Would You Give This Man a Ride?

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

As I mentioned in my last post, I’d planned to hitchhike for a couple days. My plan was to hitch up to Grant’s Pass, Oregon to go to the bachelor party for a good friend. This is the guy who was instrumental in my getting a job a couple years ago as a sport salmon fishing guide on the Kenai River. He’s maybe thirty or thirty-five, marrying a woman he met in high school, first marriage for both. Besides, in all my life I’d never been to a bachelor party.

I decided to hitchhike because my wife and daughter would be coming to the wedding, and I didn’t want to take two cars. At least that’s what I said. Really, I wanted to be on the road again. I’ve hitchhiked up and down this coast from San Diego to Seattle, I love the open highway.

People’s reactions were a bit of a surprise to me. Not one person said “Man, that sounds like a great trip.” Instead, “Really?” was the most common response, with a tone suggesting I’d departed my senses. “Take your pepper spray” or other advice to protect myself and be careful came in second. Nobody seemed to think it was a sane plan in the slightest. No one thought it would be fun. They all were concerned for my safety.

But I’ve hitchhiked thousands and thousands of miles, including coast to coast and Canada to Mexico, and I’ve never once felt physically threatened or even been scared when I was hitchhiking. Hundreds and hundreds of rides without incident or fear for my safety.

It reminded me, though, of the ways that we keep ourselves from adventures. Sure, something could happen on my next ride, past performance is no guarantee of future success. But I refuse to let the fear of that kind of outcome rule my life, it’s a long-standing matter of principle with me.

So early on Wednesday, my wife dropped me off on Highway 1, and I started hitching north. I needed to be in Grants Pass by 5 PM the next day. It’s about 460 miles to get there (750km). I had decided to take the Coast Highway rather than Highway 101 because none of it is freeway, you can’t hitch on the freeway, and I hate hitchhiking at the freeway on-ramps. Plus I fished commercially for many years along the coast and I love to see it again. But most of all … it is stunningly beautiful, while Highway 101 is nowhere near as spectacular. I went for the beauty and for the ocean. Here’s my gear at my takeoff point.

I didn’t have to wait too long for the first ride, maybe 45 minutes. It was a short ride, about four miles into Bodega Bay. But I was really glad to get the ride, because I’d forgotten one crucial item—sunscreen. I was already frying.

There’s an art to hitchhiking, and I’m a lifelong student of that art. First, the sign is crucial. The best signage in my history was when I’d just gotten out of high school. Me and a friend wanted to get to Santa Cruz. I stood in front with a big sign saying “SANTA CRUZ OR BUST”. My buddy stood just a bit further down the road with a sign saying “WE’LL TAKE EITHER”.

In any case, I had a great sign for this trip. On one side it said “OREGON WEDDING”. But I knew once I got to Oregon that wouldn’t mean much, so the other side of the sign said “GRANTS PASS WEDDING”. It was made of thick cardboard, and it was specially cut so it folded up and went into the pocket on my guitar case. It was held up by my little wheelie bag, which is hidden behind and holding up the sign in the picture. So I didn’t have to hold it or keep it from flopping in the wind.

Next, the guitar. A man carrying a guitar is a whole lot more likely to get picked up. Plus I wanted to play guitar with the groom, although that never came to pass, he was a little busy. In any case, the guitar was an indispensable prop, and it’s great playing it to ward off boredom while hitching. I have a guitar case with backpack straps, so it’s easy to carry.

Next, the clothes. You need to look clean-cut, shaved, and showered. You don’t have to be any of those things, but it is essential that you look the part, and it’s easier if you really are all of those.

Next, luggage. Smaller is better, especially with the current crop of small cars. My little wheelie bag was small enough to hide behind my sign.

Next, the “NO”s. No sunglasses, people can’t see your eyes. No floppy hats, same reason. No shorts, no sandals, no weird attire. No walking stick, it looks like a weapon.

Finally, location, location, location. You can stand all day in the wrong spot. Level ground is best. The advantage is psychological. If it’s on a downhill, people don’t want to stop ’cause they’re rolling downhill, and if it’s uphill, they want to keep going to make it to the top. Also, sight lines are critical. The drivers need to be able to see you in time to judge you and make a decision. So you can’t be too close to a bend. But on the other hand, it’s a Goldilocks deal—too short a sight line is bad, but if they have too long to make the decision, they may slow down and then change their minds and speed up again.  You also need an open place for them to pull off the road safely. Picking your spot is critical, and when I find a good one, I don’t leave.

I found a decent spot across the road from the little store where I got the sunscreen. But it wasn’t the best, and so after an hour with no luck I walked a quarter-mile to where I knew the situation was more favorable. After about a half hour, I caught a ride with a middle-aged man going to work. He took me about 25 miles, to just past Fort Ross. He was taciturn, unusual for someone picking up a hitchhiker. I drew him out as best I could.

He dropped me off north of Fort Ross. The location was abysmal, no sight lines where the turnout was. So I started to walk. After walking a quarter-hour, I found an OK place, but the turnout was small and not very visible. I hitched a bit, then started walking again. I found a slightly better place for the turnout, but it was close to a corner, not enough time for the drivers to make up their minds. I again tried for a bit with no luck, and set out walking again. I walked about a mile, and was passing through a very bad spot for walking, a twisty section with almost no room on the verge to get off the road. A car pulled up beside me and stopped. It was the man who had given me the last ride. I jumped in as quickly as I could, it was a blind corner and he took a chance to pick me up.

I rode with him to the town of Gualala, about 25 miles. He had gotten injured on the job the previous week, and now he had to go to the doctor. We had a bit more time to talk, and besides we were now old friends twice met. He sounded a number of themes that I was to hear repeated throughout the trip.

One was a lack of belief that the climate was going to harm us. When I said that the climate was warming, and had been for centuries, that was no surprise to most of the people who picked me up. When I said that I thought people could and did affect the climate by cutting down forests, people agreed. When I said that black carbon soot could warm the northern regions by melting snow and ice, people said that seemed reasonable. When I said that a slight warming wouldn’t be a problem, not one person demurred. And when I said that CO2 level wasn’t what controlled the temperature of the earth, the general response was on the lines of “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

Now, this is the attitude that is generally associated with Republicans. Me, I’m a climate heretic and an independent who has always voted against the Republican candidate, which should not be mistaken for voting for the Democratic candidate. My grandmother and my mother raised me, and both of them were strong FDR style Democrats. A joke current in the family when I was younger was about the guy hitchhiking in the Great Depression times. He sticks out his thumb, and a big Cadillac pulls over. The driver says “Son, are you a Republican or a Democrat”. “I’m a Democrat like my mom and my grandma, and proud of it” comes the reply, and the car pulls away without him.

After a bit, another car pulls over, and the driver says, “Son, what’s your political persuasion”. “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m a Democrat, although lately that hasn’t been panning out so well.” The driver snorts, and again the car drives away. The guy starts hitchhiking again.

When the third car pulls over, he can’t believe his eyes. It’s a beautiful woman in a red dress, driving a Lincoln convertible. “My good man,” she says, “which political party do you favor?”

Being a typical victim of testosterone poisoning, the answer is foreordained. He swallows his pride and says “Ma’am, I do believe I just became a Republican.” “Hop in”, she says. “We’ll go for a ride.”

He can’t help looking at her, she’s gorgeous. The wind is tossing her hair as she drives along, and she doesn’t seem to notice that it’s blowing her dress higher and higher up her legs. He can’t stop himself from looking and imagining, staring … suddenly, he shakes his head as if awakening from a dream, and shouts “Stop the car! Stop the car!”.

“What’s the matter?”, the woman asks.

“I’ve only been a Republican for ten minutes”, he replies, “and already I want to screw somebody.”

Now, there’s a point to my telling this story. Do you know how I can tell that that’s a joke, and not really something that might have actually happened?

Because Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.

Oh, back in the day, the odd Republican farmer or fishermen or carpenter might pick up a hitchhiker. But by and large, you know who has picked me up my entire life?

Poor people. Perhaps not poor right now, but people who have been poor. People who know what it is to sleep rough. And by and large, these days those are Democrats and not Republicans.

Here’s what the folks who picked me up had in common.

1. They all supported the Occupy Wall Street protests. I didn’t push to see why, I’m a guest in their car. The common thread expressed was anger that the people who brought the economy down had gone unpunished.

2. Curiously, only one person thought climate change was even a slightly important issue. The general sense about the question was “meh” or “whatever”.

3. Not a Republican in the bunch.

4. They all were very disappointed by Obama. Different reasons were given, but not one person was happy with his performance.

5. Like me, they all either were or had been dirt poor in their lives.

But I’m getting ahead of my story. The day was clear, with a few of those high hooked clouds that scientists call “cirrus spissatus” and fishermen call “mares tails”, and the sea is beautiful in Gualala, so I filled my time by feasting my eyes on the world. After a while, two surfers picked me up, headed up to Point Arena. I’m a surfer myself, so that works. One was interested in sharks, so I entertained him with tales of various friends’ encounters with sharks. The surfers didn’t care about the economy, Wall Street, Main Street, or any street that didn’t lead to the beach. They thought that the earth would solve the climate problem.

There seems to be some unwritten rule in hitchhiking that nobody is going to the far side of town. You always seem to get dropped off on this side of town, and you have to walk to the far side. Point Arena was no different, the surfers dropped me at the south end. However, a most curious succession of events took place there. I was walking through town when a guy came up smoking a cigarette and started talking to me. This is what hitchhiking is about for me, taking the pulse of the people and the place, meeting new people, listening to their stories.

So we talked for a few minutes, about this and that. Suddenly, he says “Do you smoke dope?”

Hmmm … how to answer. What are his motives? Hmmm. My brain is racing, I’m sure I’ve got the deer in the headlights look.

So I figure I’ll stick to the truth, in a pinch I’ve found that works best. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in the past I have indeed partaken of a wide variety of psychoactive substances. So I confessed as much to him. However, for the obvious reason I did not say that I hadn’t inhaled.

“Well, did you leave home with any weed? You really should have some when you’re on the road.”, he said. He seemed concerned.

This man wants to sell me something, I thought. I expected his next words to be “Herb, don’t leave home without it.” I admitted to him that somehow, that oh-so-essential item had slipped my mind when I was preparing for the trip, leaving me woefully and totally unprepared for the harsh crush of drug-free reality. Then I waited for his sales pitch, to see how this would all play out.

“Man, you should have some with you. My friend gave me these six baggies when I was leaving the house this morning. Here, let me lay one on you,” he says. He pulls out six baggies, picks one out, and stuffs it in my coat pocket.

I see. He’s not a salesman. He’s my new friend. He’s just given me a bag of weed. In downtown Point Arena. On the sidewalk of the main street, which is Highway 1. In broad daylight. I belatedly notice that the cigarette he’s smoking is hand-rolled …

But as Bokonon says, “Peculiar travel suggestions are just dancing lessons from God,” and he should know. So I thanked my new friend for his dancing lesson, and I walked on down to the far end of town, wondering just how on earth this dance was going to play out. Up on the hill at the top of town, I found a perfect location for hitchhiking, the dream location. Here’s a picture:

The traffic cone was already there, we have a post to highlight my guitar case, plenty of space to stop, just the right distance the other way for people to look me over, it was great. Plus in California it’s illegal to hitchhike on the pavement, and there was a legal sidewalk there to stand on … with a baggie of dope in my pocket …

I stood there for maybe an hour. It was getting late. Finally, a car with a couple of guys in their 20’s stopped. Unfortunately, they were only going about 15 minutes outside of town, and night was not too far off. I said I wanted to stay in Point Arena if I couldn’t get to another town, I didn’t want to sleep rough. “C’mon,” one guy said, “hop in, I want to hear you play guitar.”

“Can’t do it,” I said. “But actually,” I told them, “I think that the real reason you pulled over was not so that you could give me a ride. It was so that I could give you this.” I pulled the baggie out of my pocket and handed it to the passenger. He didn’t immediately recognize it. When he did, he looked up at me, and then back down at the baggie, and up at me, and back down again. I could see the gears stripping in his brain. They’d pulled over to give a ride to some random white guy in his sixties, and the guy has just handed him a bag full of dope, and thanked them for their kind offer of a ride. “You sure?” he said.

“Yeah, I’m sure”, I said.

“Wow. Thanks”

“My pleasure”, I said, and he didn’t likely realize what a great pleasure it was indeed to be rid of it, gone to a happy home. They drove off all smiles. I stuck out my thumb, feeling much lighter.

It took a while to get a ride at Point Arena. As happened for the whole trip, people loved the plot of my story. They loved the guy hitching to the wedding. They loved the guitar. They thought the sign was great. They just didn’t stop. Say what?

Finally a charming middle-aged woman pulled over. She was going to the town of Manchester, if a single store and a post office can be called a town. It’s rare to be picked up by a woman, so I hopped in, even though I knew it meant I might spend a real cold night.

She worked at whatever jobs came down the pike, she said, supporting her three sons. The local economy was moribund except for the people legally growing marijuana under California’s medical marijuana act. Fishing and logging were both dead before the current depression, and now tourism is dead as well. She didn’t grow herself, her friends made $20 per hour “trimming the buds” as she called it, clipping off all of the leaves. She cleaned houses. She did landscaping. She scraped by. She said people were unhappy with Obama because he was breaking his word and arresting legal marijuana growers. Go figure.

When I told her what had happened in Point Arena, she cracked up. “Oh, that’s just P.A., it’s always like that.” Always like what, I thought? What else is “like” what just happened to me?

When we got out to Manchester, she said she lived in the KOA, the Kampgrounds of America chain of camping sites … with her three sons, 15, 13, and 12. I said my mom had four sons and I didn’t realize until I grew up what toil and heartache that meant. I thanked her for the kind offer, and said I was going to be on the road for as long as it took.

It took a while. The sun was just setting when I got my final ride of the day. The driver was a fascinating guy. He’d been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal in the nineties. Well, in the eighties I’d done an in-country inspection and assessment of a number of Peace Corps projects in Senegal, so that worked. We laughed about living by the salt flats at Kaolack. He talked about how he’d started a garden project supplying vegetables to the local hotels. I told him I’d assessed a similar project in Papua New Guinea, and we discussed the difficulty of making a project succeed in the third world.

He wasn’t surprised by my views on climate. “The climate has always changed”, he said. He didn’t think we had much to do with it. He drove me all the way to Fort Bragg.

I spent the night in a motel. In the morning, I had a choice.

Highway 1 goes along the coast then inland (blue line) from Fort Bragg (A) and connects to Highway 101. There’s also Highway 20 from Fort Bragg which connects to Highway 101 in Willits. There’s a bus to Willits in the morning at 7:30, and there’s very little traffic on Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg. I chose the bus, $3.75, and rolled into Willits early. Of course, the bus goes to the south end of town, and that town is a long sucker. I walked forever, guitar on my back, towing my wheelie bag behind me.

