Hitchhiking is not like what it was in the 60ís & 70ís. Today, nothing can be taken for granted. It used to be that if a driver of a car was a male with long hair, you were guaranteed a ride, even if it was for only a block. Now a days literally 8 out of 10 guys with long hair will drive right by. No acknowledgment, no eye to eye, soul to soul contact that is needed to get a ride. These are your comrades and they pretend you donít exist. It seems like it is not asking too much to share a car that is 4/5ths empty, but obviously Iím wrong.
Why donít people stop? Is it fear? Thatís possible. Is it selfishness? Thatís understandable. Or is it just weird? Nobody hitchhikes anymore. There are 2 things for certain: 1. You ďwillĒ eventually get a ride and 2. You will meet some of the nicest, most interesting people in the world, for they are the only ones who do stop. By my estimates this is about 1/2 of 1% of the population that does stop, and thatís in the liberal SF Bay Area no less. It is still definitely faster, much cheaper, and a lot more fun then taking the bus. Though it can be frustrating, the excitement when someone does stop, makes it worth while. And you always know before they actually stop that youíve got a ride.
Not to sound racist, but Hispanic people are some of the friendliest, most likely to give you a ride people around. I want to hitch across Mexico someday. It would be easy. In contrast it seems that Asians never give you a ride. I donít think I have ever gotten a ride from a Japanese person. I think the concept is foreign to them. Apparently people donít hitchhike in Japan. Then, a guy from Thailand will stop, give you a ride, and tell you stories about hitchhiking in Thailand. The next day a lady from Vietnam will stop and give you a ride. People do hitchhike in Vietnam. It is dangerous, though Iím not sure if it is dangerous to hitchhike or dangerous to pick up a hitchhiker. The Grab Bag says it is 3 times more dangerous to hitchhike then to pick up a hitchhiker. After 25 years of hitchhiking I have never had a problem.
I have had women stop, give me a ride and take me home with them, and I have picked up woman hitchhikers and done the same, but this has happened only a couple of times, long ago, so donít count on it.
This was my day, Cinco De Mayo, 1995. I was up at 8AM and ran errands and made phone calls in the town of San Anselmo where I live. At 10:30 I decide to walk the 2 miles to San Rafael. I need the exercise. I go to St. Vincentís for an amazing free lunch, chicken alfredo, cream of celery & potato soup and a great all you can eat salad bar. Currently being an artist, you take advantage of these situations. On my way out I stack up on 3 loaves of day old bread. I then walk to the freeway.
12:30 PM - Downtown San Rafael to Marin Civic Center - 2 miles - 8 minute wait - 167 cars
I carry with me a collection of hitchhiking signs that I printed on my computer. They cover most of my destinations in Marin & SF. I donít have one for the Civic Center. I pull out my trusty Magic Marker and make one. This is an easy hitch. Itís only 1 exit. People see my Civic Center sign and probably think Iím going to jail or court. Iím going to the library. I booked free time on their computer to check out The Internet. Iím a Net virgin. I get a ride from a good friend, Snoopy, the photographer for my fashion shows. He was driving the other way, saw me, turned around and gave me a ride. His other job is a cab driver. I offer him a loaf of bread but he is allergic to wheat.
3:20 PM - Marin Civic Center to Ignacio - 6 miles - 1 hour - 723 cars
The Internet was very interesting. I walked the 1/4 mile from the Civic Center to the freeway. I didnít have a sign for Ignacio. After a car with a ďPractise Random Acts Of KindnessĒ bumper sticker drives by, I create a sign that says ďRandom Act Of Kindness?Ē I couldnít fit ďPractiseĒ on the sign. I know that writing just Ignacio would have gotten me a ride much quicker, but I had time and love to experiment. I knew that a guy would not stop for a sign like that, you know a macho thing. One guy pretended to shoot me with his finger when he drove by. He looked like a cop getting off work from the Civic Center in his pickup.
