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. Oh, I came close to it once. I was hitching at night in Texas once in 1966, and I was exhausted. Cars only came by about two or three an hour, and I could hear them coming. So I laid down, and I’d stand up and put out my thumb when I heard a car.

Well, I was so tired that I failed to notice that a car actually stopped. I laid down again, and was nodding off. The car backed up right next to me, and honked his horn. I jumped up, with my heart racing, and opened the car door and looked inside. The driver was a huge black guy. I hadn’t lived amidst people of color at that time, just the melanin-deficient variety, and I had lots of racial stereotypes in my head. I got in the car with the man-mountain, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

The human bear reached over and shook my hand, his hand engulfed mine. He introduced himself. As we drove, he said was the pastor of a medium-sized black church, and he invited me to come to their Sunday service. I apologized and said I was moving down the road so I couldn’t make it … while apologizing inside for the injustice that my childish prejudice had done to a good man.

Other than that, 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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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

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.


I think you should write more, loved it


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. 🙂


I come from Manchester..


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?

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


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

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)

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.


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

I should add that I invariably enjoy reading your stuff.

Republican voter

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.


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

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.

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

Mark Foster

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)

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.


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…


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.


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

Thank you, Willis

Baa Humbug

Thank you for sharing Willis

Jack Kerouac has nothing on you Willis.

Disko Troop

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


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

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…


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


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


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


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

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

Excellent read

Jim W

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


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


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

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.

John Whitman

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.

Willis Eschenbach

Severian says:
October 17, 2011 at 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?

Thanks, Severian, lovely image but inaccurate. Not unless Republicans have stopped driving cars … there were lots of folks who passed me by that I’d put good money on their voting Republican.

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


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).

Willis Eschenbach

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. Yes, I’m a Republican and we know liberal B. S. when we encounter it.

Sorry if I touched a nerve there … but if (as you strongly imply) you never do anything unless your wife and daughter are along, I feel very sorry for you. And if you go around busting people for not following your strange ways, I don’t predict many good outcomes.
PS – When’s the last time you picked up a hitchhiker? And how do you know what I’m saying is BS if you haven’t gone out and extensively sampled the drivers, as I have, to see who picks you up? Are you actually claiming that you’ve hitchhiked all over the US and been picked up by a bunch of Republicans?


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.


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.

Willis Eschenbach

Latitude says:
October 17, 2011 at 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?

Not unless you somehow believe that there’s no Republicans driving north along the West Coast, a rather dubious claim …

BTW, how can you not vote for this man…..

Cain is the first politician I’ve seen in a long time that I thought I might actually be able to vote for, rather than against. Still lots of time for him to stumble, but what I’ve seen so far has impressed me.

Willis Eschenbach

Mark Foster says:
October 17, 2011 at 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.

You da man, Mark. Thanks for the update. The old saying goes that if you’re not a liberal when you are young, you don’t have a heart … and if you are not a conservative when you are older, you don’t have a mind.
Unfortunately, most folks seem to give up a) when they get b). I appreciate your testimony that you don’t have to lose your heart to include your mind.

Willis Eschenbach

JimBrock says:
October 17, 2011 at 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

Thanks, Jim. One of my reasons for writing this a bit provocatively is to see if I could shake some of the authentic Republicans out of the woodwork, pour encourage les autres …
All the best,

Mike Bromley the Kurd

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.

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

Great story, Willis. Thanks!