Coping with Stereotypes, Lessons from the Hitchhiker Diaries

I am a trusting kind of guy. I trust in the basic goodness of people. And still, whenever I pick up a hitch hiker, I check where my backpack is and when I drop hitchhikers off, I make sure it is still there. The other day, I picked up a hitchhiker who told a story that gave me an example of another way to cope with the suspicion of picking up a “bad apple” hitchhiker.

He said that he was picked up by an old woman and after he got in the car and she started driving, she said, “I’ve been picking up hitchhikers for long time, and so far not one of them has hurt me or stolen anything from me.” She then looked at him and asked, “You’re not going to be the first, are you?”

We both stereotype the hitchhikers as suspicious and possible of theft. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with stereotypes, and in fact, all humans do it with everyone we meet. The key is recognizing and acknowledging that we do it, and not blindly reacting to it. Once you do that, stereotyping can actually be a resource, not an obstacle.

With the hitchhikers, neither of us ignore the fact that we are stereotyping. But how we cope with the stereotype, what we do with it, is different. I do not ignore that the suspicion comes up inside of me, and I am hoping that the subject won’t even need to be brought up between us. The old lady not only acknowledges that it comes up within her, she tells the hitchhiker that it does, and what her expectation is around it.

It’s hard to change the stereotypes we all have about each other. It is much easier to change what we do about those stereotypes – what we act on. And by being aware of the stereotypes I make, and how I cope with them, there are not as many intrusive thoughts/questions in my head when I am talking to others, and I am better able to listen to their stories and connect with them.

As far as me, the old lady, and our hitchhiker stereotypes go, I can’t really say that one way of coping is better than the other, and both have resulted in no stolen articles yet – although I’m quite certain the old lady has been giving rides a lot longer than me. So, I guess I’ll get back to you in another couple decades on that.

Hitchhiker Diaries: Harassing the Hippies

I picked up John again coming up Boulder Canyon on Friday night. He was with his girlfriend Lauren (I asked if I could use their names). They also had the adorable Anubis (their dog) with them. I asked what he’d been up to since I last picked him up, which is a year ago now. He said they’d been traveling the country. I asked some about his journeys and how specifically they travel.

They hitchhike everywhere, and sleep in the woods, wherever they are. They avoid cities, and if they do wind up in one, will quickly hitchhike out, take a bus, or even pay for a cab to get out of the concrete where they can find a place to sleep for the night. I asked if they every get disturbed or harassed. He said very little, that they are very good at finding a good out of the way place to rest for the night.

In Nederland, they stay in the woods too. There is one officer that gives them a hard time occasionally. I didn’t ask if they are doing something illegal when they get harassed, and if they were I imagine it is something like camping too many days in one place, or something at that level of severity. Anyway, the officer will get angry with John and Lauren for not being productive members of society in his eyes – not paying taxes, for example.

First of all, if an officer needs to tell them something, it should stay within the bounds of the officer’s jurisdiction and certainly should not be their personal opinions. And as far as I’m concerned, if there are people that want to live on the edge of society, not rent or own a home, not earn a salary, and not spend much money, that is okay with me. I do not think they are cheating everyone else. They pay sales tax. They earn very little and their impact on the planet is small (no car, no house or apartment, etc…). So, I think it’s fair enough to society for them to live the way they do. There is no need to harass the hippies.

HitchHiker Diaries – Epsiode 6: A World Without Talking

The winter drive from Boulder to Nederland is much less frequented by hitch hikers than in the summer. It’s cold in the Rocky Mountain winter time. A few nights ago, I did pick one up just before starting the ascent. He had a full head of dreadlocks. We started small talking and after not too long he began telling me about his dreams to have a small plot of land and grow all his own food. We talked more about it. He felt strongly about the need to be able to provide for yourself. And was very clear that he didn’t mean monetarily, he meant grow the food that you eat.

The conversation was engaging. He gradually discussed his views, which got more radical by the sentence. He felt that if you weren’t working the Earth, you couldn’t be close to God. That if you weren’t “living off the Earth”, you were just living in Babylon, and falling into the Babylon trap of materialism and the rat race. He said that people who don’t live off the Earth, should just “go back to the Earth” (their physical bodies, that is). I told him that I agreed with the principles of appreciating the Earth, and that when you start to say “there is only one way to God” you might as well be saying “if you don’t believe Jesus died for your sins, you are going to hell.”