And then I waited. And waited. Lots more traffic than on Highway 1, that’s the good part. Nobody stopping, that’s the bad part. Finally, a woman stopped without me seeing her, and then honked her horn. I gathered up my junk and walked to her car. She was a lawyer who had been working on social causes of various kinds her whole life. It turned out that both she and I had been arrested in the same peaceful sit-in at the Oakland Induction Center in 1967, so that worked. I was convicted of disturbing the peace, although we called it disturbing the war. A lifelong Democrat, she was upset with Obama for his lack of action against what she saw in very 1960’s terms as the pluted bloatocrats plundering the public purse, or something like that. Whatever it was, she was very against it and she felt Obama hadn’t done a thing about it.

Of all the rides I got, she was the only one who thought that climate might cause problems in the future. She admitted that she wasn’t sure what those problems might be. But it didn’t seem to be much of an issue to her. She was passionate about the Native American tribes she represented. She wasn’t passionate about climate.

She dropped me off in Laytonville. And there I stood. And stood. And stood.

I was reminded during this time of what is often the most difficult part of hitchhiking. For me the hardest part is to not blame the people who don’t pick me up, to wish them well instead. Here’s the problem. As the person is driving by, you turn and watch them, and suppose you think “Yer a heartless wanker to pass me by like that” or the like. When you turn back to face the next car, that anger and bitterness is still in your face, and people can see that from afar.

One of the most important parts of hitchhiking is looking people in the eye. You want them to see you as a real person, not as a generic hitchhiker. You want them to know you are honest, that you can honestly look a man or woman in the eye. One of the drivers said to me “I never pick up someone looking at the ground.”

And if when you turn to look the next driver in the eye, your face is full of frustration and anger, the driver will say “That guy looks angry”, which is a double-plus ungood thing for a hitchhiker. People are afraid of angry men, and with good reason.

So my practice is to look the driver in the face as they approach. If they turn me down, I want them to do it to my face. And then when I see that they have chosen not to pick me up, I pull in my thumb and I give them a nice wave and a big smile, and I truly wish them well. Nor is it a sham or a pretence, I don’t want anything bad to happen to those folks, and I am truly at ease with their decision not to pick me up.

It is a sort of meditative practice for me, scoping out the people and wishing them all the best regardless. Often I can tell early that they’re not going to pick me up, and they seem genuinely surprised when I just wave and smile. Some people seem unable to look at me. Some older women seemed to take it almost as a personal affront, that a man of my age and mode of dress would stoop to hitchhiking. Some women just cracked up laughing at my sign and my scene, and pointed me out to the other people in the cars. But they all passed me … and I wished them all good speed.

Finally, I thought “Dang … I may not make it”. I can divide as well as the next man. From Laytonville it’s about five hours run to Grant’s Pass. It was ten AM. The bachelor party was at five PM. Closer and closer, tick tick tick, another hour went by … and then, amazingly, an 18-wheeler truck stopped and the guy said “I don’t know if we can fit all your gear, I don’t have a sleeper. Where are you going?”

“Grants Pass”, I said. “I’m going right through there”, he said. “I’ll carry my gear on my lap, I’ll fit it in.”

The trucker was great. Most truckers these days won’t pick you up. About my age, he had a most curious history. Every business he’d ever worked for had folded. He’d run away from home at 14 because his stepfather beat him, and hitchhiked all around the US. He’d worked for a whole string of sawmills on the West Coast, moving from one to another as each one went under. Then he got into trucking, and every concern he’d worked for had gone under. He said he could read the writing on the wall, he was hauling construction materials, and the construction industry in California is in the dumper … his company is in trouble, they’ve let most workers go. He was only still employed because like me, he’s a generalist. There’s not enough work for a truck driver, but for a truck driver who can work in the shop and can drive forklift around the yard there’s just enough work.

But he’s happy as a clam. He’d built a shovel-head suicide-clutch Harley Davidson from parts. That’s a bike I rode a bit in my youth, I knew that bitch of a ride, so that worked. We talked jobs, and biking, and women. He’s been in hiding from his ex, who went nuts when he wanted a divorce. She trashed the whole house, scratched up her face, and then claimed he tried to rape her. He finally was able to prove that he wasn’t even in town when it happened, but by the time he could come up with the proof he’d already been ordered to go to anger management classes. Then she started stalking the classes. The cops warned him she was after him, so he’d finished the classes and moved to another town to escape her. But he had a new girlfriend, and she had her own motorcycle. He said he was actually even thinking of adding a back seat to his Harley for her. I said if he was willing to make that sacrifice for her, she must be a fine woman indeed.

He told me about hitchhiking on the freeway in Illinois as a kid, and being ordered off the freeway by a cop. The cop wouldn’t give him a ride, just made him walk a mile through waist deep snow … the stories rolled back and forth as the miles rolled by. He was upset with Obama just because he didn’t seem to the driver to be getting things done. He didn’t believe in man-made climate change, seemed he thought God wouldn’t allow man to be that powerful.

So at forty minutes before five o’clock, he dropped me off on the side of the highway in Grant’s Pass. I almost forgot my sign in his truck, I jumped up and beat on the door as he was leaving. He handed it to me with a knowing look, and said “Here’s yer sign …” I cracked up and said I knew that song, and I did, too. He was lots of fun to ride with, he was what hitchhiking is all about.

Of course, I wasn’t quite there yet. I still had three point six miles (5.8 km) to go to the bachelor party according to my phone GPS. So I started walking. I figured I’d just about get there. I had a feeling that the groom or some of my friends would be coming along the road, so I turned around when I could, but mostly I just walked, pulling my little bag and carrying my guitar.

I arrived at what I thought was the address. A lady was driving out. I walked towards her car to ask if I had the right place. She seemed frightened, put up her hand to stop me, and backed up her driveway. Egads … am I that scary? I flatter myself that I’m five foot eleven tall (180 cm), and I weigh maybe a buck sixty (72 kg) soaking wet, hardly an imposing figure. Maybe she was just having a bad hair day. Maybe I’m uglier than I think, perhaps my habit of avoiding mirrors has a downside, I didn’t know what scared her.

But the next house proved to be the one. I walked into the party at about ten minutes after five. I hadn’t told anyone I was coming, and a couple of them had passed me while I was walking from town to the party, and as a result much hilarity ensued. Everyone was smoking some kind of big panatella cigars, I don’t know if they were Cuban, but they gave me one and said they were fifty dollars a box or something. It was a very easy-smoking cigar.

Or at least that’s what they told me, I can’t say because I didn’t inhale … they said the lady next door was a Deputy Sheriff. I asked them to explain the strange visitor next time they spoke to her, I felt bad about scaring her.

Anyhow, that’s where I’ve been. The bachelor party, well, that’s a whole other story that ends up with the best man’s best friend, who is 80 years old, getting bitten by a camel. And the wedding was outrageous, outdoors in the sunshine right down by the Rogue River, a portentous place for a fisherman and his lady-love. The groom’s party arrived in a boat with the groom at the oars. The party included his grandfather (who was his best man), his father, two sisters, a brother, and the couple’s two-year old son. Grandfather for your best man, father, and son at your wedding, that’s something special for me to see. I got to dance with my 19-year-old daughter, that was special too, life doesn’t get much better.

Today we drove back. I’m not sure what my conclusions are from my trip. I went in part to see what’s going on out there. I found that there are a lot of frightened people in America these days. It’s much harder to hitchhike than it has ever been, people are more afraid of strangers, my theory is they watch too many cop shows.

But they’re also afraid on a deeper level, afraid for their jobs, afraid that Congress has sold out to the lobbyists, afraid that money talks and they don’t have much, afraid that their town or county will go bankrupt paying obscene pensions, afraid that their leaders have failed them and that the American dream is dying and they don’t know why. They don’t care much about what the climate will do by 2050. They are concerned with getting through the month.

I fear I have no magic plan to fix that. All I can do is continue my practice, to look each passing man or woman in the face, to hope they breast the tide of their fears and go venturing and adventuring in this marvelous, mysterious world, and to wish them well on their journey wherever their dancing lessons might take them.

My regards to everyone, we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


… from Willis’s upcoming autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … and Often” …

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October 17, 2011 1:58 pm

I have to say that spending the few minutes to read this was well spent, and much needed, after listening to McKibben’s Parrots.
Reminds me of a long lost friend who, many years ago, would stick his thumb out in the San Joaquin heat, and try and see how fast he could get the the east coast and back. Last time I saw him he’d moved on to more cerebral endeavors…but the lessons of the road were much cherished.

Sean Peake
October 17, 2011 2:05 pm

I think it would do a lot of good for the political hacks in Washington to do their own “Sullivan’s Travels” to see what real people are like.

October 17, 2011 2:05 pm

I think you should write more, loved it

October 17, 2011 2:08 pm

In the early 1970s I used to hitchhike back and forth from College. Mostly met wonderful people, many of whom I still fondly remember. I had no luggage and a sign that said “Home” on one side, and “College” on the other. Thanks for the story. 🙂

October 17, 2011 2:08 pm

I come from Manchester..

October 17, 2011 2:14 pm

Fascinating and enjoyable read. However, given where you were hitchhiking this time isn’t saying you weren’t picked up by a Republican kind of like saying you weren’t picked up by a unicorn?

October 17, 2011 2:21 pm

First link is broken — John M Reynolds
[Thanks, John, fixed. -w]

October 17, 2011 2:21 pm

What a wonderful story: layers and layers of good stuff in there. Well done and I am very glad you made the party.

Michael T
October 17, 2011 2:22 pm

A very interesting narrative…..takes me back to the sixties, when hitching was easy here in the UK – but are you sure that you didn’t smoke some of that baggie?
Cheers, Willis

John B (UK)
October 17, 2011 2:23 pm

Willis, thanks for sharing that with us. It’s always good
to get an understanding of how people really feel, behind the
headlines and the media soundbites, and you told us
your tale so well.
Reminded me of something Mark Twain would have written.

October 17, 2011 2:26 pm

Great story!
I pick up hitchhikers when I am by myself.
Makes a long trip go by very fast.
And sometimes I hit pay dirt.
Like the time it was a well known Hollywood actor in character whose story fell apart under my questioning – who bought me dinner. I never laughed so hard in my life.
Or the ex-con who was definitely wanted by the police. LOL.
Or a particular UCLA philosophy professor.
My only rule is that I do not pick up groups with women in them and all packages go in the trunk and no one sits right behind me.
Oh, and I usually vote Republican. But my background is similar to those who picked you up.

Michael T
October 17, 2011 2:27 pm

I should add that I invariably enjoy reading your stuff.

Republican voter
October 17, 2011 2:28 pm

So instead of spending time with your wife and daughter you would rather spend hours standing by the side of the road. Yes, I’m a Republican and we know liberal B. S. when we encounter it.

October 17, 2011 2:30 pm

Willis, you hitched from where to where?
…and a Republican didn’t pick you up?
Isn’t that like fishing in the desert?
BTW, how can you not vote for this man…..

j ferguson
October 17, 2011 2:30 pm

Willis, My immediate response was what a neat idea. then I read what your friends had to say about it and realized that if i suggested a thing like this i would get at least the less paranoid remarks, although I have a relative who would have been capable of recommending the pepper spray.
good for you. there should be more of this sort of thing.
Against almost everyone I knew’s better judgement I used to pick up hitchhikers. One guy was fresh out of Menard State Pen from a ten year visit, and no, I had no idea when i picked him up. We rode a couple of hours together and I learned a lot, namely not to fool with the guys who own the penitentiaries.

October 17, 2011 2:31 pm

Thank you Willis for this good story. I really enjoyed it 🙂

Mark Foster
October 17, 2011 2:32 pm

Good adventure for an old guy! My last hitchhiking adventure was 30 years ago. I’m proud to admit that as a Republican, I picked up a guy about a month ago. He was about 70 years old and a little drunk, so I went out of my way and gave him a ride to the bus station. He was more concerned with making it home than science or politics. Just wanted you to know there are some of us on the right that perform random acts of kindness(just don’t tell anyone we really exist). Enjoyed the traveling saga almost as much as your Climate write up from last week.

Steve (Paris)
October 17, 2011 2:35 pm

Senegal – I once took three days to leave Ziguinchor to catch ferry over to Bissau. Everyday I’d make the ‘port’ real early but the boat had already sailed (on its very special African timetable). Some Italian construction workers eventually took pity on me at let me sleep at their nearby camp. They had air conditioning and coldest, most welcome six o’clock in the morning beer I have ever drunk. Next day they kindly dropped me at four in the morning at a dockside already packed with people. And then came chugging out of the deep dark night an ex Liverpool ferryboat, still earning its way 10 years after its official retirement. The very one I use to take over the Mersey in my student days. Sweet memories.

October 17, 2011 2:36 pm

That brought back a lot of memories for me. I used to hitch all over the place, mostly in the UK where I still live, but also Europe and Africa (adventures aplenty).
Of all the ruses to get picked up, nothing works as well as a motorcycle helmet. Not only do bikers automatically stop, but everyone else thinks you’ve just broken down. Wonderful if you’ve got the stomach for it.
Incidentally, the reason people don’t stop anymore is because we’re all so rich. We don’t think we are, but compared to our parents and grandparents we’re all rolling in it…

October 17, 2011 2:39 pm

Thanks for sharing your road adventure. Matt Ridley, the Rational Optimist; Jonathan Haidt on TED Channel observations on liberal/conservative divide. Wonder what you would make of each them, what wheels spinning, within wheels. Good on you.

October 17, 2011 2:42 pm

As an Australian, this simple essay has told me more about what the USA is actually like than decades of media output of various kinds. I guess nothing beats accurate observations ….

Don R
October 17, 2011 2:44 pm

Thank you, Willis

Baa Humbug
October 17, 2011 2:44 pm

Thank you for sharing Willis

October 17, 2011 2:46 pm

Jack Kerouac has nothing on you Willis.

Disko Troop
October 17, 2011 2:47 pm

A shovel head!….and I’m stuck with a sportster. Jealous or what. great read. Respect.

October 17, 2011 2:47 pm

Great story, I really enjoyed reading it.
I haven’t hitchhiked much myself, but I once took a guy on a pre-arranged hitchhike from the Netherlands to Switzerland. The guy had done the trip a few times before, and he had some great stories about a couple that didn’t dare drive on the motorway, so it took him a few days to arrive in Switzerland instead of just 7 to 8 hours.
It’s sad that people are so afraid of each other nowadays. Indeed seeing too many police and detective series doesn’t seem to help things, and all the scare mongering by the governments doesn’t help too. Let’s hope meeting people and being able to really communicate with them doesn’t get much worse before it gets better.

Pete Olson
October 17, 2011 2:48 pm

In my questionable youth I hitched those roads many times, sometimes sleeping by the road; one time jumping up and down for nine hours straight, stuck all night during a hard freeze on the outskirts of Ukiah, on my way from Berkeley to my home in McKinleyville. I DID have several scary experiences, and a whole lot of wonderful ones. I suppose we’ll see more people hitching as things get tighter. Like your trucker friend, I worked in seafood canneries and sawmills from Kodiak (the Skookum Chief, a retired Puget Sound ferry converted to a cannery after barely surviving the trip up. I was 17), to the waterfront at Eureka, Sauvie Island in the Willamette near Portland to Orick, CA, and and the Hoopa Indian Reservation . Your story brought back memories for me, and reminded me why I’m glad I haven’t NEEDED to rely on hitching for a long time…

October 17, 2011 2:48 pm

I read the whole piece in one go. Marvellous story telling. Not bored for a second. Well done.

