Monday, November 30, 2009

What am I thankful for?

To me, and the people I was living with, it was just another day. To the rest of Canada, it was Thanksgiving. I think it was even Sunday, and I had to make a trip into town for a few errands. It had been months since I had moved to BC, and was used to hitchhiking the 40k into town often. I had even walked it a few times, although unwillingly, and thought today would be a piece of cake. Or turkey, or whatever.
I didnt have to work today, and had a great morning of sleeping in, frosted flakes and a little Jack Johnson to start the day. It was just before noon when I walked up to the main road, hoping to get to Penticton by 1. It wasnt unreasonable, I had done it numerous times and never waited long for a ride.
As soon as I got to the main road, I could see a car in the distance winding its way up the road, at the base of Okanagan Mtn. I thought to myself "sweet, that was fast, and for sure this guys gonna pick me up, its Thanksgiving Sunday".
Zoooom. His Mazda flew by me, and I could see he hadnt even considered the thought of picking me up. I just turned around and kept walking. Its funny when you're hitching, the conversations you have with yourself, the labels you give people and the absurd outbursts towards the glaring sun. I remember yelling out loud "Its thanksgiving for God's sake!" I definitely figured I had the luck today, as people were going to be in an upbeat mood, keen on their lavish dinners that night. Then I quickly thought about the other side of the fence...maybe noone will be picking me up today, theyre all thankful to be alive, and want to keep it that way.
Now I was worried. That feeling overcame me like a blanket; crap, its true; noone will want to pick me up today. I just kept walking. Soldiering past the vineyards, apple orchards and breathtaking cliffs. I passed the massive houses, abandoned train tunnels and eventually, I walked 20k into the first small town without so much as a smile from dozens of passing motorists. I knew they were all heading where I was, probably to the same grocery store, to buy the same Pumpkin Pie. I couldnt believe it! On Thanksgiving day, here I was dressed well and everything, and not one person was willing to pick me up on the road I hitch daily and never wait more than 20 minutes.
I started to get really frustrated, and the thoughts of everyone else's thanksgiving entered me head and made it much worse. I realized everyone was with their families, enjoying great food in warm houses, and I was hiking, alone, along the very hilly, bear populated road and not one soul had sympathy for me! It only go worse when I went to pull out my iPod, and realized I had left it plugged in back at camp and I pictured everyone sitting there, unknowingly listening to my music. Just GREAT! Another 15 k to go and Im in town, only to have to hitch back. I got used to the idea of walking the entire distance and munched on a few apples I plucked from the roadside orchards.

Then finally, I could hear it coming behind me, the sound of a car pulling over into the gravel.
I turned around, and gleaming like the Saviour himself on some shiny, yet dusty platform; there it was, my ride! After the dust settled, I walked over to the car only to notice it was a tiny, delicate looking elderly woman, well beyond 70 behind, the wheel of a massive Mercedes SUV. I opened the door, and it frightened the tiny dog resting in her lap.
"Hi, Im Mary" she declared.
I told her my name, where I was hoping to get and she said climb aboard. I didnt have too much further to go, especially considering what I had just walked, and was excited that I was finally going to be there in a few minutes. Or so I thought. Bless this dear old womans heart for picking me up, but lets just say she was a very cautious driver. It was funny, because here she was driving at what I kept checking to be nothing over 35km/h in a 60, and to me, she was still braver than the dozens of men who whizzed past me in their big pick-ups.
We immediately struck up a great conversation about this, and her take on it was "theres no way a young man like yourself should be walking around here, its dangerous, and its thanksgiving." I later found out she picks hitchhikers up often, despite the fact she was about as menacing as a sponge. There wasnt much she could do should a threat arise, but I dont think that thought had ever crossed her mind.
She was your typically sweet old Grandma type, with a backseat full of Delicious looking pies she was bringing to her husband, who was just admitted to a retirement home. She was bringing him his turkeyday dinner, and his beloved dog, which he missed apparently more than he missed her. Due to her physics-defying slow driving, we were able to talk about all kinds of stuff. She took me right to the grocery store I asked, handed me $20 and said enjoy your dinner tonight on me. I kindly refused, but she kindly made it clear I had no choice. She asked for my email and requested that I keep her informed with my travels, as her sons are grown with families and seldom see her. I said that I would of course, and thanked her everything. I went inside and from Mary's kind gesture, I bought a great dinner.
I ran my errands, and walked to the infamous roundabout where I would hitch my rides home from. As I waited for the return limo for my daytrip, I asked myself what I was thankful for that day. It was the usual, health, happiness, yadda yadda. I then said I was thankful for Mary, and people like her. And I said I was thankful for pumpkin pies and yams.
I rummaged through my bag for the snackbar I had left before, and then there it was...

