Hitchin’ a Ride

I don’t pick up hitchhikers.

There. I said it.

This is a difficult confession for me to make, as I worry it exposes me as a fundamentally unlikable island person. But I have my reasons, a few of which are actually legitimate:

  1. I am usually listening to embarrassing music that I can only enjoy singing aloud to during the few blessed driving minutes I spend in the privacy of my car every couple of days. Nobody wants to listen to this. Trust me.
  2. I hate contrived small talk more than most hate-able things in this world. I hate it more than I hate green toe nail polish, which is to say, A LOT.
  3. I don’t like being hit on and feeling uncomfortable around random local men in my own car; they always seem to have unsolicited comments to share with me about my body, my weight, or their reasons as to why they are or aren’t attracted to me.
  4. I grew up in a place where picking up hitchhikers as a woman driving alone is widely regarded as both f*cking dangerous and f*cking stupid. It is hard for me to shake this deeply ingrained, self-preserving belief.
  5. My mom has always explicitly forbidden it and even though I’m all growns-up now, I still obey the few rules of hers that adult-me now agrees with. (Also applicable: no tattoos.)
  6. I don’t like to be pressured into doing something that I really don’t want to do.
  7. I am a planner and find it annoying when people don’t plan for their own success. If you know you’re going to need a ride somewhere and don’t have your own car, make arrangements with someone in advance. Please don’t get huffy and bully strangers into disrupting their lives due to a lack of planning on your part.
  8. Hitchhikers are often sweaty and I don’t want to have to drive around in a B.O. bombed car for the rest of the day.
  9. I don’t want it to become a routine I am chained to (more details to follow)
  10. Most importantly, I live in an area of the island most people are not going to and I will be turning off the main road shortly in a direction they almost 100% are not wanting to go. This will result in me depositing them in a part of the island even less likely that they’ll be able to get another ride. I have the foresight to know that I am not the best option for you, dear hitchhiker.

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For those of you living somewhere else in the world, somewhere where picking up hitchhikers is a socially acceptable no-no, it’s important to understand that it is a little different here.

You see, hitchhiking is a part of island culture, or at least it is on the islands that I’ve lived on. Most all of the roads are two lanes, there aren’t any highways, and there are only a couple directions to be traveling. If someone is trying to hitch a ride on the main road from a car headed East, both parties are most likely headed to the same destination. At certain spots of the island, at certain times of the day, you are pretty much guaranteed to find at least a person or two waving you down, asking (demanding – more on this later) for a ride in your vehicle. And while I generally love quaint island cultural traditions such as these that are reminiscent of simpler times, this is a tough one for me to get on board with.

I dabbled in giving people rides on St. Thomas years ago when I was an island newbie, and it didn’t end well. Driving to work each morning, there was a left hand turn at an intersection that required you to pause and wait for an opening in the oncoming traffic. Hitchhikers would cleverly position themselves there, asking for rides from cars as they came to an inevitable stop. If you had a truck, they wouldn’t even ask before hopping into the bed in the back and if you had a closed-in vehicle and were looking the other way (avoiding their intimidating eye contact), they would bang on your windows, insisting you give them a ride.

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As a new manager at a big hotel, I was recognized immediately by many who were only vaguely familiar to me. Desperate to be liked, I of course couldn’t say no and hesitantly allowed one landscaping guy (who I only recognized as linked to the hotel by his uniform) to hitch a ride from me one day. Before I knew it, there were 5 people waiting for me every single morning on the corner, no longer asking, just cramming themselves into my vehicle before I had even come to a full stop. And just like that, my car became a work bus, and me, a bus driver.

In theory, it was a cute charm of island life and a carpooling win for the environmentalist in me. But in reality, it became a crippling responsibility that made me want to scream. People eating their gross smelling breakfast foods in my car, only increasing my gagging (I’m always barfy in the mornings), was by far the least appealing aspect. If they had been fun or nice or in possession of entertaining conversational acumen, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded so much. But these people couldn’t be bothered to make the smallest effort in morning banter and weren’t even grateful. It became expected that I would give them rides and I didn’t even get a simple ‘thank you’, not even a ‘goodbye, have a nice day’ when we got to work. Some even left their breakfast wrappers and empty bottles in my car upon exiting.

Beyond the fact that I was robbed of the only quiet “me time” I got before going into another dreaded day at what was a loathsome job, I was frustrated that I no longer had a choice in the matter. In the end, when my tolerance had reached a boiling point, instead of just saying no more like a reasonable adult, I ended up inconveniencing myself further just to avoid confrontation. I changed my schedule, some days arriving at work far earlier than I wanted just so I could drive past the corner before people were there or left the house early just to drive a ridiculously roundabout path to work to avoid the corner altogether. When that didn’t work, I switched jobs.

*click for image credit

Ever since, I’ve found it easier to just say no to hitchhiking from the get-go. My policy is simple – unless I know you personally (we have spoken and we BOTH know each other’s names and faces), I’m not picking you up. The only problem is that while I can be rigid in my outward policy, I’m still left racked with guilt inside. I’ve tried to stop letting it effect me so much, but when people yell at you and wave their hands in dismissive anger in your rearview as you pass, it makes it difficult to ignore.

I just wish people understood where I’m coming from. I’m not a bad person. If I knew you and you called me asking for a ride somewhere, I’d go out of my way to pick you up. And while I realize that I don’t owe anyone any explanations or excuses, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to give one to clear my conscience, and you know, make people not hate me. Because I usually do have a valid explanation.

