Freakonomics: Hitchhiking

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stephen J. Dubner, host of Freakonomics Radio and author,  with Steven Levitt, of Freakononomics and SuperFreakonomics, explains how hitchhiking fell out of favor in America and why we should bring it back.

Comments [41]

mel from niagara

my friend is planing a trip hitching we are afraid for her she will be with her boyfriend..This still is not comforting She owns her own car why not just drive..Why take this adventure..Why not parachute or get an awsome education then travel with pride not of someone elses dollar to get you by..there is nothing anyone can say besides we love her and please be carefull..

Apr. 30 2013 03:39 PM
mel from niagara

my friend is planing a trip hitching we are afraid for her she will be with her boyfriend..This still is not comforting She owns her own car why not just drive..Why take this adventure..Why not parachute or get an awsome education then travel with pride not of someone elses dollar to get you by..there is nothing anyone can say besides we love her and please be carefull..

Apr. 30 2013 03:39 PM
Bill Wolfe from hunterdon county, nj

I hitchhiked thousands of miles in my youth and 20's (1968-80). I've picked up hundreds of hitchhikers as a driver.

The motives are both parties are grounded in the fact that people are social animals, are altruistic, and seek adventure.

These motives are not amenable to economic analysis or rational bases.

The things that have killed hitchhiking are:

1) the rise of fear in society in general - no parents would let their kids hitch today;

2) the rise of selfish individualism

3) the demonization of the "other"

4) the rid of police power and harassment

5) the worship of the car

Mar. 26 2012 09:39 AM

what is this guy talking about. people hitchhike all over the world. in this country at this moment there are thousands of people (many europeans & aussies) hitching out west. does he mean there are no hitchhikers in nyc??

get outside, freakeconomonist!

Mar. 23 2012 08:51 PM
Cheryl from Westchester

I haven't hitched for about 40 years now - altho' I‘ve been tempted a few times when my car was in the shop. All those empty SUVs whizzing by – but I wondered what in the world the they would think about this gray haired lady on the road ( must be crazy?) and couldn't come up with a nice excuse to give the police once they came - hopefully w/o an ambulance... I, too, wondered why you don't see anyone doing it. ( also remembered that in some part of – probably Easter – Europe – they had licensing/ID systems for would be hitchers – which would make the transaction safer for all.

For me, it was mostly done during college years and the working summers in between. There was no public transportation to speak of, and I had no money. It was also a bit of a rebellious thing to do ( altho’ if my friends and I had cars, we would’ve gladly dropped the alleged rebellion). We had rules: where to sit, who to avoid – that we thought would make us safer. Now there are so many affluent families who provide cars for their kids, and the ability of those families to buy the latest makes perfectly good used vehicles - which as was said - now last a long time - available for others.

Sometimes it was fun. And most folks who picked us up remembered being in college in the area, being poor themselves, and sometimes stopped because they were protective – and wanted to be sure we didn't get a bad ride. I still don't think you are likely to be murdered, raped, robbed...

But I do think that "minor" unreported incidents happened to many of us, even when we thought we were being careful. Bad experiences - both frightening times were when taking a ride from a car with more than one male in it (violating the basic rules). Once, a guy that a fellow worker said she "knew" started waving around a 22 pistol; the 2nd most scary time was being driven in the wrong direction, all over the place, until finally dropping us off. WE did NOT report this stuff. In one case, the guys were locals in a resort area -- we weren't; in the 2nd we were afraid of getting in trouble ourselves (as in being kicked out of school) - sounds dumb in retrospect, but all we wanted was to get to a safe place.

As far as picking up someone – rarely. After stopping (not by myself) to help a guy who had driven off the road one wintry night in upstate (Adirondacks) NY [leaving someone meant they could freeze], only to have the guy become belligerent about where to take him, [I headed for the nearest police station – and he ‘decided’ to exit the car before we arrived], I haven’t done that again.

Mar. 23 2012 12:10 PM
Jenn G. from LIC, NY

Growing up in a small town, if we were in a pick-up my parents would give someone a short lift(as long as no expensive tools were back there). I've hitched & picked people up. In my late teens & 20s I hitched usually because I had hoopties that would break down a lot--if I had a car. Both in towns & in a medium sized city. I've picked people up to pay it forward & out of being a sucker for the old romantic Keroauc-esque idea. That & I was highly influenced by Peewee's Big Adventure when a kid. I'm 31 & a woman. And live in NYC. I would never hitchhike here. Location location location. I'm sure people here would assume I am crazy &/or a prostitute. And wonder why I didn't just get on the train. Ha.

Mar. 23 2012 11:48 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Becky, I asked because Mr. Dubner only mentioned looking at this on the macro level, & I wondered if that might cause him to overlook race & sex as factors in whether someone hitchhikes. I didn't use other races as examples because I thought black hitchhikers/drivers were probably the ones most likely to be passed up by drivers (like the taxi experience)/have a hitchhiker refuse to get in their car (like the elevator experience). I don't think many drivers are going to think, "Uh-oh, that guy looks Jewish, I'd better not pick him up."

