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Lisa Scott reflects on seven months of having to hitchhike.
"The Green Hornet" and I were recently reunited. Weirdly, I’d completely forgotten it was an automatic and for a moment was flabbergasted (and not in the sense of the Washington Post neologism invitational: appalled over how much weight you’ve gained). Why would a bogan like me buy an automatic? I can only blame being not in my right mind at the end of last year. The first thing I did, after a selfie, was drive it into the gutter because my spatial awareness distance-judging thing was totally off. Understandable, as I’ve been recalibrated myself, my clock wound back a million miles from the middle-class twonk who once mocked a hitchhiker at a dinner party.
I have learned much in those seven months about the people who live in this country, dressing for the prevailing weather, and myself.
To begin with, I hated begging lifts. It is a position of subservience, standing by the roadside, and I considered myself too good for it. But I had no choice, a big Monty Python cartoon foot had come down from the sky, squashed the hubris out of me and my belief in a world that didn’t exist, a world where I was a special rainbow-farting unicorn — so I got over it, and began to look forward to chatting with whomever stopped — I was, after all, living by myself in the wops, starved of conversation.
Interesting facts: not one rich person ever picked me up and younger male drivers consistently failed to hide their disappointment upon discovering the little blonde sheila was in her 40s. I always felt sorry for them, objects in the rear mirror being hotter than you think, although being short and blonde (and often wearing gumboots) ensured I never had to wait very long.
Apart from the odd indecent proposal, hitchhiking is remarkably safe in New Zealand. I could always tell if someone was a creep because they would always, and I mean without fail, say, "Aren’t you worried about how dangerous this is? Aren’t you worried someone might hurt you?"
This happened four times, and each time it was a man, and it invariably felt like they were projecting, that they harboured violent tendencies, secret desires and, given the opportunity and a guarantee they would get away with it, would act on them. Wolves in business suits.
People would tell me, a stranger they would never see again, everything, even though I did see some more than once in wildly different contexts. I was told about murders, mayoral fornication and the true cost of five 14-hour days away from the wife and kids. Regularly hitching from Purakaunui to North Otago to visit the Mighty Mix Master, I inhabited a small world where everyone knew or was related to him and they’d sometimes drop me to his door, talk about the price of eggs and yell "Hoo roo" as they drove off, doing that rural one-finger steering wheel salute.
I hate to tell you but people are driving wasted a lot more than you realise in New Zealand and P is at epidemic levels in our small towns, the Hampdens and Herberts red in tooth and nail with arson and gang patches. A lot of people are very badly off financially, many are mentally fragile, and yet they are the opposite of selfish, kind to anyone with less. New Zealand is not the happy place the Flight of the Conchords made it seem. People are angry: at the Chinese for buying up the country, at Aucklanders, angry that our rivers are filthy and that the rich just keep getting richer. They feel that nothing can be done, are resigned to their voices going unheard. But over the past seven months, I listened, walked miles in their shoes, and it changed me for the better.
Never again will I be inside my car looking out without remembering how it feels to be outside looking in, and I’ll be voting for them next weekend.