Monday, September 28, 2020

Nobody Hitchhikes Anymore - Ed Griffin-Nolan


Ed Griffin-Nolan is definitely right about one thing. There is a feeling of kinship among those who have ever hitchhiked, even if for only one memorable trip in their relative youth. The memories created by thumbing your way from one state to the next are so vividly implanted that veteran hitchhikers enjoy talking about them even decades later – and they love hearing the stories of others who have experienced the road up close and personal the way hitchhikers, by definition, experience it. I still sometimes think about the time me and another soon-to-be-eighteen-year-old hitchhiked about 275 miles from our home in Southeast Texas to New Orleans on a spur-of-the-moment whim. And that’s why I was initially so intrigued by Griffin-Nolan’s Nobody Hitchhikes Anymore

Ed Griffin-Nolan and a buddy hitched – roundtrip – their way from New York to California in 1978, and they still talk about that trip whenever they get together. Now, some forty years later, Ed decides to do it again, but this time he will be out there on his own and he will be flying back to New York when he arrives in San Francisco instead of hitchhiking home via a different route. Ed is 62 years old now, and he really doesn’t know what to expect, but if the sign he uses to attract the attention of potential Good Samaritans is any indication (“Nobody HitchHikes AnyMore”), he already knows that the art of hitchhiking is not what it used to be. The man, however, is still optimistic: 

     “Who will pick you up? Everyone asks me that question. 

      …How could I possibly know how to answer when the answer was to be found in the future, out on the sides of dozens of roadways? Who, indeed, will pick me up? The tease, the adventure, the allure of hitchhiking is that I wake up not knowing who will give me a lift today, and my ride wakes up not knowing who I am either.” 

What follows is an account of some of the most fulfilling days on the road imaginable, days when the kindness and spirit of America are obvious as people drive out of their way to extend their ride so they can leave Ed at a better spot from which to begin the next leg of his journey. But there are also days when the author is passed by by hundreds and hundreds of vehicles before he snags his next ride. There are days when he is picked up by drivers angry with the world and ready to tell him all about it. And there are days when he sits off-and-on in the same McDonald’s so long that he is able to pick out all the regulars: 

     “McDonald’s has been a haven for hitchhikers for as long as I’ve been thumbing rides. Bathrooms, free water, shade, air conditioning, electricity to charge a phone, wi-fi to check on the world back home – what’s not to like? Plus, they now serve the Egg McMuffin all day long. 

     McDonald’s is, for better or worse, a melting pot of cultures. People come to America now already knowing our brands…I hear conversations in Russian, Chinese, and Spanish. In yuppie coffee shops, sometimes the only international flavor is the macchiato.” 

Bottom Line: With the exception of the author’s insertion of political asides into his narrative, Nobody Hitchhikes Anymore is a fun read – especially if you yourself have experienced some of what he describes. At first the political asides are mildly distracting more than anything else, but near the end of the book they become heavy-handed enough to become more an irritant than a distraction, especially some of the points Griffin-Nolan attempts to make in the book’s epilogue.

9 comments:

  1. This sounds like a fun read, I hitchhiked once and that was one too many times but to do it across America twice is bonkers! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It is a fun book, for sure, Heather. It brought back some good, and some not-so-good, memories for me from a long time ago.

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  2. I could do without the politics, but the rest of the book sounds like fun. I like reading about other people's adventures. Hitchhiking is not something I've tried myself; as a single girl it always felt a little too risky. But if the world were a safer place, I'd definitely give it a go. :D

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    1. The politics-bit did get a little old, especially toward the end when it all started to get very predictable. I didn't need a "sermon" at the end, but got a short one anyway.

      I doubt seriously that I would ever try this again, especially right now when the country is so divided and hardcore about the divisions. And...I can't even imagine a woman doing this kind of thing on her own - ever.

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  3. I hitchhiked alone when I first went to BU. Everyone did it then, including girls. Then one day some guy asked if I liked you-know-what in the afternoon, and I said let me out here. But what if he hadn't. A stupid, stupid girl I was. And then a woman from the University was murdered by a driver. That was it for me. I just walked the two miles from my dorm to the classrooms after that.

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    1. How horrible, Nan! I'm afraid it's inevitable that a young woman will be propositioned under those circumstances and that's really sad.

      I was hitching once when I was in the Army, just a 10 mile trip into town and was picked up by an elderly man who could not keep his hands to himself. If he had been 20 years younger, it could have gotten violent. But all I ended up having to do was tell him that I had his license plate memorized and would be reporting him when I got out of the car. He immediately apologized and drove me very quickly back to the front gate...and sped away.

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    2. Geez, it was even scary for guys. There was a kind of golden age in Europe when a lot of American kids hitched over there. Seemingly no problems.

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  4. I've never hitch-hiked, too many warnings from concerned relatives about the dangers for girls on their own. I would be interested in reading this though... although I do wish authors could restrain themselves when it come to the political commments.

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    1. The author's main message in this one is that the dangers are exaggerated, mainly by movies and books. Having done a little hitchhiking myself, I don't agree with him about the dangers being terribly exaggerated. It really happens, and I imagine it happens even more than we know to young women who disappear every year without a trace.

      If the author's political views were not so one-sided, the book would have been a whole lot more fun. Readers especially could have done without his mini-sermon at the end of the book.

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