Is Picking Up a Hitchhiker Something to be Ashamed of?

I picked up a hitchhiker a couple days ago. I have no idea what made me do it, to be completely honest. I was turning onto the entrance ramp for the highway, and there was a fairly well-dressed man (he even had a tie on!) with his thumb out, looking for a ride. In a split second, I decided to pull over and at least find out where he was going. It turned out he was headed to a church several miles away, but he asked if I could just get him to the exit right past the exit I was intending to get off at anyway. So, I told him to hop in.

Exit: all sense of safety I had prior to picking him up.

Enter: memories of every single “Criminal Minds,” “Law & Order,” and “NYPD Blue” episode I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I am pretty sure every single episode briefly flashed before my eyes. What was I thinking?!

He got in my car, and I moved my backpack off the seat for him. I quickly glanced around my car to make sure my wallet wasn’t sitting in plain sight. I did notice my cell phone was in view, but I didn’t want it to be obvious that I was worried about him stealing something. It turns out he was a minister of some sort from South Africa, and he was just trying to get to church. I didn’t ask why he didn’t have a car, but he said he’d received rides from a Jewish woman and an atheist already along that same stretch of road. He also told me about his book he’d finally finished writing. What he didn’t do was: hold a gun to my head, try to get me to drive out of my way (other than one exit further than I was going), try to rape me (or even look at me indecently, for that matter), steal anything, or any other heinous act. He was, in fact, legitimately looking for a ride.

I’ve given one other complete stranger a ride in my life. Looking back, it was probably not a safe situation to put myself in. But I felt for the woman! I was at a 24-hour grocery store in Madison, WI after working a 3-11 shift in college. I was leaving and this woman — I think it’s important to state that she was a black woman — came up to me and asked if there was any way I could give her a ride to her apartment. I don’t even remember the story anymore, but I think her boyfriend had left her there and she needed to get home to her kids. At any rate, I felt bad for her. I also happened to live about 3 blocks from her, so I said I’d give her a ride. I say it’s important to state that she was a black woman because I thought, at the time, that perhaps I was just giving in to some sort of suppressed bias against black people because the experience made me feel very similar to the way I felt with the white man I picked up a couple days ago. However, I think I would have felt that same uneasy feeling no matter who it was.

Society has such a negative view of hitchhikers, maybe because of all the television shows in which bad things happen to people who pick up hitchhikers. There is of course some good reasons to be so uneasy about picking up a hitchhiker. It could be a potentially dangerous situation, and that’s the exact reason I don’t do it often. BUT, despite all of this, and despite the fact that nothing bad happened to me or my “precious” possessions I was so worried about, I felt extremely ashamed afterwards, both times I did it.

The shame I felt after giving the South African man a ride was so strong, I haven’t even told my husband yet. He’ll know now, of course, if he reads this. I didn’t tell him because I knew he’d think I was crazy, and he’d wonder why I was putting myself into a dangerous situation like that. I don’t have an answer for him. I have such a strong feeling that society in general would disapprove of this, or at least reply in such awe and amazement that I would ever do such a thing.

Is it really such a shameful thing to do though — picking up a hitchhiker? In both cases, the people simply needed a ride. I could imagine a million scenarios in which I might be in a similar situation. Thank god I haven’t been, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. In the age of cell phones, it’s less likely, but I could see my car breaking down and not having a cell phone. I would certainly hope that someone would give me a ride if I really needed it. That in itself opens up an entirely new can of worms because it could be equally as dangerous to be the hitchhiker, but that’s a topic to be discussed another day.

About 10 minutes after I dropped the South African man off at the intersection, I was stuck in traffic and not moving, so I opened up Facebook on my cell phone. The very first wall post I read was one from a radio station that liked to asked questions each morning to get people rolling. The question they asked that morning: “under what circumstances, if any, would you pick up a hitchhiker?” I almost dropped my phone — what a strange coincidence! As I read the comments below the question, not a single person said they would pick up a hitchhiker under any circumstances (unless they knew them). These comments simply made me feel more ashamed. What is wrong with me that I would do something like this?

I still don’t think it was wrong. I wasn’t hurt, nothing was taken, and this man got part-way to where he was going. So why did I feel so ashamed that I had done this? I don’t have an explanation, other than society tells me it’s bad, or wrong, or dangerous. The danger probably isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, but why should I feel ashamed? If anything, I should be happy that I was able to help a couple of people who were in need, perhaps even more than I could ever understand. I should be happy, but I’m not. I still feel guilty, I still feel ashamed. I’m sorry I feel this way, because this is just another indication that in the world we live in today, we are more unwilling than ever to help out our fellow man, or woman.

About Jamie Schwoerer

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