My sign affected woman. They have an apologetic look on their faces as they drive by, confused, donít know what to do, how to stop. Eventually a woman does stop. She was pretty blonde, mid 30ís. She said the only reason she stopped was because of my sign. She was going to Novato, past my destination. I was in love. Time went quick. I gave her a loaf of real good bread. Sebatianís dill loaf stuffed with cheeses. Should I have asked her for her phone #?
While I was at the library I printed a 1 page letter outlining some new software ideaís of mine. In Ignacio i drop off the letter with computer software publishing mongrel, Seymour Rubenstein. When I get there I canít find the printout and ended up rewriting it by hand. I was supposed to fax it, but I was without a fax machine, no less a telephone or the $2 to fax it from Kinkoís. I wanted to see Seymour anyway. He did like my proposal concept, but all programming is now done for cheap in India. If he were smart, he would put money behind my art. No work for me here.
I use the pay phone across the street and call the SF Chronicle to get a feel for this article concept. Very receptive. Said submit a draft. Then I call my buddy Dave down the street. He is a real nice guy who has worked for the rock group ďThe Grateful DeadĒ for 20 years. Since he wonít let anyone know where he lives, he agrees to meet me at Stefannoís pizza. He buys, we watch baseball, drink a beer, he slips me a 5 and gives me a ride the 6 miles back to San Rafael. He was supposed to meet me at the library and never showed up. He is why I went there in the 1st place. He wants to put a computer database registry of every airplane in the world. He did show up in time to pay for the pizza. He lets me off a couple of blocks from The Grateful Deadís office. While Iím walking by their office, a couple of their employees were gathered outside buying flowers from someone in a car. I took the opportunity to remind them that they owed me $20 for a piece of art they borrowed from me and lost at a Dead concert last Feb. 26th. They invite me in the office, agree to pay me the $20 then ask me to leave.
Next stop, The 4th St. Tavern. The beautiful bartender, Beth, had an horderve spread of fresh strawberries, cheese and crackers. There on the end of The Channel 7 6:00 News, was a segment about the reptile store next to the bar and itís owner Steve. LucasFilm, which is down the street, used his reptiles and their sounds in the making of ďJurrasic ParkĒ, which was going to be on after the news. I have some strawberries, leave the bar and walk the block to hitchhike to my next destination.
7:05 PM - San Rafael to San Anselmo - 2 miles - 5 minute wait - 68 cars
This time I had a sign made. This is the spot where I hitchhike the most. The setting sun is in the driverís eyes. I wonder if they can see me, no less read my sign.
Lotís of guys with long hair drive by. I get a ride from a computer programmer heading home to Fairfax from the East Bay. We talk computers. I give him a loaf of bread.
I was supposed to meet Mark Watts, the philosopher Alan Wattsí son, at Markís office. We weíre supposed to put the finishing touches on this monolith, sound activated, LED light sculpture that I made years ago that Mark acquired. There is interest from Mega Rock & Roll producer Narada Michael Walden in the sculpture and I wanted to clean it up before showing it to Narada. Mark never showed up.
I decide to go see Karen, who works in the bookstore around the corner. Karen is a very pretty, 26 year old redhead with perfect posture. She always makes me laugh. 1st I get a large cup of coffee to go. The bookstore is busy. I give her a loaf of Tassahara bread which she gladly accepts.
There is something magical about giving someone bread. Everybody accepts it. I hear in Poland there is government sponsored hitchhiking. The government gives hitchhikers coupons. The hitchhikers give the coupons to drivers that give them a ride. The coupons are good for a loaf of bread.
San Anselmo is real eerie tonight. They have closed off the downtown for a new weekly festival. This was itís 1st night. There were two bands and a petting zoo, but no people. Just empty streets. I call my brother in Petaluma and decide to hitchhike the 25 miles to see him and spend the night there.
