my dad has always let me know what he expected out of me without saying it outright. perhaps because i was such a damn well-behaved child, or because disciplining was mostly my mom's job, i can't remember him ever drilling into me the classic parental lessons of "eat your vegetables" or "don't talk to strangers" or "don't drink and drive."these types of lessons were implicit, rather than explicit.
however, i do specifically remember him making me promise not to hitchhike, or pick up a hitchhiker. this was said explicitly, and i promised like the faithful obedient child i was. i always wondered why he felt so strongly about this, was there a dangerous episode he wasn't telling me about? to this day i still wonder...
but of course, like most kids told not to do something, even the most well-behaved kids, i went out and broke that promise. ange and i discovered hitchhiking in fiji, where it was the only way to get across the island. our next stop was australia, where the idea of getting from cairns to sydney entirely on buses was suddenly unfathomable.
once you start hitchhiking, it seems ludicrous to pay for transportation. we set up some general rules for ourselves - which we mostly kept to - and spent long days on the road. we wouldn't get into a car if either or us felt the slightest creepiness or unease. we would stay awake, alert and watch the road. we wouldn't take rides from truckers. we would stop before dark.
the hardest part was just getting out of town, most people are driving short distances. most people have been told by their fathers not to ever hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers. but we must have been so cute standing there with our backpacks. it was never too hard to get a ride. most people couldn't believe we were hitchhiking, especially once they found out we were americans.
usually the people who picked us up were fathers who had daughters and were trying to save us from the dangerous fate of the hitchhiker, or other people who had hitchhiked in the past and were paying back some karma. i have mostly stuck to my promise of not picking up hitchhikers, but i do feel a special twinge of sympathy when i see one.
the hardest part was having the same conversations over and over again. we would spend three hours in the car with somebody, tell them all about our trip, where we were from, why we were hitchhiking, etc. then ten minutes later get into another car and have to start all over. sometimes the best rides were the ones where everybody was just silent. more often than not we met kind people who were unbelievably helpful and generous. without all the urban myths and fear, hitchhiking is a lovely system, a way of sharing and mutual convenience, a way to meet people you might not ever know.
so, sorry dad, i broke my promise. but i suspect you have at least one good hitchhiking story too.
unrelated: richard serra talks about the installation of his 40-year retrospective at moma in this new york times audio slide show.