Having spent a great deal of time thumbing my way around the U.S., I have a tendency to pick up hitchhikers unless I spot signs they may not be particularly safe. Like it is a pretty good bet that if said hitchhiker has some serious road grime going on and is carrying a pack, he's a legit traveler. That is not to suggest that picking up hitchhikers is a grand idea for everyone. I would not, for example, even consider picking up a hitchhiker if my kids are in the car. But as a general rule, I prefer to pick them up when I see them.
On my way home from seeing the boys over the weekend, I had the most bizarre hitchhiking experience I have ever had, in which I wasn't the hitchhiker. I stopped for gas in the middle of Kentucky - not so much because I needed gas, as because I really needed to pee. Pulling off the highway, I noticed a couple of guys hanging out at the top of the onramp, so I cleared my backseat when I stopped for gas and decided to pick them up if they were still there. Given the type of area we were in, I assumed they would be as it was the sort of place I used to dread when trying to pick up a ride.
One of the gentlemen had to be pretty close to sixty. He mentioned that he had been hitching since he got out of high school and talked about how much better the hitching was in the sixties and seventies. He was your quintessential hippie who never got past it or figured out how to make a living in spite of it. He had that perpetually stoned expression on his face that months of abstinence from toking wouldn't even begin to touch. And he had the air of surprise at virtually everything that happens to or around him that years of cannabis, LSD, shrooms and "whatever else might be available" use produces. The expression and manner that I would probably have managed in another decade or so, if I hadn't reproduced.
The other guy looked to be about my age - turned out that he actually is my age. He did not have the road grime of his traveling companion. Indeed, given that I had just dropped my boys with their mother after a go at the playground and had been driving for several hours, he actually looked a little cleaner cut than I was.
They were heading towards Columbus and my turn off from I75 was nearly a hundred miles past the best turnoff for Columbus, so they got in for about a hundred miles. They were apparently heading to Columbus to meet with some of Old Hippies friends and then were going to a rainbow festival* in about a month. Cleancut recently went through a very ugly divorce and needed to do something - so decided that when it was offered, a chance to do a bunch of mushrooms and ecstasy - while smoking copious amounts of pot, was a great idea. Then things took a turn for the fucking bizarre, if not somewhat amusing from my perspective - though not from Cleancut's.
As he got into explaining his story, the how he got here from there, he explained that he had been in the coal business. After a while this led to his explaining that he is a republican and Bushie. This was quickly followed up by an expression of distaste for Obama that of course included a racial invective. And being my very favorite sort of expression of bigotry, it was thrown out there with the caveat that he isn't actually racist. Of course not - folks like that don't have a bigoted bone in their bodies, they just act and sound like bigots. Just don't let that fool you, they are standup folk.
My very polite and measured response, delivered without sarcasm, was that my half black girlfriend, for example, would never be offended by a invective that denotes racial identity, rather than what a given person has actually done wrong. That of course he isn't racist, where ever would someone get that?
He turned rather red, but did manage to pretend that I really was being polite and didn't say anything. I then went on at great length about inbred fucking racist shitheads and made sure to occasionally mention that it was a good thing that he wasn't one of those sorts. Old Hippie chimed in his agreement a few times, noting that he really couldn't stand traveling with a racist asshole. I am honestly not sure whether he was really that clueless, or if he planned on ditching Cleancut somewhere between Dayton and Columbus.
Honestly, I did feel sorry for Cleancut, in spite of his racist fucking asshattery. Ignorance such as his comes from somewhere and it is very possible for him to change - indeed he is at a rather significant turning point in his life right now. He is also a rather hard working guy who seems to have done good by his family and who lost everything - his only solace in the security of his kids. And he was trying not to fall off the wagon completely, after five years without drinking, until one night last week. Given my general stance on addiction, I don't actually think it likely that the drugs he might use at a rainbow gathering will be a problem and if Old Hippie didn't/doesn't ditch him, the setting and the people will probably be a net positive.
That said, casual racism like that pisses me off. Bad enough that there are people who think it is ok to say shit like that - I really get cranky when they just blithely assume that I won't care - that I am like them. I am not perfect, not even when it comes to bigotry and biases. Indeed the more I explore myself in various contexts, the more I note that I have some rather horrid biases. But I am not like Cleancut and other purveyors of casual and overt racism.
All in all, it was a very strange hitchhiker experience.
* Think lots of drugs, mostly vegan food, naked people and most everyone being very kind to each other. And unlike many gatherings of drug addled hippies and hippie wannabes, they actually leave the site as clean/cleaner than they found it. At least that is what they did when I was hanging out with those sorts of folks - and managed to avoid ever going to a single gathering.