The Green Hornet and I were recently reunited. Weird, I’d completely forgotten it was an automatic and for a moment was flabbergasted (and not in the sense of the Washington Post neologism invitational: appalled over how much weight you’ve gained). Why would a bogan like me buy an automatic? I can only blame being not in my right mind at the end of last year. The first thing I did, after a selfie, was drive it into the gutter because my spatial awareness distance-judging thing was totally off. Understandable as I’ve been recalibrated myself, my clock wound back a million miles from the middleclass twonk who once mocked a hitchhiker at a dinner party.
I have learnt much from those seven months, about the people who live in this country, dressing for the prevailing weather, and myself.
To begin with, I hated begging lifts. It is a position of subservience, standing by the roadside, and I considered myself too good for it. But I had no choice, a big Monty Python cartoon foot had come down from the sky, squashed the hubris out of me and belief in a world that didn’t exist, a world where I was a special rainbow farting unicorn – so I got over it, began to look forward to chatting with whomever stopped, but I was living by myself in the wops, starved of conversation.
Interesting facts: not one rich person ever picked me up. Younger male drivers consistently failed to hide their disappointment upon discovering the little blonde Shelia was in her forties. I always felt sorry for them, objects in the rear mirror being hotter than you think – although being short and blonde (and often wearing gumboots) ensured I never had to wait very long.
Apart from the married compliance officer in a Holden Colorado on his way to Gore who suggested we stop at Shag Point so I could give him a blow job, hitchhiking is remarkably safe in New Zealand. I could always tell if someone was a creep because they would always and I mean without fail, say, “Aren’t you worried about how dangerous this is? Aren’t you worried someone might hurt you?” this happened four times and each time it was a man, and it invariably felt like they were projecting, that they harboured violent tendencies, secret desires and, given opportunity and a guarantee they’d get away with it, would act on them. Wolves in business suits.
People would tell me everything, a stranger they would never see again, even though I did see some more than once in wildly different contexts. I saw the pulverised wreck of a metallic green SS Commodore I had caught a lift to Waitati in a week before it was flattened by a truck. I was told about murders, mayoral fornication and the true cost of five fourteen-hour days away from the wife and kids. Regularly hitching from Purakanui to North Otago visit the Mighty Mix Master I inhabited a small world where everyone knew or was related to him and they’d sometimes drop me to his door, talk about the price of eggs and yell “Hoo roo” as they drove off, doing that rural one finger steering wheel salute.
I hate to tell you but people are driving wasted a lot more than you realise in New Zealand and P is at epidemic levels in our small towns, the Hampdens and Herberts red in tooth and nail with arson and gang patches. A lot of people are very badly off financially, many are mentally fragile and yet they are the opposite of selfish, kind to anyone with less. New Zealand is not the happy place the Flight of the Conchords made it seem. People are angry: at the Chinese buying up the country, at Aucklanders, angry that our rivers are filthy that the rich just keep getting richer. They feel that nothing can be done, are resigned to their voices going unheard. But over the last seven months, I listened, walked miles in their shoes, and it changed me for the better. Never again will I be inside my car looking out without remembering how it feels to be outside looking in, and I’ll be voting for them next weekend.