Note: First published on Blogger on June 13, 2006
Unfolding the Map
In this post, Sal's hitchhiking begins in earnest, and we will look at some reflections it stirs in yours truly. So stick your thumb out and get ready to catch a ride across the plains with Sal Paradise. As usual, click on the image to get the updated map!
"...I took a bus to Joliet, Illinois, went by the Joliet pen, stationed myself just outside town after a walk through its leafy rickety streets behind, and pointed my way."
On the Road: Chapter 3
After a false start back in New York, Sal finds himself standing on the the side of the road, his thumb pointing the way west. I'm sure that Sal would have preferred to do this long before, and not have spent most of his $50 on a bus ticket to Chicago, but a lot of times one has to ease into something new.
Hitchhiking, of course was a lot more common in 1947 than it is now. I'm not sure about the statistics of hitchhiking, and how much crime occurs to the unwary motorist who decides to pick up a hitchhiker or the unwary hitchhiker who jumps in a car with a psychopath, but the way it was always explained to me, if I ever picked up a hitchhiker I would end up being slowly dismembered somewhere in a dirty warehouse or an out of the way collapsing barn. If I ever hitchhiked, I would meet the same fate. Nobody would ever find me, and my fate would become another horrible story that parents would use to scare their driving-age children out of ever thinking of picking up a hitchhiker, or scare their kids out of ever thinking of hitchhiking.
Okay, so now I've tried to look up hitchhiking and statistics, and I can't find any, and from various posts on various groups, I see that other people haven't found any either.
The sad thing is that these types of stories make me pass people by, without picking them up. It seems to be a double edged sword on both sides of the road. How many drivers might that perfectly nice but somewhat scary looking hairy guy on the side of the road see pass by before he gets a ride? How many hitchhikers might the motorist who has a seat or two for room in the back of his or her car pass by? Who might I meet if I just took the time to pull over and open a friendly door when I see someone by the side of the road? What new relationships might open up as a result. I'll never know because I'm sure (thanks society!) that the ONE time I do I will pick up a psycho and I'll end up as cat food somewhere.
But in 1947, crime didn't seem to be a problem. Today, hitchhiking is much less common, and urban legend and the wider availability of cars probably has a lot to do with it. Back in 1947, I'm sure that a lot of people didn't pick up hitchhikers, but it seems that many more people did than today. You had a lot of people who didn't have cars and didn't have a lot of money to travel, and hit the road with their thumb out, and they got rides! Just follow along with these posts and see how many people picked up Sal, often because they needed an extra driver. They don't even know if he can drive (and because he's from New York and doesn't have to rely on a car that much, he fully admits that he's not a good driver!). They don't know him from Adam, but he gets rides and even some responsibility in the process! And since this trip is based on a trip Jack Kerouac took himself, it is not necessarily all fiction -- Jack himself hitchhiked across the country and neither he nor the motorists he rides with seem to have much of a problem with it.
So where does this leave us? I don't know if I'll pick up a hitchhiker, especially if they are male, seem to need a bath/shave/haircut and I have a feeling that deodorant has never touched their body. I just have too many common misconceptions running around in my brain that are really hard for me to let go. But I would love to see some statistics about hitchhiking and crime. And I would love to know what drives people today to get out on the road and stand for long periods, waiting for that ride even though they know that most motorists will scream on by. I think it is the same motivation that Jack and his alter-ego Sal Paradise both have -- the call of the open road and the new vistas ahead, and the hope that America is still a land that believes in helping out its fellow citizens get to where they need to go.
For more information on Joliet and hitchhiking:
Next up: Mississippi River and Davenport, Iowa