The car filled with a noxious odor, and I turned on the dome light only to discover the interior full of smoke. I hit the brakes and steered for the side of the road. As soon as the car stopped, I turned off the ignition, jumped out and ran a few yards away anticipating an explosion. It never came, but I wasn’t too confident about trying to start up the engine again. It was almost midnight, and I was about five miles from home. It became my first and last experience with hitchhiking.
Everyone you see alongside the road has a reason for choosing hitchhiking as a way to get to where they’re going. Some aren’t “going” anywhere specific, they’re getting away from something. Many are on that “road trip” that seems to be a significant aspect of Americana. Since the first Pilgrims arrived in the New World, we’ve been on road trips for any number of reasons.
Gerry Boylan, author of Getting There, has put his own experiences in the form of a novel. During the early seventies, Boylan hitchhiked over 100,000 miles mostly along I-75 from Michigan to Florida but also went as far north as Canada. He tried to stay at home after tragedy changed the lives of himself and his siblings but, “..the town started to close in on me again. I couldn’t look down a street without a ghost leaping out and taking my breath away.” A friend helped him rationalize his need to be out on the road thusly: “I suppose hitchhiking is a better way to run away than doing heroin.”
Getting There is narrated by Boylan’s alter ego and tells several stories simultaneously alternating from the present back to the early seventies. The captivating stories are as much about teens coming of age as they are about hitchhiking and the risks associated with both. As his protagonist Luke hears from a friend, hitchhiking is like wing walking, “After you take that first step, there’s really no turning back.” Luke commits to keep the mysterious request of someone he meets on the road as she dies in his arms and for him there is no turning back — neither from this adventure nor his own personal demons.
Getting There went on sale in July 2010 and Boylan hitchhiked along I-75 to his book signing events in towns and cities mentioned in the book. It’s a classic example of how those of us who have lower risk tolerance can learn from the mistakes of others.