A hitchhikers' guide to growing up: Hitchhikers are on the road to extinction. Former practitioners tell tales of the unexpected. 'My innocence was gone. I took the bus'

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
THE YEAR was 1965. Hippies might have begun to appear in New York and San Francisco; perhaps they had already appeared on the cover of Time magazine. But there were none in the heartlands of America, except me.

A refugee from Manhattan, I was spending the summer in a little town on the western edge of the Great Plains, the flat tabletop of waving cereal crops and big skies that stretches from the Appalachian mountains in the east to the Rockies in the west.

Dressed in my faded blue jeans, faded blue work shirt, faded jean jacket, and with unruly brown beard and long hair, I had been mistaken in New York for the beat poet Allen Ginsberg. As I stood by the road out of town with my thumb out, hoping to hitch a 60-mile ride to Denver, I was too self-absorbed to wonder what I might be mistaken for by the local citizenry. In any case, no one was stopping as I wilted in the hot sun.

Then a dark Ford stopped. As I came up the driver lent forward and opened the door. He was a cop. A state trooper. 'You got any ID?' he demanded.

I suddenly saw myself through his eyes. A disreputable hippie from the East Coast. In a moment I was going to be searched for drugs, hassled, marked out.

Then I had an inspiration. Instead of showing my driver's licence, which would reveal that I was from New York, I dug deeper into my wallet. I handed him the card: 'Building and Hod Carriers Union, Local 720, Fort Collins, Colorado', it said. I had a summer job with a friend's father's construction company and had been compelled to join the union.

I watched as the policeman transformed me from 'threatening outsider' to 'mountain man', a local cliche meaning hard-working, untutored, rural. Finally, he spoke.

'Hitchhiking is not allowed in this state. You can get 90 days in jail, but I know how it is. When I was in the service, we used to hitchhike, too. Look, just face the traffic with your hands at your sides. People will know you want a ride, and they'll stop for you. Good luck.'

The advice made sense, but I did not take it. The next car that stopped might be filled with local rednecks more thorough in their questioning, or more hasty in fitting action to judgement. My innocence was gone. I took the bus to Denver.

(Photographs omitted)