I picked up a hitch hiker this morning. It’s something I do. Having hitched myself for years as a youth (before National Express and Megabus priced it out of the market) I now pay back the good karma when ever possible. I’ve hitched up and down the country and all over Europe. I’ve talked people out of killing themselves (by driving into the next motorway bridge, with me in the cab) and I’ve listened to lectures on life, ideas, places, people and things – including a 6 hour talk from a guy who pioneered a type of washing machine timing ’emulator’ – all the way from from Berne in Switzerland to Munich in Germany. Fascinating for the first half hour, then… so so.
The knowledge acquired about a destination is often second to none. I/We often knew the best places to go, the best places to stay an typically had some brilliant conversation along the way and on top of all that, it’s totally free, very green and a fairly reliable mode of transport. Most people have a very negative view of hitching, and yes, you do get the horror stories, but (fantasy world time) if it was socially acceptable and (admittedly) totally safe – to the point where all road users either practiced it or accepted it, the roads could have a lot less cars on them. Count the amount of spare seats you see around you (including those in your own car) on your next car journey and think, all these people, all going roughly the same direction… logistics technology could sort out the rest. Anyway – I digress..
In the just under an hour I spent with Jeff we mainly talked about his troubles. From my experience, it’s normally the other way round. It’s normally the hitcher who takes the listener role whilst the lift giver does the talking. I didn’t mind taking the role of listener today though. A blues man with a guitar on his way to Lancaster to busk. He – like so many others – has been hit by hard times financially recently and is doing what ever possible to make ends meet. He recently had a good busking run in Lancaster, so after setting off from Hartlepool at 05:00 this morning, his convoluted, ‘any progress is good progress’ route parked him in Harrogate at around 08:00 this morning. He told me of the woes of hitching (it seems that it’s got harder in the 15+ years since I last rode on the opposable thumb express). He told me about the bad attitude that a lot of people seem to have towards hitchers. I’ve experienced this first hand (first thumb) – getting obscene gestures from some, and the oh so not funny slowing down then speeding off trick.
He also told me the sad story of how he feels he really wants to get back into the system, back into work. He’d done taxi driving but he’d let his licence lapse and couldn’t afford to renew it. He told me that he was 61 now and how he’s only got 4 years left of official work left in him but how he’d like to work into his 70s – or (as he put it) if he was still breathing, he’d want to be working.
His wife apparently keeps telling him he’s getting too old for all this (meaning the busking). He said he didn’t know what else he could do. This was the point when I stopped listening and started asking.
“What other passions have you got?” I asked – knowing already that music had a big comfy sofa installed in his heart.
“Believe it or not, I did a BA in Performing Arts.” Said he.
He alluded to the dance side of things being a young persons game – but there was a hint of a ‘maybe’, from the acting suggestion. I then started proffering, rather enthusiastically, “Yea, get your name down with an acting agency – there’s bound to be someone casting for a someone like you” and went on to suggest that for some gigs, his exact age could be a total advantage. He reminisced about some past work he was lined up for but I think.. I hope.. I got him thinking. I really hope he takes me up on my advice, and gets a cool acting gig, gets a lead part in an amazing film and thanks (in a powerful, emotive interview) the anonymous driver who gave him the sage advice and launched his illustrious career.
I’d asked him If I could take his photo – I took one using my phone as featured here (unfortunately with his eyes closed..) and I took one with my LOMO LC-A. Hopefully that’ll fair better. He seemed to like the idea of featuring him in my 100 strangers project as well. He told me his name – J B Butterworth and I’ve since found a few links – this one’s got a bunch JB Butterworth recordings. If you’re reading this Jeff – best of luck with everything. I hope it all works out for you.