Hitch-hiking in The Nation
The earliest use on record, of the word hitch-hiking appears in a Ney York
weekly magazine called The Nation, which is still in existence today.
The Nation introduced a new column, without explanation and without
warning, on August 17th, 1918, that was called In
The Driftway, whose author adopted the pen-name The Drifter.
The Drifter wrote this weekly column, mostly social and political commentary
in a style that well warrants it's title and his adopted name. It is a
fascinating excursion into the American 20's to read through those columns.
The column ran without fail for 16 years, until some time in 1934 (alas
the last issue in which it appeared is missing from the Australian National
Library, so I can neither pin it down, nor determine if the Drifter parted
with more grace than he appeared). The Drifter's identity remains a mystery
to this day.
Webified by Bernd
Wechner - Please respect his efforts and avoid plagiarism (namely uncredited
copying of this page).
On September 19th, 1923, The Drifter ran an article that introduced
a new type of traveller, one who begs lifts by the side of the road. He
calls them "hitch-hikers", placing the term in quotes, suggestive of the
tentative use of a word that has not yet found its way into the common
language, that has only recently been coined. That first historic article
is presented here.
Seven weeks later there appears a follow-up to that original article, a
kind of rhetorical retort. It looks to me as if the Drifter, is writing
under the pseudonym The Hiker, attacking his own earlier article, as if
to demonstrate the two sides of one argument. Of course things may be just
as they appear, a reader having written in under the pseudonym The Hiker.
The facts are lost somewhere in the mists of time, and the style of this
column was not such as to provide us with any clue, as if revelling in
the mystery it generates.
The Nation September 19, 1923
THE Drifter feared that the romance of the road was gone forever. In all
ages wayfaring had been wildly or quaintly adventurous. He thought of the
Canterbury Pilgrims, the wandering players of Scarron, the traveling journeymen
of the Rhine and Elbe, the stage-coach jaunts of all his friends in Dickens
and elsewhere and despaired. In a high-powered car a friend had driven
the Drifter to Boston. There were "road-hogs" and "speed-hounds" and traffic-cops
of varying temper. The road-houses were spuriously elegant; the food was
conventional and dear. No, said the Drifter to himself, it is all over.
Maybe hoboes have a little fun and adventure - maybe.
* * * * *
In the Driftway
HE knows better now. You must stay away from the National Highways and
Boston Roads. Somewhere in northern Vermont, with the Adirondacks towering
beautifully on one side and the Green Mountains no less beautiful on the
other, the Drifter drove a Ford sedan over a white, sandy ribbon of road
that wound in wild gyrations in and out of the hills, took breathless turns
and unexpected leaps, and finally writhed its way into the tiny capital
of Montpelier where under a Lilliputian gilded dome the State senate still
deliberates by the light of gas lamps. The Ford sedan, named Susie, hopped
and skidded in the sand and flew over rather than on the road. Inns were
advertised at crossings in faded lettering. But when you got to them there
was nothing to be had. A long, unshaven, lanky individual would gaze lugubriously
at the Drifter and his friend. He had pork. "What else?" the Drifter asked.
"Pork," the hirsute gentleman replied with dull finality. Here hunting
dinner was high adventure. You lost your way. From afar you spied a sign.
"Ah," you exclaimed and stepped on the gas so that poor Susie quaked and
trembled. You came up to the sign. It said: "Pigs for Sale."
* * * * *
SUCH incidents smack of the roads of old. And if there are neither pilgrims
nor wandering minstrels, there are "hitch-hikers." Suddenly, some hundreds
of feet in front of Susie, who was northward bound, appeared three figures
who were at once lithe and stalwart. The Drifter stopped and beheld three
young women - dusty Valkyries in gray knickers and sweaters and thick stockings,
stout-booted, with small gay caps, knapsacks and cameras slung over shoulders
shapely even under the rough, knitted stuff. They wanted a lift. They were
New York girls on a vacation determined to beg lifts - that is the method
of the "hitch-hiker" - to Montreal. One of them was communicative. "We've
had good luck. If our luck holds we'll be hitching into Montreal tonight
in time to catch a ferry for Quebec. No, we don't often sleep at inns.
