Hitchhiking for Ugly People
© Copyright Peter FitzSimons, 1994
Webified by Bernd Wechner - Please respect his efforts and avoid plagiarism (namely uncredited copying of this page).

HITCHHIKING IS UNDOUBTEDLY the second oldest form of long distance travel. As soon as the first smart caveman got himself organised enough to tame the first dumbo dinosaur, put a vine through its mouth to use as a rein and head it off towards yonder hillock, he undoubtedly came across the second caveman, thumb out, wanting a ride. 'Yonder hillock' were perhaps the words on the little sign held in the second caveman's other hand, and either the dinosaur driver stared the other way at the precise moment of passing by, or he did the right thing and stopped -- meaning the two cavemen would have happily headed off towards the hillock together. 

Since then hitchhiking has made a good deal of piggyback progress, getting better and faster with each succeeding mode of transport, but the essence remains the same. As a mode of travel at the bottom end of the market, there is no better method than hitchhiking, but there is a rather awkward catch. 

If you are on the 'pretty' end of the human spectrum, getting a lift is never any problem but the dangers involved at the hands of assorted crazies make the risk never worth it. If, on the other hand, you are on the rough, tough and 'orrible end of the spectrum, the danger is a lot slighter, but people are infinitely less inclined to pick you up. Unless you do it right. 

Even as a fresh-faced youth of eighteen, I was nudging up against the 'orrible end of the spectrum, and initially my only chance of someone stopping was if Mum happened to be passing along the road at the time. Until I learnt how to do it right . . . 

The art of 'hitchhiking for uglies' is the art of persuading people travelling at high speed to decide, in the space of a split second, that they should stop and pick you up. Here are a few rules of thumb for hitchhiking ... 

  • Let us say you are heading from Sydney to Brisbane. Don't hold up a sign saying 'Brisbane'. In fact, don't hold up any sign at all. If your target is actually heading to Brisbane, they may well recoil at the prospect of being with someone for the next ten hours, but wouldn't mind the company of someone for an hour or so. Once you're in the car, you can then charm them into taking you the whole way. If, on the other hand, they are only going to Wyong, they may well surmise that such a short distance isn't of any use to you, when in fact, it is. When hitching, remember -- all forward movement is good movement.
  • Don't hang out a desultory thumb and walk with a hangdog expression along the road. You don't deserve to be picked up that way, because you're obviously a dummy. Use a little amateur psychology here, Sigmund. The only person you care about is the person who can put their foot on the brake, the driver. 
  • Do look the driver straight in the eye, establishing contact. As you lift your arms out into a supplicatory pose, your big, bright, open and honest smile stops momentarily as your lips mouth the words 'Can I have a lift please . . .?' Then quickly back to the smile. As you do this, ideally your eyebrows should start to crawl all the way up your forehead. This is the best way known to look beseeching, bright, open and honest all at once. 
  • Don't look like you've just got out of Long Bay Gaol. Even Uglies can be neat, and it's worth making the effort. It may sound bizarre, but the only time my friend Footrot ever wears a tie is when he's hitching. Even if the seat is out of his pants, the tie gives him a Charlie Chaplinesque faded gentility, and he never has any trouble. When the traffic is fair, these methods will get you a lift every time. When the traffic is down to two cars an hour or so on a lost and lonely highway, you need ever more refined methods. 
Once, out on a patch of the Nullarbor, I set down just near another hitchhiker. Skeletons in the dust told us both that this was Hitchhiking Hell, but the etiquette of the road still counted. I had to retire a good kilometre or so beyond him so he would get first shot. 

Luckily he was a dummy. 

Putting his pack down against a post, he sat against it and lifted a languid stick every time a car passed. Despite the heat, the flies, his hunger and thirst, he didn't really look as if he wanted to get out of there. His folly was my saviour. By the time people had passed him, leaving him in the desert, they would invariably be feeling guilty. I, too, would be sitting down, but when the cars were about five hundred metres off, I would suddenly jump up -- which attracted their attention -- and look really excited as if finally they had come to save me ('der plane, boss, der plane!'). 

All right, it still took me half a day to get out of there, but even the people who didn't stop at least slowed down and took a good, long hard look at me. The point is to view the whole operation not as 'hitchhiker and passing cars' but as 'hitchhiker and passing people', and then take it from there. 

Incidentally, one more special pleasure of the road to look out for, particularly in parts where it is difficult to get a lift, is hitchers' poetry, often seen carved onto the back of road signs with a rock or somesuch. A personal favourite, on the back of a sign on a dead stretch of road about a hundred kilometres out of Katherine in the Northern Territory (and I think the same was written by a thumbnail dipped in tar), goes like this: 

    We met,  
    We slept,  
    She left,  
    I wept. 
It's not Dylan, but it's not bad.