The golden thumb
Laurie Bennett showed me how to hitchhike. We were both bellhops at Britannia Hotel on Lake of Bays in 1963. Ben, who remains a good friend, wanted to get home to Meaford to see his girlfriend. I tagged along, promised a blind date. Neither of us had a car, so at his urging, we set out to hitchhike. The twenty minutes to Huntsville was an easy ride along with someone from the hotel. But so was the remainder. We’d hardly put out a thumb when we were on our way to Barrie, then across Highway 26 to Meaford. The travel time was about the same as driving ourselves. I was astounded.
Over the next few months, I put my newfound skill to good use as I went to my hometown of Guelph as well as hither and yon. Sometimes I’d have a hand-lettered sign saying, “Student to Huntsville,” but for the most part just stuck out a hopeful thumb. Most of the rides were with men on their own. Maybe they were looking for company. Only once did I feel awkward. A man talked a lot about a bellhop he knew at the Royal York Hotel who seemed to have homosexual tendencies but that was as bad as things ever got.
During the next summer, when I worked in the newsroom at the London Free Press, I wrote an article about what I called “riding the golden thumb.” The feature was given great play and stretched all the way across the bottom of a section front. Hitchhiking was popular at the time but a few years later seemed to fade. Perhaps more young people had cars or maybe the world got riskier.
In 1967, my final year at Western, I was interviewed on campus by the head of personnel at Maclean Hunter. Our talk seemed to go well but I never heard back. I decided one night to go to Toronto the next morning and present myself at his office to precipitate an answer. I had only enough cash in hand for a one-way train ticket and arrived at his office at 9 a.m. He set up appointments with four other colleagues and I was hired, the only graduate they took on that year. I had just enough money left to take the subway north as close as I could to Highway 401, walked to the highway, and hitched a ride back in good time for my 5:30 p.m. evening shift at the Free Press. The Golden Thumb never worked better.