9:30 PM - San Anselmo to San Rafael - 2 miles - 5 minute wait - 47 cars
It is now night. This means I can use the ultimate hitchhiking device ever invented, and I created it. It is a battery operated, portable, compact hitchhiking sign with 200 LED lights that spell out my destination. It is like the scrolling sign at Timeís Square in New York City but smaller. I punch in SAN RAFAEL on the signs keyboard,, hit the START button and the sign starts scrolling. Iím ready for a ride. Though Iím going to Petaluma, I chose San Rafael, because that is where the freeway is.
It is a Friday night. Friday and Saturday nights are real hard to hitchhike. 95% of the people who give me rides are driving solo. It makes sense. With 2 people in a car, they both have to decide to stop. By that time itís too late. Stopping is an impulsive thing. Friday & Saturday nights everyone is out driving with friends and dates. No room for me. This changes after midnight when there are a lot of young, hip, lonely guys driving around, that are willing to give you a ride. It is still early and I do get a ride from a solo guy about my age, 40 years old and he is going to Ignacio which is 6 miles north of San Rafael, closer to my eventual destination. He was going to a meeting with a contractor. This driver, as always, was very nice, but he looked like Jabba The Hut from ďStar WarsĒ and kept twitching like Katherine Hepburn.
Back in Ignacio again. I decide on a change of plans. My ex-girlfriend, Star Hills, is usually on her boat about 5 miles out of the way to my brothers, on Highway 37, in a harbor at the mouth of The Petaluma River, in the middle of nowhere. She doesnít have a phone. I knew it would be hitchhikers suicide if she wasnít there. I took my chances.
9:50 PM - Ignacio to Starís boat - 10 miles - 5 minute wait - 37 cars
No sooner then I can punch HIWAY 37 into my sign, a Chevy pickup comes screeching and sliding through a red light. His truck ends up propped up on the sidewalk across the street from me. This all happens because he was fighting with his girlfriend. Now he is trying to pull her out of the truck. In my perverse way Iím rooting for him. Hoping he dumps her there and I get to play Prince Valiant and rescue her. But I donít have a car and why would I want to get involved with a girl that likes a guy like that? He would probably come back, find me helping her and beat the crap out of me. He jumps back in the truck with her in it, burns out, thumping his rear end into the bridge. Then he decides to make a U turn. His truck stalls in the middle of the road, blocking traffic going both ways. He then comes barreling towards me. I was amazed that he didnít hit the car stopped at the red light right next to me. He manages to get around the car and onto the freeway. Iíve never seen anyone drive so crazy and dangerously. I try to read his license plate as he drives by, 3Y6 something. I look across the street and there is a cop stopped at a red light. How did he miss it? I try to flag the cop down. He uses his loudspeaker to tell me to be patient and wait. About a minute later the light changes and he makes it across. I tell him what happened, he thanks me and drives off. Within a minute Iíve got a ride.
A dapper looking guy driving a RX7. He just left a Mexican restaurant/bar. It is Cinco De Mayo, he said the place was packed and he had never seen so many beautiful women in one place at a time. He drops me off on the highway just over The Petaluma River bridge. The yacht harbor entrance was another 1/2 mile down the road, but where I get out was was right next to the boats. Oh no, there is some sort of moat between the highway and the yacht harbor. Somehow I manage to jump it.
Star wasnít at the boat, no one was. My nightmare became true. I left Star a note and walk the 1/2 mile to where the harbor entrance and the highway meet. Maybe I could catch a ride from someone leaving the harbor. Itís too bad I canít walk across the bridge into BlackPoint Novato. There it would be pretty easy to get a ride, but there is no sidewalk on the bridge.
10:30 PM - Starís Boat to Petaluma - 10 miles - 1.5 hour wait - 147 cars
I punch IGNACIO into my sign. If Iím lucky, I would still have time to check out that Mexican bar before going to Petaluma. I am on the side of the highway and the cars are going by me too fast to read it. The sign does get their attention. Cars do slow down a little. I can see a stop light in the distance on the highway about 1.5 miles opposite the way Iím going. The guy in the RX7 mentioned that it was Lakeville Rd, which i remember was a back road to Petaluma, my destination. After about 1/2 hour, I decide to walk to the stop light and give it a try. It was a good call. Cars really have to slow down if they are going to make the turn.
