The generation above me had their war stories. Me, I got hitchhiking stories. I didn’t try to capture territory, I simply wanted to cross it, armed with nothing but our thumb. I didn’t want to conquer, but enjoy. I didn’t train to kill strangers, but to talk to them. It was a glorious way to travel. It promised the thrill of adventure and the constant encounter with the unknown. It was based on faith in the kindness of strangers, a faith that luckily held true for me. Some of its guiding mottoes:
• Be open to outcome, but not attached to outcome.
• The journey is not in the destination, but in the journey.
• Wherever you are, there you are.
• Be here now— and don’t worry about ‘getting there then.’
Of course, it wasn’t all glorious. There were ten-hour waits for rides, standing out in rain or heat or snow, the constant roar of cars speeding by, getting dropped off in dubious neighborhoods, the ride who picked you up for company and conversation and all you wanted to do was sleep. But it was a memorable way to cross the country, which I did four times, to go north to Canada or south to San Diego, to get around England or France and see it with different eyes. And oh yeah— it was cheap!
Like any human activity, there was a certain art to it and one of my favorite tricks was to make eye contact with a driver and reel him or her in with my thumb, showing with my body language that they had started to pull over (they hadn’t) and starting to run for the ride as if they had. In that split nanosecond, the power of suggestion was sometimes enough to make them think that they had decided to pick me up when they hadn’t. And lo and behold, they pulled over!
I thought of this all as I prepared to call a bureaucratic agency that looked like it would refuse to offer a J-1 Visa to the five interns awaiting approval to be with our music department this Fall. I knew that ranting about the ignorance and stupidity of government bureaucracy was a dead end and that pleading for humanitarian gestures above and beyond the rules tended to close those closed hearts further. So I thought about the hitchhiking strategy. “It’s wonderful that you’re going to help us figure this out. I appreciate your enthusiasm about this program, so let’s put our heads together and see how we can do this.”
Fact is, you can be standing in the rain and someone with a spacious car who somehow knows you are no threat and in fact, a good person like a humble music teacher dedicated to bringing joy to the life of children, willing to even pay you good money for the ride and delight you with interesting conversation, that person in the spacious car not in a hurry to go anywhere, with ample room and no risk, can still pass you by without an ounce of remorse.
And so she did.
Perhaps my next Intern Program will be hitchhiking across the country with six music teachers, practicing recorder and body music and singing on the side of the road while we wait for our ride. No permits needed and a hella lot more fun.