I was talking to someone about my recent experience hitchhiking in Leitrim. They looked horrified that I had engaged in an activity that would so obviously end with me buried alive in a shallow grave in the hills of the west. I thought about this on the bus, on the way home from work on Wednesday.
I understand people’s concern about this means of transport. A few horrible stories of murdered travellers about twenty years ago seems to have ended its popularity. It is a rare sight to see someone thumbing a lift these days.
It was not always so. Way back in the mists of time, during and immediately after college, it was my preferred method of getting from point A to point B. Firstly it was free, which was always a consideration for a poor student. Secondly it was what people did back then. There was no scandal in hitching a ride. It displayed an element of courage and practicality (even back then though people had justifiable misgivings about its safety). And you’d meet some interesting people along the way, who hopefully wouldn’t dismember you and feed you to the fishes.
I’ve had some interesting lifts.
The earliest hitching experience I can recall is at the age of about nineteen on holidays near Bordeaux in the south of France. I was visiting a friend from England with whom I’d worked on a campsite in France the year before. He was back doing the same job the following year. So along with a friend from Ireland we decided to pay a visit – we’d have tents to sleep in and sea to swim in.
One afternoon we decided to visit Biscarosse beach. The day was sunny. We stood – two nineteen year olds – at the side of the road in the Gascogne region with our thumbs out. A middle aged woman with dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, who looked fiercely glamourous and French, stopped her car for us. In we climbed. She spoke in a clipped bark. In French obviously. We didn’t mind. We were on the move. And we both spoke French back then. About half way to our destination, she stopped the car suddenly, and shrieked at us to get out.
Neither of us has ever figured out what we’d done to make her turn on us like that. Nothing probably. Maybe she’d just realised that picking up young foreign men at the side of the road might not be such a wise idea.
Back in Ireland, I continued my glamourous travels. On my own. Many is the hour I have spent on the outskirts of Limerick, Cork and Dublin, losing the will to live in the pouring rain, as the cars whizzed by. The surge of joy and terror as the car pulled over, hoping that the driver was not the axe murderer. The strange conversations and scenarios you’d find yourself in.
I remember when I lived in Cork, going home to Limerick one weekend. A dapper gentleman picked me up. He kept admiring my looks and telling me that I looked like Clark Kent. At the time I wondered what was his problem.
I was none too perceptive. These days I can see that he was angling for a fumble in the back seat. I didn’t oblige. He was absolutely ancient to my twenty year old eyes. Why he must have been FIFTY.
I remember driving through rural Cork with a couple. I was barely able to keep my eyes open I was so tired. Until the album ‘Ingenue’ by kd lang started blaring on their stereo system. We all roared along to ‘Constant craving.’
Or the lift with the French woman who worked in the forestry industry who knew my uncle.
Or the journey to Dublin in the hearse, accompanied by the dead body.
I was by the roadside in Limerick. I had my sign to tell passing drivers that I wanted to go to Dublin. It was raining. It was always raining. Like a scene from the Addams Family, a hearse pulled up beside me. The driver had a thick Kerry accent. I had been standing at the side of the road for over an hour and was contemplating turning round, heading back to town and getting a bus. I gratefully hopped in.
The curtains were closed on the windows of the car.
‘Is there a body in a coffin back there?’ I asked.
‘There is. I’m taking him to Dublin.’
I gave a quick peek through the curtain. There looking stately a solemn was a shiny coffin.
The corpse had been holidaying in Dingle, county Kerry and had unexpectedly expired over the weekend. His family had called the local undertakers to move his body back to Dublin for the funeral. This was his final journey. He may as well do it with some company.
I remember the driver being a very friendly individual. So much so that I almost forgot the silent guest in the back.
I don’t imagine taking up hitchhiking again unless I am in an emergency situation like I was at the weekend.
In the near future however, I expect to own a car. I may become one of those rare creatures. A driver who stops.