October 17, 2011 2:51 pm

Willis: I am one Republican who has picked up hitchhikers. And stopped to offer the use of my cellphone to a muscular black dude beside his dead car just outside Baton Rouge. And turned around at the first opportunity to go back and help a guy with a busted water hose.
But I dunno if I would pick up an old guy with a guitar case.
And I was expecting to see you busted for having the pot…
Jim B

October 17, 2011 2:51 pm

It’s always a pleasure to read your posts Willis. Thank you for enriching my day and thanks to Anthony for his excellent site.

October 17, 2011 2:55 pm

I’m a Republican, and a woman, and I have picked up two hitchhikers in my life. One was a well dressed business man who had run out of gas… saw his car, then saw him walking with a gas can. Gave him a ride in my old Honda, which– unfortunately for hm– was also the car I drove my dogs and kids in. He got out of the car in his blue business suit, covered with dog hair on the back and old cookie crumbs… but he did get there.
The second one was a frantic woman, who ended up being Vietnamese. She was frantically waving me down, standing next to a man and a car. She didn’t speak English but managed to convey that she was frightened of the man and didn’t want to drive with him. I didn’t know if it was a domestic issue, or what was going on, but I took her home and let her call someone to come and get her. (she couldn’t describe where she needed to go, or I would have just taken her there) Both times, my family chided me for picking someone up. It’s dangerous for a woman, they said, and they are right in a way. But for someone in need, I’ll pull over again, and take that chance. For just a regular hitch hiker? No, apologies, but I won’t take that risk. That’s the world we live in, unfortunately. Though to hear your stories, Willis, I would have driven all the way up to pick you up. 🙂
Joanie in Carlsbad

October 17, 2011 2:55 pm

That is a most excellent story! The last time I hitchhiked was 1980 from Alabama to Texas. I hitchhiked from Central Florida to Tennessee and used to hitch around Alabama a lot. Guess what, 99% of the rides were from republicans, though just as poor so the characterization of just democrats picking people up is a bit of a stretch.
I have had a couple of instances where i knew that I was in danger, including jumping out of a car when it was rolling because and old pervert propositioned me (I was 16 at the time).
Much as you, just about everyone just wants to get by and to me our current time period feels much like 1979-80. My biggest concern is whether or not we have a Reagan on the R side who has a clue about what to do. We have too many professional politicians today and not enough professionals who want to do public service in the political realm.
My biggest fear is that those who push the climate change meme have done so as a last gasp of the malthusian limits to growth movement of the 70’s and think that if they don’t make this work now, it never will and that evil wascally republicans are doing to destroy the world. This makes them dangerous. It took me years to become sufficiently skilled in researching climate change to come to the rock solid conclusion that even if they are right about the causes (which I seriously doubt), their solution set is one that will lead the world into a dark age that will set the clock of civilization back for a thousand years. This is why I am a space advocate and have spent my life building and designing for a world free from want as the resources of our solar system are millions of times greater than on this little mudball.
I have postulated in my own writing where we would be today if Hubert Humphrey had won in 1968 rather than Dick Nixon. Humphrey was a big space buff and if we had maintained the level of spending on space as at the peak of the Apollo program, the problems that we have today would be little footnotes in a bad novel.
We have the answers out there but the politicians are not listening, too wrapped up in their little dances of blame.

Jason Bair
October 17, 2011 3:01 pm

Excellent read

Jim W
October 17, 2011 3:02 pm

You are a great story teller!
(First post for long time reader)

October 17, 2011 3:03 pm

Having hitched in the ’60s as well, I truly enjoyed your story.

October 17, 2011 3:05 pm

Laytonville is a place I think fondly of. One of my dearest friends in all my life lives near there, sort of going out toward Spyrock not far from the reservation there. If you’re ever up that way around a Memorial Day, Willis, drop me a note. I’d introduce you to a couple hundred of my closest friends.

Mike from Canmore
October 17, 2011 3:05 pm

Man you brought back some memories. One being the ride from Grant’s pass to Crescent City had 2 of the best downhillls I ever rode in my life (despite almost going over a cliff because I took a turn to quickly)
The other was hitchhiking around eastern Canada and all over Europe. Juggling and cartwheels were my tricks.

October 17, 2011 3:08 pm

You seem to be very much like the Jack Reacher character in the thriller series of books by author Lee Child.
He hitchhiked with only a folding toothbrush in his pocket, some cash, a credit card and just the clothes he was wearing. No luggage.

October 17, 2011 3:13 pm

Willis, don’t know what “Republican voter’s” problem is but this Republican loved your article.

October 17, 2011 3:13 pm

Thanks Mate! Great story.
Me? I’m a Conservative, and I guess that would make me a Republican in the USA, here in Aus we call it a Liberal. Go figure.
Anyway, I have picked up Hitch Hikers quite a few times – always a good story, and never a threat, though I am 5′ 10″ and a very solid 105Kg (230 lbs).

October 17, 2011 3:18 pm

Cute stories: I used to hitch-hike when I was in the army (no money) in the late sixties. And pick up hitch-hikers after I got out and could afford a car, because I knew how it was.
My neighbor living on the next section over picked up a hitch-hiker in the early seventies. He never remembered what the guy hit him with, but it left him with mild brain damage and a slight paralysis. They found his burned out car in Tulsa. Never found who did it.
Even after that I still picked up people now and then. Until the mid-eighties. My uncle picked up a couple of hitch-hikers somewhere outside of Las Vegas. Him being born an Okie during the Dirty Thirties and all. They found his body after a couple of weeks out in the desert about a hundred miles from his home in Whittier, CA. The hitch-hikers got caught, but it was California. They plead out to manslaughter. Got five years.
Also, Google Roger Dale Stafford and Melvin Lorenz: http://www.jcs-group.com/enigma/fascinating/stafford.html
So I don’t pick up anyone I don’t know anymore. I call the county sheriff and they usually get a free ride to the county-line. If they check out.
I don’t like to discourage anyone from doing what they want–it never worked on me, and everybody always has a scare story (or two)–so do what you want. Still, foolish is as foolish does.

October 17, 2011 3:20 pm

Dang… I just drove up the Oregon coast a few days ago, and I always pick up hitchhikers. Didn’t see a one! I really enjoyed reading this post though.
Scariest hitchhiking experience I ever had was out smack in the middle of nowhere, Arizona, when the driver offered me a pipe with–seriously–crumpled postage stamps in it. Swore it would get me high as a kite. He claimed he’d been smoking them all night and took a big hit to prove it. There was also quite a few empty alcohol containers in the car. I managed to quietly slip away when we stopped for gas.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
October 17, 2011 3:31 pm

Brings back memories of two places, St. Louis du Ha! Ha!, Quebec, and Wawa, Ontario, two nodes on bleak sections of the infamous Trans Canada Highway, that absorbed hitchhikers like a sponge…back in the day when the disheveled masses migrated to the Wet Coast.
Great story, thanks for taking the time.

October 17, 2011 3:33 pm

So when’s the Novel coming out Willis? Loved that story. Why don’t you come to Ireland some time. Hitching here is always rewarding.
Thanks for a great read.

Jim Barker
October 17, 2011 3:42 pm

Great story, Willis. Thanks!

Dave Wendt
October 17, 2011 3:44 pm

“Everyone was smoking some kind of big panatella cigars, I don’t know if they were Cuban, but they gave me one and said they were fifty dollars a box or something. It was a very easy-smoking cigar.”
If they were fifty bucks a box you can bet the farm they weren’t Cubans. You’d have to add at least another zero to get into range of a Cuban stick. Great tale though, I always greatly appreciate the posts you’ve made in this vein. I’m probably even willing to overlook your willingness to abide Democrats. I’ve never really thought much of Republicans, but they’ve gotten my recent votes by default,because I have come to have a positive physical revulsion to Democrats in the last several decades..

October 17, 2011 3:47 pm

If you had told me that’s what your plan was, I would have said “Cool!!!”.
I wish I could go on an adventure like that !!!

October 17, 2011 3:54 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm
Not unless you somehow believe that there’s no Republicans driving north along the West Coast, a rather dubious claim …
Or unless you believe “Because Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.”
Your survey is flawed and insulting………………….

October 17, 2011 3:55 pm

I’ll add in my appreciation of the story. Reminds me of the hitch hiking I used to do.
I will also note that I’m a Republican (at least am registrered as one) and still occassionally pick up hitch hikers. The last was back in January on Maui. Kinda of a hippy looking dude with long grey hair and a guitar. Used to be a geologist before moving to the islands. Instead of taking him just down the road, as I thought, I ended up driving him about as close as was possible to his home. (The last few miles were on first a gravel and then an unpaved dirt road with gullies up to four feet deep. Wasn’t sure if I was going to make it in the rental car.) In addition to being an interesting guy to talk to, I got to see parts of the island I never would have otherwise. Definately one of the highlights of the trip.
PS – the primary reason i don’t pick up hitch hikers as often as in past days is my wife. She basically won’t let me if she is in the car and I know better than to get a Korean woman mad at me.
PSS – if you are ever traveling between Portland and Seattle, let me know. I make that drive at least 3 times a month. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for an old guy with a guitar case.

Craig Moore
October 17, 2011 4:00 pm

What, no bongos to go with the guitar? 😉
As a cowboy and grey hair hippie scientist fisherman and jack of all trades, did you wear a Grateful Dead shirt and sh1t kickers ensemble?

October 17, 2011 4:00 pm

I’m not speciously claiming you’re a fool. You’re obviously life savvy. Others are not. I’m just reminding those reading this to be a little thoughtful.

October 17, 2011 4:00 pm

Great story Willis. Enjoyed it very much & brought back fond memories. I used to do a lot of H/H when I was younger… Got my wife and 3 little kids into H/H when our car broke down in Dec. ’80 just west of Soldiers Summit, UT. It was well below freezing & a trucker stopped (risking his job) and picked up my wife and kids and drove them to Salt Lake City… My brothers were able to come and tow me back about 6 hrs later… I was half frozen when they reached me… but thankful that my family was safe. Unfortunately, most truckers won’t stop for H/H any more…

October 17, 2011 4:04 pm

Thanks Willis for reminding me of my old hitch-hiking days. Best I ever had was hitching out of Launceston, Tasmania to Hobart in 1970 or 71, and it was just coming on dark. A woman from Evandale picked me up and said it was far too dangerous to hitch in the dark and took me back to her mansion for the night. Fed me a wonderful steak dinner accompanied by a fine vintage pinot noir. No, she didn’t proposition me; she just took me back to the highway the following morning.
Given her mansion where she had a designer dog breeding business, I’m willing to bet she voted Liberal (the Oz version of Republican).

October 17, 2011 4:09 pm

Willis, thanks for a delightful and poignant story of your determination to live your life. I imagine your daughter thinks you’re wacky while at the same time she adores your grit, courage, and adventuresome spirit. She’s got a good role model for her future.
I’m glad you shared the thoughts and feelings of your drivers: “But they’re also afraid on a deeper level, afraid for their jobs, afraid that Congress has sold out to the lobbyists, afraid that money talks and they don’t have much, afraid that their town or county will go bankrupt paying obscene pensions, afraid that their leaders have failed them and that the American dream is dying and they don’t know why. They don’t care much about what the climate will do by 2050. They are concerned with getting through the month.” They also might realize that “climate change” could be some of what’s got them/us into this fix.
Sorry, I don’t share the same confidence in Cain. I know too many businessmen who come up with “great ideas” that employees must grin and bear, even when they know better, until boss decides it’s not successful. We are better off to begin with energy development (like first half of the 20th century — the basis of our affluence), work our butts off, and save for at least a generation so that our grandchildren can enjoy a little slack. Like the guy, though.

October 17, 2011 4:12 pm

I’m a Republican, used to hitch hike a lot and now never pick up hitch hikers myself. The reason is that I have a positive net worth, which I look after not just for my sake but also for that of my family, and the litigation risk is not worth it. Just another way in which legislation-happy Democrats have managed to destroy ‘civil society’ in my lifetime.

October 17, 2011 4:13 pm

Lovely Willis. Your narratives have a great sense of pace – like a gentle but purposeful stroll on a beautiful morning.
I’ve never hitchhiked any more than a mile or so, but as a grad student I did the then obligatory Interrail/Eurail thing in Europe on my own one summer. Best summer of my student life. Yes you learn a lot about people when travelling on your own. I packed a whole stack of fears and prejudices (just like with your black preacher) that arose from lack of exposure to ‘different’ people.
One journey I found myself sharing a rail compartment with 4 large guys on an ovenight journey – they were Latin American and spoke little English. I had had no time to observe them and was apprehensive but the train was very full and I had little choice. The conductor indicated my seat assignment gave me the lowest bunk (2×3 to a compartment) – no privacy. The guys started talking animatedly in Portugese, of which I have little comprehesion, and kept glancing at me. I wasn’t exactly scared, but I was uncomfortable.
They turned to me. One gestured to the top bunk “You, please” and lifted up my rucksack. In a few minutes of smiles and gestures I felt totally at ease. They even filed out and give me a few minutes to climb into my sleeping bag. I slept soundly. In the morning they brought me coffee too. I couldn’t have wished for more considerate companions, just an ability to talk with them.
I rapidly learned to read people that summer. Time and time again I had my prejududices blown away and my fears melted. I corresponded with a whole bunch of people for years, even visiting one in Northern California several years later. Twenty-odd years later, I still exchange cards at Christmas with two friends made travelling that summer.

October 17, 2011 4:14 pm

I have spent a lifetime hitchhiking, and I have rarely been picked up by Republicans.
Willis, where it live a large part of our population hitches every day and we are around 80% Republican. They have to rely on that because we have no buses or other transportation.
The people that hitch, are bartenders, waitresses, waiters, hotel/motel workers, yard service employees, and the occasional drunk…..They get regular rides, never late for work, and never worry about getting a ride.
If they had to rely on democrats for a ride, they would never get one….
….they are the 20%
“”Would you prefer that I lie about that to salve your wounded ego, Latitude? I’m just telling you what I’ve observed over my lifetime. If the shoe fits, wear it, and if it doesn’t fit, throw it at someone, but don’t blame the messenger that brought the shoe.””
bite me………….

October 17, 2011 4:15 pm

You can get killed at home asleep in your own bed. Used to hitch a lot in the seventies, up and down the Australian east coast. Don’t recall anyone ever mentioning politics.

October 17, 2011 4:18 pm

Looking you in the eye…
Great story.
I tell my kids all the time to ‘keep a smile about ya’.

October 17, 2011 4:24 pm

one more thing. The advantage of having met you/heard you speak at ICCC4 is that I can ‘hear’ you reading your own words. That adds to the telling of the story.

