By Dave Lindorff
Sometimes a journalist just has to go with the story, even if it's going all wrong.
I had set out to stand up for the rights of hitchhikers everywhere, and against abusive policing, when I left the house this afternoon and walked up the road to an intersection where I could stand on the grass and stick out my thumb and try to snag a ride to the supermarket four miles off.
The location and the time -- 6 pm -- were both important. Three days before, I had tried the same thing at the same spot, same time. Every so often I like to do a local hitchhike, just to test the national zeitgeist and the level of empathy of my fellow Americans. Last winter I tried it, and after over a hundred cars had left me standing in a brutal cold wind, finally got a ride from an immigrant Indian couple and their teenage son.
But three days ago, after nearly 60 cars had passed me -- most often one or two men in a car who would look away from me in what appeared to be a kind of embarrassment -- a black police SUV from the town of Horsham started pulling towards me through the parking lot of the local bank, on whose lawn I was standing. The cop in the vehicle was shaking his head at me with a stern, disapproving expression. He pulled to a stop, rolled down his window, and as I walked up to his car, said, "You can't hitchhike. It's illegal."
"Illegal?" I said, "Where? I'm not standing on the road?
The officer said, "It's illegal in town, in the county, and all over Pennsylvania, on the road or not. If you hitchhike, I'll have to lock you up."
"Lock me up? For hitchhiking?" Now I was shocked. I have hitchhiked since I was 15, all over the US, up to Alaska when I was 16, several times across the country and back, and down to Florida, and while I had been ordered off of highway onramps, yelled at, and even taken for rides and dumped far away from the highway by cops who didn't like long-haired hippie types back in the "60s, I had never been arrested. Hitchhiking was not a criminal offense as far as I knew.