I still haven’t gotten around to meditating. In some ways, I feel that the rapidity of my recovery has slightly blunted the urge to try out new health and well-ness practices, beyond the simple fix of adding more medication to my daily regimen. In the meantime, I’ve rediscovered the wisdom to be gained from a slightly more aberrant activity: hitch-hiking.
In the summer of 2012, I hitched my way across ten different countries in Europe. The great stories I took away from that trip—the Polish guy with the coffin, the Czech businessman listening to “horror rap”, the German family that took me home—are interspersed with memories of long periods of panic, of annoyance at spending my vacation sleeping in gas station parking lots, of frustration with all the un-filled back seats in cars that went speeding by. In short, I managed to make hitch-hiking “work” in the sense of getting from A to B, but didn’t appreciate the experience a whole lot.
That’s partly because hitch-hiking has none of the characteristics of the activities I usually devote myself to. Hitch-hiking does not reward effort or skill. The thousandth car is no more likely to stop than the first one. There is no sure-fire strategy for getting a ride. Smiling broadly might make you seem less threatening to motorists; then again, it could give the impression of a scam artist. If it’s raining, someone could take pity on you—or they could opt not to stop because they don’t want a sodden person in their car. Having a sign seems to work sometimes, except when it doesn’t, because people going only part of the way to your destination choose to pass by.
Somehow, though, this time I have found the zen of hitch-hiking. Hitch-hiking, I’ve realized, really does always work, as some drunken anarchist once (probably) assured me. It just doesn’t work if you have a plan, or a time-table, or a firm destination. Yesterday I turned down an early offer from someone who could take me to the edge of the highway from the roundabout at which I was stationed. I then cursed my poor judgment as I waited in the rain for three hours. I finally begged a truck driver to bring me to the nearest gas station. There, I was quickly picked up by an old man who took me to a toll booth, where I met a fellow hitch-hiker who had just gotten a ride from a celebrity chef. He, in turn, showed me the best spot in the area—from which a high-school history teacher with strong opinions about neo-liberalism took me 200 miles to my destination. And today I scored six separate rides without a single wait of more than 10 minutes.
I’m a fan of extended metaphors, and I’ve realized that hitch-hiking is an apt one for this year as a whole. I’ve reached a destination that I’m happy with—contentment and peace—and so it seems silly to question the route I’ve taken to get here. Sure, I wish I hadn’t had to wait a few months in the rainy roundabout of depression, but then again, if I hadn’t waited, would I have wound up in the same place?
3 thoughts on “Motorway Meditations”
“…frustration with all the un-filled back seats in cars that went speeding by.”
Frustration with all those full gas tanks while millions of children have empty stomachs.
Frustration thinking about the millions who’ve died in wars for oil to fill those tanks.
Frustration thinking about the genocides to acquire the mining rights for the metals in the cars, and the children who worked those mines.
Frustration thinking about the wars to acquire the land for rubber plantations and the people enslaved to work those plantations so cars could have tires.
Frustration listening to people complain about cigarettes as they dump tons of vehicle exhaust into the atmosphere.
I’ve often meditated about the people who work hard to make their car payments so that they can get to work and leave their cars parked eight hours a day.
I used to hitchhike a lot too, and I did meet some interesting people, but then I’ve also met interesting people on the bus or trolley.
One time I hitched from southern California up the coast to Oregon. I wasn’t dressed for the weather. At night there weren’t any cars stopping, they couldn’t see me anyway, there were no houses or stores around, and I was very tired, so I just lay down in the snow to sleep, thinking that I might not wake up in the morning. When I woke up the sun was out, it was a beautiful day, and a car soon stopped. But homeless people do freeze to death all the time in this country.
I’ve never owned a car. But I’ve had small motorcycles and I know the feeling of power and freedom that driving can bring. The freedom is illusory because you eventually run out of gas, and the power corrupts.
Much to meditate about on the motorway. 😉
I’m sort of curious about the music videos you put at the end of each essay. Can’t watch them at home because I’m on dial-up, but perhaps some day when I’m at the library I’ll check them out.
Tonight I retweeted two seemingly contradictory Tweets. The first one said:
Imran Haidary @ImranHaidary9
Older you get the more you realise being alone is better than being surronded by temporary, fake people
The second one said:
Angel Guarani Kaiowá @AngToledo
Friendship Fosters Happiness, Reduces Suffering, Multiplies Well Being, Diminishes Pain. via: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Amazonas/292727777434998 … pic.twitter.com/WsmNeRyxII
Both are true.
Thank you for reminding that there are much worse things to say about cars than simply that some of them have empty seats. I wonder if I shouldn’t be putting my money towards some sort of public transportation, rather than leaching off of the automobile-industrial complex, although there are plenty of problems with just about any mode of long-distance transport other than bicycling. I’ve been remiss in responding to your comments but I’m very grateful for them – they are always insightful. And the music videos are just punk songs that relate to what I’m writing about… you’re not missing much, except for a tour through my stuck-at-sixteen music tastes.
Last week I had a visitor, something that hasn’t happened since 2006 because I’m pretty much a hermit. It was also the first time I’ve met an online friend face-to-face. He wanted to rent a car and drive down to see the US/Mexico border wall, but I talked him out of it, emailing:
“I’m sure it will be okay, but I don’t feel right about going for a
ride in the car-car.
I slept for a while, and will go back to sleep after I send this, but
I woke up with all sort of bad feelings about going for a ride.
I’m trying to be sociable, and I know that’s one of the things people do, go for rides in cars, like watching TV, but it isn’t one of the things I do.
Maybe because I don’t want to be one of those people using up fossil fuels and polluting the air unnecessarily.
Maybe because I can’t smoke in cars. And there are very few places where it is possible to pull over to have a cigarette. But cars used to come with ashtrays and I didn’t like cars even back then.
Maybe because it is a safety risk–we lose what, 50,000 lives a year to vehicle accidents?
Well, I’m sure it will be okay, and I know I’ll enjoy your company.
But the whole point of it escapes me. I know the wall is there and I
know it is a horrible thing without seeing it.
It is very courageous of you to try to befriend somebody as antisocial as me, and I very much appreciate it. It is probably healthy for me to get out of the house. I probably shouldn’t even be honest about how I feel. That’s unfair to you, as you’re just trying to do whatever you can to make this visit pleasant for me.
I was just now reminded of what Gurdjieff said about being “in this
world, but not of it.” Maybe that describes me, if not in the
conscious way he meant, in a very real sense nonetheless.
Well, back to bed. Looking forward to seeing you in the morning.”
He was very kind and accommodating, so we sat and talked instead of going for a ride.
He’s a world traveler, lives in Washington state, and really didn’t miss anything by not driving around San Diego.
I promised him that when the wall comes down, I will let him know so that we can go watch, cheer, and maybe bring home a chunk as a souvenir.