Philip Peake
October 17, 2011 4:28 pm

There was a period in my life when I did a bit of hitch-hiking. A lifetime ago, mainly getting to/from university from home (or the home of the woman that was to become my wife). This was in England, and a bit easier because the M5 motorway passed within a few miles of the university and home (both homes).
Motorways in England are a bit better organized than interstates/freeways in the US. Every 30 miles or so, there is a “service area”, where you can stop for gas, toilets and food if you want it, although Motorway cafe food and airline food seem to be horribly similar…
There was a service area conveniently placed at each end of my journey. The one near the uni was way out in the countryside. There was no (official) entry/exit to the motorway at that point (never is at motorway service areas), but of course, the people that work there have to get to work, so there was a short service road leading from a local road down to the service area — with a “No Entry” sign at both ends. When I drove to/from uni, this knowledge saved me a good 20 miles of driving to use “official” entry points.
Anyway – stand at the ramp leading back onto the Motorway with thumb in the air and a smile on your face, and it was rare to wait more than 5 minutes. There were always a gaggle of students waiting there on Friday evenings, off to somewhere different for the weekend.
People that stopped seemed to be of all political persuasions, from very obviously Labour voting truck drivers to well-heeled people with too much money driving cars I always aspired to, but never seemed to be able to buy.
Things have changed. Hitch-hikers at these service areas are rare to non-existent. The access road now needs a key-card to access it. A mentioned hitch-hiking to someone working at the university recently. He looked at me as though I were insane, and said that people don’t do that any more. For the same reasons that you mentioned – too dangerous.
I don’t know if it is, or if the same Hollywood shows have made their way across the Atlantic.
I had friends that hitch-hiked around Europe for their holidays, even vaguely considered it myself. If you can’t do that any more, a certain amount of magic has gone from this world.

October 17, 2011 4:28 pm

I’m an ex-president of my college’s Young Democrats. I was a poll watcher for my step father, the chairman of the Democratic party in my home town. I’ve hitchhiked, picked up hitchhikers, often. Today my rule is, I don’t pick up anyone if I’m driving my Carrera.
You were on the PCH doing political research? You started 40 miles from San Francisco, you were in Sonoma County! You found (all) Obama supporters that were disappointed! Ditch the political research, stick to science!
I didn’t know it as I transitioned through my life, but I followed the observations of Churchill: “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.” Today, I’m no longer a Republican, I’m a Conservative with a Libertarian streak… to keep a human edge. I meditate often… to help my karma, as you might!

October 17, 2011 4:28 pm

I’m 57. I don’t hitchhike any more, but I pick up hitchhikers in my Jeep; I’m on the other side of the hill now, I figure. Best use of time on the road. But I still want “random adventures”, which hitchhiking is. I spent 5 weeks driving across the prairies on dirt roads and secondaries, avoiding the main roads and towns, ended up in Churchill on Hudson’s Bay. Hired a floatplace to take me to a place in the Territories I’d read about (other side, I said). Fabulous. Those who think that “holidays” and organized adventure travel have adventures don’t know what it is like to throw yourself into the unknown … and deal with it.
There is only one way to stay young at heart, and that is to do the things that the young do. Being is in the doing, not in the abstract-thinking. There is so much to learn, to appreciate in the world, human and not. And all of it requires participation.
Good stuff.
And about climate change …. the only ones I’ve met (professional earth scientists, like me) who believe in the IPCC stuff are those that have a financial and social advantage to it, be-it articles they sell to Outside or committees they sit on that pay dollars or opportunities. Not one who is technically literate but independent. Strange, that.

David A. Evans
October 17, 2011 4:28 pm

I regularly hitch-hike here in the UK & I’m 58.
I’m often chastised for the risks I take but as I observe, the risks haven’t really changed, only our perception of said risks. This is one reason why it is getting more difficult to hitch-hike.
I too note that people avert their eyes, pretending they haven’t seen you. Younger people give you a thumbs up, thinking you’ve never seen this before. Some others pretend they’re going to turn off before your destination, even when there is no turn before.
Been propositioned once but as soon as I made it clear I wasn’t interested he backed off. Been hit by a foreign lorry driver who said something like, ” You know Min?”, never understood that. The sign I had said M1N, ie M1 North.

October 17, 2011 4:28 pm

Willis, you have several uncommon gifts that aid your your hitch-hiking adventures: keen perception, good memory, a wealth of experiences, charm, and wisdom. Not surprising you do so well on the road.

October 17, 2011 4:29 pm

Great post Sir. Reminds me of the song I’ve been everywhere man never paid my fare man.
In the 70’s I used to hitch lifts all the time mostly in Wales longest trip would normally be about 13 miles but once hitched all around the Uk probably 1000 miles plus over two or three days?
Funniest experience in a valley two in south Wales a lorry driver stopped and said get in girls and immediately he saw me said and boys. Long kaur see and at midnight.
Your post is in the spirit of the blog, the interesting things in life. In the Uk I rarely see hitch hitch hikers, that’s why there are so many cars on the road.

Mark ro
October 17, 2011 4:34 pm

Willis, wonderful short story. When you received the “package” I was thinking leaving Las Vegas…heh. For my two cents worth- While on my way to Mayor’s court for two tickets I passed a broken down van with a very nervous looking woman standing nearby. I turned around at the next driveway and slowed to see if I could help, this only increased her anxiety. When she calmed down and explained her problem, I told her I thought I could help. Her van was older and still had an ignition coil on the wheel well. The positive terminal was corroded as could be, so I sanded it with some 240G paper, reattached the wire and vroom. She insisted on paying me but I refused on the grounds that such a small amount of effort was not worth any pay. Off she went. I put away my tools and then went to court. When called to stand before the mayor I see the anxious woman at his side, the clerk of courts as it were. The charges were then dismissed! I could have bought her van with the money it saved me.

Craig Moore
October 17, 2011 4:38 pm

Willis, thanks for the reply. You remind me of the intelligent men I had the pleasure to work with in the oilfields of my youth. Not much formal training but amazingly self-taught in many disciplines, and in life. They taught me much. I hope you have mentored a few young whelps like I was taught to carry the torch.

October 17, 2011 4:39 pm

Great story,
Funny about how many Democrats in your story talk about the failed timber mills in NorCal.
Its the Democrats who put them out of business through excessive regulation, yet they still “believe”.

October 17, 2011 4:40 pm

I bet you only gave those kids half that bag LOL j/k but great article, I really enjoyed that. I’ve picked up few hitch hikers in the US but definately 5 or 6 over the past 25 years, no problems ever. I hitch hiked alot in Europe it didn’t seem to out of the ordinary there except the trains are so good there is much less need. But I loved the reactions you wrote about, and also that you view it as something good and an adventure and meeting people and seeing the country, where everyone else is telling you to arm yourself. My guess is that the world is a much safer place than before, but people are in fact more scared and insecure now due to the media, especially the local 5 o’clock news which is mostly rape, murder, mugging, arson and stuff like that, with some sports and weather. But thanks for a great story!

October 17, 2011 4:43 pm

Willis, I enjoyed the read. Like some of the other commentators, I’d point out, I have picked up hitchhikers and I’m a Republican, just not one of the stereo-typical sort that you alluded to. Mine comes as an artifact of Lincoln’s victory. My family comes from poor. Some of us still are. Some of us aren’t. I remember not having a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out. But, I never got to a point where I thought a total stranger should be compelled to fix my screw ups or thought that I couldn’t rise above the circumstances I found myself in. Which, in the eyes of the family I grew up in, is the embodiment of the Democratic party. It took me a while to realize the Repubs had their own form of corruption.
Fear probably isn’t descriptive of why I don’t much any more. I will pick up hitchers when I’m alone in my vehicle. When I’ve got my wife or kids with me…….. not a chance. I’ve picked up too many that were …..not well and/or desperate. But, hitching in Kansas is different than Cali. I’ve never hitched as far in one go as you, but I’ve hitched. I learned to play the guitar afterwards. But, yes, I can see where that’s a great prop! Here, the more distance the better, given the proper place and space to pull over. You’re right, showing your face is essential and eye contact done properly wins the ride. (Assuming properly groomed etc.) That said, Kansas allows a person to carry a weapon in any manner in your vehicle. (Warning each town may impose a different set of rules!) So, in my pickup, I usually have a loaded pistol within reach. It is assumed all do. Good for hitchers, bad for crazies.
As far as fixing the problems. The first thing to realize, is Adams was entirely correct……“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The second thing, obviously, is to put people back to work. It is my hope that you’ve at least investigated Perry’s plan for this economy. It won’t grow without an increase in energy and fuel capacity. Yeh, I know, he’s a gasp Republican. But, show me one other candidate that has the audacity to state this truth, and I’ll get behind them, too. As far as congress goes…….this is the one area I’ll support our friends on Wall street. Show them that your mad and vote that bastards out! The people of this country needs to quit whining about that crap and realize we’re the ones that keep sending them back to office! Understand that each time our Representative “brings home the bacon” that our Representative made a back door deal to do so. Then think to ourselves as to why this country is in such a mess.
Willis, I enjoyed your article, but it saddens me. You’ll continue to vote against a Repub, and I’ll always vote against a Dem.
(Recommended music ….. John Prine and the Dirt Band…. specifically “Granpa was a Carpenter”)

Ian H
October 17, 2011 4:44 pm

Last time I picked up a hitchhiker was … interesting. I’d just passed a nice looking young couple – probably tourists – and wished I’d picked them up but didn’t manage to have the thought in time. So my mind was in a stopping for hitchhikers place when I saw another guy. I regretted picking him up immediately. He was dirty and smelled of urine, and seemed to be slightly under the influence of some mind altering substance. I also didn’t like the way our conversation went. He came across as shifty and evasive and I sensed he was sizing me up. I started to think I might be in real trouble, when my salvation appeared in the form of … yet another hitchhiker. My current passenger was unable to object when I slowed down to pick up the new guy (although I sensed he wanted to), and wonder of wonders it turned out that not only was my new passenger a fit young fellow freshly released from the armed services, but he was also on his way to commence training as a police recruit. I took great care to drop the shady character off first, after which I thanked my rescuer for his timely presence and drove him to the far side of town to a really good hitchhiking spot.

Rick Morcom
October 17, 2011 4:47 pm

Thanks, Willis, for a wonderful posting. I have done a fair bit of hitching and picking up in my time as well. But being the quiet sort with mild hearing loss that means I have to pay a lot of attention when people speak to me, I tend to enjoy my own silence when I drive and resent a hitchhiker disturbing that. But your stories encourage me to be bolder and start picking them up again!
Great news on the autobiography! I feel that I would like to pre-order a copy this very minute!

October 17, 2011 4:48 pm

A Kerouac story that at one point quotes Tom Robbins paying homage to Vonnegut. Can’t get much better than that. A really nice read.

Physics Major
October 17, 2011 5:00 pm

I’m not surprised that not many Republicans pick up hitchhikers in California – they’re such a minority. But I bet that if you were hitchen’ in rural Texas, Georgia or North Carolina, you would score plenty of R rides.

October 17, 2011 5:02 pm

Thanks Willis, an enjoyable read. Based on this, I’d buy your biography.
I still pick up hitch hikers, but not if they look like bums. I’m pretty sure I’d have stopped for you.

P Wilson
October 17, 2011 5:08 pm

fine story, Willis. I’ve done my fair shareof hitchhiking, and adventure and poverty and it made me realise there are two sorts of people in the world. Pessimists who are affected by daily doom and gloom, and lets face it – there is a lot being thrown at us, and then there are those who stay fairly optimistic, who maintain their happiness and reason, in the face of downward spirals, and let most of the doom and gloom bypass them.

October 17, 2011 5:09 pm

Great story Willis. Yes life is dangerous, it’s 100% certain to end in death.
I had no bad experiences hitching myself. It was a meditation for me too. I always had to wait until I knew “this journey has to be done and this is the way to do it”. Then I knew I’d be ok.
I had one scary experience giving a lift. Probably if I’d listened to my intuition I’d have heard a warning “no” – no, actually, my intuition did save me because I took my passenger to the one place where his true identity could be unmasked though I’d never have logically guessed that and neither would he. Cannot say more.

October 17, 2011 5:16 pm

You lay on the roadside, not laid. It’s that intransitive versus transitive thing.

October 17, 2011 5:19 pm

I was drawn in, good post. I’ve picked up a few hitch-hikers in my time, not too many, but don’t see them a lot. I vote conservative over here in Australia but have been poor. It makes sense to fill a car with people it doesn’t add much to the tonne of metal it already is.

Stephen Lasecki
October 17, 2011 5:19 pm

Awhile ago you did a little bio that stunned me. We, you and I, share so many life similarities that I believed we were brothers with different Mothers. Until today. The divergence I think is the result of your route. I’ve gone NY to Cali by thumb since ’69, driven it every few years since ’85 been up and down #95 and #1 more than I can recall and spent a great deal more time in fly-over country. Aye, there’s the rub. Those experiences in the aptly named Heartland changed me from an unformed school-indoctrinated socialist ( even in Microbiology, even then!) into a Milton Friedman, Hayek and Reagan loving obscurantist. That’s a Soviet word for denier. Ah, youth.
Leave the left coast occasionally, it might be psychedelic.

Steve E
October 17, 2011 5:22 pm

Thank you Willis,
Can’t help but hear Sam Elliott’s voice as I read your story. 😉 Perhaps you could do a series of podcasts with Sam Elliott doing the reading and call it “Willis’ Travels.”
I’d subscribe!

Layne Blanchard
October 17, 2011 5:30 pm

I was enjoying your article until you started insulting me. BS stereotypes. A display of ignorance quite atypical for you.
Now, I DO think conservatives are less likely to pick up a hitch hiker, but not because they are less generous. Nor do they automatically want to “screw someone”. Really inappropriate.
I was a hitchhiker often when younger, and gave many a ride since then. One reason Conservatives are less likely to offer a ride because they are more likely to take that advice (about traveling with strangers) that you dismissed.
Lets not forget that the entire history of this site has been to debunk a GIANT screwing that those left of Center want to inflict upon the world.

Gary Hladik
October 17, 2011 5:31 pm

“4. They all were very disappointed by Obama. Different reasons were given, but not one person was happy with his performance.”
Heh. I’ll file that one under “be careful what you wish for”. 🙂
Thanks for the story, Willis. I need no “adventures” of my own when I can live vicariously through yours.

