MSNBC: What killed hitchhiking?

“When we implemented our latest redesign of the books last year, we finally got rid of the thumb logo, which had become a relic of an earlier era,” said Tom Mercer, an editor and writer with Let’s Go Publications.

I’ve tried to figure out where and when hitchhiking stopped being okay, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. I tell myself that I can remember being told by parents and others to never do it and to never pick anyone up. All because we didn’t know them and anything could happen.

I used to work in Ocala. I drove I-75 both ways five days a week, and that gave me a lot of chances to see people trying to get rides. Most of the time, I’d blow right by them. “Sorry pal,” I might say to myself, but I’d pass them by all the same.

Why?

Can’t say.

Well, can’t say for the most part. Sometimes, though, it was just laziness on my part. I didn’t want to stop, didn’t want to deal with the hassle, didn’t want to deal with forced conversation and having to stop again to let them off. American laziness and antisocialness, I suppose. Maybe it was something about that person that guided me away. Who knows.

I’ve stopped for other people, though, and given them either rides or money. Mostly I gave rides out of Gainesville. I felt a little bit more wary of bringing people into Gainesville–I didn’t want to be responsible for someone getting hurt by someone I helped bring into town. This assumes an inherent dishonesty in all people, but all it takes is one person out of a thousand to do something.

And I think that is largely where hitchhiking began to die: the supposed happy, trusting-ness of the 60s began do die out (merely conjecture on my part, having not been alive during them) and people watched more TV, read more news. The stories circulated more, and all this communication led to the idea–real or imagined–that hitchhiking and hitchhikers were dangerous. A meme before there was an internet.

Did people change? Was there some golden era where mishaps and crimes were minimal?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that our ability to talk about it has increased, and that has to account for some of it.

One passenger stands out in particular: I was actually on my way north to High Springs and saw him on the on-ramp, an elderly man in an old brown suit and hat. I pulled over immediately. If memory serves, his car was in the shop on the northern side of town, so I gave him a lift a couple exits up the way.

Did he think about all the dangers? The ones he faced and the ones he spawned in the minds of observers? Or was he a product of a previous era when there was nothing to worry about?

MSNBC: What killed hitchhiking?

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