If only someone would invent some sort of explanatory signage system that could be displayed quickly, in a legible flash to hitchhikers as I drove by. Then, I could communicate things like:

“I’m not going where you think I’m going.”

“I REALLY have to pee and can’t stop.”

“I just finished errand #5 and the frozen groceries from errand #2 are melting, and food poisoning potential is increasing by the second.”

“You look creepy and slightly rape-y. No offense.”

But until the day this genius contraption arrives to vindicate me, you’ll just have to judge me as you will. Perhaps this is a shameful part of my personality that I should continue feeling inexcusably guilty about. Perhaps I will pay for this karmically in the future. But in the meantime, hitchhikers are just going to have to hope someone else picks them up.

– – –

Any other fellow island dwellers care to chime in? What are your views on picking up hitchhikers on island?

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Chrissann Nickel

About Chrissann Nickel

Chrissann’s home rock in the British Virgin Islands, against all logic, feels bigger to her than it actually is. Though after spending five years on a teensy one acre island, the current 13-mile long rock she’s residing on now IS ginormous, at least by comparison. As with everything in the Caribbean, it’s all about perspective.

Once upon a time she used to care about things like matching her purse to her pumps, but these days, she’s a card-carrying member of the Barefoot Nation. She is utterly enchanted with vinyasa yoga, especially when practiced on somewhat precarious, deliciously Instagram-able surfaces (she's @WomanOnARock) such as paddleboards, boats, cliffs, or even the occasional willing friend’s body. She vehemently believes that toucans are the best animals ever (period.) and there is no convincing her otherwise (though imperious roadside goats come in as a close second).

As the Editor in Chief of this site, she spends a lot of her time working from home all by her lonesome writing, editing, and cultivating content designed to make her fellow islanders laugh. Besides her writerly pursuits, she moonlights as a yoga instructor, and attributes at least a smidge of her insanity to the amount of time she spends talking to drunk people. If you’re somehow still reading this and feel inclined to find out more about this “Chrissann” of which we speak, you can also take a gander at her eponymous personal website, www.chrissannnickel.com

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32 thoughts on “Hitchin’ a Ride

  1. Oye the guilt! This saga is just the one I have lived. Going and coming to work early, looking distracted so I don’t notice the “bus hand jive” and wearing the darkest glasses possible so they don’t know if I am noticing them or not.
    No more. No more rides, I’m done, finished. Been conned dropping people off miles out of my way, old ladies begging for money telling me their kids rob from them. I am not a bus, not the bank and not gonna clean up my car after someone who can’t even say thanks. I am so done putting myself out so others might take advantage of my expat guilt. I now crank up my music so loud I couldn’t hear if you were banging on my car with a hammer, Eyes straight ahead doors locked. Hi ho hi ho, off to work to make money to pay for my own gasoline to carry my own self thanks. Friends only, welcome in my car.

  2. Nope. Not gonna be picking up any hitchhikers. Mr. Nope, Nope and Ain’t Gonna can stand there all day every day and wait cause I am not a taxi bus.

    • I used to occasionally hitchhike during the early to mid-1970’s, but after reading/hearing about people being killed or badly injured, robbed or assaulted by those who picked them up, plus a couple of weird experiences of my own, while hitchhiking, I stopped hitchhiking and/or picking up hitchhikers altogether.

      Even though most people are perfectly normal and honest, that doesn’t negate the fact that the risk of either picking up somebody, or being picked up by somebody who’s NOT so normal and honest is there, and very real, to boot.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this one. I have a very strict no hit hikers policy and carry guilt with me when the people shake their hands in anger as I pass. Oh well tho. Better safe than sorry! Thanks for making me realize I’m not alone in this!!!

  4. Yep..no picking up hitch hikers on Roatan either. 10-12 years ago it was the norm. Driving a pick up was easy as you just let them ride in the back..they would bang on the window when they needed you to pull over. WELL..then the scammers moved in..they saw the expats as money trees. Would pretend they got hurt getting in or out of the back of your pick up..and now YOU had to pay them for the giving them that ride. No guilt anymore..the island has been found by cruise ships and is now overrun by taxis!

  5. I’m with you on this one for a variety of reasons. Here on my rock the majority of people have no car insurance (me included). If you pick up a hitch hiker and then have an accident while they are in your car and they get hurt, you are responsible. If you have the father of 17 kids in the back of your truck and he falls out and his head gets run over by a hardware store truck, you are now responsible for those 17 little mouths and anyone else who may have been depending on his income. My husband has a truck and if he is stopped in traffic, people jump in the back, then I have to get out of the truck, tell them VAMANOS and give my best stink eye. Nope, no picking up hitch hikers on this rock..

  6. On the little rock I live on, hitchhiking is widely accepted and very safe. The locals call it the “public transportation”. It’s how I get to work everyday, it’s how I go to the pharmacy, it’s how I get to a friends house. With only 2000 residents on the island, I almost always know who I’m getting in the car with, or I at least know a family member of theirs. When I first moved here two years ago, it was a great way to meet people. Totally pro hitchhiking over here!

  7. This is a breath of fresh air. It’s agreed; Getting into a vehicle with a total stranger or letting a complete stranger into one’s car is the height of folly, as far as I’m concerned. Even though most people are perfectly normal and honest, there’s really no way of knowing what the intentions are of the person who gives you a ride, or the person that the driver picks up, really and truly are. Things can and do start out benevolently enough in such situations, only to take a nasty turn for the worse. Inotherwords, the risk of getting picked up or picking up someone who’s not so normal or honest is still there..and very real, to boot.

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