Robin Kool
October 17, 2011 5:35 pm

I hitchhiked many thousands of kilometers in Europe. Often from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, across Germany and Switzerland, to Milan in Italy – 1150 km/700miles. Leaving Amsterdam in the morning, I would usually arrive in Milan in the early evening, in time to take the night train to Rome, where I taught dance and where my girlfriend lived.
My system of hitchhiking was all about speed – Germany has no speed limit on most of its highways. And I wanted to catch that train.
I hitchhiked from gas station to gas station, so that I could ask people personally.
That gives them a few moments to get an idea of who I am – based on the sound of my voice, the look in my eyes, the way I am dressed.
You don’t have that crazy serial killer energy – check, no bad breath – check. Pleasant voice, nice clothes, friendly face – why not give this guy a lift.
I asked them before they payed for the gas. That gave them more time to think it over. It was not rare that they first said no, then went to pay and when they came back had changed their mind – because I accepted their no so friendly.
I never asked them more that 50 – 100 km. People won’t easily invite someone in their car for 3 or 4 hours, without being sure they will feel comfortable with him. So I would ask for 50km and once we had a pleasant conversation, I would let them know I actually wanted to go 1000 km further, but if they let me out after 50 km I was just as happy.
That’s probably why people didn’t give you a lift, even though they liked your sign and your guitar.
If they go a short way, they may easily think that’s not interesting for you, since you have such a distance to go. And if they go further, they are hesitant to let you in, because now they imagine you in their car for several hours, and it become important to them that you are not an unpleasant person.
They are willing to risk 100km. Once they know how much fun you are, they don’t want to let you go.
There were several ideas I utilized to be able to smile friendly when they said no.
1. This is a selection process – the people who would not be pleasant to be with say no, the ones who say yes are the ones with who I will have a good time and a nice conversation.
2. If I had a car, there would be times when I would not give a lift to a hitchhiker either.
I might be intensely thinking about something. I might be sad. I might be very happy being alone. I might not feel like talking.
So many reasons why a very nice person might not give me a lift that day. No reason to be angry.
3. It’s nice to be able to accept a no in a friendly way. It’s like bringing a little friendliness in a potentially awkward situation. It’s like being a host of the party and being generous to your guests.
To go fast, I asked drivers of fast cars. No trucks for me. Do republicans drive faster cars than democrats?
I sure did have one from an army general, an olympic gold medalist, a real gigolo and a ballroom orchestra – all of them had great stories to tell.
I met so many nice people while hitchhiking.
And the fastest I ever went was in a Porsche 911 turbo: 280km/h, that’s 175miles/h.
use I accepted their no so ea

Gary Hladik
October 17, 2011 5:38 pm

Republican voter says (October 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm): “So instead of spending time with your wife and daughter you would rather spend hours standing by the side of the road.”
I don’t know about Willis, but over the decades I’ve learned that even in a loving family there can be such a thing as too much time together. Your mileage may vary.

October 17, 2011 5:41 pm

It’s not proper research you have done here.How many times have you been picked up?What times?It could be that a lot of Republicans are at work,while Democrats are not.
Too sweeping a statement to say Democrat supporters are kind and good because they are more inclined to pick up hitchhikers.You need proper research before you can arrive at a conclusion like that.
Let’s all condemn Republican voters because they don’t pick up hitchhikers.How many hitchhikers are in genuine need?
I apologise if that is not what you meant.
I am left with the impression that you believe that the majority of poor people vote for Democrats,and because they are poor they are inclined to be kinder than Republicans.
You could have bused and still met a variety of people.I am inclined to believe that on buses you would get the real stories of misery,after all bus travellers cannot even afford a car,

iron brian
October 17, 2011 5:41 pm

Wow! awesome!
One time in Merced we were waiting for a ride,
and a car hauler full of police cars pulled by…

October 17, 2011 5:44 pm

5. Like me, they all either were or had been dirt poor in their lives.

If it feeds your ego, go ahead and believe it.

October 17, 2011 5:47 pm

Layne Blanchard said @ October 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm
I was enjoying your article until you started insulting me. BS stereotypes. [snip]
Lets not forget that the entire history of this site has been to debunk a GIANT screwing that those left of Center want to inflict upon the world.”
Hey Layne, I’m left of centre and a pretty strong libertarian. If you want to chastise Willis for sterotyping, best not do it yourself 🙂

John from CA
October 17, 2011 5:49 pm

Best piece I’ve read in years Willis!
Thanks, choked up remembering all the good times I enjoyed on the road in the midwest.
Best Regards

October 17, 2011 5:49 pm

Well Willis speaking as a republican with a little libertarian and a whole lot of tea party I would stop and pick up someone that follows the rules you set forth and that was one great read, if you are ever hitching through Idaho and get a chance to go through the Shelley area I might just pick you up if for now other reason than to be able to talk to a very fascinating person that I look up to though we have never met.
P.S. you would have to put up with a beat up 86 Honda as the ride but hey not all republicans are well off 🙂

Don B
October 17, 2011 5:51 pm

Nice story. Thanks.

October 17, 2011 5:55 pm

I’m going to buy some pizza.

F. Ross
October 17, 2011 5:57 pm

As an oldster of the Republican pursuasion I don’t drive much anymore, but still give the occasional assistance such as a jump start or a lift once in a while.
Most recently to a person of questionable legality in this country. His pickup truck had a broken drive shaft. Gave him a ride several miles to his job and help. He didn’t speak much English nor I much Spanish but each enough of the other to get to his destination.

October 17, 2011 6:00 pm

that’s life in the emerald triangle at the peak of harvest season, eh willis?

October 17, 2011 6:06 pm

Noelene said @ October 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm
You could have bused and still met a variety of people.I am inclined to believe that on buses you would get the real stories of misery,after all bus travellers cannot even afford a car,
Noelene, For a decade I had a business training computer users, usually at their own premises, small businesses mainly, but also an International oil company once for half a day (blush). I travelled to & from the city by bus & between cities by bus. Not because I couldn’t afford a car, but because it would have consumed $10-20,000 more to travel each year and I had better things to do with my money, like building a luxury home! Most of the people I met travelling on those buses owned their own cars, but like me, preferred to save the money. That’s a conservative thing that those of us born working class did in order to become middle class 😉
I could also work while travelling on the bus; have laptop, will travel. Try doing that while driving a car…
Sheesh! Lotta stereotyping today, n’est ce pas?

dave in Canmore
October 17, 2011 6:10 pm

Wonderful tales from the road Willis.

October 17, 2011 6:20 pm

Very enjoyable read Willis. As someone else said found myself drawn in to read it to the end, though I’d only pulled it up to read later.

Roger Knights
October 17, 2011 6:26 pm

Updated lyrics for GD2: “Buddy, can you spare a dime (bag)?”
I got picked up while hitchhiking by a Republican in a new pink Cadillac in 1962. (I don’t remember if it had a set of longhorns as hood ornaments–they’d have filled the bill.) I asked where he was going and he said, “I’m on my way to see my congressman.” But he didn’t say “my congressman” the way you or I would! (The emphasis was on MY.)
Lots of “characters” on the road. This guy looked like boss hog from “Porky’s”–and proud of it.

October 17, 2011 6:40 pm

Sorry to have missed ya. I lived in Grants Pass for a couple of years before moving to Gold Beach, and in the last few weeks now we moved to Molalla Oregon. If you end up heading to the Portland area on your next adventure, I would love to buy you a beer.
Jack H Barnes

Doug in Seattle
October 17, 2011 6:43 pm

In my teens I thumbed my way across Canada twice (summertime) and took the train once (winter – brrr). I enjoyed both modes of travel and never felt in danger, even though I was only 15 the first time I hitch hiked.
In addition to that I continued to hitch into my 30’s, but mostly for short trips within BC. Except for a short period when I was in my late teens, I didn’t own a car (actually a Datsun PU) until I was 32. I lived in a big city and didn’t really need a car, and besides hitching was an easier and cheaper way to get to more distant places than buses or planes.
The only times I drove was for jobs, when I would either rent a PU or use a company one depending on whether I was contracting my services or working for another contractor.
Once I started driving I got spoiled and haven’t hitched since the late 1980’s. I miss the freedom of youth. No possessions, no bills, no worries, no family.
Ah, yes family! That had a small part in changing my ways.

October 17, 2011 6:50 pm

Terrific story Willis. I too have spend a fair amount of time hitchin’. I note that you mentioned working on a fishing boat on the west coast. Did you ever get into Winter Harbour? How about going around the top of the Island and stopping in at Bull Harbour on Hope Island? I did. Many, many times as a deckhand/cook on a 42 foot trawler for two seasons. To cut this short, I will state for the record that I have not since then, nor do I ever again expect to eat another salmon for as long as I live. The pinks saw to that. I don’t know how I ever made it through two seasons of waking up at 4 to get breakfast on, then out to the cockpit to run the gurdies and yank fish in until my hands bled, then across the checkers to dress and hurl them into the hold. Dinner time meant a “break” to cook dinner, then down into the hold — neck deep in fish — to ice and pack the day’s catch. I would crawl out of the hold usually at 11 pm and have a amaretto and a colt, then fall into the Foc’sle for a couple of hours sleep. The engine starting at 3 am was my alarm to get up and repeat the process. This would go on for days on end until we sat low in the water and had to make a bee-line to the cash buyer or the BC Packers barge to unload, then take on more ice. While it was miserable and extremely difficult work, I would not trade those two seasons for anything! I can still smell the sea breeze in my nose and can still close my eyes and be watching for the green flash… Sorry to stray of topic a bit, but I figured you wouldn’t mind another high-liner spinnin’ yarn.

October 17, 2011 6:52 pm

Willis loved your story. I think that you are very bright and work hard at everything you do. I do not understand why you think the Democrats you vote for have your interests at heart. Certainly a personal preference. In the final analysis for each of us is did we contribute to this world more than we took. Not sure if Democrat or Republican makes any difference, only what have you done. Thank you for your Climate insight and your analysis. Now thank you for your enjoyable writing.

October 17, 2011 6:58 pm

What a great post Willis! I can’t wait (maybe that should now read couldn’t wait) to read your book. It sounds like we’re about the same age and physical stature.
But I have to agree with Latitude, Layne and a few others: You really insulted us Republicans, and for no good reason (at far as I can tell). The anti-Republican remarks add nothing to the story, and in one fell swoop you have put a serious dent in the mental picture that I’d built up while reading your posts here at WUWT. You remind me of Woody Allen in ‘Annie Hall’ saying something to the effect of “Yeah, I’m a bigot, but for the Left”.
I used to regularly pick up hitchhikers until (as someone else mentioned) I picked up a guy wanted by the police for assault. It was a very unpleasant experience and completely negated all the positive ones. So would I be wrong for not giving anyone else a lift after that?
Regardless, if you had been hh’ing up I-5 last year I would have picked you up. I spent 6 months of 2010 on the left coast (Bay area) and did a 2 week quick trip up to Jasper, Banff, and Canmore. But I didn’t see you out there. So instead I picked up a young lady hitchhiker (with a guitar) just outside Redding and drove her to Medford, OR. She was rejoining her Canadian folk singing group which she had left a week before to visit a friend. We had a very engaging conversation in which we solved all the world’s problems. :-]

October 17, 2011 7:00 pm

As mentioned somewhere in here last year, Willis has special ways of attracting attention for a ride. In my case he pranged his car as I was passing by (a very recent hurricane had stripped the seal off the road leaving a mess for about 60 yards) and, of course I stopped to see if he was OK. He was, his car wasn’t, and I was able to give him a lift to Suva. Goodness – 18 years ago!
I used to see Willis quietly reading a book in the restaurant in Pacific Harbour. Little did I know how I was missing a great opportunity to discuss topics of if such interest to me. Not to mention the parallels in our lives such as cattle ranching, generating our own electricity via Pelton wheel driven generator, National Service in the Army, commercial fishing, and living in the tropics.
C’est la vie!

Roger Knights
October 17, 2011 7:02 pm

Anteros says:
October 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm
Of all the ruses to get picked up, nothing works as well as a motorcycle helmet. Not only do bikers automatically stop, but everyone else thinks you’ve just broken down. Wonderful if you’ve got the stomach for it.

I picked up a beat-up police helmet at a yard sale. It has a pull-down transparent (Lexan) face shield and “Police” imprinted on the front. I wonder how that would do on the road. (Impersonating an officer?) No free pot, that’s for sure.
I hopped a freight once, from Barre to Montpelier VT. I had no reason to make the trip, but the door was open and it was going slow. It was carrying blanks for gravestones. Maybe that could be the start of a spooky movie.

October 17, 2011 7:06 pm

But by and large, you know who has picked me up my entire life?
Poor people.

I don’t hitchhike much, so naturally the most amazing hitchhiking experience I’ve ever had was when I was not hitchhiking. I was in Hells Canyon walking just a little up the road from its end at Hells Canyon Dam, in the twilight of a cold rainy day in March, on the last leg of what had become an ~ 4 hr. jog-hike way up along some trails on the Idaho side of the canyon, now back down and circling almost to my family’s camp another 1.5 miles further along, all wet and kind of strangely dressed with a sickly old canvas backpack on, and fully armed with Colt .357 magnum revolver hanging down from my left side, mainly for the occasional interaction with bear and cougars, and now wolves.
I hadn’t even seen anyone else yet when this car pulls up slowly beside me from behind and offers me a ride, and I’m thinking that either they must be really crazy or else maybe I’m done for. But, Lord almighty, it’s a whole Hispanic family, complete with all age groups! So I squeezed in beside what looked like Grandma and they drove me the rest of the way back. I was sincerely amazed. And touched.

Jeff Alberts
October 17, 2011 7:06 pm

“Would you give this man a ride?”
Depends. Is your brain squirmin’ like a toad?

Jerry Haney
October 17, 2011 7:07 pm

I grew up poor in the 50’s and my father was a coal miner, working in the deep mines (underground). Every summer after I turned 12, I worked along side him in those mines, until I won an academic scholarship to college. My parents did not have indoor plumbing until my freshman year in college. I came to the conclusion very early, that when the government started to take some of my earnings and pass it out to someone else who did not work, for whatever reason, that would lead to economic disaster for all working people.
Charity is far better off in the hands of churches and private charities. That said, I have worked hard and now I am retired. I don’t need social security, but I take it because I paid a hell of a lot of money into it.
I earned enough to frequently take fishing trips to the Kenai River (Cooper’s Landing) and fish several wonderful rivers in the northwest and northeast USA. I have frequently picked up hitchhikers when traveling, but I always kept an equalizer in the door of my car. Only once did I need to brandish it to stop from being mugged. Thank God I did not have to fire it.
I have always been a Libertarian, and not once have I voted for a democrat. They like to spend other people’s hard earned money too much, but so do most politicians. I plan on voting for Cain because he has never been a politican, and has worked very hard his entire life. Freedom and Capitalism has always worked well when not encumbered by the political class.

October 17, 2011 7:20 pm

I hitched a number of times to get home from college in the 60’s and occasionally to get home from work in the summer. Once, coming home from work, I was picked up by an overly friendly guy in a Ford Falcon which is a rather small vehicle. We got about halfway to where I was going and he reached over and squeezed my thigh just above the knee and winked. If I had gotten any closer to the passenger side door I would have been outside the car. I asked him to let me out at a traffic signal intersection a mile from my home and walked the rest of the way. The next evening I went with my girlfriend to her sister’s wedding rehearsal and dinner. Guess who the minister was. Yeah. He fastidiously avoided me throughout the event.
Hitching home from college once I was picked up by a foursome. Two middle aged adults and their kids (they said) in their 20’s in the back seat. I rode shotgun in the front. I thought it peculiar that their kids sat so close that their heads were touching most of the time and that every time the car (a large Buick) went over railroad tracks or a rough spot the rear end bottomed out. Eventually I figured out I just become part of the cover for some booleggers taking some ‘shine from east Tennessee to Nashville in a hidden tank in the back of that Buick.

October 17, 2011 7:21 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm
GogogoStopSTOP says:
October 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm
… You were on the PCH doing political research? You started 40 miles from San Francisco, you were in Sonoma County! You found (all) Obama supporters that were disappointed! Ditch the political research, stick to science!
There are lots and lots of Republicans living and traveling on the PCH, who do you think owns a host of those gorgeous homes there?
RINO’s the last real republican in that state was Pete Wilson. The ones that call themselves Republicans there today caused moonbeam to be re-elected. …….
Willis, do you really think Cali is any reflection to reality at all? If so, why? Those aren’t Republicans, those are libs that actually worked for their money.

