A hitchhiker’s guide to humanity
An Irishman’s Diary in which Frank McNally recalls lifts given and received
In fact, hitch-hiking seems to be alive and well all across Europe. Only last month in Pamplona, I met a young Canadian who planned to be in London two days later. He had very little money, he claimed, but he was confident of getting there on time, thanks to the kindness of strangers. Of course, he wouldn’t be standing anywhere with his thumb out. His strategy was to go to motorway cafes and approach drivers in person.
I never did that during my hitch-hiking years – there weren’t many motorway cafes in Ireland then. Nor did I ever as much as write a sign with my destination on it. Partly, this was because the distances involved didn’t justify such calculation. But it was also philosophical thing.
If you weren’t in a hurry, it was more interesting to get multiple, short lifts, than one long one. You met more people. You found yourself standing in places where you would never otherwise have stopped. And the experience of conversing with several different drivers was usually more educational than a single lift.
There were exceptions. Once, for example, I got a lift all the way home from Dublin with an affable but quiet-spoken man who, it emerged, was in the music business. In response to questions, he admitted having played with a who’s who of Irish music, from Christy Moore to Van Morrison. Yet I had no idea who he was.
Finally, getting out of his car and thanking him, I had to ask. He turned out to be Arty McGlynn, the brilliant but self-effacing guitarist with a stellar array of groups including Planxty, De Danann, and Patrick Street. He was himself on the way home, I think, to Tyrone.
And I mention him now in part because his native county has been in the dock of public opinion lately, accused, among other things, of injuring the beautiful innocence of Monaghan football. Much of the criticism is no doubt justified. But I have met many Tyrone people down the years, especially while hitching. And in the philosophical spirit of which I spoke, I have no hesitation saying that, outside GAA pitches, they’re usually quite nice.