Who the heck picks up hitchhikers anymore?
Meet Canadians who took a chance on some dude on the side of the road
Would you feel comfortable in total stranger's car? Whether asking for a ride or offering one, are you the kind of person to embrace the unknown?
Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Reuben Maan of Newmarket, Ont. — also known as that hitchhiker on the side of the road — shares his.
I've gotten into cars with many strangers.
One summer I hitched from Toronto to Inuvik. I've also hitched around parts of Europe, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.
When I was younger, hitchhiking was a fantastic way to save money, travel long distances, meet interesting people and have an adventure. Now that I have a steady job, I no longer need to thumb rides to save money for my next sandwich.
But the thrill of adventure remains, and this summer my life was feeling too predictable. A recent breakup led me to reconsider the value and freedom of my fading youth.
This combination of heartache, aging and comfort-induced-malaise compelled me to hit the highways again.
Folks who pull over
After flying to visit a friend in Saskatchewan, I decided to thumb my way back to Toronto.
The first person to pull over was Adaline.
She told me she stopped cuz I looked harmless, but also asked me to sit in the back seat.
We went to Burger King in North Battleford, Sask., and I bought her a Coke and ate two Whoppers. She let me sit up front after lunch. Adaline's husband died recently. Her grandson with autism is a real blessing. She doesn't like our selfie prime minister but didn't mind a selfie with me. She watches every Jays game. She dropped me on the outskirts of Saskatoon.
I was sad to say goodbye.
Next there was Keith, who teaches math and science in middle school.
He kept fiddling with the loose wire of his GPS, obsessively tracking mileage. Years ago, he drove his daughters across the country on a pilgrimage to Justin Bieber's house. This time Keith was visiting his aging father in Winnipeg. His daughters stayed home to see a concert. We paused the conversation to crank up Santana's song No One to Depend On. For the first time post-breakup, I felt liberated and free. Keith missed his daughters who no longer depended on him. I spread almond butter on crackers and passed them to Keith one at a time. It felt strangely intimate.
I'll bet Keith is a great dad and a good teacher.
Greg had never picked up a hitchhiker before and hoped I didn't murder him.
Greg works seven-day shifts for CP Rail replacing worn out rails. He recently remortgaged his house to buy a second place. He's starting an online business selling tea. We exchanged stories of recent heart break. A dancer from Thunder Bay had left him. Greg missed hanging out with her kid too. While rolling into Thunder Bay near midnight, Greg suggested I share his hotel room, reiterating that he hoped I wouldn't rob or murder him.
He left for work at 5 a.m. I left at 8 a.m. (without robbing him). I marvelled at his generosity.
Wanda and Jacob met online playing an adventure game.
She was from Sioux Falls, S.D. and Jacob, from Sudbury, Ont., studied at Lakehead. They bought me coffee and timbits. Wanda drove while Jacob deejayed and critiqued her CD collection. Fleetwood Mac brought everyone together. We paused to admire Aguasabon Falls and the thrift store in Marathon, Ont. Sadly for Jacob, it'd been picked over. Wanda got a fishing license at Canadian Tire. We stopped along Lake Superior for a smoke and a drink and watched the waves while daylight faded. Rain was rolling in at 10:30 p.m. when they said goodbye and I walked into the night to pitch my tent before the deluge. I lay listening to the rain, enriched by their kindness.
'Give strangers a chance'
It took four days and 18 rides to get from Lloydminster to Toronto. Those 18 rides were all unique and stimulating.
While hitchhiking, driver and rider form a bond. Both are adventure seekers, optimists, eager to see the best in others and keen to trust each other.
Filmmaker John Waters summarized it best saying, "People that pickup hitchhikers have a sense of humour. A lot of them have survived something ... No matter what their political party was, what their age was, what their race was, what their — anything, everybody was willing to give people a chance."
As you celebrate life this summer, whether you're in need of a ride or have one to offer, embrace your inner hitchhiker, give strangers a chance.