I was now very thankful for my iPod, which was apparently with me the entire time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where did it all go wrong?

I can't believe it, I sometimes wonder. Its as if Ive been let in on the world's biggest secret or something. No one does this? Why do THEY all think I'M crazy?
But I know. Im even often joking about it. Ive held signs stating "EX Serial Killer" or "Reformed Murderer", with a big underline on the reformed bit. Do I look like Im a crazed psyhopathic, homicidal maniac with a hidden arsenal in my snowboard jacket? Damn, I really thought I had that machete tucked well under my designer dress shirt. No, I get it, I understand where you guys are coming from. Totally cool, I know what you're all thinking... "I sure as shit wouldnt want some dirty, potentially dangerous young man climbing into my brand new BMW", leeching my recession-priced gas and filling the car with his loud thoughts on "world peace, man" and "save the trees". And that's if I'm lucky and hes just a hippie. Maybe hes a depressed, recently dumped, angry man who feels that disappearing into the wild and brutally slaying anyone and everyone on his way is why our paths are crossing.(well its how society thinks, right?) OR....maybe hes ACTUALLY a very well educated and cultured young man, starting his long professional career of photojournalism and adventure traveling, and his new found addiction of meeting new people via the thumb is a massive social experiment hes conducting and he could quite possibly be the new candidate for that beer commercial about the 'most interesting man on the planet'. You just never know. Well there are a million sayings, quotes and isms that I could drop right here along the lines of book covers and judging them, but Ill spare it for you, the critical driver and reader.
You can call me and my views biased, and to a degree they certainly are. I hitchhike, and I enjoy it. I am very aware that not everyone feels this way and in fact, there is a small percentage of people who actually agree with me. But regardless of reputation and statistics, hitchhiking is truly a forgotten niche in a society squeezing out the lifestyles supporting it.
Hitchhiking has a familiar stereotype with almost everyone. The hippies in SoCal really made it what it is today in the 50s, 60s and of course 70s. It was the weapon of choice when gypsying from one gathering to the next. It encouraged the spawn of new relationships and brought together people from all over the demographic map. It was mainly a student thing and more common in rural America. Cities seldom saw hitchhikers, unless they were coming in from their previous home. Throughout the 80s it remained primarily the means travel for adventurous students returning home for the holidays. It never really reached mainstream status as an accepted sub-form of youth culture.
The history of hitchhiking clearly indicates why. It is scattered with sporadic, dark moments. Moments of unspeakable acts, the worst recorded in humanity have occurred on the long highways, after a hitch. It does cast a shadow over what should otherwise be a universally accepted means of travel. The worst bit, is the risk will always be there. As much as fellow 'free-riders' wish it weren't so, it will always be there. The guy with nothing to lose, and a series of unfortunate events pushing him desperate measures. Its sparse, unfortunate and very rare, but very real.
But lets be real here. This is not something to dwell on and base views around. There is no need to generalize an entire population based on the bad apples. Sure, we hear of the crazy vet who lopped off that cute interns head, but we don't hear of the thousands of successful, relationship forming hitches that go unspoken daily.
Europe has a deep hitchhiking history and subculture, largely due to their high tourist volumes, however the news almost never reached across the pond, and the more-often-than-not good side of it didn't help the North American views on it.
We live in a society today where we are bred to fear thy neighbour, no longer to love him. Of course its love who you know, but what about those we haven't met yet? Is every stranger a satanic cult leader who preys on kittens and old ladies? Don't hold your breath. No longer do people hold doors, engage in conversation or let alone open our gosh darn minds. No. We are instructed to trust no one, fear the unknown and run to safety upon the first inclination of a threat. Well isn't that just a load of crap. But believe it or not, its very true. Sure, there you go; 'well hippie its easy for you to say', you don't have a home, or a family to lose, and your youth impairs your vision of reality.

