The first time my mother, Trina Mascott, and I hitch-hiked together was in July of 2012 in Boston. She’d flown in from California for a two-month stretch on the Island. We decided to break up her trip by meeting at a B & B on Beacon Hill. She was 92.
When you fly in from the west coast to Logan Airport, and then plunge into the last leg down to Woods Hole, the boat, the taxi, the yada yada, by the time you arrive at journey’s end, you’re D.O.A. Whether you’re 20 or 100, you collapse on whatever surface looks soft and not too flea-ridden. Pigeons could make a nest on your head. It takes days to snap out of jet lag.
So reunited on Beacon Hill, we decided to wander down to Charles Street for a bite to eat at that sandwich joint with the amber lamps and old booths; a place that looks like Edward Degas could stumble in at any time to sketch a ballerina at his table.
Trina and I were fine and dandy until we faced the steep incline of the cobbled lanes leading back to Joy Street. My mom’s a good sport, always up for an adventure but, shoot! She’s ancient. She makes an effort to walk every day in the desert, but unless you’re training for a marathon in the geriatric division, those old muscles wither away, and it’s not always possible to scuttle crab-like up Mt. Vernon Street.
We discussed calling a cab, but the idea seemed embarrassing to us, and also preposterous to the driver: we stood only a handful of blocks from our B & B.
“You want to hitch-hike?” I asked, mostly joking.
“Sure,” she said, again, always game.
I was the first to stick out my hand, 1960s style, with the low, dead thumb. Whenever a car approached, my mom hopped in front of me and performed a kind of wiggy Bing Crosby maneuver, the elbow crooked to deal out hand and thumb, back and forth. The whole thing was vintage 1930s, and I thought there must be a song to go along with it. “Going my way”? But where were the cute girls in tap shoes and short skirts?
And why did a number of cars pass us by?!
We were adorable and old! A double bonus!
Truth is, hitching has gone out of style. Oh, some people still do it, but drivers have built-in filters not to notice them. And why is this? Have we turned into a culture as distrusting as Our Miss Brooks clicking her heels down high school corridors?
After eight or nine cars motored past, a woman in a silver SUV picked us up. “I have a mother too!” she said with good cheer. “I know how hard these streets can be on elderly knees.” She chauffeured us straight to our door.
Chapter two: Hitching here
On a recent Friday, my mother and I decided to have lunch at the Anchors in Edgartown, seat of Edgartown Council On Aging, featuring a dining room with views of the water, plus the price was right: $5 for an appetizer, a full meal, and dessert.
Now, how to get there. I have no car, so the bus would have been the perfect conveyance. Except that we had another crazy notion to hitch-hike.
“Let’s wear something cute!” said Trina, novelist, world traveler, passionate reader with a lifelong subscription to the New Yorker. She has pale persimmon-red hair, intelligent brown eyes, a 5′ 2″ shrinking frame, and ridiculously poor hearing.
As for dressing cute, she always looks nicely packaged, in her own elderly boho way, that day decked out in blue sneakers, black pedal-pushers, and a kelly green shirt composed of accordion ruffles that shrink down to a baseball-sized mitt when no one’s wearing it, but fully filling out this 93 year-old gal’s compact figure.
I put on a colorful skirt, a rose-colored hoodie, and platform Fly London shoes.
I’d finally convinced my mother to walk with a cane to give herself a quick jolt of balance during those times when she found her legs doing the hoochy kootchy involuntarily.
Trina admitted, grudgingly, that the cane was a boon to her walks. Thus we strolled down to the bottom of Ocean Park to hitch a ride east along Sea View Avenue.
Again, I stuck out the bored hippy chick’s thumb. My mom bobbled her arm back and forth, back and forth, as if she were ready to burst into song.
A number of cars passed us by!
How could they ignore us? We were still adorable, and older than ever!
Did we look like a mother/daughter duo from Breaking Bad?
The truth hurts, but even here on the Vineyard where all of us used to constantly hitch-hike — remember those days? — this old mode of travel has gone by the wayside. Sure, some people still do it. Some people still pick them up but, for the most part, the practice is as dead as riding the rail cars.
Finally a big silver Dodge van trundled to the side of the road. Two couples in their forties picked us up, a host couple with a house off Slough Cove Road in Edgartown, and their vacation-happy guests from Weymouth. They chatted us up without a hint that they found anything quirky about a mom and a daughter hitching along Beach Road. All the same, you could tell that some subtext of compassion lay at the heart of their mission; they took us all the way to the door of the Anchors.
