Thumbing a ride

1085
Colin Windell

 

I didn’t have to do it. I was a private school kid from Jozi’s northern suburbs, and had parents happy to play taxi. Plus there was the old faithful Kensington B bus but there was more adventure to be had hitchhiking in the pre-Sandton City 60s and 70s.

We hitched everywhere, day or night, with nary a care and achieved our destinations despite embracing as much of the Hippie counter-culture that school and parents would permit.

hippie
It was not easy getting a free ride with members of the ‘establishment’ …

With our flowing locks, beads, and flower power shirts, it was not easy getting a free ride with members of the ‘establishment’ – to say nothing of the cops who occasionally stopped and searched us for ‘drucks’ – looking down their noses as their near empty cars swept by. This only made it more fun.

Getting the lift was – of course – first prize, apart from the time a drunk drove us into the Jukskei River. No matter; we were young and invincible. And we met good people on our travels. Interesting, friendly people. A few actually became friends. It was a different time when people did not hide inside gated communities, behind razor wire in permanent fear for their lives. Hijack was a greeting!

Once a friend and I were thumbing a ride and a Dunhill rep rolled down the road in the company Rolls Royce. Steve waved his pack of Dunhill at the driver who stopped. Sadly he could not give us a lift as it was against company policy  but he gave us carton of smokes.

Cape Town back in the day ...
Cape Town back in the day …

In the 70s I shaved off my long locks and donned a Navy uniform to do my National Service in Simonstown. Sticking your thumb out was taboo. Servicemen in uniform could only stand at the side of the road and wait for a kind soul to stop.

At the time, most people were happy to help conscripts – mostly the very people who disdained us as ‘long-haired layabouts’. The uniform somehow made the wearer into a different person.

My time in the Navy was all about doing as little as possible and getting home to Joburg as much as possible, which provided for some tribulations out on the road.

A Valiant Barracuda.
A Valiant Barracuda.

My record for getting from Simonstown to Bryanston is 13 hours. I was picked up outside the barracks by a guy in a Valiant Barracuda (remember them?) who turned out to live three streets away from me. It was a wild ride through the night, across the Karoo stops only to refuel and change drivers. One slept while the other drove. We had no lengthy conversations, in fact scarcely exchanged words, yet it was fun and embodied everything hitchhiking should be.

We often travelled in pairs. Usually there were no problems, except for one night, which we later discover it was the coldest night in 30 years. Charlie and I braved it out alongside the main road in Touwsrivier getting colder and colder as an endless stream of nice warm cars passed us by. In the wee hours of the morning  we retired to the service station where the toilet had a new-fangled hot air hand dryer. As we desperately pushed the button to try warm up, the alarmed night staff called the boss. His towering rage dissipated when he found two nearly frozen sailors far from the sea. He bought us breakfast.

After that Charlie and I separated to go it alone. A young lady driving a Mini loaded to the gills stopped for me. I squirmed into what was left of the passenger seat, turned to introduce myself and looked straight down the barrel of .38 Special.

“In case there is any trouble,” she said.

She offered to take me to Kimberley and we set off. She kept nodding off at the wheel but refused to let me drive. I arrived home some 34 hours after leaving Cape Town – the longest I ever spent on the road.