We had a very engaged discussion for the remaining fifteen minutes. He stated that everyone should just ignore government and society and take care of themselves, that even trying to change the system only promotes the disfunctioning of the system. I think that depends on how you try to change the system. I brought up Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Ghandi as examples of people that knew how to change the system while being in the system. There are more people that contribute to its disfunctionality by trying to change it inappropriately, but there are those that do it well, and it does create change.

He continued that ignoring the system is what everyone should do. I challenge the notion that everyone should attempt change the same way. I have no issue with people who want to live on the outside of society, but to think that is the only way to live justly is wrong. And even if you would you would still need to gather together with others to trade, help each other out, and relate to. That part of living, and one of it’s greatest joys, is in relating to others. With just a minute before the dropping off point, he said “it would all be better if we just didn’t teach our children how to talk.” That left me speechless.

I really appreciate the opportunity I had to reflect on what’s important to me.

Hitchhiker Diaries Episode 5 – Wallpaper is Back

This past week I picked up a woman on my way down to work. Her name is Jackie. She is an attractive middle-aged woman with long straight black hair. She was dressed business casual and was very clean – she did not live in a campground like a lot of hitchhikers I pick up.

She was going down to her new job. She had been working at the local grocery store in Nederland and her new job was in Boulder. She thinks she’ll have saved enough for a car by October. Her new job is at Guiry’s in Boulder. At Guiry’s, you can buy all kinds of things for home decoration. She is working in their design department. She got the job because she has a lot of experience selling window coverings.

She said this job is interesting because she needs to become the wallpaper expert. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen much wallpaper around these days. Apparently, it’s becoming popular again. She also said it has come a long way. She says that the textures you can get with it are impressive. There is even a style you buy that comes in many different texture patterns, and it’s just white. It’s meant to be put right up on plain drywall (no spackle or paste). You can get diamonds, wavy designs, circles, spirals, etc… It is meant to be just wall texture that you then paint over.

She also said that you see a fair amount of photographs blown up to be put on a wall. I remember we had a wall like that at my house when I was growing up – it made the wall look like a big garden window. Apparently, National Geographic makes a good wall paper version of many different nature scenes.

She was afraid to take the job because she has to deal with a lot of rich people. I asked how dealing with the rich people has been. She said fine, that 90% are good to work with and 10% are snooty folk that keep a wall between themselves and her. When I was thinking about this later, I was thinking that if you take any demographic or economic slice of american people, that there is probably at least 10% that are difficult to deal with. Difficult in different ways – there’s probably not 10% of people who work at McDonald’s that are snooty, but still difficult. I would like to hear your thoughts on this one.

Hitchhiker Diaries Episode 4 – That Bear Ate My Peanut Butter

Picked up a group of 3 hitchhikers on my way down the canyon from Nederland to Boulder on Monday. A larger-set woman with uniform length blonde hair to her neck got in the front seat and a small-framed man and a large black man jumped in the back seat. The woman immediately started talking. It was obvious who was in charge. She introduced the smaller guy as her boyfriend and the black man introduced himself jokingly as their bodyguard. They have been camping together and teaming up for a while now. Camping between Nederland and Ward.

They were on their way down to Boulder to take a shower and get some food at the Carriage House, which is a homeless resource in Boulder. They had said that the last 3 jars of peanut butter they had have been eaten by a mama bear and cub. The last time they came to their camp the mama and cub were still there, eating the peanut butter. They were also trying to figure out how they could keep their new stash of food safe from the bears. They have no car to put food in while they are gone, and the plastic container in the tent that they have been using is obviously not good enough.

The woman, who was debating taking a shower at her mom’s house out of fear of the line at the Carriage House, has made friends with a pair of does that come and eat at the flower bush near their site every morning. They all agreed that the peace of camping and being in nature all summer long was a great thing. They make friends with the car campers who come for weekends and the woman says she is the campground tour guide. She was excited that next month she is going to get her mom’s old Jeep, and then they’ll have a car, which will make their lives a lot easier.