So you have a problem w/my bringing up race but not sex in this context?

Mar. 23 2012 11:43 AM
Susan Landau from New York City

I would like to point out that as far as I heard all of your callers and "experts" on this piece were men. For women and queer people the risk of violence is far higher, and so hitch hiking rises very different issues and dangers. While I love the idea of hitch hiking (ecological, social, etc.) I think we need to make real changes in our society to make it a viable option for all.

Mar. 23 2012 11:32 AM

Uhmmm... ol' Rummy should be in jail NOT on the radio!

Mar. 23 2012 11:28 AM
The Truth from Becky

Amy in Manhattan, why add race to the conversation? What about riding with Asians? Hispanics? Jews? Why not use them as your example..just a dumb idea for this format.

Mar. 23 2012 11:26 AM
Amy from Manhattan

On the upcoming Freakonomics, of course Rumsfeld had more power as the head of a corporation. Corporations aren't democracies. I wouldn't want the president to have the kind of power a CEO does.

Mar. 23 2012 11:26 AM

As a woman, I find this segment annoying and even a little angering. Should women really feel safe hitchhiking because it isn't the most dangerous activity ever?

Mar. 23 2012 11:25 AM
Barbara from Brooklyn

Has this guest for one second considered that the experiences of women and men hitchhiking are vastly different? In my youth I hitchhiked a lot -- fought off drivers' advances, verbal and at times physical. At the time I thought I was invulnerable and didn't take it seriously. Now I do. So should this guest.

Mar. 23 2012 11:23 AM
Jim B

I think there was also a reaction to the ubiquity of hitchiking in the early 70s. Remember "gas, grass or ass"?

Mar. 23 2012 11:22 AM
Ken from Park Slope

I'd like to give a shout-out to my friend's company, Zimride. It's a ride-sharing site that lets you hitch rides with vetted drivers or sell rides in your car with vetted passengers. If you like the idea of hitching, but want a safer option, you might want to check it out.

Mar. 23 2012 11:21 AM
Will from ncy

Talk about the bay area's casual Car Pool. I used it for years, it's nearly like hitchhiking.

Mar. 23 2012 11:21 AM
Amy from Manhattan

To link this topic to today's 1st segment, did Freakonomics look at this on the sub-macro level of race & sex? As in, are black people less likely to hitchhike/pick up a hitchhiker because they expect it to take too long for someone to stop for them/they think the hitchhiker won't get in the car w/them? & women, because they're worried about being sexually attacked by the hitchhiker/driver?

Mar. 23 2012 11:21 AM
Joe in Brooklyn from Brooklyn

This conversation is amazing because it speaks to the nature of the evolution of strangers interacting with one another. The word 'stranger' in itself is loaded. And in American society we're taught not to interact with Strangers. Yet there's an entirely new breakdown in the concept of what a "stranger" is.

Mar. 23 2012 11:20 AM
steven from nj

I picked up a 2 young folks guy and a girl in Albany NY, they were on their way to GA for a Frisbee event, drove them 115 miles and learned a lot about them, they did it for the adventure and to get a blog about hitching hiking going , very interesting experience.

Mar. 23 2012 11:20 AM
Rick in princeton from Princeton

I also wonder whether ride boards on the internet have made finding a ride in advance much easier. Tons of college students i know do this.

Mar. 23 2012 11:19 AM
Amy Braunstein from New Brunswick, NJ

In 2006 i studied in Exeter England, the university sponsored a charity hitchhike from the south of England to Dublin Ireland. A lorry driver got me onto a ferry across the channel! It was an unforgettable experience and i am sad hitchhiking is so feared back home.

Mar. 23 2012 11:19 AM
Grant from Harlem

Isn't it illegal?

Mar. 23 2012 11:19 AM
phyllis segura

I don't agree with the guest. I think that hitchhiking was a part of the culture of the time. There were some dangerous aspects on both sides of the car door but fear is not why it disappeared. It was a great way to get from one place to another. I hitchhiked to Mexico with an infant on my hip. It now sounds like a totally insane thing to do but I had a belief in the goodness of people which came from the counterculture of the times.

Mar. 23 2012 11:17 AM
judy from Manhattan

I used to hitch hike a lot in my 20s (30 yrs ago!)In the states and in Europe. I didn't have car until I was 26, so I hitched a lot in high school and when I lived in a small ski town in Idaho the 80s and also in the UK, Ireland and Portugal in the late 70s.

It was an adventure,It made me feel free and it was interesting to meet pp. In all those yrs I only had 2 somewhat strange experiences. I am female and pp thought I was crazy, but I had rules of when I wouldn't get into a car. When I look back, it seems risky and if I had a teenage child I would be scared to death of them doing it!