Mmmm nope, I dont think so. Actually I am more like you than you think, Im just on the other side of the thumb(ill excuse your immaturity on the sexual inuendo). I am very aware of the very real dangers than inhabit our daily lives. I am very conscious of the bad apples, or evil souls rather that walk among us. But they dont mingle among us secretly and then magically pop up on the side of highways with a fake smile, hoping to fill that backseat of innocence with some Helter Skelter re-enactment. The media, coining set serial killers with phrases such as "...the highways were his playground" and "...noone was safe under the open sun". COME ON. Sure it happens, but so do gruesome be-headings on Greyhounds, and fatal hostage takeovers, or hijackings on the super safe Flight 123. There are loads of surprising statistics proving its actually more dangerous in your own home than on the road. I read something really crazy like you have a higher chance of dying in the bathtub than flying for 50 years or something. Ill find that and source it, its true! The risk or element of the worst case scenario is present in every situation. But it should not keep you from pursuing something you enjoy. Yes many have died skydiving, yet hundreds continue to do it safely. I also read somewhere that you are more likely to die driving alone, than with a hitchhiker, as you are apparently less conscious when unaccompanied. So long story short, don't let your impaired judgment of society from society affect your decision. Sure, there's a CHANCE he could be out to hurt you. OR, like 90% of the rest of hitchhikers; he is just out exploring, and chose to hitch as oppose to flying, even though he could afford to. Use your discretion; its not rocket science. Yes its been mentioned you shouldn't judge based on appearances, but they are usually a good indicator of whats underneath. I dress appropriately and people who have never picked up a hitcher secretly confide this to me, and let me know Im their first. They must be releived or amazed when I jump out of the car, all smiles arriving at my destination leaving after we've exchanged contact info, and not a botched organ transplant. I personally have been picked up several times by tiny, defenseless, attractive young women, often alone. I have been told to climb aboard by 60lb senior citizens who would have a tough time swatting a moth.
What this rant is really trying to get at is we as a society need to open our minds. We really need to stop fearing everything, and go out there and try something new.

Well this rant has gone on far to long now, and its length is losing its credibility. Its just that after many rides, and meeting so many people who hitchhike daily that its just absurd to me why people are so reluctant to pick up a hitcher. Don't let the Stephen King novels impair your judgment.

Let me know what you think....

Happy Hitching, plenty more to come....

First Post!

Well, Ive finally done it.
Ive started the much anticipated blog; my collection of stories across the world solely by way of the thumb. It will include real photos and real locations, and all the cool details. However, I will change the names, you know I have to.
The story starts in Ottawa, hitching westward to British Columbia, and everywhere in between. I saw this beautiful country from almost every angle, and every perspective, many of which I hadn't opened my mind to. It continues now to my next journey; Africa.
I was traveling often alone, sometimes accompanied, but always successful.

Hitchhiking to me is somewhat of a lost art. The way of transportation for the free spirits, the penny less blokes and the hopeless romantics. I dont know which of these I fall under, but Ive fallen in love with this adventurous thrill ride. It carries a dark reputation. This is my attempt at the revival. This is my story.