Saturday, September 12, 2009

A white thumb against a dark sky

There are various categories of “no” when you are hitchhiking, and as it would take us 5 days to reach Paris, here is a rundown of the various ways in which people turned us down and left us on the roadside (or, as it happenned, in a ditch sheltering from the rain).
Some cars aren't going far and so can’t see the point in stopping (often they are right in this), and the driver often makes a sign to indicate a left or right turn, so to this you give him an extra thumb to say thankyou. These are the “Traffic Policeman”.
Some have no room due to baggage or people, at which the universal gesture of the driver is to make a W-shape out of their arms and mouth and with their head rolled to one side make a hammy Jewish-looking body shrug as if to say "What can I do? If the Angels were on our side and there was less bulk in this automobile then we would be able to come to some sort of arrangement!". To these cars you share their dilemma with grateful understanding, at least they are not ignoring you and would quite possibly help if they could. These people are the Titans of the road, and at least look this way, full of grace and good intention, but it is always the same expression, and I wonder whether all of them, if they were less well fitted out with ballast, would be as magnanimous to pull over and pick you up? I wonder, they certainly look okay and good, so they are always given the benefit of the doubt and a grateful thumb and head nod is granted them. What with their Jewish waggling and virtuous demeanour, I have called these (I am quite proud of this one) the “No room at the Inners”.
Then there is the driver who is not leaving the vicinity you are in. These without fail lift up their arm and point, in a jabbing motion, down into their laps and shake their heads with judgelike impassivity. Some are serious as they do this, looking a bit grim like wizened Scottish grave diggers (“here’s a good spot!”), while others impart their disappointing news with a compassionate smile. Either way, they are “Finger Jabbers”.
Then there are the strange people who stick their thumbs up straight back at you, and for this reason are very annoying. Some people, great your hopeful “baited” thumb by sticking their own thumb right back at you, often with a look of great humour on their faces. To this, the best analytic response my mind has been able to muster at the time is “eh?”. This gesture could mean one of many things but these can only be elucidated in retrospect which is what makes their response so annoying. There are in my opinion several likely sub-groups which it is possible to categorise the person into after a few minutes of deliberating.
In one group this gesture means that they would never in a month of Sundays pick you up but they do in actual fact find you funny (which isn’t a bad effect to be having) and so are indulging in a generous dose of mockery, mingled respect at your Chutzpah too I don’t doubt, if I am being accurate. These people are often “Townies”, for the want of a better description, and so perhaps we can forgive them as they haven’t after all had very good educations. But they are definitely taking this piss, so some education would be most needed in their case. That’s group 1, the "Laughing townies".
The second group I have come up with I believe actually have no idea why you are standing there, but being spontaneous people are reciprocating your gesture, again with a touch of mockery but unlike the last group, no irony. These are the best subgroup, as their mockery is light and also rather a reflex response as they haven’t really seen you or had time to think, by the looks of their deadpan faces as they blaze by. I shall call these the “Right back at yous”, as you can at least laugh at them as they robotically motor past you.
The last group I think have a certain solidarity with you, they know why you are standing there, and may in fact have hitchhiked too in their pasts and want you to know this by mimicking your behaviour. Theirs is a knowing sort of good humoured “no”. Perhaps they are going in another direction, or are full, but being the same kind of people they give you a “positive negative” by saying no with their thumbs. These people are okay, but a little inconsiderate as you think by their enthusiasm are giving you a lift and you are disappointed when after running after their car for twenty metres that they are not slowing down. These are the “Keep Believing-ers”.
Some people say no without moving a muscle. One highly irritating look you often get is best described as “The Terminator”, often from men, with sun glasses on who (and probably because of this) are not even slightly muscley or macho PRETEND not to see you.
Then there is the “Hauty Finger Waggers” who, as if some Football virtuoso in a previous existence seeks to tell you (perhaps they are dreaming) that they will have none of your diving nonsense against their football team, thankyou very much, they perfect expressions of deep, nose wrinkled insolence, as if your plea is the smell of dog muck to them. Why they do this I have no idea, but their porky little fingers are most irritating when you are only after all politely asking for a lift.

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