Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Overview of hitchhiking laws by state.
Green: Hitchhiking legal while on the shoulder of the road
Yellow: Hitchhiking legal while off the traveled portion of the road, stay in the grass to be safe.
Red: Hitchhiking is completely illegal.
Gray: Specific laws, check the respective state article(s).
In memory, there is something rambling, gamboling, irreverent, self-reliant and romantic about hitchhiking. Like past military service, the interesting tales rise to the surface like gobbets of fat on a bubbling chicken soup while the majority of the reality is lost or forgotten or pushed aside.

My mother once observed about writing, "If you want to write a story about boredom, you don't make it boring." Stories -- hitchhiking included -- are snappy and fresh and interesting. Reality, assuming it could be remembered accurately, shrugs. Marriage, graduation, vacation, hitchhiking ... it's all pretty much the same in memory.

I got off on a hitchhiking tangent yesterday when I began to wonder how many laws I had deliberately or accidentally broken in my lifetime. Hitchhiking came to mind because, as the map-linked information above says, a lot of people, me included, think that in general hitchhiking is illegal. It's not and, where it is, there is a broad swath of law enforcement that turns a blind eye to it ... not always (zealous and wary cops exist), but often. There is some gut realization that not all people have cars and we all help each other out. Further, the bad experiences (the reasons for laws) of hitchhiking are nowhere contrasted with the event-less rides because, of course, the rides that came and went without incident were unremarkable and hence uncatalogued.

I figure I hitchhiked 100,000 miles, give or take, when all was said and done. The first ride I ever got came in the middle of a gushing rainstorm. The man who stopped for me had just come from his wife's funeral. I hitchhiked across the country twice -- once in military uniform, which, even in the late 1950's, was an iron-clad ticket for a hitchhiker. People still remembered the shared hardship of World War II and there is nothing like catastrophe to elicit bedrock generosity.

There was a learning curve to hitchhiking that evolved all by itself. Chevrolets were more likely to stop than Fords. Never petition a car with a woman in it. You could safely turn your back on Cadillacs: No one who got rich ever did so by being nice. But every rule had its exception and there was a fellow who stopped his Cadillac, got out of the car, asked me if I had a driver's license and, when I said yes, handed me the car keys and said simply, "Keep it under 80." He was a salesman and had work to do.

And, though I did get a dream ride from outside Sacramento to the middle of Pennsylvania, the most compelling ride came from a man and his pregnant wife, neither of whom spoke much English, who picked me up in the nowhere of Wyoming. What I took to be his farm-hardened hands were brown and calloused on the steering wheel. A wedding band was his sole and gorgeous adornment. He drove a beat-up 1949 Ford coupe and went about 500 yards from where he picked me up before he realized he was going the wrong way. Both the man and his wife were effusively apologetic. All I could think was, "Who would have picked them up if they had been hitchhiking?" In my book of hitchhiking chivalry, the man risked not only himself but, more compellingly, risked a pregnant wife... and a child ... and a meaning to a gorgeous, golden wedding ring. For me.

It made me want to cry.

That was a kinder, gentler and more straightforward time, perhaps. A sense of shared difficulty and shared resources was more common back then. Neither the Internet nor widespread drug use was yet in vogue ... the 'me' additives. Breaking the law when the law didn't make much sense was what grown-ups did. They understood there were penalties if called to account, but calling such matters to account was some way in the future ... a time of children sticking to the letter of the law because there is less and less backbone or character.

All this mixed itself into my lawbreaker's mind yesterday. But, backed into the box canyon of my own observations, I tell the high-point tales, to myself and others. I bask in a memory that is as cozy as it is inaccurate. Such tales leave out the hours and hours of standing by the side of the road, inhaling the backwash of tractor trailers that whooshed past, waiting and wondering if I would ever get where I was going, wishing I were rich enough to own -- who knows? -- maybe even a Cadillac.

Maybe that's what memory is -- a Cadillac for the man who doesn't even own a bicycle. And I guess I think there is no-harm-no-foul so long as I don't retail what I remember as the actual-factual truth. Isn't memory, of whatever sort, a bit like Grimm's Fairy Tales ... delicious and inviting even when it is not true?

At my age, there is less and less inclination to disapprove of a good lie.

I don't know. I do know I am happy to have broken at least one law in my life.


  1. "Maybe that's what memory is -- a Cadillac for the man who doesn't even own a bicycle."
    What a line! What a thought!
    (Wish I'd written that.)

  2. Are you kidding me, my Pop was a prolific pick up artist. He'd take me everywhere. But ,there was one time that I'll never forget. We were on our way rabbiting to the middle of nowhere, and I kid you not , this guy I could read a kilometre away , he was off tap. Have no fear, Pop says jump in back, ( station wagon, naturally being a doggy) I say to myself , this will be good, what the fuck is Pop going to say to this monster to prevent us from disappearing.
    Anyway, ( and you must acknowledge my assessment of lunatics) this guy was twice the size of Pop. After he jumps in , and shakes hands and they both introduce themselves, I say to myself , listen , don't speak. They say couple words , then my Pop tells him our destination , and after that, there was silence. After my Pop dropped him off at the last detour between ours and his final destination, I jumped back into the front seat. When I did, I just looked at him and laughed , and being all but thirteen , we had and unspoken acknowledgement of we who were. All he said was, and without provocation " poor bastard, no family , no friends, and stuck in the middle of nowhere"...I'll never forget it. He made a choice, between , fuck everyone and look after yourself, or hold back , and if the dice don't roll you way , then so be it ...that's life, that's karma.

  3. Just one? Well, it's a beginning. I've always felt a bit like a gypsy when it came to the law. Our legal system has little to do with morals or ethics, and everything to do with property.