Rites of Passage: Hitchhiking

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Thumb out, el amarillo, liftersplaats, lottery


In the 1934 film “It Happened One Night,” after Clark Gable’s thumb-out hitchhiking attempts fail, Claudette Colbert hitches up her skirt and flaunts a stockinged-knee to a passing car, immediately winning them a ride. Less common in the U.S. than it used to be, this rite of spontaneous roadside travel differs from country to country.

Hitchhikers in Vicksburg, Miss., 1936. Photo by Walker Evans.

Travelers in Cuba can hike a ride with el amarillo — “yellow guy,” in reference to the bright uniforms of the administrators—along major thoroughfares where government vehicles are required to pick up hitchhikers. With water, peso-priced food, and 24-hour indoor waiting areas, travelers can wait at these punto amarillos until—for a small number of pesos—an officer will find them a ride.

The Dutch Liftersplaats are sign-marked roadside stops for hitchikers, with the recognizable thumb-out image marking locations scattered throughout the country but most common in university towns.

Similarly, Israel’s trempiyadas are often designated areas next to bus stops, with the “trempists” seeking rides by extending a hand far from the body and pointing to the ground.

From 1958 until the early 1990s, the Polish National Tourist Board made hitchhiking an official mode of travel. They gave hitchhikers identification cards with insurance, as well as sold booklets with coupons for riders to give to drivers, who could then enter them into a lottery or trade them in for prizes.

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