You notice his right arm is extended outward, with his hand in the typical shape of someone who’s in need of a ride.
He’s a hitchhiker, you have a car; what do you do? If you decide to pick him up you’d probably make his day, but you also may get knifed to death.
You have no idea who this person is, where they’re going, or whether or not he has something more sinister than getting a ride in mind.
The average person (especially females) would think someone was crazy for picking up a hitchhiker. This may have not been the case 50 years ago, but nowadays you never know if that hitchhiker is just down on his luck, or Hannibal Lecter looking for his next victim/meal.
Any sensible person wouldn’t waste their time taking a second glance at a hitchhiker and it would be hard to come across someone who would ridicule that decision, but what about if the hitchhiker was a woman? Would that make you more inclined to offer that hitchhiker a ride?
I was a senior in high school and on my way to work one day when I noticed a middle-aged, definitely scraggly-looking, woman on the side of the road; hand out, thumb up and looking desperate.
My high school level decision-making caused me not to think twice about pulling off to the side of the road and waiting until Mary Beth hopped in.
When Mary Beth the hitchhiker popped in the front passenger seat, she thanked me for giving her a ride and then began stabbing me repeatedly.
Just kidding…although hitchhiker Mary B thankfully didn’t turn out to be a homicidal maniac, she did turn out to be a rather strange character. For the next 30 minutes she was in my car, I didn’t actually understand what all she was talking about.
Apparently, she needed a ride to her sister’s house who happened to live somewhat close to where I worked. As the car ride continued, I noticed it was very hard for Mary Beth to hold still (she was constantly fidgeting in her seat) and even harder for her to stop talking. Maybe she’d always been a talker, or maybe she did crack…who knows.
As Mary Beth sat there fidgeting, she told me how she was going to her sister’s house because her ex-boyfriend (who also used to be her ex-husband until they began dating again after their divorce) had kicked her out the night before.
After spending the night outside, she assured me she was done (for good) with her ex-boyfriend/husband.
Hitchhiker Mary Beth had no kids, grew up moving from town to town with her mother who drank too much and a father who was too busy with drugs and being in prison to spend time with his family.
The only family member she still communicated with was her sister. Her life story seemed to be that of the typical American hard life we’ve all sadly heard before. Even though her twitching and weird jabbering gave me an uneasy feeling, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her.
Somewhere between her crack withdrawal jitters and the nonsense-filled conversations, I started feeling depressed for this poor lady and decided that Mary Beth would be my first and last hitchhiker I’d pick up.
Not because she belonged to a lower social class, or because she gave my car an awkward smell, but because picking up hitchhikers just isn’t a good idea.
Chances are you wont get knifed, shot, or strangled, but you just never know when you might be picking up an angry Mary Beth with a short temper and a knife in her back pocket. There’s a Freakonomics article that asks where all the hitchhikers have gone and explains the reason why their numbers have dropped, but I don’t think they’ll disappear completely.
Just drive down i35 from Dallas to San Antonio and I gurantee you you’ll spot at least a handful of them. So, my question of the day is; have you, or would you consider picking up a hitchhiker? Perhaps you think I’m crazy for just doing it once, which would be somewhat understandable, but put yourselves in a hitchhiker’s shoes (if they have any). You’d want someone to pick you up, right?
And this is where question number two sneaks in, turning the tables a bit; would you ever attempt to hitchhike? I have a friend who asked me if I wanted to hitchhike this summer from Florida to New York City and, even though that would make for some killer Shenking material, I declined. Guess that makes me a wuss, but I’m okay with that.
The next time you see a hitchhiker, think of this story and how somewhat-crazy Mary Beth just needed a ride and, as you pass the poor soul standing on the side of the highway; keep on going.
You might be a nice person by giving them a ride, but you may also be a soon-to-be a dead/cut/turned-into-lunch person. Happy New Year, be safe and here’s to 2012 and making the best of it.