(Wrote this 10 years ago. You can tell because I was still using two spaces after a period.)
“I was told I was going to die nine years ago. Are you religious?”
My mind raced, what went wrong? Standing beside the road waiting for someone to give me a lift I had considered myself quite lucky when Don pulled over in his BMW. He sported a Rolex and was dressed nicely. Our conversation was interesting and pleasant and abduction was the farthest thing from my mind when he asked if I wanted to take a tour of his kiwi fruit farm and join him for tea. In hindsight, a Rolex and a nice car do not mean that a man is of sound mind.
“Let me assure you there is a god.” He squinted his eyes, and upon opening them stared off into the far corner of the room recalling another time and another place. When his eyes were closed I looked him up and down for any signs of lunacy: What I thought to be dress pants were actually sweat pants and they were held to his waist by a shiny leather belt. Don’s toenails were grotesquely long and yellow as they poked out through a hole in his socks. My eyes darted from the Rolex to the toenails; this man was troubled.
I discovered a scar hidden amid his loose, weathered face, which distorted his smile. I could not turn my gaze away and I was caught staring, “Chainsaw accident…near lobotomy.”
I uncomfortably picked at the grains of wood on Don’s kitchen table where he was about to begin his tale. I sipped my tea and settled back into the hardwood chair.
It’s a long complex story so let me summarize: Don was diagnosed with a tumor and given a few months to live. He was told by a stranger on the street in Malaysia while traveling on business that his tumor was gone. This mysterious stranger took Don “to his leader,” who just happened to be the one and only Jesus. Apparently before getting on with the whole Armageddon thing, Christ is living it up managing the career of his wife, a Malaysian movie star. From here Don makes pilgrimages to Mecca where he meets the Abraham and to Scotland where he denounces a Catholic Priest. His guide is Esan or Jesus (it depends on how well you know him), who feeds him signs via drawings and wood carvings in his sleep.
“Thanks for listening. Most people get mad and tell me that my story in unbelievable. I just like to share it. Would you like to spend the night?”
I pictured Don in the middle of the night wielding a knife carving wood in his sleep, “No, thanks.”
A country is made up of its people and you get to meet a wide variety of them while hitch hiking. When I spent two months hitching in New Zealand I got to know its people quite well, having received rides from a mountaineer, a helicopter pilot, a couple married for fifty years, a church youth group, truckers, businessmen, and many other unique individuals.
Hitchhiking is a remarkable and often cheap way to travel. Your travels don’t have to be planned around a schedule. When you want to leave, just pack up your things and stand beside the road. But it can be dangerous and must be approached with caution. In some countries and areas hitching may be extremely unsafe or very unreasonable, so ask around before setting out.
The anatomy of a Ride–
THE WAIT- Find a spot that is not in front of a place of business, but has ample room for a vehicle to pullover. Set your pack down and pull out your bag of cookies- they tide you over between meals and act as one more reason to pick you up. Take off your sunglasses and make eye contact with the drivers as they zip by. Hold out your hand, stick up your thumb, stand on your head, whatever it takes to get their attention.
THE DECISION- Once the car pulls over approach with caution. Begin sizing up the vehicle and its occupants immediately. Listen to your gut. Be the first to ask “Where are you going?” If your first impression of them is bad, no matter what they say you are going in a different direction, but “thanks anyway.”
THE RIDE- Earn your keep by carrying on a good conversation, give them cookies, and offer to buy them lunch. This is your chance to talk with the locals. Often they will go above and beyond. I have had rides buy me lunch, take me on tours of the countryside, and on one occasion take me sailboat shopping: “So Kelsey what do you think.” We were tucked into the berth of a thirty-foot boat.
I’ve only known you for a few hours, but I would go with the big expensive one. “Its nice.”
THE DROP- Figure out where the best place is for them to drop you; chances are your destinations will diverge at some point. I have had to get as many as seven rides in a single day to get from A to B. When you step out of the vehicle have your bag in hand if possible. They could easily pull away with all of your possessions if your bag is in the trunk. Thank them for letting you into their car and their lives for a short time. Hopefully you made their day a little more interesting.
The good thing about hitchhiking is the people. The bad thing about hitchhiking is the people. Be prepared to have the same conversation ride and ride again. Try to turn the conversation towards them- people love to talk about themselves. Avoid topics like religion and politics, the latter being very hard to do if an American (everyone wants to talk Politics with an American).
Keep in mind that some people are too nice, too weird, and some even carve wood in their sleep.