I was driving east toward the coast from my hometown of Orlando, Florida , alone in my car with a surfboard inside. There he was on the side of the road, walking intently with a large internal-frame backpack slugged across his shoulders. Attached horizontally along the top of the pack a cardboard sign read in large letters: SOUTH.
I passed while turning my head a full 180 degrees to observe the stranger. A man in his mid 20’s with a large beard, skin tanned by the sun and a black bandana wrapped around his forehead. Who was this man? Why was he advertising his direction on a cardboard sign? Did he think people would actually pick him up?
I drove 5 minutes up the road, quickly weighing my options. Turn up my music, proceed to the beach safe and unharmed, or help out this traveler and hear his story at my own risk. Within the confines of my 4 door Toyota Camry, I exclaimed FUCK IT out loud to myself and no one else. I then made a u-turn at the next median pass.
“You need a ride?”
“I’m headed East toward Cocoa Beach but I can drop you off near 95 to head south.”
He slung his pack into my backseat through the rear door and hopped into the passenger seat next to me. We were off.
Being extremely curious, I discreetly turned on the audio recording app in my iPhone, not wanting to miss one bit of the conversation. I shook his hand and rather awkwardly introduced myself as I accelerated the car to speed. He calmly told me his name.
Jarret was coming from Vancouver, Canada. He had been slowly hitchhiking south to West Palm Beach where his mother lived. I was taken aback when he said it had only taken him a little over a month, and even further surprised when he told me he had quit his comfortable office job at 25 to hitchhike North America.
I expected this bearded fellow to be a bit off the rails. What I got was a level-headed traveler.
I expected him to bear a knife in his hand and accost me for everything I had. What I got was a peaceful handshake and a story.
I expected hitchhiking to be only used by bums and the down-and-out destitute. What I got was a time-honored art, still practiced by a select few people who didn’t mind taking up the wasted space in a car and replacing it with unexpected conversation.
That was the moment when I realized hitchhiking was a legitimate form of travel, rife with possibilities and unique stories, and that it was actually possible to do.
Within six months of pulling my car over for a stranger I found myself stepping inside strangers’ cars and successfully completing my first long-distance hitchhiking trip.
Would you ever pick up a hitchhiker? Why or why not? Be honest! Leave a comment below. The first to comment will receive True Transient stickers and a postcard from a random state sent by me.