It’s become so taboo in today’s society that we hardly even use the word anymore. There was even a horror movie made about it a couple of years ago. I didn’t see it. For two reasons. I don’t watch scary movies and I used to be a dedicated hitchhiker.
I wasn’t alone back in the 60’s and 70’s. While empty beer cans may have been a little more prevalent along the roadsides, those of us trying to hitch a freebie weren’t very far behind. I was first introduced to the practice by my friend Bobby Boorman when we would leave from our high school before the buses rolled out at 3:45 p.m. He liked me to come along, because I was more of a cleancut looking kid. Bobby looked more like a hippie. He wore his hair parted in the middle and down below his shoulders. He also wore sandals a lot; we called them J.C. Waterwalkers. We nicknamed Bobby Jesus, but Jesus probably didn’t smoke as much dope. From what I’ve read in the Bible, I also don’t think Jesus hitchhiked across Canada, picked fruit in British Columbia and ended up hooked on heroin in East Vancouver.
Ah, but not every hitchhiking experience ended up as bad as Bobby’s. After my high school days ended my first post-secondary experience was John Abbott Cegep (junior college), at least three miles from my house along the West Island’s lakeshore. I merely had to amble down to Lake St. Louis, stick out my thumb and there would be no end of students driving by willing to accommodate. Even the Cegep teachers were at least as helpful. It was still the early 70’s and the John Abbott pedagogues were a motley crew. There were plenty of draft-dodgers among them, counter-culture types and also newly-arrived immigrants come to pass on their wisdom from as far away as India and South Africa. They taught Humanities courses with titles such as ‘Understanding The Epic of Gilgamesh’ and I received at least as much enlightenment in those car rides as I did sitting on my posterior in any classroom. I can remember one guy letting loose with ‘OMMMMM’ as we drove along one late afternoon. I was seventeen years old, didn’t know any religion other than what I’d picked up in the Beaurepaire United Church Sunday School, but as he was intoning, I saw God. People look at me funny when I tell them that, but I’ve never seen him since. This world would be a lot better place if I could just find that guy and make every world leader take a quick spin with him along the Lakeshore Road.
Sometimes drinking whiskey would replace seeing God. I was hitching a ride from Trois-Rivieres one Friday night in November after hockey practice. I was heading to Bishop’s University for a night of revelry with my buddies and I was thirsty. The driver picking me up was already well along in a bottle of Seagram’s V.O. and we soon became great buddies until he rear-ended the car in front of him at a red light on the outskirts of Sherbrooke. No one was hurt but as he and his new neighbour exchanged hostile greetings I made a discreet exit. Whether I was travelling with God or whiskey, hitchhiking always provided both transportation and an education. Too bad that nowadays it’s as rare as a pickup baseball game and I will have to end up by saying, as they do in the commercials, “Kids, don’t try this at home.”