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June 10, 2004

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The First League: The Tao of Hitch-Hiking  (Perspective)

Posted on June 11, 1997 by Bernd Wechner

Driving & Road Tripping The First League: The Tao of Hitch-Hiking

The First League: The Tao of Hitch-Hiking

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: June 11, 1997

A work by Marty Segal in 6 chapters, 218 printed pages and 44,500 words.

Marty, a 59 year old American living in Britain, literally weaves the tale of his 1996 journey from London to Toulouse and back, in this book. The text dances around the page in an almost hypnotic visual display. It leaves one looking for patterns and meanings that don't appear to be there. It's a pleasant format all the same, not detracting from the text in any way, if anything enhancing the character of the book somehwat by its curious eccentricity.

The story is not presented chronologically, it jumps back and forth in time, it dwells on the details of the present hitch, earlier hitches and others' hitches, it turns regularly to the philosophy behind it all, is ultimately a treatise on the sociology of hitch-hiking and more. It occasionally presents the unique perspective of a 59 year old hitching again after a four year break, in a Europe that is changing very rapidly.

Marty insists upon setting himself apart from the ordinary thumber, he's a direct-contact hitcher, in the extreme. No standing by the side of the road for Marty. Instead he sings the virtues of approaching motorists directly, introducing himself and posing 'the Big Question'.

There is a lot to be said for Marty's style, and yet all the same he paints a rather uncompromising picture, somehow disparaging roadside waiting. I could find little sign in his text of an appreciation for some of the hidden benefits of waiting over asking.

Requesting lifts personally will get you moving faster to be sure, but it will also put you very often in less welcoming company than passive waiting. A begrudging yes to a direct question is transport all right, but often less amiable than the driver that pulls over of his/her own accord. There are times to ask, and there are times to wait (the active and the passive request respectively), and the need to ask belies an urgency that is unwelcome in sociable and pleasant hitch-hiking experiences, yet inevitably encountered from time to time by us all.

Marty is a planner, needs to to be, he is wary of his health, and strength and he carries probably more luggage than he needs, a backpack on wheels! It all confines him a little, he can't afford the spontaneity that so many others enjoy. One of the time honoured advantages of hitching, free of timetables, free of plans. Indeed the afforementioned urgency and these constrictions cause Marty some stress that repeatedly expresses itself as worry. Marty seems often to be worried about how to get where he's going ...

But Marty muses not only on the mechanics of hitch-hiking, but often on the sociology and the philosophy of it. As well you might imagine, in the face of his mechanical concerns, he presents an essentially positive and bouyant philosophy, recognises his constraints, but has cause to continue on his hitch-hiking path beyond the merely economic (though to be sure that is driving factor as well). He has many worthwhile ideas to present, and does it in a rich setting, in an impressive way.

All in all, kudos go to Marty, for his energy, his attitude and his wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and expect you will too. I fully expect to re-read it some time. I see it as a gem on the web. I'd recommend printing it, it's more than I can read on the screen, but even on paper, be prepared for the size of it (all 218 pages of it, a veritable tome).

If you're feeling generous and want to express gratitude for the work presented here, by all means donate some money.


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