October 17, 2011 7:26 pm

I couldn’t possibly read all that pap, but I got to this imossible point:
““I’ve only been a Republican for ten minutes”, he replies, “and already I want to screw somebody.”
Now, there’s a point to my telling this story. Do you know how I can tell that that’s a joke, and not really something that might have actually happened?
Because Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.”:
Sorry, I value your opinions on science, but you absolutely suck, IMO, when you get into politics. So I call BULLSHIT, WILLIS!

October 17, 2011 7:29 pm

Great story, well told.
And brought back some terrific memories of hitchhiking around New Zealand in the 1960s.
Been a while since I’ve needed to hitch, or felt the urge to, but I still pick ’em up. Mostly European backpackers in this country, all keen to try out their English . . . spent most of my time with the last guy, a German, straightening out the fractured American version of English he’d picked up in the Philippines.
Can’t classify myself politically . . . a change of underfoot conditions at the racetrack has always affected me more than any change of government.

October 17, 2011 7:36 pm

Hier Doctor Professor Eschenbach, your false karma is showing again! I think you protest too much & you’re far too sensitive. You wrote a nice piece & it got posted, inappropriately, on a climate site. You missed my real advice: “I meditate often… to help my karma, as you might!”

October 17, 2011 7:38 pm

Oh, and Willis, my residence is in Eagle Point, OR, about 25 miles from Grants Pass. And I share a completely different experience from you. You just might be biased.

October 17, 2011 7:51 pm

Willis – as a non-scientist, I always enjoy your contributions here. Readable, understandable and invariably highly educational.
I am a former hitch-hiker myself here in Australia in the same long-ago sixties that you mention. In my many journeys I fell in love with the “beauty and terrors” of this wonderful “Sunburnt Country”.
On every criteria, this is a great story and a lovely read – one that I could relate to on so many levels.
Thank you again on all counts!

October 17, 2011 7:56 pm

Loved the story. Did a good bit of hitchhiking way back when it was easy but don’t think I would have the nerve for it now. Used to live in Germany then (now Canada). Most dubious lift was in a very old Mercedes, whose driver guzzled down 4 half-liter bottles of beer between Wuerzburg and Hannover. Oh, and that peddler of surplus army trucks who groaned and grimaced when his pancreatitis flared up in painful colics, which however could instantly be soothed with sips from his coke bottle. In hindsight, it seems an investigation of that bottle would have been in order.
Regarding being picked up by poor vs rich people, well of course beaters driven by students were the most welcome sight, but a surprising number of wealthy and conservative people would stop, too, and would make good-humoured conversation, on politics or anything else. Funny thing though, this only worked with people driving Mercedes, or the occasional Audi, but not ONCE did I get a lift in a BMW. Don’t get drawn into petty arguments about Republicans vs Democrats – the real schism is between Mercedes and BMW!

October 17, 2011 7:57 pm


October 17, 2011 7:59 pm

LOL. So, as I understand the dialogue so far, Willis gets into the cars and interrogates the drivers about whether they are “Republicans” or a “Democrats?” LOL, LOL, LOL. Wiillllllllllis, you outdid yourself this time! Please provide some statistics with that bullshit!
I’ve been there and have not had a similar experience. Just WHO is weird here?

October 17, 2011 8:01 pm

Hey Willis, I laughed at your jab at Republicans and that’s OK and enjoyed your narrative. I vote mostly republican – go 2nd amendment – and give rides to hitchhikers provided that they don’t appear to stink to high heaven. I assume you know Frank Bartagy.

October 17, 2011 8:15 pm

Great read. The posts do reinforce my perception the biggest difference in political parties is still in the minds of the ruled. The banks run the governments, have since they took control of the issuance of money. The rest is just theater to placate the masses.

October 17, 2011 8:17 pm

Willis wrote @ October 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm
“I want to shake up the stereotypes of what liberals believe and what conservatives believe. The only way to do that is to make people uncomfortable …”
Almost correct. Willis, we can’t make people uncomfortable, it’s the ideas you espouse that people don’t want to think too deeply about that result in their discomfort. One chooses whether to feel discomfited, or do some deep thinking.
There is no conclusive evidence about what happens to old skeptics, but their future is doubtful… 😉

October 17, 2011 8:17 pm

As you know you can’t make everyone happy. Speaking for myself, I really enjoyed your article. It brought back memories of hitchhiking, practically penniless, from Ohio to California in my early 20’s.

October 17, 2011 8:22 pm

Holy smoke, Willis, please stop! You’re digging yourself deeper and deeper….
“who do you think owns a host of those gorgeous homes there? … A quarter of the registered voters in Sonoma County are Republicans,” You have got to be kidding me. So does that mean 3 quarters are Democrats? I can’t believe you said that. Is that how you do your climate statistical analysis? “How do you think all that CO2 got into the atmosphere? … A quarter of the power plants burn coal.” Huh? What the..?
“I was just afraid of Jerry’s indebtedness to the government unions …” Then based on that, you can never vote for a Democrat again. They’re all indebted to the unions. Well, not all. Well, I can’t think of any that aren’t.
“I’ve hitchhiked all over the US, side to side and top to bottom, and I have only infrequently been picked up by a Republican.” Well then you ‘lied’ in your article. You said “…Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.” Which is it? Never or infrequently? And again I don’t understand the reason it’s important to the telling of your otherwise marvelous story.
“If that fact from my life [is] somehow an insult to you,” You didn’t state it as your observation. You stated it as a general fact along with an arguably off-color joke. “Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.” Period
So, Willis, please just let it go. And if you’re ever in the DC area I’d be happy to pick you up and put you up…if you wouldn’t mind that is. I have one of those evil Republican mansions : – ) Btw, were you at ICCC6? I met Anthony there.

Dave Wendt
October 17, 2011 8:24 pm

“I have spent a lifetime hitchhiking, and I have rarely been picked up by Republicans.”
Just as a point of information, have you actually inquired into the political affiliation of everyone who ever gave you a lift over the entire course of your life? And they all were willing to volunteer that information to a complete stranger? You must have a very trustworthy appearance.

October 17, 2011 8:25 pm

Willis: Hey, guitar case!!??. Guitar man///!!!. I’ve just spent most all of this evening trying to comprehend the deep beauty of this : ‘Radiohead Weired Fish Basement’. Unbelievable. What do you play???

October 17, 2011 8:25 pm

Odd political thought #58,943
My maternal grandfather, Arthur Ashley of Nuneaton, Warwickshire (UKLand) was a died-in-the-wool socialist, and an extremely violent man. He was the union representative at his job (pavier for the local council) and went to all the Trades Union Congresses. His wife, Annie, told me shortly before she died, “I never told anybody else this; but I always voted Tory”.
Ya hafta laugh 🙂

October 17, 2011 8:29 pm

And here it is. Save you looking for it.

October 17, 2011 8:39 pm

Willis said: “There’s an art to hitchhiking… ” But after reading the whole piece again & all of Willis’s retorts to readers comments, I get the feeling that you didn’t have an art of hitchhiking. You had a “false karma” as a hitchhiker: it was all ‘smiles’ & ‘guitar cases’ & ‘signs’ & … I hate to ask a joke of a question: “Have you ever forgiven your father, the Republican?” LOL!

October 17, 2011 8:46 pm

Now I’m really confused.
“A joke current in the family when I was younger was about the guy….” Then at 7:55pm “My dad, a lifelong Republican, fell out of his chair laughing when I told him that joke.” So I guess your dad wasn’t in your family.
The real problem Willis is that the joke is not necessary for you to get your point across. And more importantly, you can switch the parties and it’s still a joke. Or replace with your favorite ethnic, religious or other stereotype.

October 17, 2011 8:56 pm

Willis you say:
‘I’m working on my autobiography, it’s going well but slowly. I’m about 75,000 words in, and I’m up to where I was 30 years old … it’s a problem, my life has been, well, somewhat full of the same kinds of adventures detailed above. That trip took two days to do, and over 5,000 words to describe …’
Just keep at it. While I don’t agree with all your politics, you have an absolutely spell-binding way with words, and fascinating life lessons. Ordinarily it is difficult to concentrate on a post of this length but for this one I could not stop reading. As I’ve stated in the past, any book you publish will have me on the waiting list…

October 17, 2011 8:57 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm
James Sexton says:
October 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm
Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm
… There are lots and lots of Republicans living and traveling on the PCH, who do you think owns a host of those gorgeous homes there?
… Those aren’t Republicans, those are libs that actually worked for their money.
James, are you self-destructive or just acting that way? I’ve been in their houses with them, I’ve fixed their roofs and added on new bedrooms and remodeled their kitchens, I’ve commiserated with them about their kids, they told me they are Republicans, they espoused Republican beliefs … and now you claim they’re not “real” Republicans, they don’t pass the Sexton test? You never talked to them, but you’re telling me you know they are fakes, not the real thing?
You are calling me a liar, my friend, and I don’t take well to that at all. Someone is a fake here, and it’s neither me nor the Republicans …
Serious words. No, I’m not calling you a liar…..just gullible. I’m saying your California is an island. It isn’t the “James Sexton” test, it’s a reality test. For criminy sakes, you guys actually believe Schwarzenegger was a Repub….. maybe in your world….never in mine nor the rest of conservatives in this country. You are familiar with the term RINO? Please. Don’t project those spineless acquiescing 1/2 a$$ worms on the rest of us. It isn’t what I’m about. Nor the rest of the country’s conservatives.
But, then, Barney Frank would be why you vote against Repubs…. or Jimmy, or now B.O. I’m self destructive? Check yourself. Oh, crap, I forgot, you remember the Johnson administration, like I do. Where is the Bay of Tonkin? You keep voting against……something….. I’ll keep voting against people that don’t believe in American exceptionalism to the person. Gullible Willis, not a liar. Were I to call someone a liar, it would be plain, clear, and well known. But, you should know that by now.

October 17, 2011 9:08 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm
“…by and large…” Ok, Ok, I see your point.
“I think I was at ICCC6, was that the one in Chicago?” No it was the one in Washington DC last June. Sorry I missed you.

Ryan Welch
October 17, 2011 9:41 pm

This is a great story except for one thing. I have been dirt poor myself. I am also a Republican, and I have given so many hitchhikers rides that I can’t even begin to count them. I have changed more tires than I care to remember too. I can’t believe that no Republican has ever given you a lift. Republicans tend to be more religious, and church people tend to be more inclined to service. This is not opinion. I have read numerous studies that substantiate that point. Besides, you ask everyone that gives you a ride what party they belong to? I have never done that as a ride giver or been asked that as a hitchhiker either.

October 17, 2011 9:57 pm

A lot of the guys here need to take a step back, relax and enjoy the narrative in the light hearted spirit in which it was posted. There’s no point or sense in getting wound up over perceived insults in an actually experienced factual and down to earth narrative.

October 17, 2011 9:58 pm

My last words on the subject…… How much do they take? How much do they pay their people to administrate the money they took? How much actually goes back to the people? They look around and see impoverished people!! No $hit. They’ve impoverished us all, believing we would then be subjects of the people who impoverished us.
I don’t care if some one made it rich. I’m glad for them. I hope there are more rich in the days to come. For those that claim worry about the decline of the middle class, I’d like to send them all to hell, knowing they were part and parcel of such degeneration.
How many food stamp workers would it take to equal the amount of food I’d willingly give? How many welfare workers do I have to support before my daughter says she can’t make it! Bastards. How much degeneration do we have to suffer before we realize they are taking more than what they are giving back? Bastards. They are creating poverty by taking what is earned and giving to what isn’t going to be earned and then encouraging people not to earn. Bastards.

October 17, 2011 10:13 pm

In my youth in the middle 70’s i hitchhiked Canada and the US from Florida to Alaska for 6 years.
School in the east and placer mining and roulete croupier in the Yukon, Mining in Alaska.
Always smile at every ride, stand tall and happy at the top of a hill, and the best thing to get a ride was a clean white windbreaker. Don’t stink and be very polite and you will have great rides. Only had one very scary one, from Salem to Eugene on I5. Don;t get misled off of your journey, The driver offering you all sorts of good stuff is not a good thing. Be firm and safe.

October 17, 2011 10:22 pm

James Sexton says:
October 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm
My last words on the subject…… How much do they take? How much do they pay their people to administrate the money they took? How much actually goes back to the people? They look around and see impoverished people!! No $hit. They’ve impoverished us all, believing we would then be subjects of the people who impoverished us.
I don’t care if some one made it rich. I’m glad for them. I hope there are more rich in the days to come. For those that claim worry about the decline of the middle class, I’d like to send them all to hell, knowing they were part and parcel of such degeneration.
How many food stamp workers would it take to equal the amount of food I’d willingly give? How many welfare workers do I have to support before my daughter says she can’t make it! Bastards. How much degeneration do we have to suffer before we realize they are taking more than what they are giving back? Bastards. They are creating poverty by taking what is earned and giving to what isn’t going to be earned and then encouraging people not to earn. Bastards.
Repeated for effect. Beyond eloquent. James, please contact me at sharkhearted@gmail.com
We need to talk.
All the best,
Norfolk, VA, USA
PS and all the best to Anthony and this amazing site…this phenomenon. Thank you!

Lonnie E. Schubert
October 17, 2011 10:22 pm

Willis, Saturday, while driving two of my daughters to shop, I mentioned you and your writing on Anthony’s site. I had to explain a bit, because they don’t always listen when I talk about items from WUWT. Anyway, when my 16-year-old asked who you were, I actually said you are who I want to be like when I grow up, or something close enough. My point is I admire you, what little I’ve seen here, and I admit it, even to my daughters. (I suppose that sounds sappy, but be it as it may.)
I enjoyed the story to my bones, and it made me think! Thank you, and thanks to Anthony for providing the space.
I’m not sure why the joke and republican thing is such a big deal. I suppose I saw the point as I was reading. I’ve found the most important thing to remember about offense is that if I don’t take it, I’m not offended.
It seems to me that those who lean left tend to see a problem and appeal to authority, to the powers that be. While I see those who lean to the right seeing the same problem and looking to individual and volunteer responsibility. Anyway, just my observation. I’ve also tended to notice more emotional decision making on the left, but the republican response here gives new evidence to the contrary.
Again, Willis, thanks for the story, and thanks for making me think. It is good to be challenged.

October 17, 2011 10:25 pm

This is a great piece of writing. Really enjoyed it. Thanks for posting it.
It really brought back memories. After college, I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail, Maine to Georgia. If you thru-hike the AT, hitch-hiking is absolutely necessary. Many people kindly gave me a ride from trailhead to town for resupply and back, or trailhead to youth hostel. We were all very grateful for those rides. They freed up a lot of time and effort, and allowed us to hike. At that time, and in those places (woods and small towns of the northeast) locals and many tourists were happy to pick up hitchers if they were near a trailhead, wearing a large backpack, smiling, and actually walking along the road–making the effort to walk, and not just sitting there waiting for a ride seemed to really help. The few times I tried it without a backpack, I completely struck out.
Even today, 25 years later, whenever I’m back east and near the AT in the summertime, I always make an effort to pick up hitch-hiking hikers. I’m happy to take them to a hostel or laundromat or post office.
I am a Republican by the way (and was back then, too).

