What if Everyone did It?

By: Bernd Wechner
© August 1, 1999

What if Everyone did It?

What if Everyone did It?

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: August 1, 1999

On a Good Friday hitch to Berlin a friend offered me a ride part way. He offered/insisted to drop me off at the first services on the A6 toward Berlin, a 20 km detour from his route!

We pulled up for petrol though, at the last services in the A5 before the turn off and found there another hitcher, signing for Nurnberg, which was on my way to Berlin so we pulled over and offered him a kick start around the corner so to speak, where my friend was about to drop me.

He'd been standing there an hour and a half already, having come from Strasbourg, heading for Poland. Man, was he was happy to hear I was headed for Berlin!

A little less happy of course, to hear the car wasn't, and we'd be hitching together as of the next services. Even less happy I imagine, as I was, to find another five hitchers at those services! I hadn't seen seven hitchers in one spot in a long time!

It got me to thinking of numbers. Imagine a conversation among hardened hitchers in some bar:

    I remember when I hitched 17 years ago from Nijmegen to somewhere on a Friday evening, I had to queue up with another 15-20 people.

    I've only ever seen about 20 in one spot, at Dreilinden in Berlin.

    At Three Ways in the Northern Territory, some 20 years ago, I once counted 31, heading in different directions.

    The largest number of hitchers hitch-hiking in one place I saw was 50! It was in Vilnius, going in the direction of Riga.

    Friday afternoons in Prague heading towards the north-east there are maybe more than 50 hitchers to be see in one place (actually along the way a 3-4 km long line of hitchers is usual).

    Well, once I counted hitch-hikers in Kaunas (Lithuania)... me and my girlfriend were 87th and 88th... not funny...

    I think it was during the "Nida's" festival, was not it? I've counted 200 hitchers during 3 hours of hitching in Nida.

These are actual quotes, most of them lifted from one thread on a mailing list of hitch-hikers, which started with a first passing comment that hitching was a dying art. The writer reminisced how 17 years ago he had to queue with up to 20 other hitchers, but today, he sees no-one. Others were of course incited by this passing comment to demonstrate his error. Very contemporary acccounts from eastern Europe put the 17 year old experience to shame.

Aside from the obvious demonstration that hitching is alive and well in many places as a popular mode of transport, these accounts left me thinking of a very different theme. What, with 200 hitchers in one place over a few hours ... I couldn't help but think: What if everyone did it?

Of course not everyone can do it can they? — at least not at the same time. For there to be hitchers there have to be hitchees. Still, imagine a world where hitching were such a common-place activity that most everyone did do it at some time or other, where there was no fear to dissuade us, no inconvenient waits, and a friendly cameraderie among hitchers and hitchees.

Believe it or not we've come close to seeing times like these. The war years in Britain saw hitching organised and encouraged as petrol rationing took its grip on the nation. Hitch-hiking touched a lot of lives, if not all of them equally. Still the experience was strong and the post-war years saw a generation of youth emerge that spread around the Eurasian continent by thumb.

Still, when I think of the words "What if everyone did it?" I can't help but find an array of less positive experiences in my memories. This has to be one of the most used and abused little retorts I regularly encounter. If you live in a way that challenges many social norms, as I do, you inevitably attract this kind of remark, delivered in a tone of voice as to suggest that if everyone did that the very fabric of society would crumble.

Take any pet hate of yours, and you'll probably find that you too, like me, have issued those words in that tone of voice when you couldn't find any other reasonable justifaction for your pet peeve. Whether it's tax evasion, loud late music, enjoying unemployment, group sex, speeding, snorting coke, jogging, slurping soup, arriving late, coming early, voting liberal, throwing temper tantrums, driving slowly, eating live goldfish, walking backwards, not washing or break dancing, someone is bound to say some day "Egad's, what if everyone did that! What are we coming to ...".

And yet the obvious reply is "well they don't, so where's your problem ...?".

That knocks them dead every time. If they're not cornered: "Um, well, I guess, but, but I mean, what if everyone did do it?" — then some other plea for conformity is offered, a plea to one's sense of social responsibility, to toe the line.

But hey, what if everyone was Bill Clinton? What everyone was Neil Armstrong? What if everyone was Jesus Christ. Would society hang together any better than it does now? Of course not. Life and society thrive on diversity. Yes we all have a place and don't ever let those "what if everyone did it?" wowsers cut you down ... everyone doesn't!

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