People I Met Hitchhiking on USA Highways: an uncanny book reviewed

By: Bernd Wechner
© February 1, 2002

People I Met Hitchhiking on USA Highways: an uncanny book reviewed

People I Met Hitchhiking on USA Highways: an uncanny book reviewed

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: February 1, 2002

Imagine you walked past a poster on the wall, on which stood the vague image of a bearded man, and the words around it reading "YOU’RE LIKE ME IN THIS RESPECT – WHAT YOU DO HAS ITS EFFECT", or perhaps "HELP ONE ANOTHER SUCCEED" or "SEEK TRUTH – DEVELOP CAPACITIES" or even "DESPITE INJUSTICE & NORMAL MADNESS, CHANGE YOUR SITUATION & OUR WORLD FOREVER FOR BETTER" © E. Chaet … would it make you stop and think?

If so, then Eric Chaet has successfully reached out to you - then you are the kind of person his message is aimed at and you'd certainly enjoy his writing. If not perhaps the sign's too short and a dip into some of his writing, prose or poetry would do the trick. In any case, he's set himself the single handed mission of making you stop and think - about life, about why, about how … So much so that for years he's been posting these signs around America. They've even reached Europe it seems.

   I groaned inwardly. Explaining what I had been doing--I had already attempted it with so many strangers--seemed overwhelming. I gave him the briefest synopsis possible: I had silk-screened posters on cloth--I took a couple from the pack & showed him--& I intended to staple them to utility poles in San Francisco & Los Angeles.

   Dr. Hrindayanath twirled one of his mustaches. "You cannot change the world all by yourself," he said solemnly but kindly.
Someone's got to start, I thought.

   "I think that what you are doing is courageous & noble, sir," he said, "but do you think you have any chance at all of success?"
   "I think that, before I began," I said, "I had no chance of success, but that, now that I've begun, I'm changing the odds."

When I picked up his book People I Met Hitch-hiking on USA Highways, I was excited, by yet another book on hitch-hiking to hit our shelves and with such an unambiguous easily identified title. I must admit though, that I struggled at first, with Eric's stylistic idiosyncrasies - from his use of "thru", "tho", "&" in place of "and", and double hyphens where en or em dashes belong, to the rather prosaic introduction to his travel accounts and his choice of large serif-less type …

What unfolded however, in all its glorious eccentricity, was a self confessed challenge to the established order of things and the title suddenly seemed far less unambiguous than at first. Not at all a book about hitch-hiking! It is fundamentally a book intended to provoke some active thinking into the fundamental issues that face us all - what we're doing, why we're doing it. To be sure it is written by a hitch-hiker (though he admits: … I only do [hitch-hike] when I can't think how else to get something going …) and in some way around people he met while hitch-hiking (though for some of the tales the only clue to that is the loose claim the title lays to it!) but is in the end, a collection of semi-biographic narratives (with no immediate relation to one another) and a handful of poems that provide the vehicle for a deeper message.

   This is not strictly true.
   None of this is strictly true.
   It's pretty close to true, tho--I have amazingly little imagination.

   Reading this story, or whatever it has turned into: Some say a story must have a beginning, a middle, & and end. Fine. Then this is something other than a story. Or else it is not so that a story must have a beginning, a middle, & and end. Not very important, is it?
   I realize that it will not have been easy for you to follow, in one reading, without concentrating your attention with unusual force, what I have said
[sic]. I have gone back & forth in time--I have put in all sorts of details (& left out still more--of which, more another time). Even my sentences are unusual & frequently difficult.
   I made it as simple as I could. I am attempting to be of service to you. What I hope to achieve by communicating what I am here communicating with you, if it can be achieved, will not be achieved in an instant.

In spite of which cryptic presentation and heavy message, People I Met Hitchhiking on USA Highways proves to be a surprisingly light and easy read, a short book, leaving a thirst for more of Chaet's work. It is full of interesting, thought-provoking lives, not least of all Chaet's - all half told, with hidden relationships only hinted at.

They are stories of hardship, the working class struggle, complicity in a system that drives a deeper and deeper wedge between us, between people, between people and their planet, between one another, between those who have, and those who don't, between those who play ball and those who don't.

Chaet doesn't play ball. A university educated man, with a thirst for knowledge, a craving for wisdom (that eludes him as it does the rest of us) he winds up loading trucks to keep the grim reaper from his doorstep, while his profession flounders because of an imprudent tongue … he calls his story The Coup. "Sure! I'm scared of hitchhiking! And I'm scared of staying in one place, scared!" is he.

But he has the power to raise questions. He has the power to ask. He has the power to ask you to raise questions … implicitly by being who he is, doing what he does. "Our children will in time mature and stop asking such annoying questions" writes Jan Lif in his introduction, all the same, while overlooking the questions Chaet does in fact ask of us.

   I have seen great changes--not necessarily good ones, tho de-segregation was far more good than bad--that began, apparently abruptly, just when it seemed that change was impossible; when that which could not possibly ever happen--but many passionately desired--suddenly began to happen.
   If you do not want merely to be secure & comfortable, no matter what is happening to your neighbors in the world, or which of your precious potentials you must surrender; if you do not want merely to be a prominent person doing what someone else would do if you did not do it--& maintaining & extending the status quo, while taking bows: then it takes longer to become who you must be, & to do what you must do.

I can heartily recommend reading Chaet. You'll find him on-line at:

or at or trace him through your local bookstore:

People I met Hitch-hiking on USA Highways
Eric Chaet, 2001
Turnaround Artist Productions
De Pere, Wisconsin
ISBN: 0-9706965-0-7

He reminds me uncannily of Irving Thomas, and I might suggest Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point (2000, Abacus, London) as an enlightening follow up (will Chaet prove to be a tipping salesman?)

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