Doug in Seattle
October 17, 2011 10:32 pm

A cold breeze of political intolerance is blowing about this blog today and I find it bit disconcerting.
With a few notable exceptions most of us readers recognize the insanity of the CAGW position and come here to read upon the subject. I recognize, and so should even the most conservative of readers, that winning the battle against the insanity requires convincing people of all political persuasions that true aim of the proponents of CAGW is not environmental or political, but pathological.
We should therefore welcome political diversity here. We can agree to disagree on matters of left and right, but still get out the message that science does NOT support destroying the civilization we built by using fossil fuels.

October 17, 2011 10:32 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm
James, I read hundreds and hundreds of comments every week. This post alone has over a hundred and fifty comments, and it’s just one of my posts. You flatter yourself immensely if you think I remember your comments.
Willis, for all your prodigious and uncanny intellect, you need to be called out here.
How is he flattering himself??
On the contrary, you are rather flattering yourself if you think you can get past that one.
Something like Argument from Authority or Argument from Narcissism more like it.
Willis. For shame, dude.
You of all people…to succumb to raw ego in “being right”….as opposed to backing away…. taking a deep breath….and saying….you know what, James….you’ve got a point.
Norfolk, VA, USA

Lonnie E. Schubert
October 17, 2011 10:37 pm

Regarding the note of your father’s passing, thank you. My father’s passing was different, but your feeling and mine must have been similary enough. I too remember my father as a good man. It is a blessing.

Crispin in Waterloo
October 17, 2011 10:38 pm

Hi Willis
“Life is risky, every moment. Everyone has to decide for themselves how much risks and what kinds of risks they want to take. From what you say, my advice would be to have your brain removed and put into a warm, comforting nutrient medium, where it could be kept alive without stress for hundreds of years. I’m sure you’d find the total lack of danger and risk infinitely rewarding.”
After driving more than 1,000,000 km in Third World countries I long ago decided that I would pick up hitchhikers are every opporunity I could to be of servic to mankinde. I have never had a single problem even though a lot of it was in a county with one of the highest hijacking and murder rates in the world – South Africa.
I used to have to hitchhike from Toronto to Ottawa every two weeks to see my girlfriend and that taught me a lot about people. Young people generally didn’t stop. When I got my own car I swore I would always remember what it was like to be poor and hiking. One of the freakiest guys I ever picked up was a young white Brit who had hiked from Algeria across the Sahara all the way to Cape Town. He had nothing but a bank paper saying he had money in an (empty) bank account in the UK, was in the country illegally, was suffering from malaria and was fully confident that a Durban phone number of a woman he had once met in some podunk town was going to save his high temperature ass if he could just get to Durban.
We drove several hundred km up the N2 from Umtata to Durban via Umzimkhulu and I heard stories that should be movies. Like the time he was robbed of his camera by a drunken pistol-toting policeman in Rwanda. He went to the station and they gave it back. He snuck across the Namibian border by finding a road so remote there is no border post. Endless. These are experiences that can only be obtained from the real world. They are ‘out there’ even now, thumb out and smilin’, living by their wits and working odd jobs. They have lived.

October 17, 2011 10:45 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm
James Sexton says:
How many food stamp workers would it take to equal the amount of food I’d willingly give? How many welfare workers do I have to support before my daughter says she can’t make it! Bastards. How much degeneration do we have to suffer before we realize they are taking more than what they are giving back? Bastards. They are creating poverty by taking what is earned and giving to what isn’t going to be earned and then encouraging people not to earn. Bastards.
Unintelligible. Who are the mysterious “they” that you are raging against? And more to the point, what does any of this have to do with my post? Is this intended for some other thread and posted here by mistake?
What he is saying makes perfect sense. Sometimes you are a victim of your own success, Willis.
Be careful of the Establishment trap. They will snare you, deceive you, and yes even reign over you.
And yes they do have names. We won’t get into this [Monsanto] discussion again.
But it bears reminding…
Nonetheless, I very much support your efforts and intellect, and I venture to guess by James’ comments, he does too.
Beware the trap of the Establishment.
Groupthink Disorder and Cognitive Dissonance (and ad hominems)…reign supreme.
All the best,
Norfolk, VA, USA

October 17, 2011 10:49 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
Oh, go away with your sick attempt to shame me. I don’t remember his posts. He flatters himself to think I do. You don’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on here. Save your insults, you might need them later, but they’re way off base here. When you don’t understand something I say, you should ask questions, not leap into a fight you don’t seem to have a clue about. I may indeed be wrong … but you may indeed not understand what’s going on. Ask before insult works much better than the reverse.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains….
He means well.
Lighten up, Willis. Geez.

October 17, 2011 10:49 pm

About the joke…
You really shouldn’t trust anyone who does not have a sense of humor, especially when they don’t have one about, say, their political party. If they cannot laugh about it, it means they take it too seriously. If you take yourself (and sense of self may be tied to the political party you follow) too seriously, then you believe you are too important to be laughed at. Yet neither you nor your political party are infallible. That is the point of humor, to point out that you need to admit that sometimes, perhaps even often, you and/or your political party are not to be taken seriously, that you are not infallible, that your and their ideas are not the most important thing in the world, so important that no one dare laugh. A person who will not laugh is the sort of person who will not admit they are wrong. A person who will not laugh is the sort of person who will allow their ideas or policies to ride roughshod over the lives of people because their idea is so important that it is much more important than the lives of those petty people. Look throughout history and you will see many “great leaders” who were much too important to be laughed at, you can spot them by the trail of bodies…

UK Sceptic
October 17, 2011 10:51 pm

Excellent story, Willis. You make me feel like a hitching holiday should be on my agenda. Believe me, coming from someone who requires surgery to separate me from my Land Rover in times of walking unnecessity, that’s something of a wonder. 😀

October 17, 2011 11:00 pm

lol, Willis, nice….. you know ….. let’s start at the end…..when you stated, ..

Hey, that’s good to know, that by the famous Sexton “It’s not opinion, it’s reality” Test, the Republicans in California are “half ass worms” … and you think I’m the one that’s over the line? You accuse me of exaggeration? You call the Republicans in CA “spineless acquiescing half ass worms”, and you have the balls to lecture me on propriety and accuracy in my writing? Physician, heal thysel … oh, never mind, you wouldn’t understand…

Willis, I don’t care if I’m famous…. you’re not either. Let’s not pretend. Neither one of us will be picked to be the Vice Presidential candidate. Take your hundreds and hundreds and I’ll take my hundreds, and love them…… No, I’m not over the line. How and why would you think I am? I didn’t accuse you of exaggeration, I stated you were gullible. But, you knew that and typed what you did anyway. Honesty is something, isn’t it?
Willis, I don’t care if I pissed you off or not. You want to say it was about your hitching…. fine….let it be at that…… you want to disparage people that typically like what you have to say….. nope… you’ll hear from me….every time. Even if you don’t remember me. It isn’t about me…. it’s about your political advocacy and expecting people to sit and accept it …… screw you and the way you characterize conservatives. I’m not focussing on the people of Cali, I was just letting you know how irrelevant you guys are. Don’t shoot the messenger.

October 17, 2011 11:05 pm

savethesharks says:
October 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm
Willis Eschenbach says:
Oh, go away with your sick attempt to shame me. I don’t remember his posts. He flatters himself to think I do. You don’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on here. Save your insults, you might need them later, but they’re way off base here. When you don’t understand something I say, you should ask questions, not leap into a fight you don’t seem to have a clue about. I may indeed be wrong … but you may indeed not understand what’s going on. Ask before insult works much better than the reverse.
Hmmm. Let me check my records. Why don’t you go and review the paper trail. Who insulted?
I just called you out. Big difference.
All the while I sent concurrent affirmations of your intellect (and they are genuine).
So…go back and reread….and once youv’e got your amygdala in check by that effusive intellect (I mean this!)….check back with me after you have had a minute to chill down.
Point being: You need to look for friends….not try to make enemies.
Word to the wise.
Norfolk, VA, USA

October 17, 2011 11:08 pm

Doug in Seattle said @ October 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm
“A cold breeze of political intolerance is blowing about this blog today and I find it bit disconcerting.
With a few notable exceptions most of us readers recognize the insanity of the CAGW position and come here to read upon the subject. I recognize, and so should even the most conservative of readers, that winning the battle against the insanity requires convincing people of all political persuasions that true aim of the proponents of CAGW is not environmental or political, but pathological.
We should therefore welcome political diversity here. We can agree to disagree on matters of left and right, but still get out the message that science does NOT support destroying the civilization we built by using fossil fuels.”
Well said. There’s also a point that many Americans miss, to boot that we have different political parties in different coountries. Example: here in the Land of Under, to vote conservative, you vote for the Liberal Party, or the National Party who favour the Monarchy. If you are a republican, you vote for the Labor Party. Kind of turns things said here today on their head a bit, but then we are upside down 🙂
That said, in a week’s time I am to be visited by my longest standing friend of the last forty plus years. His wife is a communist and a monarchist (I don’t understand either). My friend’s a Zen buddhist. Glad I don’t let politicz, or religion get in the way of my friendships…

October 17, 2011 11:32 pm

Oh well. It always starts out Dharma Bums and ends up Helter Skelter…

October 17, 2011 11:37 pm

“First you jumped into something you didn’t understand, you couldn’t figure out why it was that he was flattering himself.”
Are you sure you got that one right? Is this what it’s all about? You want to be the more famous skeptic? You wanna be more than that? Cool….. get with it biggy. Look, if that’s your problem, no worries. Let’s talk social political implications….. famous? You can have it…… with my condolences. And support……. as soon as you realize which side your bread is buttered on.
Again, no worries…… when I was 23, I hated criticism, too. I grew out of it.

October 17, 2011 11:43 pm

What does this have to do with this website? Who cares? Seriously.

October 17, 2011 11:46 pm

Well done Willis, enjoyed the read, very Alistair Cook esk.

October 18, 2011 12:06 am

Greg said @ October 17, 2011 at 11:32 pm
Oh well. It always starts out Dharma Bums and ends up Helter Skelter…
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix…

UK Sceptic
October 18, 2011 12:08 am

Thanks, UK, your post makes me feel that the effort of writing the piece and defending it has all been more than worth it.
You’re welcome, Willis.

October 18, 2011 12:12 am

I enjoyed your story and have much enjoyed most of your writing here. I’m a lifelong libertarian and thus can clearly see how the liberals are 50% wrong and the conservatives are 50% wrong, hence I have no horse in this race, yet I still found the references to political persuasion distracting from your otherwise engaging story. Not negative or bad, just distracting.
I found your reporting of political persuasions of drivers who pick up hitchhikers to be unsurprising and thus not terribly interesting. As an outside observer I’ve seen that liberals generally tend to carry an unrealistically idealistic perception of their fellow man and conservatives tend to carry an unrealistically pessimistic perception of their fellow man. Both are wrong in roughly equal proportion but the liberal flavored incorrect perception would naturally lead to being somewhat more trusting of strangers such as hitchhikers while the conservative flavor would tend to be less so. They are both perceptual errors, it’s just that the liberal-leaning error happens to, on the whole, be more convenient to hitchhikers.

Neil McEvoy
October 18, 2011 12:16 am

Thanks for that. Brought back vivid memories to this Brit of hitch-hiking in Oregon and California 30 years ago. I have to say they are extremely fond memories, even if they do involve an element of frustration and sunburn.

P.G. Sharrow
October 18, 2011 12:21 am

Great story Willis.
How ever, “Figuring out a man’s political affiliation from what he talks about (and in particular what he complains about) during a half-hours ride is not rocket science.” poor logic.
People that converse with me swear that I am Republican. Actually I’m a life long Democrat, just not a modern progressive liberal. Just a old dirt farmer. 😉 pg

October 18, 2011 12:49 am

A good read. Thank you. Reminded me of Steinbeck.
Seems like commenters on this blogg are just as varied.
One asked what was the point? {sigh}

October 18, 2011 12:51 am

thank so much

October 18, 2011 1:25 am

Lovely story, thanks for sharing!

October 18, 2011 1:31 am

I have great memories of hitchhiking through Grants pass in my grammar school blazer ( Green and yellow stripes) and shorts much to the amusement of the locals. It was the highlight of a hitching trip down the west coast of the USA and still vividly recall seeing for the first time a hand gun and a Mexican meal. I liked the food very much. I also gold panned in the river and actually found a few flakes.
Willis’ story is a wonderful piece of travel journalism and observation of human nature. Many thanks, it has made my day. Hopefully it will be published to a wider audience.

October 18, 2011 1:46 am

Great story Willis, brought back many happy memories of hitching my way home on leave from the RN here in the UK. I say “home” as that was the intended destination, a good portion of the time I got a better offer, it often lead to more interesting times! Put me down as a definite customer for your autobiography, I’ve felt a kindred spirit since your little autobiographical post some time back 😉
I’m surprised you affiliate to one political colour or other, someone once said “follow the money” and it seems in the case of politics the money always leads to the same places, regardless which side of the pond we’re looking! If you do a “black box” analysis the end product seems about the same regardless of inputs 😉
What type of stuff do you play? I’d put money on a few Dillon classics, but I’d rather think of you as a modern day Lester Flatt 😉

October 18, 2011 2:04 am

Great story, and kudos to you doing this in your later years. It reminds me of my (apparently) misspent youth when I used to hitch around Europe when I could not afford the plane fare to go and lie on tropical beaches. (I have since discovered Australia, where you can do both without needing to fly). I discovered three main points:
1. Carrying a motorbike helmet gets you many easy lifts in the UK, but none at all in Europe.
2. Talking to caffeine-fuelled truckers in their own language is the best way to learn it. They really do not care that you cannot talk well – they just want to talk! I learnt French quite well that way.
3. Hitching without a shirt will get you picked up by gay truckers wanting some action. You may get a free shower out of it, however. (Being a guy, obviously. For girls it will be different, I suspect!)
I had a great deal of fun, met a great many good people, and had almost no scary moments, apart from one where a guy threatened to rape me. That was when I discovered that motorbike helmets could be used as a decent weapon, although I suspect I was not in real danger.
I now have children, and my question to you is, would you recommend your 19-year-old daughter hitches anywhere like this? It is a problem for me because I do not want to encourage my children to hitch, despite it working so well for me. In Australia it is (I believe) illegal, although that never stopped me. Seems daft for a country with almost only one road – Highway 1 (the longest national highway in the world).

