Love on and of the Road

By: Bernd Wechner
© February 1, 2000

Love on and of the Road

Love on and of the Road

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: February 1, 2000

I was invited to write a short piece for Valentines Day recently, on love, romance, and of course the road. Love and the road are bed partners in my book. How many road movies have you seen celebrating the relationship after all? Reveling in that beautiful sense of adventure and motion that has so captivated young an old alike from for most of the 20th century. It's easy enough for the hitch-hiker to speak of a love of the road - Jed Mahoney probably outdid us all when he wrote in 1981:

    If you have ever experienced something so wonderful that you jumped in the air out of pure exhiliration [sic], made you run at top speed and yell from the sheer pleasure of being alive, made you want to embrace humanity and tell it of your discovery, then you will understand - in part at least - how hitching has affected me.

I recently caught up with Jed. Settled now, with a family and business to tend to, not hitching anymore, not even enjoying it anymore, he still stands by those sentiments, though he might express them differently today. Jacob Holdt before him wrote of American culture in the '70s, when he had no car:

    An essential tool in dating is the car. Since I couldn't take my dates for a ride, I instead invited them for what I loved most of all in the world: hitch-hiking.

Jacob, too, is now settled with a family and no longer hitches either, though, when we spoke last September it struck me rather poignantly that he misses it many ways. We had so many tales to share and were both clearly enamoured of the experience the road had lent us. He still picks up hitchers religiously, mostly in the States, and prefers the criminals to the groupies (or dead-heads as they were labelled when they followed The Grateful Dead around) - in his experience the two most common classes of hitcher today. The groupies generally stink, for lack of a shower. The criminals he generally likes. Jacob once wrote:

    The most fantastic lottery I can think of is hitch-hiking. There is a prize every time. Every single person can teach you something. I have never said no to a ride—even if there were pistols lying on the front seat, or four sinister-looking men wearing sunglasses sitting in the car. Every person is like a window through which the larger society can be glimpsed.

with which he expressed his profound love of people. That criminals are people, and generally behave like people, when treated like people, or like criminals when treated like criminals. And if that's not love, I don't know what is. But, I'll confess, that's the love of Jesus and not St. Valentine. There's little romance in it. But the road is a happy courting ground as good as any other. I've enjoyed the odd amorous encounter myself centered around my travels by thumb. But Tony Horwitz captured it best when he spoke of his friend Rich and his love on the road:

    Hitchhiking can sometimes feel like lying on a riverbank with a line in the water. With yourself as bait, and only the road and sky for company, you wait with the patience of an angler for a passing car to nibble at your fingertip. And like a fisherman, you pass the time with dreams of hooking something really good. The best catch I know of was made by my friend Rich Ivry in 1978. He was hitching through the hills of central Oregon when a fire fighter named Annie pulled over to pick him up. As I write, Rich and Annie are being married in the mountains at Bend, not far from where she stopped for him eight years ago. It is a union that has always been blessed, I suspect, by the magic of having begun so randomly on the road. Hitchhiking is strange that way - at once the loneliest and most social of occupations. One moment you're stranded by the highway, as rootless as a piece of driftwood. The next moment you're thrust into someone else's life. Where the driver goes, you will follow. All the way to the altar in Rich's case.

And I'm sure Rich wasn't alone! I'd love to hear some more tales of romance on the road. If you have one to share, please do! I urge you.

Material cited from:

Eye of the Spud: Hitching and freedom etc in Australia, Gerard Mahoney, Rotten Rock Publications, Sydney, 1981, ISBN: 0 9593892 0 2

American Pictures, Jacob Holdt, American Pictures Foundation, Copenhagen, 1985, ISBN: 87-981702-0-1

One for the Road: Hitch-hiking through the Australian Outback, Tony Horwitz, Vintage Departures, New York, 1987, ISBN: 0-394-75817-X

I caught up with Gerard Mahoney near Melbourne in January 2000, Jacob Holdt in Copenhagen in September 1999 and am still looking for Tony Horwitz.

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