Hitchhiking

The Plain Dealer carried an AP wire service story today about a hitchhiker who was shot in Montana. The random victim, a free lance photographer who was hitchhiking across the country for a memoir about kindness, was only wounded in the arm and he’s fine. They apprehended the shooter, a mental case who felt the urge to shoot somebody, and his traveling days are over.

The photographer’s memoir about kindness, however, is going to take a little side trip, you might say.

Back in my day, we took many side trips. Hitch hiking was a popular mode of travel in the 1950s and ’60s. Planes were too expensive. Trains were unreliable, dirty and poorly heated. In college I rode my thumb back and forth between Lakewood and South Bend, Ind., numerous times. The train fare one-way was $20 on the New York Central, which was a lot of money in those days. It was a full day’s pay for a Local #310 construction laborer. Saving twenty bucks was a noble enterprise and often an exciting adventure.

In October, 1957, six of us crammed into a Chevy sedan and drove to Philadelphia for the Notre Dame-Army football game, which Notre Dame won on Monte Stickles’ fourth quarter field goal, 23-21. That night we drove to New York City for a Saturday night in Greenwich Village. When the bars closed at 4 a.m. I found myself separated from my group and had to hitchhike alone back to Notre Dame. After sleeping for a couple of hours in the back pew of a Catholic church, I began my 24-hour trip back to school.

Here is a thumbnail sketch, you might say.

Not knowing any better, I retraced my route. I mooched rides from Manhattan to Philadelphia to pick up the Pennsylvania Turnpike. My strategy always was to get dropped off at service plazas, never at toll booths or the open road. At service plazas you could walk right up to people and appeal to their good nature. I was still wearing a sportcoat and tie. I didn’t exactly look like a bum.

In eastern Pennsylvania a family squeezed me into the back seat of their two-door Ford. The family included mom and dad, two kids and two grandparents along with most of their worldly possessions. They prayed continuously. One of the grandparents read aloud from the Bible. I could see that the car had a radio and I was dying to find a pro football game on it. But no, the praying continued. Everyone prayed except me. I didn’t know what manner of sect they were. I kept my mouth shut. They probably thought I was a heathen. They didn’t know that I already had been to church that morning.

Near nightful a trucker picked me up. We were making record-setting time through the hills of western Pennslvania until he came upon a truck that he recognized. The driver was a friend of his and they began a game. My guy would run up and ram him from behind. My guy would push him up hills but downhill was a wild every man for himself dash.

I walked into my dorm at seven o’clock Monday morning. I took a shower and went to class. I had been on the road for exactly 24 hours.

When I was in the Army, I hitchhiked from Lakewood to Texas. I left in a blizzard and arrived in 80-degree weather. I had been home on Christmas leave and had all my military belongings except for my rifle in a big duffle bag, which wound up getting tossed variously inside and outside the cabins of semis. The truckers usually were pretty chatty. They didn’t do much praying, although they did invoke the Father, Son and Holy Ghost quite a bit. That was, of course, back in the days of the Holy Ghost, not the Holy Spirit.

That’s it for today. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. But beware of hitchhikers.

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