October 18, 2011 2:11 am

You really have to watch the “ideological bigotry”. It is very unbecoming of you. I’m primarily a “Republican”. (Although during an 8 year soljourn in the wilderness of Omaha, NE, I worked TWICE for Democratic candidates, as the local Repulican loonies…and they were loonies down there, ran “looney tunes” for congress and senate, two campain seasons in sequence..) I really am TICKED OFF that you fancy yourself “opened minded”, and yet ARE so closed minded ideolocially. It particularily irritates me because, as a matter of fact, I HAVE picked up hitchikers.
I even picked up a couple young fellows going to “protest” at the Republican National convention, in St. Paul, back in ’08. I was driving a pretty moderate, 2001 Malibu. I kind of suspected, by a variety of circumstances, that they were of the “Anarchist/Protester for hire” types, and found I was correct. So I engaged them in a conversation along the lines of, “What are you protesting..and why, and what do you hope to accomplish?”
In a good Dale Carnagie fashion, I let them have their say. Then I noted, “I’m what you’d consider a ‘Staunch Republican, why do you hate me?” This brought a tumbling out of…”We’ll, we don’t hate you specifically…” Etc. I laid into them pretty specifically then about “Stereotypes”, and the hypocrisy of their essense and being. (With being vial in my langage or crude, or vindictive. Just as your method of handling the “climate wonks”.) Last, when I let them off, I called them back quickly and said, “I forgot something..” I had pulled out 2 – $20 bills and gave them to them (having found how “close to the bone” they were living on their cross country hitchhiking venture. And enjoined them to “wander about historic St. Paul” at bit, and enjoy the scenery.
Now, Willis, really – Could I ask for as much CIVILITY from you towards REPUBLICANS as I was willing to give the protestors and Anarchists?

October 18, 2011 2:14 am

Great story and read, Willis. It was very visual and I felt I was there with you. Love the comments too.
(The Skookum Chief gave me a jolt. Name sounded very familiar from back in the early fifties when I lived near Puget Sound and the family took the ferry a lot. My uncle’s father-in-law, a carpenter who had come over from Norway, built several of them.)
As for this bit, Willis:
“I’ve hitchhiked all over the US, side to side and top to bottom, and I have only infrequently been picked up by a Republican.”
How did you know? I mean were you so political that you asked every driver who ever picked you up what party they voted for? That seems so strange to me. I grew up apolitical and didn’t get deeply into it until much later in life. Of all the people I’ve met in my life, and I’ve lived in several states, I could not tell you the party affiliation of a single one of them. Even now when I look back at them I can’t say for sure, even though I could depend on stereotypes to pigeonhole here and there.

October 18, 2011 2:40 am

Jeez, if people can’t laugh at comments made against a political party or parties, they seriously need to get out and get a life.

Mike Lallatin
October 18, 2011 2:56 am

An alternate “sheltered life” story, if many realities are considered. I enjoyed the accurate descriptions of places I’ve known all my life. It was the Layton member of my family that founded Laytonville. As a Republican who has picked up hitch-hikers frequently, without voting preferences ever coming up, I admit that I usually assumed they were non-voting Democrats since their sophomore year in high-school. Had some interesting dope conversations, though. Especially one in Petrolia, and a couple in Garberville.

October 18, 2011 3:02 am

Well, Willis… a very entertaining story, and well written. You have a skill there. But I am really curious about the music aspect. What style do you play? Or is the singing the main part with the guitar as accompaniment? Your instrument? Acoustic case.. steel or nylon? So you performed professionally? C’mon…. I am very interested… BTW I am probably about your age (born ’47) and my family know me as a unfullfilled rock star.. LOL But I sing and play every day… (I try)

October 18, 2011 3:08 am

I’m not the hiking type. I’m the one using one’s Bike and go along alone….. I remember just picking up a Hiker once or twice. It was a surprise to that time a monk IIRC.

October 18, 2011 3:10 am

The pompous git
I did not make myself clear,I am not talking about travelling in buses in cities,I am talking about travelling on buses between cities(and I don’t mean tour buses).

October 18, 2011 3:15 am

Hmmm what has that post to do on this blog ? A blog about science and puzzling things ?
What has this account about a travel to some wedding to do here ?
Normally I would pass but I feel a comment is in order – I hope that this post is an exception that won’t repeat very often.
To avoid misunderstandings – I have nothing against people who think that the question about how they spent their week end is an interesting issue but I would prefer that they post that on their blogs instead of here.
And while I am at it, a word of criticism to the content.
I am European and we are not divided in Republicans and Democrats here so that this whole kerfluffle about whether the way somebody votes in US impacts his willingness to invite somebody else in his car is without interest for us.
However I would warn you Willis against abusive generalisations.
This :
Now, there’s a point to my telling this story. Do you know how I can tell that that’s a joke, and not really something that might have actually happened?
Because Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.

is a textbook example of an abusive generalisation and a ridiculous one to boot.
Clearly you were not joking, you were meaning it.
Of course the correct version of that statement should have been :
If one assumes that I can correctly guess what political party every person votes for at the moment when I enter their car, then my personnal experience is that a majority of drivers who allowed me to enter their car were estimated as voting Democrats. Obviously this sample has no statistical significance so that no other valid conclusions can be drawn.
The problem with abusive generalisations is that they polarise as this thread clearly shows.
Besides it was not necessary – the travel story didn’t call for incorrect political generalisations which make people strongly react because they don’t recognise themselves in the generalisation.
Probably you just emit unconsciously bad anti-republican vibes which are recognised by Republicans and makes them not to stop for this potentially hostile guy who looks like if he could poison their trip by unpleasant rantings.

Steve (Paris)
October 18, 2011 3:30 am

Sad this has got so out of hand. Willis thanks for the fine story, you don’t deserve the jibes you have been getting. Suggest you just walk away and start planning your next trip north, south, east or west…

Alex the skeptic
October 18, 2011 3:38 am

When I started reading this post, I said to myself: “but this is not climate”. But by the second paragraph I got hooked and could not stop reading till the very end.
Great treatise Willis. A treatise on the present human condition.
Also: Nice way to travel carbon-neutral. Can one imagine Al Gore travelling this way? Hitching rides to his global warming sermons? It seems that we skeptics are more planet-friendly than the planet-savers themselves.

Dave Wendt
October 18, 2011 3:47 am

Willis Eschenbach says:
October 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm
Dave Wendt says:
October 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm
“And in my experience, the people who picked me up who were Republicans were way in the minority. Sure, YMMV, that’s why it’s called “my” experience … I’m just telling you what it looks like from here.”
And yet what you wrote was “Because Republicans don’t pick up hitchhikers.” Do you see the logical flaw there? You ain’t the only thumb on the roadside. You made quite a point of your habit of making eye contact with passing drivers when trying to catch a ride. Well the eyes are the windows of the soul and maybe all those Republicans passing you by are seeing something they don’t find reassuring.

October 18, 2011 3:54 am

Brilliant Willis – thanks for sharing and writing a great story – 😀

October 18, 2011 4:01 am

Thanks for a wonderful read, have not hitched myself or picked up a hitcher since the 70’s other than rescue a couple of people with “dead” autos. Might have to reconsider that the next time I see a hitcher however after reading this.

October 18, 2011 4:12 am

Neat story of your journey to the wedding Willis, thank you muchly. And the pictures and maps.
And especially neat that you got to dance with your 19-year-old daughter. So both parties made a different journey plan and all got to the wedding for a fine time!
I was reminded as I read of Davy’s on the Road again …….. Manfred Mann

October 18, 2011 4:13 am

To the people objecting about this article appearing in WUWT
One observation here. What gets posted or not in this blog is decided by Anthony, not by anybody else.

October 18, 2011 4:14 am

Willis, thank you for the most entertaining read i’ve had in ages! Also a hiker, the freedom of the roads isn’t as much of a pleasure as it once was, i think having a car has something to do with that 🙂
Your story reminds me of “Travels with Charlie” by the great John Steinbeck, if you haven’t already, give it a read.

October 18, 2011 4:16 am

Here’s an odd thing; when The Git was at UTas, nearly a decade ago now, he only met two self-confessed conservatives. The other 10,000 people on campus were all left wing? Yeah, right 🙂 Well, at least one of the lecturers was “working class”; she told me so. She had a job (as a professor) , therefore she was working class.
The Gitling (of whom The Git is inordinately proud) works for a major player in the survey/polling game. The principals of the firm are conservative and that makes for a very interesting time for the Gitling; he’s learning how the other half think and operate. He also tells me that what people profess to be their politicz for public consumption ain’t necessarily the way they vote in an election. Just like my grandmother, Annie Ashley, who everyone “knew” was a socialist, they vote against their professed principles. I don’t understand this, and neither I suspect do you Willis, but it does mean one of your major assumptions is more than a little bit suspect.

Michael Larkin
October 18, 2011 4:16 am

I absolutely loved your story. You are a gifted writer, and I genuinely would buy your autobiography. 75,000 words and only up to age 30? Why not consider a couple of volumes? I’m sure that after reading the first part, people would be salivating for the next.
You gave me a warm fuzzy today, and I want to return the favour. We’re of an age, and I too am a guitar player. I didn’t discover Tommy Emmanuel until just recently, but he’s the best fingerpicker on God’s green earth. I’m hoping you haven’t heard him so that you can have the pleasure of discovery – just search for his name on YouTube, there’s piles of stuff there. Watch him combine percussion with picking on “Mombasa”, or play a 4-part band on the one guitar (“The band”), or his version of the “Pink Panther”, or his Beatles medley or “Amazing grace”… on and on. He makes me smile as much using music as you do using words.

October 18, 2011 4:26 am

The quickest way to get a lift is to be an attractive woman. I can remember passing one hitching on the A5 (UK) when I was riding a motorcycle. Three cars left black rubber marks on the road stopping to pick her up. Another time two young ladies I picked up in my car asked if I was afraid of being raped, so I said I was still waiting.

Luther Wu
October 18, 2011 4:48 am

I know 2 guys who carry battle rifles in guitar cases. Just sayin’…
Democrat babe drops off her blouse at the dry cleaners and the manager said, “come again”.
“Mustard, this time”, she replied.

October 18, 2011 5:08 am

[SNIP – nothing but venom. -w.]

Luther Wu
October 18, 2011 5:11 am

@ Willis:
What you see is what you get.

October 18, 2011 5:28 am

If he were to pat you on the back, you would list in on your résumé
Both sides of his pillow are cool
When in Rome … they do as he does
He’s the life of parties he has never attended
If he were to punch you in the face
… you would have to fight off the strong urge to thank him
Sharks have a week dedicated to him
His words carry weight that would break a less interesting man’s jaw
He’s won trophies for his game face alone
He bowls … overhand
His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards
Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number
He never says something tastes like chicken, not even chicken
He wouldn’t be afraid to show his feminine side … if he had one
His mother has a tattoo that reads … son
At museums, he’s allowed to touch the art
People hang on his every word … even the prepositions
He could disarm you with his looks, or his hands, either way
He can speak French … in Russian
His reputation is expanding, faster than the universe
He once had an awkward moment … just to see how it feels
He lives vicariously … through himself
The police often question him, just because they find him interesting
His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body
His blood … smells like cologne
He’s been known to cure Narcolepsy, just by walking into a room
His organ donation card, also lists his beard
He’s a lover, not a fighter … but he’s also a fighter so don’t get any ideas
His charm is so contagious …. vaccines have been created for it
The Aztec calendar, has his Cinco de Mayo party chiseled in
Years ago, he built a city out of blocks
… today over 600,000 people live and work there
The front of his house, looks like it was built by the Mayans
… because it was
He is the only man to ever ace the Rorschach test
The contents of his tacos, refuse to fall from the shell
He has amassed an incredibly large DVD library, and it is said
… that he never once alphabetized it
If he were to mail a letter without postage, it would still get there
When it is raining, it is because he’s thinking about something sad
The Pheromones he secretes have been know to affect people miles away
… in a slight, but pleasurable way
He once punched a magician, that’s right, you heard me
His blood, smells like cologne … his hands feel like rich, brown, suede
Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear
He can open a Piñata, with a wink and a smile
Alien abductors have asked him … to probe them
If you were to see him walking a Chihuahua, it would still look masculine
If he were to give you directions, you’d never got lost
… and you’d arrive at least five minutes early
Several Saints share his likeness, or vice versa, depending on who you ask
Dicing onions doesn’t make him cry, it only makes him stronger
His legend precedes him … the way lightning precedes thunder
He has dissected frogs, that are alive an happy to this day
Some say he found the fountain of youth, but didn’t drink
… because he wasn’t thirsty
He once challenged his own reflection to a staring contest
… on the fourth day, he won
He’s, the most interesting man in the world.

October 18, 2011 5:41 am

You Americans seem so hung up on political orientation! In the UK it was more how much money you had (although mostly, really, how much you flaunted it). Here in Oz where I am now, nobody gives a fetid dingo’s kidney how you vote. It all depends whether or not you shout (that means buy your round, you drongos).

More Soylent Green!
October 18, 2011 5:51 am

I would only hitchhike if desperate or well-armed. While I believe most people are good, there are crazies and criminals everywhere. Say someone stopped along a deserted highway to give you a lift. You give them the once-over and decide to wait for the next offer. They then pull a gun on you, force you into the trunk, march you into the woods, etc.
Very foolhardy behavior if you ask me, and not to be encouraged.

Lonnie E. Schubert
October 18, 2011 5:53 am

I try to keep in mind that this is Anthony’s blog, and he can post whatever he wants. Others should remember that too. (It is easy to set up your own.) I like reading about the many varied topics, and I like reading Willis. I cannot understand the point of bemoaning Willis’ topic. I’ll ask, was anyone held at gun point and forced to read? It amazes me how many people seem to read everything posted on this blog (except many seem to skip the comments, recommenting points made and missing the comments in reply). If something seems off topic, or unworthy, why continue to read? I’ve never understood why someone would complain that I sent them an e-mail (I don’t mindlessly forward or spam). I would think the delete key would solve all their problems with what I sent them.
It does strike me that with over 230 comments as I write, and with so many of the comments stating appreciation for the story, and even the republican joke, so many other comments complain. I just don’t get it. About the only point of a blog is to be read. Willis intended to write something that would make people think, and I’m sure he mostly thought many readers would enjoy the story. (I did.) Success! What is there to complain about?
I’m sure the mods can figure it and post, but I’m not really concerned. I read here enough to have a good estimate intuitively, but what percentage of posts on this blog generate more than 200 comments? Finally, I’ll repeat myself, one cannot be offended unless one willing takes the offense.

October 18, 2011 6:07 am

Just recalled one of my favourite ‘hitching’ memories.
I was living in the south of France working in a micro-brewery (it’s a tough life, but someone has to do the legwork). I took a vacation back to the UK to get malt and hops (as the French are useless at growing/making either). I had an old diesel Peugot 504 station wagon full of beer and it refused to start after I had stopped for the night somewhere. After several attempts to get local farmers to help me start it, all of whom told me to **** off, I started hitching with as much beer as could carry on my back.
The first lift was a great guy, and after he found out why I was hitching (and about 10 kms) he immediately turned around and went back to help me start the car I had been forced to abandon. We tried with a tow rope, but those old diesels take some grunt and it failed, so we gave that up. He took me back to his house, fed me, and got a friend with a tow bar (those who have used ’em will know). After a good hour of forcing that damned car, we got it started in the end.
I gave him, his wife and his friend half of all the beer I had (about 25 litres IIRC). I made some very good, although fleeting (I never recalled the location, sadly), friends that day. We all ended up much better off than when we woke, even if just for the friendship we shared!

Doug in Seattle
October 18, 2011 6:10 am

Willis you read me wrong. I wasn’t criticizing you, just some of the reactions to your joke.