Allan David Smith-Reeve
June 18th, 2018
Hitchhiking is an act of faith.
It’s also a form of begging.
When I started hitchhiking in the 1970s, I had no idea that it’d become a way of life for me.
In grade ten our English teacher Ms. Laframboise handed out copies of Kerouac’s “On the Road”. The flowing energy of those words – like the hum of rubber on asphalt – became the background noise of my teenage soul. Kerouac’s search for “it” spoke to my own restless yearning for something more than what the mall offered.
I saved my pay from after-school work at Simpson’s Shell and as soon as summer dawned, me, and my own fatherless version of Dean Moriarty, hit the road to follow the sun.
Sometimes you get lucky and you end up spending a long time with your new travelling companion. John stopped for me and Dean just outside of Edmonton and we spent almost a week with him exploring Jasper.
Sometimes you’d get where you were going with a series of short hops. People will pick you up, give you a snapshot of their lives, and drop you at the next turn. It’s always good hitchhiking etiquette to have a story or two to tell to entertain your host. But mostly I found that people just want you to listen to their tales. As any bartender or cabdriver will tell you – having an anonymous ear to listen-in to what they can’t tell their friends or families – is part of the deal when you put out your thumb.
And sometimes you end up walking. In New Zealand I was told more than once that if you want a ride, don’t just stand there by the roadside. “You need to look like you’re working at getting where you’re going.” Putting in an effort will earn you the respect it takes for a driver to hit the brakes and open their door to a stranger.
I’ve spent many an hour walking and waiting for that next ride. I once spent a night outside Regina trying to sleep in a cemetery, waiting for the sun to shine on the open road again. It seemed like a good place to rest in peace – but a ghost rustling the bushes next to where I lay through the night proved it otherwise.
My next ride took me all the way to Winnipeg with a rodeo vagabond whose van was his home. He had sad Country & Western stories to tell about lost loves and dreams down the drain. He was probably about the age I am now and I respected his tenacity and his taste for the road’s adventure.
I’ve always got to where I was going. And I’ve always treated each new day as a new adventure – even now when I’m rooted into our Peterborough home. While the gospels have got a lot to say about “the table” and hospitality, the Jesus guy was always on the move inviting folks to have faith and see where they could get to.
We’ve hit a stretch, once again, in our adventure with the Bedford House Community Ministry where we’re walking and waiting for what’s to come.
In our fourth year now, we’ve got a pretty amazing story to tell our growing circle of friends. A story told best by the folks in the small group that’s gathered around a vision. Fifteen people meeting weekly to share food, laughs, and stories. Five courageous souls struggling to live in poverty in Peterborough. And ten seniors – elders I call them – who are learning how to walk alongside those five.
The vision for Peterborough’s homegrown Bridging Teams project is pretty simple. People learning to be neighbours in a culture that values the bottom-line over bottom-up solutions. “Love your neighbour after you’re finished loving god and loving your self.” Isn’t that the greatest commandment?
Or, do we take a risk, hit the brakes and open our doors to a stranger. Invite them into a safe space to share stories along the way?
In 2017 we lucked out with a series of short rides. Ten different grants came in to help us create our first Bridging Team. Now at the end of this run, our faith in people’s willingness to risk and share has our faith-fuel-gage at FULL.
But we’re out of funds. The Board has had to lay Lynn and I off and we’re “walking” again. In 2016 we walked for 2 ½ months without a ride. Seems like we’re hitting that road again.
As per our plan – we’re leaving behind the comfort of that first team’s “table” – and are journeying out to create the next Bridging Team. We’re without the funds to get us there but our destination is clear – to test the model we used for the first. Did we just luck out with an amazing group of fifteen? Or, is our faith in the natural “calling” for everyday folks to be neighbours something organic? Does it just need nurturing?
Putting out your thumb takes humility. Begging doesn’t come easy. But when you’ve got a destination in mind and nothing else besides faith in your next best friend, it’s an adventure worth the risk.
If you’d like to give us a lift, here’s a link to our Go Fund Me page…
If you’d like to get a charitable receipt, (a little gas money in return?) our partner in this project will be happy to send one along. Please send your cheque with “Bridging Team” in the memo line to: Greenwood United, 737 Donwood Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9L 1G6
Lynn & Allan