When hitchhiking ruled

Sticking out your thumb to get around was  the way to go, writes KATE CALLAHAN.

Way back when, before life got so complicated and dangerous, I routinely picked up hitchhikers as I motored around the south-east corner of Queensland.

Call me horribly naïve, but in those days it made me feel good, a tad adventurous even, to help out a fellow human being in need and I knew Father Frank would be pleased that I was following his example.  

It all started in church that Sunday in the early 1980s. Father Frank was giving his usual forceful performance in the pulpit and on this occasion he was talking about the Good Samaritan.  

You remember, of course, the parable of the Jewish man who was attacked by robbers and left for dead.  After two supposedly good people passed him by without rendering aid, it was left to a Samaritan, the natural enemy of the Jew, to assist the injured man. The Samaritan bandaged his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he paid the innkeeper to care for the poor soul.  

We must do the same, urged Father Frank, who said he never failed to stop for a hitchhiker.  

With all due respect to the good Father, I didn’t always take notice of what he said. Sometimes, I didn’t even hear what he said, but on this occasion as I sat in the second front pew, his words went straight to my heart – my bleeding heart, that is.  

There was the young musician whose car had broken down. She didn’t mind leaving the car on the side of the road, but the harp had to come with us.  

Somehow we managed to get the unwieldy instrument into the back seat of my two door coupe. She was so grateful she cried, telling me her husband would be very angry that she was late home without the car. He wasn’t so concerned about the harp, it seemed. The following week she wrote to thank me for helping her out and offered to play for free at my 40th birthday party the following month.

Then there was the young fellow on the Bruce Highway just south of Cooroy on Christmas Eve. His black Metallica T-shirt screamed “don’t stop”, but I did anyway as my heavy rocker son had one just the same.  
He’d hitchhiked all the way from Perth and was determined to get to his family in Gympie by Christmas.  I know he made it.

Fast forward to 2015. Would any right-minded individual stop for a hitchhiker? Not on your nelly, not even this old bleeding-heart, who without compunction picked up dozens of colourful individuals on the side of the road in days gone by.

And to be fair, would any right-minded individual accept a lift from a stranger?  No way.  Ivan Milat saw to that. These days we are hypersensitive to perceived risk of any description – and modern cars cater to our fears by providing an extraordinary level of safety technology.  

My car has seven (or maybe nine) airbags and various other crash protection features. It also has automatic emergency braking, electronic stability control and traction control.  

So the car is safe, much safer than the two door coupe I drove to death in the 1970s and 1980s.  But do I feel safer? Sadly, I don’t and I’ll tell you why.  

The motoring experience today is far more unpredictable than it once was. I lock my doors when driving through certain inner city areas for fear of someone jumping into my car or grabbing my handbag when I’m stopped at the lights.  

Carjacking incidents are not exclusive to the Gold Coast. I wouldn’t dream of blasting my horn at a fellow driver, however reckless and rude.  Too many violent road rage incidents have started with a simple honk and I’m not prepared to be a statistic or headline.  

When an empty bottle, thrown carelessly or wilfully from a tradie’s utility, hit my windscreen recently on the M1, I never said a word, no rude gesture, no glare, nothing. My mantra is keep on driving if possible and worry about the damage later.

I rarely want to turn back the clock, but I would love to recapture the fun and adventure of driving in the 1970s and 1980s, when ignorance was bliss and life behind the wheel seemed carefree and predictable – except you never knew who you might meet around the next corner.