Blessings on you and your family! I’ve pretty much shaken my cold. I’m still in Philadelphia, looking forward to another week catching up with old friends and making new ones. Do you know anyone here that I should know? I more or less have my clothes for the wedding sorted and today I got my hands on a cello I can use in the ceremony.
I’m eager to try busking here making balloon animals at least once before I leave. Have I mentioned that I’d been doing that? It’s so much fun. The last couple of weeks I was in Chicago, you might have found me hanging around farmers markets or outside the zoo wearing a great silly hat twisting balloons into various creatures or bits of costume. I enjoyed the interesting creative challenges (Can you do a jellyfish? How about an owl? I want Batman!), adding color to the place (literally and figuratively), practicing showmanship, entertaining families. Oh, and earning a little bit of money on the side. I developed a bit of a circuit in Chicago. I haven’t been out in Philadelphia yet to find my audience.
At any rate, I promised you that I’d explain my method of hitchhiking. Now, the common image of a hitchhiker in America is a person standing on the side of the road giving drivers a thumbs up. People still do this. In fact, I did it for a little while the other day when a driver dropped me off right on the side of the road. I understand that folks stand on onramps more often than they stand on the main highway, but in any event, I discovered a different way the first time I went out.
My trick is to stand near the door at a truck stop and just be friendly. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only person to find a ride this way, but I did discover it on my own, and I’m a little proud of that. The first time I went hitchhiking, I planned to wait at the onramp, but I was ready to start waiting long before there was any traffic. I wandered over to check it out, and it offered a wonderful view of the sunrise, but it would be a few hours before there were many travelers passing through. So I went where I did see people: back at the truck stop.
I wound up standing near the entrance on the trucker side of the building. I put a sign on my pack that said “West, Please,” and just said hello to anyone who came by. I quickly realized that I was offering drivers a better chance to scope me out than I would have offered from the roadside, and, perhaps more importantly, more time to think about me. In the morning, many of the drivers I saw had slept in their trucks and were sitting down to breakfast inside. Many spent half an hour or more inside and then they’d see me again on the way out. In contrast, your classic hitchhiker is in view for a few seconds as drivers whiz past. I bet that a lot of drivers deliberate for a moment and… then it’s too late. “I hope someone picks that guy up.”
That first time, if anyone seemed friendly, I’d ask if they were headed my way. I thought it sounded nice: a classic hitchhiker thing to say. The fellow who picked me up pointed out that it put people in an awkward position: either pick me up, tell me to my face that they’re not interested in helping me, or lie. He suggested that I ask if they know anyone headed my way. Then they have a chance to offer… or maybe even connect me with a friend. And honestly, I’m not upset by anyone who doesn’t want to pick me up. Someone, eventually, will be happy to. And whoever I do ride with, I want them to be kind, friendly, and offering me a seat because they want to, not because they feel guilty or coerced.
Anyhow, I used that bit of psychology this time. I thought it was hilarious because I was on a service plaza on a toll road. It only served the East bound traffic. Every person I chose to ask whether “you know anyone headed East?” was, in fact, headed East (at least for a few miles to the next exit). I asked with a wink and a chuckle, and I was amused by the reactions. Some people would obviously search their minds for a second to see if they knew anyone headed East. Others would just say no (“Well, if you meet anyone, could you send them my way?”). Some people said that they were actually headed East but their car was jam packed. Some of these seemed to regret that they couldn’t offer me a ride and some seemed relieved that they didn’t have to actually make a decision about me.
And of course, sooner or later, someone headed my way was kind, friendly, and willing to offer me a seat. I’ll tell you all about them in my next note.
In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you. Who should I visit? Have you ever discovered a new way of doing something? Have you ever known anyone who hitchhiked my way?
Looking forward to hearing from you,