Kansas Collection books


stylized face and hand of hitchhiker

      There was a time when hitchhiking was an acceptable and much practiced mode of transportation.  But time seems to change most everything these days.

      As a kid growing up in the country, it was easy to hitch a ride into town, to the neighbors’, or most anywhere you wanted to go.  Just start walking down the road with your thumb out; someone would offer you a ride.  I have hitched rides and have given rides many times.  It was a way of life back then.

      As teenagers, some of us were fortunate enough to have "wheels", as they are called nowadays.  We seldom drove around without some kind of companion, either male or female, in the seat beside us.  Nor did we often walk all three blocks from the high school to downtown for lunch.  We hitched a ride.  Most vehicles that headed towards the favorite hamburger joint had at least four or five passengers.  Hitching was fun and an accepted practice.

      It took a year or two in college to hone the fine art of hitchhiking to perfection.  Park College was just 12 miles from downtown Kansas City.  There were always major attractions to attend in "the city".  All Park students had a standing invitation to come in to the old Convention Hall on Friday or Saturday nights to usher for Philharmonic presentations, boxing matches or semi-pro basketball games.  We were admitted free if we would usher for the various activities.  Theoretically, we were not supposed to leave the campus without written permission.  However, most of us had relatives or friends who would furnish us with a letter stating that Uncle Joe was on his deathbed and we were needed at once.

      Kansas City was a major stop on the Big Band circuit and there was usually a matinee dance from 2 until 5 p.m. on Sunday.  If the weather was nice, there was no problem getting into town.  We simply stood on the little wooden bridge just outside the campus gate with our thumbs out.  Most of the drivers knew we were Park students and gave us a ride into downtown K.C.  The dances were held at the old Plamor Ballroom at 39th and Baltimore.  Getting from downtown to the Plamor sometimes required the expenditure of 15 cents for a ride on the streetcar.  We danced many happy hours away swinging with the big band sounds of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Ted Weems and many others.  Getting back to Park required a little patience.  We usually went to the Greasy Spoon for a late supper before returning to school.  The food was not considered gourmet cuisine, but for 5O cents we were filled to satisfaction.  By the time we reached the city limits, headed for Parkville, it was usually dark and rides were not all that plentiful.  In some cases, especially if the weather turned bad, we would pool our funds and hail a taxi.  The passenger limit was 5, but for a few extra bucks, some drivers would haul a few more.

      When Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations rolled around, our hitchhiking skills were tested to the utmost.  Most all the major colleges were out at about the same time and competition among hitchhikers was pretty heated.  Students who could afford a bus or train ticket bought them ahead of time.  Those who couldn't afford tickets either stayed put during the vacation or they hitchhiked home.  I recall on one occasion, four roommates, all living in New Jersey, made some wagers on who could get home first.  Two boys took the afternoon bus and waved to their two roommates who were standing on the wooden bridge with their thumbs out.  The two hikers arrived home in the same town in New Jersey six hours ahead of those who took the bus.

      During World War II hitchhiking was often the only way the GI's had to get home, and there were seldom any problems.  One story I heard pertained to a civilian mortician driving a hearse to California to pick up a body.  He had a relief driver with him and late one night he stopped for coffee.  The relief driver was asleep in the back of the hearse.  The driver came out of the restaurant with a hitchhiking GI who was needing a ride home.  As they were driving along, the mortician explained that he was bringing home a body for burial.  About that time the relief driver awakened, and sliding the curtains apart behind the two in the front seat, asked, "Anybody got a match?"  The relief driver crawled through the opening and slid into the seat between the driver and the hitchhiker.  The hiker recovered his composure and as he offered the relief driver a light he said, "This is the first time I have ever lit a cigarette for a dead man."

      Hitchhildng is no longer an acceptable activity.  The robbers, thieves and kidnappers took over and today no one in their right mind will pick up a hitchhiker along the highway.  It seems a shame that it is no longer a safe practice.  I am sure there are many deserving people out there that need transportation and there are thousands of cars going down the road with only one or two people inside.

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