Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: November 1, 1997
While hitching Australia this year I heard about a guy called Pete, who had hitched around the world and written a couple of books about it. In fact, the guy telling me this was a builder called Lou who'd picked me up in South Australia somewhere and was going to see Pete right now. Well, you can imagine I was keen to meet Pete, too, and see these books of his, but I was on another mission at the time, and destined to reach Coober Pedy that night, so our paths separated. I left him with a clear promise that I'd try and catch up with him and Pete the next day, doubling back from Coober Pedy.
Now, the point of this story is, I got to Andamooka, where Pete was to be found, armed only with the knowledge that he was Czech, that the manager of the local hotel was Czech, and that Lou was building a house somewhere in town. I found the hotel, I found the manager, and he took me to Pete, who was a stocky fellow of maybe 50 or more years with wild grey hair and beard and a certain charm to his being. A few words of Czech were exchanged which probably said something like, "Hey, Pete, here's a weird Australian who's just hitched into town and tells me he's writing a column and a book on hitch-hiking and he wants to talk to you about your books."
Well, all I could be sure of was that Pete looked at me and said in a thick accent something like, "Hello, where are you staying tonight?" I shrugged my shoulders (having already established that the only hotel in town was a little over my budget), and pointing over his shoulder into the house with his thumb Pete continues, "You stay here, O.K.?"
I was impressed. Pete didn't know me from a bar of soap and yet his first concern was that I had a roof over my head. Now, I've travelled a lot, seen a lot and met a lot of people all over this world of ours, but very rarely do you encounter such unconditional hospitality. But Pete was a hitch-hiker, and I was a hitch-hiker, and it made me think of the fraternity that exists between hitch-hikers.
Well, after the Australian trip I flew to London to see my brother. I'd recently reviewed a book of hitching tales whose author lived not far from London in Brighton. I'd also recently published a book on hitching sociology whose author lived not far from London near Canterbury, and I'd also recently received a letter from a Guinness Book record holder in hitching who lived not far from London in Ipswich. This was my chance to catch up with them, arrange for a chat, an interview perhaps, so I made some phone calls, and hit the roads around London.
In Brighton, in Ipswich and in Canterbury, I was welcomed without question by people who knew nothing about me beyond the fact that I'm a hitch-hiker and collecting stories. In their own way, each of these visits reminded me of Pete's invitation in Andamooka. All of them were ardent hitch-hikers. They were all unique, entertaining and very different encounters. Thank you, Marty, Robert, Mario, and thank you, Pete, for laying the seed of this article in my mind — the notion of a fraternity between hitch-hikers.
In fact, it’s a pattern that carries on, and I can find that in my past as well. It may sound silly to say so, but hitch-hikers understand hitch-hikers. When visiting a hitch-hiker I’m never pressed to say precisely when I’ll arrive. Generally, "this afternoon" or "tonight" is precise enough. When visiting a hitch-hiker I’m invited to crash, if it’s only on the floor. When visiting a hitch-hiker we have stories to tell, legends to build. Like any special interest (or need) group we tend, I think, to talk in a kind of us and them mind-set. Us, the hitch-hikers, and them, the anti-hitch-hikers, the scaremongers, the conservative establishment. In between somewhere, there are a lot of people to whom the whole question is rather moot and/or unimportant.
Still, a loose bond of understanding and welcome exists between hitch-hikers, and that is something I had, in all honesty, not given much thought to until recently, in spite of many years of hitching rides. And if to some it seems obvious and barely worth the mention, to others perhaps this short article will serve, the way Pete did me, to highlight a rather warm phenomenon not oft mentioned explicitly in talk of hitch-hiking. There is a fraternity among hitch-hikers.