'Who is supposed to be afraid: the driver or the hitchhiker?'

'Who is supposed to be afraid: the driver or the hitchhiker?' »Play Video
Need a lift? Films such as "The Hitchhiker" and "The Hitcher" have contributed a lot to people's general fear. "You're never entirely sure who's supposed to be afraid, the driver or the hitchhiker," a professor of cultural anthropology explained.

EUGENE, Ore. - A road-worn guitar case in her hands, Luna explained how she makes her way along the open roads of the Northwest.


"I like to use this as my currency," she said. "I like to play music, and that's how I earn my money and my food. Sometimes I don't get paid though. Sometimes I wait for hours and no one cares."

Hitchhiking is a way of life for some people.

But the practice of thumbing a ride isn't what it used to be.

"There really has been a dramatic decline in hitchhiking," Professor Philip Scher said.

"The kind of person who hitchhikes might be slightly different now than it might have been in the 60s or 70s," Scher said. "There's sort of the wandering anarchist culture, people who are very self consciously operating off the grid."

The West and the Northwest appeal to hitchhikers for a variety of reasons.

"California, Oregon and Washington are like way easy to live in," another traveler, Tony, said. "Free food, clothes, shelters, the missions - it's all so easy here. No one wants to get a job because it's all provided for you."

In many states, it's OK to catch a ride on an onramp or sidewalk connected to an interstate but not on the actual highway.

In Oregon, the law allows hitchhiking under certain conditions; you can't disrupt traffic or create a hazardous situation.

"Yeah, Oregon is more lenient than most of the states out there," said Jake, a traveling hitchhiker. "I'd say Maine is pretty lenient, but there ain't many states lenient."

Scher, a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Oregon says there are many factors underlying the decline and transformation of hitchhiking.

Films such as "The Hitchhiker" and "The Hitcher" have contributed a lot to people's general fear.

"You're never entirely sure who's supposed to be afraid, the driver or the hitchhiker," Scher said. "People are cautioned against hitchhiking. As hitchhikers, you don't know who's picking you up. It could be someone on drugs or someone murderous."

"What I learned is to never fully trust anyone," Luna said, "but to have hope in humanity still."

Dennis Dayton said he has given rides to hitchhikers

"It was very friendly," he said. "It was a young couple and they looked pretty harmless to me at the time, so I stopped and they were very friendly and we had a good time.

"Being older, you become more cautious," he added, "but now I look at it in a different light."

Aaron Ussery doesn't think it's worth the risk. "I like to keep my family safe," he said. "No disrespect to hitchhiking, but I don't know you, so I'm not going to pull over to stop to talk to you."

With the evolution of social media, a new trend seems to be emerging: an advanced and reformed version of hitchhiking.
    
"You might call it organized, planned hitchhiking," Scher said. "You can sign up to be standing at a certain place and people coming by, will know, people might be there to pick them up."

With dot com sites like Rideshare, Carpool and Ridejoy, the ability to share a car with a total stranger may have left the side of the road in favor of the information superhighway.

Still, rideshare websites caution you to trust your gut feeling if something seems wrong and tell people where you're going.