Usually there's a Y where we can stop nights. There are thousands of us,
of course. Hitch-hiking is always done by twos and threes. We know girls
who have hitched all the way to California. There's little trouble and
most motorists are pretty good to us. It's a great way of seeing the country."
The roads full of "hitch-hikers"! Unless human nature has changed - it
hasn't of course - there begins here a life of the road full of romantic
and gallant and even brilliant adventure. Even a humble Ford car can rattle
through fabled mountains and meet dryads on the way. THE DRIFTER
The Nation November 7, 1923
"TO THE DRIFTER: SIR: I have been chewing a cud of protesting reflection
upon your discovery of romance on a Vermont road. To you, dull, settled
city-dweller as you evidently are, an inn with no food but pork, and three
city girls stealing rides far from home constitute Adventure, Romance,
Mystery. You remind me, sir, of the people who talk of the beautiful Zanzibar
landscape after reading Mr. Stodard's travel books.
In the Driftway
* * * * *
"ROMANCE is not to be found in a Ford car. The automobile is almost
as deadly an enemy of adventure as the telephone and the radio. All of
these horrid instruments destroy loneliness, and there can be no romance,
no adventure, no mystery, no poetry - none of the things which make life
worth living - without loneliness. Company destroys the individual. Solitude
alone is creative. Can you imagine Shelley whizzing along the Bay of Naples
in a crowded touring-car and writing `I could lie down like a tired child'?
With ear attuned to that jump in the motor he would never have noticed
that `The City's voice itself is soft like Solitude's.' Can you conceive
Keats stepping back into his car after five minutes in a museum and penciling
`Thou still unravished bride of quietness,' or blind Milton listening to
an impatient honk-honk-honk? No automobilist would think to write `Bare,
ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang'; he never hears the birds
except when he stops to pick up a hitch-hiker.
* * * * *
"I would not deny all virtue to the automobilist. Now that he has polluted
the roads he may as well be used. There is no longer any pedestrian pleasure
in a white ribbon of road; instead of stretching one's legs into the long,
relaxed stride that comes as a rest after uneven country one must step
uneasily, with ear tense and muscles ready for the jump across the ditch
when such city-folk as you scoot past. I have no protest to make against
those who use you, who wait at the hill-top or the railroad crossing, the
only points where you slow down, and demand a lift. But I pity those who
think of this as romance. We who have done it know better.
* * * * *
"HITCH-HIKING is no thoughtless expression of the untrammeled pioneer,
but one of the most desolate of the exact sciences. From the point of view
of the dull motorist it may have an element of adventure. Even the girls
who sleep at the "Y" must be exciting to those victims of civilisation,
like yourself, who know only the type that ride in automobiles and sleep
in hotels. But from the point of view of the pedestrian all automobilists
fall into dead categories. There is no use hailing a car with two young
folks of opposite sexes on the front seat, even though there be five unoccupied
places in the rear. There is no use trying to stop a driver who wears goggles;
they are all flinty-hearted. A lone man hiker need never trouble to hail
a car with only men inside and a lone girl hiker wastes time in appealing
to women. It takes a quick eye to a appraise a car and its occupants before
it has passed forever - whether one had best appeal to the driver or to
the woman (or in these days man) beside him or her, how much room there
is behind, and whether one had best ask a lift only to the next village
or admit that one has fifty miles to go. Like all sciences it seems fascinating
to the amateur. but it becomes dull and disappointing after a little experience.
The automobilists are so uninteresting.
* * * * *
"THERE is romance, there is adventure, there is mystery for the hiker
afoot who, with an all-sufficient pack upon his back, is free to desert
roads and even paths, can cross any stream and scale any mountain, and
follow any inviting vista without consulting the blue-book. Those Adirondacks
and Green Mountains which look so beautiful to you from the road - what
do you know of them now? You might as well say that you understood candy
because you had gazed at it through a plate-glass window. Mountains must
be climbed as surely as candy must be tasted. But what is the use of explaining
this to you? Probably you are old, rheumatic and dyspeptic.