I picked her up one autumn day as I was driving down Vermont’s Route 12 on my way to work. Having been brought up in New York City, I had never before considered picking up a hitchhiker.
“You just never know who might be crazy, M’ija” my mother used to say to me. But this was the third day that week I’d seen the professionally dressed blond woman on the side of the road, smiling despite the early morning chill, her thumb optimistically thrust out. Mom, I thought, she just doesn’t look dangerous.
Truthfully, it was my writer’s voice that told me to stop that morning: I collect people’s stories, and I just had to know hers. As I came to find out, Marci Young practices what she preaches. You can’t say that about too many people these days, but as an employee of Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation in the Air Pollution Control Division she can’t justify adding yet another gas-burning car to the road. So she hitchhikes, year round, to everywhere.
Originally from Connecticut, Marci was raised in Wolcott, Vermont on a dairy farm. After earning a master’s degree in Resource Management Administration from Antioch New England and training in solid waste management, Marci went to work for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in 1994. She started hitchhiking while traveling around Australia and New Zealand in 2001 and continued off and on once she returned to the states, until finally starting full-time in October of 2005.
Her reasons for hitching are — as she puts it — global, social, and political. Aside from the obvious inspiration that comes from her profession and where she works, the main reason she hitchhikes is global and is certainly an issue that’s on many of our minds these days: “The climate change is affecting us all and I feel that I’m not contributing to it by taking one car off the road, that used to be driven in excess of 15,000 miles a year.” As for the political reasons, she ties her protest to the war in Iraq which she says she’s against “because I believe we are there to protect and procure oil for various uses in the United States.”
In fact, Marci put these two passions together two summers ago when she chose to hitchhike from Vermont to President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. She was feeling despair about the war when she heard about a protest that was being organized around Cindy Sheehan’s visit — one of the 3,300 American mothers who have lost children in Iraq. “I had eight great rides from Vermont to Texas. Two of them were from Bush/Cheney supporters — I could tell from the bumper stickers!”
She left on a Thursday and she arrived at the Crawford Peace House that Saturday night. Marci then spent the next few weeks traveling from city to city with a group — including Sheehan herself — that was organizing anti-war protests across the country.
Marci encounters a lot fewer difficulties on the road than you would imagine, although some days are tougher than others. “A difficult hitch was to the Solar Fest last summer. There was no easy route to get there [to Tinmouth, Vermont] and it was HOT! I ended up catching a ride home with friends I hadn’t known were going. That’s why we need Front Porch Forum!” she says, referring to the Internet-based neighborhood community building movement which offers a way to network with your neighbors.
That brings us to another reason why Marci hitches: connecting with her community. More than half of the rides she gets are with people she doesn’t know, which she feels is a big plus. “People don’t visit each other anymore, not like when I was a kid. I’ve met a lot of my neighbors, people from the community and northern Vermont while hitchhiking.”
Marci is not without her detractors, people who express concern about safety and voice their general disapproval. This includes her family. “It was good one day when my sister and mother picked me up instead of driving by. They aren’t fans of my hitching.” She does indeed own a car, a 1998 Volkswagen Beetle, however it is not registered or inspected. She says she keeps it only for emergency use or "life-threatening" situations.
When asked what her worst experience was, Marci tells of a recent “bad day on the road” when she decided to hitch from home to Montpelier to help with the sand-bagging for the anticipated flood in the capital city. On the way in, she had an “unexpectedly good ride with a three-generation family headed to the Berlin mall from way up north.” But on the way home she found herself on the roadside in the quiet afternoon with only a few cars passing by. “On the weekends, families travel together and are less likely to pick you up.” She decided to walk for awhile along the roadway, and when she turned her head to look back at the road, she took a misstep and fell. But the most frustrating part for her? The driver that “came roaring past me in his V-8, watched me take my hard fall, and just kept right on going.”
But Marci’s efforts are not going unnoticed by others, and are garnering support in the environmental community. After a lecture given by Laurie David, the producer of An Inconvenient Truth — Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film about global warming — Marci met Gregor Barnum, the Director of Corporate Consciousness at Seventh Generation, at the reception. “Gregor is part of Seventh Generation’s team that is promoting a new campaign called "The Inspired Protagonist."
"After hearing my story, he thought I fit the bill.” The team joined her with their cameras on her evening hitch home. I happened to pick her up that night as they followed her around on her travels, filming her hitchhiking experience. The video is getting a lot of play on YouTube and is bringing attention to Marci’s quest.
Marci continues to hitchhike to and from her job in Waterbury and around the state, even through the cold and blizzardy weather. In general she is a quiet activist but surprised herself recently when she got up at the Cindy Sheehan rally in Hardwick and said, “I’ve never preached it to anyone, I prefer to just talk with people about my choices, and thank them for being part of my transportation system. But I am going to start advocating for hitchhiking because I believe it is a socially conscious thing to do.”
You might not agree with her methods, but I can’t imagine you disagree with her motives. I sure don’t, and whenever I see her smiling face on the road, I pull over to the side and look forward to some wonderful company for my drive. So if one day you are driving along a road in northern or central Vermont, and you see this woman with her thumb out, why not pick her up? She’s a great conversationalist, politically savvy and educated, and an enthusiastic and positive person. Who knows? You might even learn something about people’s dedication to the environment… I did.