Where was I going? What was I doing? I'd soon find out. JACK KEROUAC On The Road
You rarely see hitchhikers any more, but back in the 1960s and 70s it was much more common. To get around I hitchhiked regularly from the age of seventeen until well into my twenties. Few young people owned their own car in those days, and trains, even buses, were normally outside your budget, unless your parents had coughed up the fare in an untypically generous mood. Besides, I liked hitchhiking. I thought it was a pretty cool thing to do. I liked the freedom and the unpredictability of it. I liked its air of unconventionality and whiff of danger. I liked pretending I was some kind of outlaw on the edge of society. And I liked the intoxicating romance of the road.
My bible was The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh, which I stuffed into my rucksack along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Michael Horovitz's Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain. (These last two books I have still, but sadly Ken Welsh fell apart on an autobahn slipway near Düsseldorf.) Ken was full of bright and breezy comments . . .
Hitch-hiking is a game of chance. In this world where we expect things to run on time or to be in a certain place by three o'clock, it is a refreshing experience. Just because the ninth car doesn't stop doesn't mean the tenth will; nor the hundredth, nor the thousandth. But you'll get there.
. . . and sensible advice . . .
Look keen and friendly and try to smile at each vehicle, even when they pass by at high speed. The key is to look like you really want to get somewhere. While you might get a lift lying in the grass by the roadside, nonchalantly waving a thumb in the air while swigging from a bottle of French red wine, frankly, it's unlikely.
Occasionally I hitched with a companion, but mostly I travelled alone. One of my best trips was a one-day, two-lift journey from Frankfurt to Paris — first in a smart Mercedes, then in a beat-up old van driven by two French hippies, who picked up every hitchhiker en route. My worst trip was a scary but exhilarating ride with a couple who were stoned out of their minds. I did eventually get them to slow down and stop, whereupon I almost fell out of the car with relief.
When I was seventeen I hitchhiked to the South of France with a friend called Nick. The photos below tell some of the story . . .
I was surprised, as always, at how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. JACK KEROUAC On the Road