RIDING WITH STRANGERS by Elijah Wald

RIDING WITH STRANGERS

A Hitchhiker’s Journey

KIRKUS REVIEW

Tedious chronicle of a cross-country hitchhiking trip.

Now in his 40s, music-writer Wald (Escaping the Delta, 2004, etc.) has been hitchhiking since he was a teen. The freedom and surprise of thumbing thrill him. He loves the instant intimacy he finds with drivers. He delights in finally arriving at a truck stop and getting a shower. On the particular trip chronicled here, he meets many interesting people, among them a Russian trucker, a Mexican man who sells used cars over the border and an affable missionary who attempts to proselytize him. Wald spells out the etiquette: If the driver wants to talk, listen; speak when spoken to; try to stay awake. Interspersed throughout is a history of hitchhiking. Though the word is relatively recent, the idea is ancient; even Odysseus did it. The 1960s and ’70s were a unique era when folks hitched for pleasure, but during the ’80s, fewer and fewer people took to the road, and hitchhiking gained a reputation as dangerous rather than carefree. Men tend to hitch more than women, but Wald notes the curious fact that current pop stars who like to thumb a ride are mostly women, including Ani DiFranco, Michelle Shocked and Courtney Love. A vignette about a cop who sternly reminded him that hitchhiking is illegal is mildly engaging, a visit to Hannibal, Mo., prompts reflections on Mark Twain that are mildly insightful—but pretty much everything else Wald relates is tepid at best and his attempts at profundity and depth lame: “Hitchhiking is an exercise of faith,” “Faith is a beautiful thing,” “In every journey there are moments of doubt,” “With freedom comes responsibility.” The concluding poem is just embarrassing.

“The hitchhiker’s most constant, implacable enemy,” writes Wald, “is simple boredom.” Readers of his book may share the feeling.

Pub Date: May 31st, 2006
ISBN: 1-55652-605-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Chicago Review
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2006




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