independent

Monday 26 August 2019

Hitchhikers getting a raw deal these days

SHEA TOMKINS

WEDNESDAY: THE family is on the way to the swimming pool. The young lad and younger lad are fooling about in the back, entertaining each other as only kids can, in an effort to make the car journey go by more quickly.

The younger lad spits his soother at the head-rest in front of him and the young lad catches it, before sticking it back into his mouth. These boys don't need Nintendos.

Next to me sits the good woman, scolding me for what she perceives as my unfair criticism of The Script.

On the roadside, we pass a man standing lopsidedly, with an outstretched thumb. He is wearing a sullied white vest, akin to those garments associated with domestic violence; an even more tattered jacket draped over it. Covering his legs is a pair of jeans.

His hair is long white and wavy, best described as unkempt. Do we stop to pick him up? No. Why not? Because we are too scared. Blame Rutger Hauer, and that finger in the chips.

Thursday: Thumbing, in the opposite direction to which I am travelling, is an elderly lady. She is dressed like you would expect any old dear to be dressed, with one of those scarves around her neck; a scarf you would expect to see hanging on a clothes rail in Dunnes. A bingo scarf.

I toy with the idea of doing a Uturn, but I am already pressed for time. Besides, surely someone will stop and pick her up within minutes. If not, why not?

The truth is the hitchhiker has a bad name these days. People are afraid to pull over for a stranger, not because they don't want to give someone in need a lift, but because they are unsure of their state of mind. And what they might do to them, when they get them alone.

Even though we live in times where we are spoilt for choice when it comes to public transport, and there is a surplus of privately owned vehicles, it is expensive to travel. Soaring fuel prices don't help. The ongoing recession has pushed people back onto the roadsides.

Being cautious works both ways. I stopped for a guy whose car had broken down on the M50 not so long ago, and he was reluctant to get in. He said he wasn't expecting anyone to stop. I gave him a lift as far as the Dundrum Shopping Centre where his girlfriend worked. Looking back, he was more scared of me, than I was of him.

There was a time, when we were younger, that we all thumbed about. It was part of the craic on a Sunday afternoon. Most of the time we didn't even want the lift – the open road just suggested adventure.

I guess we have become more cautious with age. Maybe we are right. Will I stop the next time I see a stranger thumbing a lift? I doubt it. Will you?

Saturday: The good woman and I are sitting watching a few scenes of an Austin Powers rerun when a reminder pops up on the screen - the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is about to start on Nickelodeon. I didn't set it, and neither did she. The young lad has become fixated with all things technological. He also pauses the television when he is called into dinner; in other people's houses too. At three, I would have thought the wacky world of Will Smith was too advanced for him.

He now knows how to do things with a television set that I didn't even know existed. But can he turn a clothes hanger into a set of rabbit ears, should there be interference with the signal? They don't teach that kind of skill in playschool.

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