The Return of Hitchhikers

-By Michael O’ Regan, Bournemouth University, UK

Whereas motorscapes have come to be associated with automobility, I examine mobility cultures with their own politics, cultures and identities associated with innovative appropriations of existing materialities, to work below the radar, to modify the abstract rhythms of motorways. Hitchhikers see the value of the globalizing system of automobility, but already understand, as we do now, the fragilities on which this mobility is based, since you must set aside personal ambitions and often go with someone else’s flow, travelling on someone else’s time.

As the COVID 19 pandemic plays out, and hitchhiker online forums slow down, hitchhiker blogs[i] have become more reflexive.  Roads and motorways have become material infrastructure again, filtered for the essential circulation of people, goods, and information.  Hitchhikes dream of conversations with drivers and other passengers, potential encounters, and emotional connections. They are using the lessons learnt whilst hitchhiking during the lockdown. They have learnt to continue to enact and perform mobility (and stillness) in their homes. Used to stillness, stopping, and blockages, their homes like cars or service stations are prisms rather than prisons. Their socio-cultural-political readings of infrastructure and automobilities looks at car parks, filling stations and repair garages to service motorways that structure and produce unsustainable urban and regional automobilities as places where hitchhikers can replenish their bodies, interact with other hitchhikers, drivers and service station employees and sleep overnight. MS on an email list (April 15th) says:

A petrol station is prison for many but heaven to a hitchhiker. Lockdown at home is a heavenly prison for anyone who’s slept enough in a trash bag on cardboard. Hitchhiking for me, as well as being about freedom to move, is about developing the patience and gratitude to appreciate when and where you are not moving, as well as the confident belief in the eventual return of future movement, or at least future change.

In looking at the future, hitchhikers worry about decreased trust, automobile and road surveillance systems, police crackdowns, anti-hitchhiking legislation, and a sensationalist media who might turn them into sinister figures. They also hope for increased solidary and the increased demand for human interaction, intimate engagement, connectivity and exchange in a post COVID 19 world. They might also hope that drivers, landowners and service station workers and police officers reading this piece might see the cultural value of the practice and the social, political and environmental values of the participants who coalesce around it.


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