Thursday, 19 September 2019

Precipitating Luck

Principles Of Hitching

Once in a while I’m asked how to hitchhike.
Everyone has their own methods and principles for travelling in this way, ranging from the scientific to the superstitious. All methods have to do the same thing, which is to be, or seem, effective enough to survive repeated road-testing.
Here I'll describe elements of my approach and the thinking behind it. This isn't a how-to-guide, it's just a description of my practice and reflections to myself about it.

Why hitch?
How a person hitches only makes sense in the context of why. There are as many reasons to hitch as there are to travel in any other manner.

I hitch as a means of travelling slowly, with a view to observing nature and crowds, and connecting with individuals and small groups of people. I do this whenever I have a sufficiently large margin of spare time that I can choose to forget about counting minutes, hours and, occasionally, days.
One fundamental reason for this is my belief that the slow speed of hitching affords space for stimulating or novel experiences of time, as well as a quality in human interactions that I seldom encounter within the confines of my normal working schedule.

Hitching in the way I do often allows me to escape time as a routine and instead see it as duration, expressed in weather, light and other natural phenomena. I like to think it teaches my eyes something. It also gives me plenty of time to think.
With regards to human interaction, there's a kind of rarefied human intimacy that runs throughout hitching. To me it seems more prevalent in lifts given by people who have had some time to deliberate before deciding to host you in their personal space. For this reason, my approach is to wait for people to choose to pick me up, and to not directly ask for lifts.

How I hitch: My hitchhiking style is thus about being extremely visible, extremely patient and waiting in places that afford a driver the maximum amount of time to consider the prospect of inviting me to travel with them.

Who I'm waiting for: My ideal lift is from someone who’s fit to drive and isn’t inclined, intentionally or otherwise, to harm me, themselves or anybody else for the duration of our journey together. What they do before and after our meeting rarely concerns me if these requirements are met.

The following considerations and roughly hewn maxims emerge from the above why and how of my hitching style.

Hitchhiking Maxims

1) Wear a fluorescent vest.
Night or day, this helps with visibility and giving a sense of legitimacy.

2) Use serif lettering.
Perhaps magical thinking, but I think again it makes you look more legitimate and less crazy. Seems to help.

3) Be genuinely patient enough to look patient. It can’t be faked.
If you don't enjoy waiting, hitching might not be for you.

4) Roll up your sleeves.
Advice given on hitchwiki once with the reasoning that you look less threatening. I swear by it.

5) Shave.
Doesn't cost anything and seems to help.

6) Let people see your character.
In order to get a lift I feel there is an act of empathetic reflection that takes place. Myriad people have to be able to see themselves in you if they want to let you in their car. Seems to work better if you're relaxed and physiologically honest.

7) Dress neutrally.
Same reasons as above. You want to be seen as human/traveller first, not as a member of a subculture.

8) When meeting potential drivers, be extremely judgmental where it counts and non-judgmental where it doesn’t.
The reverse of 6 and 7. You need to make an informed guess about whether this person is someone safe to travel with, which means not getting distracted by non-essentials such as clothing and taste. You're looking at physiology and body language first, who they voted for and what bands they like you can discuss in the car.

9) Stay humble and patient, and learn to listen.
If you're easily frustrated by personalities that are different to your own, hitching might not be for you. Being offended is not the same as being in danger, and you must remember which one of you chose to hitchhike.

 10) One good evangelist deserves another.
You might be tempted to change minds once in a while. Try, by all means, but remember how fun that usually is the other way round.

11) Give.

If you have something that your driver will appreciate, however small, you should offer it to them. You will feel better. Remember that they have to be willing to accept it or it's just losing something, and not giving it.

 12) Receive.
Equally you will be offered things. I tend to decline most unnecessary things but there are certain moments in which accepting something will feel like the only right course of action.

13) Don’t take negativity too personally.
You have decided to become an ephemeral public spectacle. Reactions will be mixed and some will be strongly negative. You're dealing with countless pockets of unexpressed stress and anger (noise in the social circuit), conceptions of hitchhikers as parasitic beggars and the fact that you are anonymous and temporary, so an easy target. It doesn't affect me personally unless I feel I'm really seen and criticized as a person.

14) Any encouragement can completely refresh you.
Someone coming to talk to you and wish you luck will make you feel like the last three hours waiting didn't happen. It does something odd to time, worth experiencing.

15) The best experiences are often not lifts.
Surreal happenings proliferate in the petroleum archipelago. You're never far away from a problem, conversation, solution, punchline or striking visual composition. Just enjoy it when it comes.

16) Retain your ability to marvel.
Related to the above. You're going to be alone for many, many hours/eternities with your thoughts, so it helps to be entertained by small things. If you're not fascinated by the fact that you are an unusually sociable talking mammal sharing metal boxes powered by the sludge of fossilised creatures, then hitching might not be for you.

17) Remember in hope.
When you pass the point of being able to entertain yourself you have to go into the directory of hope-giving experiences. My usual call is thinking of my longest or worst waits and the countless time I have been picked up just as I was giving up.

18) You will always (and thus never) be surprised by who is on the road, regardless of day or time.
Links to the above. This is one of the great truths of reality and great side-effects of industrial culture. In any petrol station you can potentially find (and will occasionally find) someone driving to your exact destination, at any time of day or night. Similarly, in any city there will be someone living three doors down from you whose personality and way of being would blow your mind if you ever discovered them.

19) Stay on the road and you will move forward.
Simple and statistically true...or true enough.

20) You can never prove that the world is entirely safe. You can only prove that you are lucky, and it is wise not to invite complacency.
Exactly how much danger I put myself in by hitching is difficult to discern, but the final maxim is based upon a quote by Gregory Bateson that I found helpful in choosing how and where one lets sustained experience calcify into identity:

"The principle of pride-in-risk is ultimately almost suicidal.
It is all very well to test once whether the universe is on your side,
but to do so again and again, with increasing stringency of proof,
is to set out on a project which can only prove that the universe hates you."- Gregory Bateson (Steps to an ecology of mind.)

This is the point here. What you are doing is trying to make informed guesses about trust whilst travelling by car. Don’t identify yourself with your ‘success’, and don’t mistake your luck for skill.


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