After a couple of minutes a very rare event occurs. A 18 wheeler semi stops next to me. The driver just looking out the passenger window at me and my sign. My sign is scrolling PETALUMA very fast. It can be easily read from a distance, but when your up close like he is it becomes a blur. I slow down the scrolling. He keeps staring at me. I hold the sign up high and try opening the passenger door. It is locked. After a while I go around the truck to the drivers side. He rolls down his window and asks me whatís in my shoulder bag. Just batteries and papers I tell him. He reluctantly agrees to give me a ride, unlocks the passenger door and I climb in. A ride in a semi, I havenít had one in 15 years. For insurance reasons they donít stop, theyíd get fired. He owned this truck so it was all right. A ride in a semi is something everyone should experience, but few have the opportunity. The noise, the bouncing seats, the constant shifting of 20 gears, itís amazing. The driver is nice, but he wonít tell me his name or shake my hand. Sure way to catch a cold he says. He seems real simple, until I mention itís Cinco De Mayo. He then tells me in exquisite detail about the farce f a holiday that Cinco De Mayo is. Turns out he is a history buff and very interesting. He drops me off at the downtown Petaluma exit. I walk to town.
Pretty amazing thing. In my 5 block walk, I saw 5 cops, pull over 5 people, in 5 minutes. Thatís got to be a record. Iím glad Iím not driving
. Petaluma is a strange town. A sharp contrast between people who accept and expect the ordinary and those that accept and expect the extraordinary. I find a bar I like, have a beer and dazzle some of the patrons with some of my light toys I carry. Iím like a walking light show. They donít call last call, just turn up the lights. They wonít sell me another beer. Better get to my brotherís.
2:00 AM - Central Petaluma to North Petaluma - 3 miles - 0 minute wait - 0 cars
I punch in CATTLEMANíS into my sign, which is a restaurant near my brotherís house. While Iím walking a block to a good place to hitchhike, a girl asks me why I have CATTLEMANíS scrolling on my sign. It turns out her grandfather owns the chain. Her name is Hayden. I quickly type in HAYDEN into my sign and show it to her. People like to see their name in lights, she wasnít impressed. Then, from across the street I hear ďJim, Is that you?Ē Itís Grace, who I havenít seen in the 8 years since she moved to Petaluma. She offers me a ride. I have to sit in the back seat. Her front seat belt doesnít work. Good thing I do. Within in a mile, we get pulled over by the police. For no reason. She was totally sober, the car legal and she was driving fine. There is no reason for them to ask me for my ID too. They just want trouble. They let us go and she continues to take me to my brotherís. She has 2 kids now and a new boyfriend. She is the same vibrant, happy Grace I remember. We pull into my brotherís driveway and park. She shows me pictures of her kids. Weíre talking and laughing. We wake up my brother. Heís mad. She gives me her phone # and leaves. I go into the house and start writing this story, while it is still fresh. I get to sleep about 4:00 AM. What a day.
Weíll I spent X hours and X minutes to go X miles in 7 rides. That is a lot longer then the average wait which is under 10 minutes a ride. It was worth it.
More people should hitchhike. It would cut down on pollution, ease up traffic and halt highway expansion. An organized form of hitchhiking is called carpooling. Now a days, with computers & voice mail, people could easily match rides and riders. With electronic signs, destinations are obvious. With computers & IDís, security can be accomplished. With cash incentives, lotteries for carpoolers, people can be enticed. With proper city planning, places would be designed so that cars can easily stop near freeways. It would work. I canít think of a better way to meet a new friend. Until then, if you see me hitchhiking, please stop and give me a ride. Thank-you.
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