Mar. 23 2012 11:17 AM
carolita from nyc

I grew up in the 70s when, it seems to me, there were lots of incidents around hitchhiking, and then later wasn't there a movie called "the hitchhiker" where something dreadful happened? Anyway, that's just to say that I ended up believing that hitchhiking was the equivalent of just offering yourself on a silver platter to never be seen again, the victim a sadistic killer who'd do god knows what to you, then cut you up in pieces and leave you in plastic bags around the country.
I've had some great adventures avoiding hitchhiking, for that matter. Rented bikes, bought folding bikes, travelled roads I'd never have seen up close.

Mar. 23 2012 11:17 AM
Tom from Toronto

Hitch hiking ain't coming back anytime soon. Nobody wants to be murdered and become part of a campfire story, as irrational and as unlikely that may be.

Mar. 23 2012 11:17 AM
Geoff from Yonkers

Freakonomics Radio is a most uninteresting, irrelevant, stating of the obvious, collection of non-issues and waste of member dollars.

Mar. 23 2012 11:16 AM
peacepipe from Spuyten-Duyvil

Around 1981, when I was 18, I was hitchhiking on a main thoroughfare in White Plains, NY, as I often did growing up in Westchester. I was picked up by a middle-aged man who, minutes into the ride, started stroking my thigh and telling me in a low husky voice, "I have a son just about your age...". First possible stoplight, I jumped out of the car and never hitched again.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 AM
jen l from manhattan

If you do a risk/reward analysis on an individual basis hitchhiking might still not be worth it. The downside--though very improbable--is so very great that it could still outweigh any possible benefit. So the decision to not hitchhike could be the more rational one.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I used to hitchhike on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, from East Flatbush, to Ocean Parkway area (& Kings Highway) to & fro school. I also hitchhiked home NYC) from Colorado one summer.

Loved hitchhiking but don't think I would do it anymore.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 AM

I've read there is no actual case of a Halloween apple with a razor blade, but what parent would allow a child to eat an apple given from a stranger? Maybe hitchhiking is similar.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 AM
The Truth from Becky

Oh yes, let's bring it back, let's walk willingly into the serial killers car! Hitchhike wih a stranger in 2012 if you want....your destination is dead!

Mar. 23 2012 11:14 AM
Penny from Downtown

Everyone hitchhiked in Buffalo in the early 70s. I began to have doubts when automatic locks came in and you couldn't dive out if you sensed trouble. About that time I moved to New York and train heaven.

Mar. 23 2012 11:14 AM
NYC Transplant from NYC

In the suburbs of DC (mostly in Virginia), there is what is called the "slug line" in which commuters queue up and willing drivers pick up extra passengers so they can make their way into the city via the HOV lanes (the DC metro area ranks as one of the nation's most congested areas). This operates every day of the workweek and some people are dependent on this method to get to and from the city each day.

Mar. 23 2012 11:14 AM

While living in Oneonta, NY, my girlfriend was going to school in Buffalo, so every weekend I'd hitchhike to Buffalo (via Binghamton to Syracuse and then west)and then back. Some days were more frustrating than others in terms of the wait, but I always got there and back, without incident, apart from the occasional flate tire, and one summons. Long-haired and skinny (then), it must have taken some guts to pick me up, and sometimes the driver didn't even want conversation. I suppose altruism explains much of such generosity.

Mar. 23 2012 11:13 AM
Ingrid Gordon from Jackson Heights, Queens

My parents used to pick up hippy hitchhikers on road trips from Switzerland to Denmark as kids to stop my brother and I from fighting. Their benefit in the transaction was peace and quiet.

Mar. 23 2012 11:13 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Actually, if you caught a long ride and stopped for gas along the way.....the etiquette was to offer to help on the gas, if you could afford it.

Mar. 23 2012 11:11 AM
Phoebe from Bushwick

Isn't it illegal here in the States?

Mar. 23 2012 11:10 AM
David from West Hempstead

Why are you calling this a new season? We've heard all of these before.

Mar. 23 2012 11:08 AM
John A.

'Mutual Assured Destruction' in action. The man couldn't likely kill you without killing himself. But why should a stranger be this rational anyway?
I guess this topic must be challenged with Leiby Kletzky as a recent example of why people may fear strangers in cars.

Mar. 23 2012 11:00 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

As a kid in the 1960’s, my friends and I hitched all the time, sometimes on trips of many hundred of miles. We thought that was what everyone did. Nobody had parents buying them cars in our little world....and hitching rides was a VERY big, and sometimes very scary, adventure for any young would-be Odysseus. Especially doing it solo. Hurtling down a highway at 70 miles an hour in the passenger seat of someone who is beginning to espouse some very weird theories and conspiracy ideas in a progressively angrier voice suddenly made you appreciate how much of a prisoner you were in that situation.
I received job offers for boardwalk arcades and bingo parlors, invitations to parties, solicitations for sex and lots (and LOTS) of advice about life and its tribulations. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine its return to popularity in our present culture. It’s very risky…..but it was a real education, and not one you’ll find in any politically correct sociology classroom in 2012.

Mar. 23 2012 09:14 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.