I bloody loved hitch hiking. When I was a student it seemed the natural way to get about the country. My girlfriend was in Birmingham & I was in Colchester. Too expensive on the train & I really wanted to get to see her. I had never hitched before…nothing to it eh ? Just stand by the road, thumb out, somebody stops & away you go.
It seemed that easy the first time I tried it. My first lift was with with an American serviceman in a left hand drive MG sports job. He had a couple of one-skin pure Vietnamese grass joints in the glove compartment. We shared these for breakfast. So, I’m on the A12 sitting in the unfamiliar “driver’s” position off my nut as we approached London, lovely. In those early 70s the M1 out of London started at Harrow. I walked to the motorway wondering just how easy, or not, the rest of my journey would be. I took my place in a queue of others waiting for a lift & watched a constant stream of traffic pass me by.
As a more experienced hitcher you know that 500 cars can drive past you & then 1 will stop. The 1 is all that matters. When you are new & unrealistic you expect every vehicle to be a potential lift. As they drive past you, warm, travelling while you are cold, stationary & asking, it’s an affront & a rejection. I was not at the wrong end of the motorway for too long. It just felt like too long. A lorry stopped, I ran up to it, threw in my bag and jumped in. when you have been waiting you just want to move, does not really matter how far he is going. This guy was going to Birmingham, within 5 miles of where I wanted to be. My thumb’s job was done for the day. I could get a bus to her college. Hey, it’s not a matter of honour to go from door to door for free. I’m a realistic guy.
I got back after the weekend too. Didn’t get stoned but I got back. I enjoyed the lifts. People who stopped were doing you a good turn. If they wanted company & a chat then that’s OK by me. The success of that first trip meant I would do that journey for the next 3 years. It was time to turn pro about it. You got to know where to stand. Motors flying past at 60 m.p.h. are not gonna stop . How to stand too. “Naked with a chain saw & a sign saying I’m going to kill your children” was not a good look. Have your bags together so if someone stops you do not give them time to change their mind. Look human. Signs were a little more tricky. they could be useful to get you in the right direction but meant a little organisation. I improvised signs if I had to. I looked forward to the journey. The weekend starts here. I liked the randomness of the whole thing. No time table, no schedule.” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all”, as Don Logan would put it.
<- (she got a lift before I did)
I never blew it. Never spent the night in a ditch by the side of the road. It was close on occasion. I sometimes hitched with a friend. One weekend we arrived too late to blag ourselves into a women’s hall of residence & slept in a park shelter. On the return journey we were diverted in a Hammersmith pub. The ditch did seem the only option when 2 friends drove past after their weekend away and rescued us. I did enjoy travelling with my girlfriend. It was easier for a couple to get lifts & we would just have a laugh if we got a little stuck. We almost missed my sister’s wedding though by deciding to hitch across the country the day before.
I once went from Birmingham to Colchester on a Monday. From there to my hometown, Scunthorpe, on the Tuesday. There was an F.A. Cup game I needed to attend. On the Thursday I hitched back to Colchester. I don’t know, over 500 miles and totally worth it. It became the way I wanted to travel long distances. Another time a journalist picked us up in London. We got on really well. He dropped us at the bottom of our road in Manchester. Result.
When we were no longer students we would hitch to London & back to see friends. it was an easy hitch. One Friday, when we had to wait some time to get away from the starting point, I went to her and said that we were both freezing, getting pissed off and had plenty of money in our pockets. So why did we not catch the fucking train ? We travelled rather more stylishly after that.
Later, in the 90s, I got by the side of the road again. there were people I wanted to see. The bus was dull & the train fares exorbitant. Again I got there . It was mostly lorries that stopped for you now. I will admit that on a journey from London to Lincolnshire, when I had done about a third of the journey, it felt like a bloody long way to go.
Of course the world has changed now. Drive along the motorway & you just don’t see hitch hikers. People are not gonna let a total stranger into their private space. Would I want to get into a car with someone I didn’t know ? Are there too many psychos out there now ? I’m not sure, there always were strange people about. I don’t judge people for not picking up strangers. Don’t blame travellers for not taking the hitching option. I am though, pleased that, for myself, it was a great way of getting around the country.Hoping for & receiving the kindness & company of strangers.