Lessons From Hitchhiking

Grain Elevator wixphoto.com
Grain Elevator

I was 19, standing on the outskirts of Pouce Coupe in northern B.C. with my thumb out, hoping some compassionate soul would give me a lift. My destination was Abbotsford and I planned to travel there via Alberta. The few dollars in my pocket were sufficient to buy little more than a loaf of bread, a package of sliced meat, and a cup of coffee. Picking up a hitch hiker was not considered especially dangerous at that time, but I was to discover most drivers were not willing to stop.

My first ride was with two young couples on a Sunday morning drive. I’m still surprised they picked me up. Before long it occurred to them they weren’t going to the next point where there was at least a semblance of civilization. After some discussion they extended their drive considerably and dropped me off at the B.C. /Alberta border. I can only guess at what motivated their thoughtfulness.

Farm Pickup Truck

At the small cafe on the border, I bought a cup of coffee so potent I worried it might be hazardous to my digestive system. Then, after standing too long on the bald, empty prairie stretching endlessly to the horizon, an elderly farmer in an aging rusted pickup bumped to a stop. He carried on well past his little farm because like the young couples, he didn’t want to leave me where drivers would be reluctant to pull over.

At the entrance to Grand Prairie, I was quickly picked up by three young men. An open case of beer was on the floor of the car and each had a bottle in hand. I was barely in the car when the driver glanced in his rear view mirror. “Cops,” he said and abruptly pulled onto a side street. I gathered they were just driving around town, hoping for some excitement. With his eyes frequently scrutinizing the rear view mirror, the driver made his way to the other end of town and dropped me off. Without that ride I’d almost certainly have needed to walk to this point. I appreciated what appeared to be an act of entirely unselfish helpfulness.

After a succession of rides, I found myself on the far side of Calgary. Dusk was approaching and I knew if I carried on, I might soon be standing in the mountainous darkness of Banff, hoping no bear would be looking for its dinner.

Grey station wagon (1)

An elderly man in a grey station wagon pulled over and pushed open the passenger door. I was dismayed to learn he was only going to Banff, where he lived. Evidently he came to trust me during our conversation enroute. Discovering I had little money, he said, “talk to my wife. She might put you up for a few dollars.” Darkness had fallen and I was relieved when his wife said I could stay for one dollar.

The following morning this wonderful trusting couple needed to leave for Calgary. They showed me where they kept their house key, and suggested I leave my bag in the house and look around town before carrying on. I gratefully accepted their offer, and after a little sightseeing I resumed my trek to Abbotsford.

Since that time I’ve sometimes thought back to my little hitch hiking adventure. I still wonder what motivated a very small percentage of drivers to stop, while the majority raced by blithely. Did they want to make a difference in someone’s life? Were they unselfish, giving individuals? Did they understand intuitively that an act of kindness can make the world a better place for someone?

For me the question concerning motivation is important. I’ve observed a similar dynamic prevail in community matters. A small minority of individuals shovel the walk of a frail pensioner, or provide a ride to the doctor. Often it is these people who serve on committees and boards of organizations. In Hedley, a handful of individuals put on the popular monthly pancake breakfasts and other events. Lately I’ve heard several say, “we are getting old. We won’t be able to do it much longer.” Do we delude ourselves with the belief others will always be there to do what is required to make this a pleasant community?

To retain what we have, and build on it, more of us need to rouse ourselves and get involved.

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