Good luck with your next jar of peanut butter.

Hitchhiker Diaries – Episode #3 – Dog Grooming in Boulder

Last week, I picked up a nice younger man (early twenties), who had a cute little white dog named Anubis, after the dog-headed Egyptian god of the underworld. I couldn’t remember what Anubis reigned over, so I asked the fellow, and instead of telling me Anubis is the god of the underworld, he told me the story of how Anubis is the god who weighs your heart versus the weight of a feather to determine your fate. Interesting that he chose to describe Anubis this way, rather than say “the god of the underworld”. That tells me that he thinks in stories and details rather than classifications, which I like.

He used to live in LA, then Denver area, and is a dog groomer. We talked about the difference in dog grooming clientele between Denver and Boulder. He said  that in Denver people would book their next appointment when they pick their dog up from their current appointment. In Boulder, people rarely do that, preferring instead to call when their dog needs their next groom. He also said that in Boulder, 75% of his clientele are young people – college age or a few years above. There are very few seniors who groom dogs in Boulder. Which is very different from Denver, where the ratio is much higher elders and seniors.

On the appointment thing, his theory is that Denver people have more regimented lives and are busier, so make their appointments ahead of time, and that Boulder people are less busy, go-with-the-flow, and have the luxury to make appointments when needed. We didn’t get the opportunity to talk about the age ratio difference.

I picked him up two days later as well – his dog was hiding in his backpack, which he says he needs to do because some folks won’t give him a ride because of the dog.

Hitchhiker Diaries – Episode #2

Driving from Nederland to work in Boulder today, I picked up another rider. He was very friendly and seemed to be a pretty good guy. He was outgoing and talkative. Not overly talkative, but very comfortable talking about himself with simple questions like “what are you going to do in Boulder today”. He did not ask me any questions about myself.

He is 33, born in Nebraska, and on his way to a Boulder elementary school where he is taking classes to prepare for the GED, which he is pretty confident he will pass on July 15. He was kicked out of high school at age 16 and has been making his way with odd jobs. He wants to go to college in Oregon. His girlfriend plans on moving there with him. He’s been living with her for the last while, and she recently decided to move out of her place and camp near Nederland to save money for the move to Oregon.

He is part Native American and qualifies for a pretty good scholarship to go to college. He said that if he moved to the reservation in South Dakota that he could get $1,000 a year from the casino. I didn’t realize that one of the way Indian casino’s operate and justify their existence is by paying out money to the indians of the tribe that the casino is run by. I am definitely not an expert on Indian casino politics, but at least there is some direct benefit (although it doesn’t seem like very much).

I wish him the best.

Hitchhiker Diaries: Entry #1

I live in Nederland and work in Boulder. It is 17 mile commute through windy Boulder Canyon. In that 17 miles, there is 2,500 foot elevation gain from Boulder to Ned (as we locals affectionately call it). Up in Ned there is a lot of national forest land that allows long-term camping. There are quite a few hitchhikers that want rides from Ned to Boulder in the morning or Boulder to Ned in the evening. A lot of them are folks who make their lives in the woods of Ned and go to Boulder to make money as street musicians, odd jobs, panhandle, or just go to the soup kitchens in town. Some are “regular” working folk. I frequently pick these hitch hikers up. I have some interesting conversations as a result.

I have decided that one good thing to do with my blog is to create a series of “Hitchhiker Diaries”, explaining the people I pick up. This first entry I have is about a pair of men I picked up in Boulder a few days ago. They were camping in the West Magnolia forest area. One sat in the front seat, the other crammed into the back because my back seat was down for storage and it was all he could do. The one in the back was more drunk and/or high than the one in the front, although both definitely were. The one in the back was the leader of these two. He was a little older and the one in the front deferred to him about where they would get out and if they needed to go to town before making their way back to camp.

When I pick up pairs of men, it is almost always the case that they have banded together in some way for some period of time, and one is always more “senior” than the other. Next time I pick up a pair, I’ll ask more questions like how they met, if they travel together, etc… I’m curious to know more about them.