After a delicious lunch, we decided the one thing the establishment lacked on this overcast day was a good all-purpose bar. Around the corner, we found The Newes, and plunked ourselves down on the high stools before the counter. The weather, with its strong presentiments of deepening fall, made us nostalgic for an old-timey comfort drink. We asked the young, wide-eyed bartender for two hot rum toddies. His eyes grew wider. He appeared to be mute.
I urged, “You know, with tea and brandy or whisky with honey and lemon? Never heard of a hot rum toddy? Do you have anything else that’s remotely similar?”
He stared, lost in some untranslatable quandary.
I prodded. “Something hot with something alcoholic?…. You can talk now.”
Finally he said, “Irish coffee?”
The tall glass potions he served were heavily spiked. We spooned the whipped cream, and sucked up half the mixture with the straw. At the point when Trina and I knew we would either need to stop drinking or nap on the floor, we picked ourselves up. We legged it all the way up to where traffic starts its trend out of town. We thrust out our thumbs.
Once again, car after car after truck passed us by!
We were still adorable, and old, and now drunk!
At last a battered blue Honda swerved over to pick us up. In it were two Brazilian ladies, one an Island resident for eight years, her younger companion only newly arrived. Trina and I raved about how we’d always wanted to visit Rio. They regaled us with a travelogue about Brasilia, Iguazu Falls, and the archipelago of islands called Fernando de Noronha.
What mostly impressed us about our ride-givers was their kindness; they were angels and they seemed elated that they could perform this act of mercy for two unlikely wayfarers. As with our earlier car hosts, they were eager to take us to our doorstep, but we asked to be dropped off across from Ocean Park where our luncheon journey had begun.
The next day, I found myself in brief possession of a friend’s old brown Toyota, my mother and I enroute to hear Susan Wilson read from her new book, A Man Of His Own, at The Bunch of Grapes. We’d only driven west for three minutes on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs, when I spied a young woman hitching by the side of the road. Without even thinking about it — that’s the important part: you just do it; by the time you deliberate you’re halfway to the drawbridge — I pulled off the road, and invited her into the rear of the Toyota as I shunted aside piles of books in the backseat.
The woman was tall and thin, with long brown hair, and she was Serbian. This led my mother to reminisce about travels in Yugoslavia before the war, and our rider, born after peace had sorted itself out, knew nothing except that her parents had once traveled extensively, and then the fighting had caused them to stay put in Belgrade.
Unbeknownst to any of us, she dropped her phone on the floor of the car. She resided, it turned out, with my old friend Sue Collinson in East Chop. When our Serbian hitch-hiker told Sue she’d been given a ride by someone named Holly with her mother from California, Sue emailed me, I dropped off the phone in an envelope with the Serbian girl’s name on it at Our Market. All should be well at the time of this writing.
Small and comforting little island, huh?
Let’s all start hitching again.
And from Trina Mascott
Hitchhiking was a national sport in the 1930s when I was a teenager, because only a small percentage of people had cars. College kids did it, hobos did it, even my dignified mother did it when I was 11, and I sprained my ankle while walking with her on an Illinois country road. She not only thumbed a ride, but I watched in astonishment as she flirted with the handsome man driving a Pierce Arrow convertible who picked us up and took us to a doctor’s office.
Still, I wasn’t impressed with that mode of travel. Nor did I care much about buses and trains. I was in love with airplanes.
I was three years old in 1923, spending the summer at our cottage on Lake Michigan, when our neighbors began running down to the beach shouting, “It’s a plane! It’s a plane!”
My mother snatched me up, screaming with the rest of them, and everyone pointed at the sky. A lone single-engine flying machine followed the shoreline about 300 feet above our beach. I wanted to be up there in the plane instead of down there on the sand.
During WWII, my husband, Larry, was stationed on an army base near Tyler, Texas, while I worked at the local radio station as a disk jockey. When Larry was granted a furlough over the 1943 Christmas holiday, we traveled to Mexico City. On the flight back to Texas, our small DC-3, a U.S. army surplus plane, lost power, and failed to lift up over the mountains. The pilot tipped the plane sideways to squeeze through a narrow pass before he crash-landed in a farmer’s field.
Was I scared? Did I swear off flying? Hell no. The chickens on the ground were more frightened than I was.
But now that I’ve spent a little time hitch-hiking around Boston and the Island, I’m thinking I might thumb my way back to California.
Holly Nadler is a frequent Times contributor who lives in Oak Bluffs. Her mother, Trina Mascott, is a retired journalist who lives in California.