Hitching Rides: More than Horror Film Fodder


It doesn't have to end this way.

I'm not the kind of person to pick up hitchhikers. I'm sure most are perfectly safe and would happily contribute to gas, but all those camp ghost stories from elementary school haunt me and no amount of Tom Robbins novels about blue cowgirls with crazy thumbs could change that. So I motor on by when I see someone thumbing for a ride. Until now.

I needed to get to Spokane and with gas over $4 a gallon, I posted my trip on Craigslist, figuring I could always just ignore any responses if they creeped me out. Jonathan was the first to reply. He was a 23-year-old server with family across the Cascades who assured me he would probably just sleep the whole way. He was followed by Christa, a Suburban driving mom on Mercer Island. Her daughter was playing in a basketball tournament and traveling with her team. Mom didn't want to drive the Suburban, a ride with the gas mileage of a school bus, across the pass solo.

Neither seemed all that horrifying on the surface, but what if "Christa" was actually a 45-year-old man selling twenty-somethings to a cannibalistic delicatessen in France? I would find out later that Christa had the same concern about me. There was a lot of Google-stalking before anyone got in the car.

My other concern was picking people up who not only needed a ride, but might not have a place to stay, or offer to pay their share in pot, or whip out a pistol and demand I keep driving if a cop tries to pull me over for a busted tail light. I started sending my prospective passengers passive-aggressive e-mails saying things like: "Let me know the address where you're staying in Spokane so I can get everything mapped out before hand. Thanks!" I also figured out the basic cost of gas based on my gas mileage and asked that they just bring it in cash…. "so we don’t have to figure out how to divvy it up at the pump during the trip."

The day we left I started to feel a touch panicky. Should I have purchased mace first? But it was too late to think about it now so I headed up to Capitol Hill to pick up Jonathan. A couple of sketchy-looking kids came out of his building and immediately lit up. I hadn’t thought about that, what if they want to smoke? I'm really not okay with that in my car, but I don’t want to stop a lot either. As I was having this conversation in my head, Jonathan finally emerged with a wave and a smile. He has dreams of future Project Runway glory so we talked about clothes and the mental block caused by selling his sewing machine. True to his word, he slept the whole way, snoring gently.

Christa met us at a bus stop up the road from her house. She said it was because the stop was easier to find. I suspect she may have shared some of my concerns about unsavory characters knowing where she lived. After Jonathan started sawing logs, we talked about wines and fishing spots and the unfair advantage high school boys basketball teams have when it comes to fundraising. Everyone wants to give the boys cash while girls can barely find practice space. I also got the insight on best Halloween candy on the island and plan to try it out next year.

The scheduling worked perfectly, my passengers both showed up with cash, the company was more than pleasant, it was actually rather lovely. None of us had done this ride-share thing before, though I suspect that if the price of oil keeps climbing, more people are going to turn to Craigslist to hitch around the state. And thanks to a little passive-aggressive e-mailing and Google-stalking, it can all work out quite nicely.

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