Elijah WaldRiding with Strangers

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Riding with Strangers:
A Hitchhiker's Journey

Chicago Review Press, 2006

This is my first non-music book, and follows a cross-country hitchhiking trip from my home in Boston to Portland, Oregon. The point of this journey, aside from having fun and trying to give a sense of modern life on the road, was to counteract the paranoia that is all around us and remind readers that the world remains a far safer and friendlier place than one would think from reading the newspapers or watching the nightly news.

I set out to describe a single trip in 1994, and to give readers a sense of the normal experience of hitchhiking--the long waits, the pleasures, the problems, the range of people one meets. That basic story is interspersed with musings on cops and evangelists, a tribute to Mark Twain, a history of hitchhiking, some discussion of the fine points of the art, and a survey of what is currently available at Midwestern truck stops. Also conversations with the various drivers who stopped for me, and an update on the state of the American highway. (Hitchhiking is easier now than at anytime in the last fifty years, and the biggest change is that there are so many Russian, Czech, and Polish truck drivers that channel 25 on the CB has become the Slavic band.)

To some extent, this is territory that I mined in Narcocorrido, only this time I'm on the road in the US rather than Mexico and music is not the main window through which I'm looking at the world. But there is a similar interest in conversations with varied characters, and in politics, history, and the idea that we need to be willing to get out and see what's happening around us rather than letting it be filtered through the mass media. And that the world is a damn interesting place, and you don't have to make a trip to the Himalayas to find that out.

"Elijah Wald sums up a life spent walking backwards. A lot of people have tried to write books about hitchhiking, but none of them worked. This one does."
-- Utah Phillips

"Elijah, it's good to see you keeping Kerouac's 'drive' alive . . . From one 'road dog' to another, keep up the nice work!"
-- Michelle Shocked

"Highly recommended for outstanding travel writing and a unique look at the modern America that most of us barely glance in our rearview mirrors as we whiz along at 70 miles per hour."
--Library Journal

"This agreeable memoir of cross-country adventures is full of good times: the friendly people he’s met, the lessons he’s learned, the unique relationship that exists between driver and passenger. For readers who automatically associate hitchhiking with jeopardy, the book will be an eye-opener; and for lovers of the open road, it’s simply a delight."
--David Pitt, Booklist

"Elijah Wald celebrates thumbing a lift, once a proud American tradition and perhaps due for revival with current gas prices. The journalist and musician persuasively argues that we shouldn't be so scared of our fellow travelers."
--Seattle Weekly Critic's Pick

"A just-right combination of travelogue, culture peek, and hitching tips...and it is a relief to be reminded how many of us are helpful and friendly, ready to interrupt our daily rounds at the solicitation of a random wanderer."
--School Library Journal

"...an easy-to-read travel story about one cross-country journey on which Wald meets a motley assortment of people who take him a little farther down the road.... Whether it's listening to popular Russian mafia rock with a Moldavian trucker, or sleeping in the garden of Mark Twain's house in Hannibal, Mo., or enjoying the special comforts of modern truck stops, Wald gives an extraordinary spin to ordinary moments. And like hitchhiking itself, it's the contemplation between rides that is part of this book's beauty. Wald's westbound narrative is richly layered with the veteran hitchhiker's reflections on religion, music, law, boredom, paranoia and race relations.
--Ron Franscell, San Antonio Express-News

"By the time Wald reaches the West Coast, even the weariest of readers will be tempted to stand on a curb, stick out a thumb, and trust in the kindness of strangers."
-- Kristen Mueller, Utne Reader

This site includes a voluminous collection of quotations about hitchhiking that I couldn't fit in the book, including comments by Charles Dickens, Ani DiFranco, Ralph Nader, Jacques Chirac, and Rosanna Arquette (Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac are there as well). Also a page with highlights of my book tour in May and June, 2006, which was of course another hitchhiking trip. And a growing page of tips and answers to questions I keep getting, like, "Would you recommend that women hitchhike?"

Reviews and interviews:

Interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation
Review in the San Antonio Express-News

Interview in the Denver Post (which ends on a note of ungrounded pessimism, but is otherwise fine.)
"Airtalk" radio call-in interview from KPCC, Los Angeles

Review from the Boise Weekly
Long interview from Alternet
On the spot story from when I got stuck in Sterling, Colorado
Interview about the book and tour in Shelf Awareness

Radio interview with Schulte and Swann, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Review from the Milford Daily News
Review from the Idaho Mountain Express

A blog by a woman who picked up a hitchhiker after reading my book. Welcome news, indeed.

Hitchhiking links:

Digihitch: A huge and multifaceted site, covering every aspect of the hitchhiking experience.
Bernd Wechner's pages: Historical and other material from one of the most assiduous collectors of hitching lore.