J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI warned motorists against picking up hitchhikers in this anti-hitchhiking poster. "Is he a pleasant companion or a sex maniac?"

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI warned motorists against picking up hitchhikers in this anti-hitchhiking poster. “Is he a pleasant companion or a sex maniac?”

One hazard of packing for a move is that books can distract you from getting anything packed. So I’ll limit my gawking to one every few hours. The first I’m blogging about, “The Hitchhiker’s Field Manual” (1973), was pretty surprised the Deep South was not more hostile to freaks.

I picked up this little gem by Paul DiMaggio at a “Friends of the Public Library” sale eons ago, and I’m surprised it lasted until Dollar-a-Bag Day. Naturally, I was curious when I ran across it on my shelves about what it had to say about where I am leaving, Alabama, and where I am heading, Michigan (I’ll excerpt that chapter in another post). You can snag a copy of your own on Amazon (low price: $5, used, of course). Kirkus Reviews was complimentary, calling it “A useful, cautionary, and generally encouraging thumber’s guide to cross-country travel.”

The author laid on a heaping helping of stereotypes about the South, trotting out fears of rednecks and anxiety about provincial culture. But he still thought Alabama was pretty mellow, at least compared to other states. “The South is not the bummer it is cracked up to be,” he wrote in one chapter introduction. “If there is an exception to that rule, it is Mississippi.”

Ah, then. But what about Alabama? Here are some excerpts:

  • “There is something about the name Alabama that strikes fear into the heart of the Northern or Western freak. I’ve been trying to figure out just how much of this is real and how much is cultural paranoia. The answer not surprisingly is a little of each.”
  • “For one thing, everyone sees alien environments as more threatening than familiar ones. In your own home area you go with the flow; in foreign climes many people, especially freaks, give off uptight vibrations, causing a reciprocal reaction. Thus you should take care while traveling through the deep South, but don’t get freaked out by it. …
  • “Hitching in the deep South does present some real problems to the non-Southerner. … In many areas, particularly in parts of Alabama and Mississippi, there is still a great suspicion of and dislike for Northerners. Often this hostility can be broken down by genuine friendliness on your part. However it is true that Southern culture is more conservative and conventionally oriented., and that a freaky appearance will elicit more hostility than in other areas, although not that much more than in the Midwest. … Finally, Southerners tend to still take seriously ideas of good manners and respect for elders. Thus a great emphasis is placed on consensus and formality….
  • The incarnation of all that is bad in the Southern character is the redneck. If you travel through the South you will probably encounter him. He is violent, opinionated, and if he is drunk, he may insult or even attack you. …
  • The opposite side of the coin is that many aspects of Southern culture work in favor of the hitchhiker, especially if he looks fairly straight. If Southerners tend as a group to be suspicious of outsiders, they also tend to be friendly and open, at least superficially, to people in general. Southern hospitality is more than a myth. In the percentage of rides in whcih intoxicants are offered to the hitchhiker, the South is rivaled only by California. (In the South, you get beer and booze, in California dope.)

Wow, man. So many negative vibes about the South! But wait. There’s a flip side to the 1973 freak stereotypes about Southerners:

  • “Southerners are very often amicable and generous, and almost always courteous and civil. The pace of life is slow by Northern and West coast standards, and most people will either be cordial or mind their own business. And Southern freaks are mong the world’s nicest people.
  • “So even in Alabama, which is next to Mississippi, the deepest of the deep South, it is far from impossible to hitchhike. First, as I said before, stay out of small towns altogether. Never go into bars. Stay on the interstates. Hitchhiking busts are rare and less of a danger than local vagrancy or loitering hassles. If you stay on the main roads and don’t look outrageously freaky, you should have much trouble.”

DiMaggio provided several local notes about which cities were more tolerant, what local statues said about where hitchhiking was permitted, and so on. But I’ll close with his note on the state’s two major college towns:

  • “Finally there are two major universities in Alabama: Auburn and the University of Alabama. Both of these are pretty friendly if you can find the right people.”

DiMaggio noted the phone number for crisis centers in Auburn and Tuscaloosa, as well as numbers for Outreach of Huntsville, which it noted was “Jesus people.”