, if not most of the ugly incidents (i. e. the robberies, assaults, car crashes, beatings, etc.) that take place during hitchhiking, or picking up hitchhikers, don’t even make the evening news, let alone the papers or the police blotters.  

Armed with this information,  I’ve come to believe, more and more, that, no matter what tons of other people may say or think, anybody of any age who gets into a car with a total stranger whose motives are unknown is playing Russian Roulette, plain and simple.   “But people are more likely to get assaulted or whatever by family members or even acquaintances”  some people may protest.  Or another kind of protest  “The home I grew up in was far more dangerous than being on the road.”.    While it’s true that some people do come from abusive households, it’s still risky to hitchhike or pick up a hitchhiker, even though most people are normal and honest.  In either case, however, if a person thinks so little of him or herself, or if their homelife has been such that s/he feels compelled to put herself at the mercy of total stranger or strangers whose motives aren’t known, it’s pathetic and pitiful, imho.   While not knowing their entire story, however, I believe that such people must have extraordinarily low self-esteems, or poor self images, or they wouldn’t take such risks.  

It’s one thing, however, if and when one meets another person at a dance, a party, or even in a bar or a nightclub.  

People meet people in those circumstances all the time.   If and when things start to get somewhat dicey, there’s always the option of quickly getting out of there before the situation gets any worse.  Being in a car with somebody that one doesn’t know and whose motives are unknown is another matter entirely.  Being in a car with a complete stranger whose motives are unknown, whether as a hitchhiker, or as a driver who picks up a hitchhiker, puts one at the mercy of a total stranger and provides little, if any control over what may happen, and the person who was picked up, or the driver, may very well be trapped, with no option of escape if things should go from bad to worse, if one gets the drift.  

During the late 1960’s and throughout most of the 1970’s, I noticed tons of people hitchhiking, standing on the ramps leading to the Mass Turnpike, or other  highways, and on the highways themselves, with signs saying that they wanted a ride to various places, many out of state, or to Western Massachusetts, or whatever.  There was quite a bit of hitchhiking in the city, as well.  By the late 1970’s, however, hitchhiking seemed to be not as popular as it was.  Fewer people are seen hitchhiking today, and I think it’s for several reasons:  

A)  This is probably the most important reason;    Hitchhiking is seen as far too risky by many people, and rightly so.

One never knows who’ll pick them up,  where they’ll be dropped off, and what will happen.  The fact that there’ve been enough ugly incidents while hitchhiking has deterred many, if not most people from hitchhiking.  

B)  Many more people have cars of their own.

C) Here’s something else that a lot of people would argue;  that the media has stirred up fears of hitchhiking.  Well, I have to say that, if the media didn’t expose stuff like that, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.  People should be made aware of the risks, and make more prudent decisions.   Despite my having done some occasional hitchhiking during the early to mid 1970’s, when things were pretty crazy, there’s no way I’d hitchhike, even short distances, today.  Imho, the world’s gotten much crazier, and there are too many crazy motherfuckers out there to risk it.  I’d rather be a living coward than a maimed, traumatized or possibly dead heroine, as some people say.  While the crazy, sick or perverse people (many of these perverts remove the handles from the insides of their car doors (so that the female  hitchhikers they pick up can’t get out once they get in), as well as other perverts out there in their cars aren’t the majority, there are enough of them out there so that they do present a hitchhiking risk, albeit a substantial one.  

On another unnamed forum that I posted on, when I mentioned something about the disappearance of the young women who’d been hitchhiking in the Boston area,  the person who replied to my post sounded like one of those Rightwingers that she purported to despise;  she thought that the media totally made it up and it wasn’t true.  

When I did some research on hitchhiking and its risks online, I was surprised that so many people dismissed dangers of hitchhiking, or picking up hitchhikers, as simply myths or urban legends.  I couldn’t disagree with that more, really.  

Anyway, it’s getting kind of late in our neck of the woods, so i’ll sign off.


    • mplo on March 8, 2012 at 15:42
  1. from one of curmudgeon’s Original v. Cover music essays from July 2010…

    Scroll down to read one of my harrowing adventures. I have many more stashed away in my memory bank.

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