I recently embarked on a quick road trip with my husband and my brother. We were all tired and needed sleep, but we needed to get to a funeral, so I volunteered to drive while they both slept. I chugged my coffee and listened to annoying music so that I would stay alert, for at least a little while, until someone could take over.
That’s when I passed two hitchhikers. I debated for a few seconds about picking them up. Normally I stop, without hesitation, but in this case I had to pass them by because I knew my brother probably wouldn’t sleep if I grabbed them. He was in the back seat and I didn’t know how comfortable he would be sleeping beside strangers. We needed all three drivers because we had only several hours to reach our faraway destination, so I reluctantly drove past the hitchhikers. I frowned as I drove past, though one gave me a cheerful, forgiving smile and a wave.
My one consolation was that they both appeared to be white men. Now, before you freak out and call me racist, allow me to explain what I mean. I thought that they were more likely to be picked up specifically because they were white men, and I found this reassuring since I couldn’t pick them up. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone other than a First Nations person hitchhiking in Saskatchewan, at least not on the highways I’ve been on. This I know because I always stop and sometimes I drive for hours and hours with a stranger in tow.
My husband wasn’t always comfortable with picking up hitchhikers, and in fact, I had to repeatedly convince him of all my positive experiences, but still he was skeptical. He had a bad experience years ago where a man he picked up had been beaten up not long before and he had been taking prescription meds for the pain. When they started to wear off, he became a little paranoid. It made my husband nervous, and he dropped the man off and never picked up a hitchhiker again.
I reminded him that nothing had happened, and clearly the man was in pain -- physical and probably emotional. But my husband still didn’t like the idea, so I didn’t force him to do anything he wasn’t comfortable with.
Then one night I was driving alone and picked up a hitchhiker on the highway. I had to call my husband from outside the city because I was with a young man and he was trying to reach a place outside of town that I wasn’t familiar with. I stopped by my house and waited for my husband to jump in. He knew where we were going, and he agreed to come along, though he sat nervously in the back seat as he gave me directions.
The young man was trying to get to his father, who he hadn’t seen for two years. He borrowed my cell phone to call his father, who planned to meet him at a gas station nearby. You could hear his dad’s excitement through the phone and I was overjoyed to bring them together. Once the young man stepped out and we drove away I looked at my husband and winked.
He reluctantly agreed that he was happy the boy and his father were reunited. So the next time we drove together he allowed me to pick up another hitchhiker, and then another and another and so on. Now he often spots them first and he always looks at me to see if I want to stop. I always do.
What motivates me to pick up hitchhikers? It is probably because I am a parent, and a fellow human being.
I don’t necessarily approve of it. And sometimes it’s an annoyance, when I have time constraints. Occasionally I’ve even lectured hitchhikers, particularly young women who are walking alone.
But I always think that if my children, for whatever reason, hitchhiked somewhere, that I would hope someone would be decent to them and offer them a ride. When they safely returned home to me, I would definitely have a long talk with them about the dangers of hitchhiking.
You see, I really believe it’s much more dangerous for hitchhikers than for drivers -- especially where young women are concerned. You only have to read about the Highway of Tears between Prince George and Prince Rupert, BC to know how true this is, where 18 women have gone missing and/or been murdered, along that stretch of highway, though some sources suggest the number is closer to 43. Most of these women have been Aboriginal women.
Do I think race plays a factor in these women’s disappearances? Yes. I do. Of course, some of the women were not aboriginal. I understand that. Perhaps there is also the whole vulnerability thing and ‘crimes of opportunity’ to consider.
But I guess I wrote this column for one of my passengers, Cory. He was trying to get home for family day. He wanted to see the Voices of the North show earlier that weekend, and he finally had the chance, but he didn’t have a ride home, until we happened along.
He climbed in, super grateful for the ride. Then he confessed that about five people drove by and they all gave him the finger. They were white, he said.
Of course I was shocked, but after we dropped him off I told my husband that I hoped Cory was exaggerating. I hoped that maybe it wasn’t five people who gave him the finger, just because he was First Nations and hitchhiking. I can’t understand someone despising another upon first glance. It baffles me.
I don’t know, but it seems to me if someone needs help, you help them, regardless of their color. That’s the human thing to do. Whether what they are doing is right or wrong, if they need help, you help them.