On hitchhiking and psychic leaps

Book 5, 72-73

Hitchhiking in America is a perpetual attempt to try to overcome people's fear and make it a positive experience for them to pick you up. When you see the thrilling red brake lights and rush up in the dark and tear open the car door only to look into the barrel of a frightened driver's gun you know that it is to your mutual advantage and security that you should be forced to show the contents of your pockets or passport in this way.

Hitchhiking in South Carolina

Trust can be promoted with a nice elaborate sign. I experiment with all kinds of slogans such as "Saving fuel for you" and "Bible belt - and no Good Samaritan?", but sad to say the only thing which gives people real trust is advertising that I am not American. Trust is essential for demographic hitch-hiking. Rides with women is among hitch-hikers regarded as a special psychic encouragement and security after all the aggressions of so-called "rednecks" and "perverts."

But women are a problem, too. Since American women are very open and unlike female drivers in Europe often invite you home, they make themselves extremely vulnerable. On the one hand it is important always to let the woman set the boundaries of the new friendship if you have even a hope of avoiding the sexism inevitably imposed on you as a man by a society which has never given you the choice of whether or not to become a sexist or racist, but only of trying to counter-act the negative acts such suffering causes.

Without an awareness of your suffering you are bound to hurt the oppressed with your "master-vibrations." On the other hand you cannot just - as with male drivers - float along into any situation, as you can then easily cause hurt feelings.

Even the most competent vagabond makes mistakes here, not least because you yourself are so vulnerable and the immense hardships on the road often make you fall in love with types you would never otherwise open up to. I had a striking experience of giving such injurious signals when a driver offered me the so-called "love drug" MDA which makes you unbelievably in love with all people. But the next ride I had was with a stiff 80 year old woman who due to my ungovernable love couldn't help being affected and in the course of the next hours began to behave like an amorous teenager. So we were both left a bit crestfallen when the intoxication disappeared.

Among the most beautiful things you experience as a vagabond are, however, such relationships with old people whom you one way or another manage to evade in normal life. They are the most harmonious group for the hitchhiker as they - unlike working people - live on the same time level as the vagabond and furthermore can give your journey its important fourth dimension: the historical perspective. When you hear statements from them like "What this country needs is another great depression to bring us all together again" you experience the enormous alienation which makes being together with the vagabond so important for these people.

Hitchhiking in Cambridge, Mass.But the hyperactive ones can kill you with their psychic leaps! In Florida a 72-year old rich man picked me up and when he heard that I photographed he made me his private photographer. He wanted me to expose the "filthy rich" on Palm Beach and took me to the most exclusive parties, where we wallowed in champagne, women and multimillionaires, immediately afterward taking both me and luxurious gifts over to the black slums in West Palm Beach or the slave camps outside the city, and the next moment driving around to report these "criminal" conditions to police, courts and city councils. From six in the morning to two at night he stormed and raged over the injustices. If we were lost, he would stop anywhere to ask directions. One night it was outside a full suburban church. He ran in, stopped the service, presented me as a minister's son from Denmark, then delivered a thunderous indignant sermon after which he conducted the choir. After half an hour the congregation lay in fits of ringing laughter and he suddenly remembered his real mission and sent church-goers to their cars to get maps, after which a large circle lay on the church floor to find "Indian Road". Every day he had new projects.

One day he learned from some young people about "organic farming" and got so inspired that we got started right away on procuring four truckloads of manure from the Everglades in order to fly it over to his estate in the Bahamas. After a week like this I was totally defeated from lack of sleep and proportion and had to leave. Oh, how I enjoyed the freedom on the highway again! But the next ride was with an 82-year old woman who was so hyper-active that she only napped while I was actually driving. If she had not sent me up to Philadelphia a few days later to get one of her cars and let me use her credit card to invite my poor friends from the cotton and tobacco fields as well as passing drifters and hitch-hikers to the finest restaurants on the way back to Florida, she might very well have worn me out completely.

One reason I never can get tired of traveling in America is that it is the only country I know in which you can take such psychic leaps almost daily. Sometimes when I lived with, for instance, a poor welfare mother in a northern ghetto, in order not to burden her food budget I would go out hitch-hiking up north of the city where the rich people live. Often I was picked up by a well-off businessman and when I entertained him with my travel stories I would occasionally be invited home for dinner in his big home with central air conditioning.

During dinner I would then tell about how the mother with three children in the ghetto rarely could afford decent food. If I was with a conservative family they would usually then sooner or later say that I certainly was welcome to come and live with them, so that I didn't have to return to those conditions. But liberal families would normally load me up with expensive food items from the freezer and drive me all the way to the border of the ghetto and give me money for a taxi the rest of the way. "Here comes Robin Hood," I would laugh proudly when I came home.

Being a good vagabond, I had learned, is certainly a matter of give and take. One doctor in Skokie gave me eight pot roasts for a welfare mother in South Chicago and a businessman in North Philadelphia gave me a big bag of tokens, so the son in my family in South Phili wouldn't have to walk to Temple University.

In the South I rarely found the same effusive compassion for the poor, but the psychic leaps I experienced there too. One morning I was cutting firewood for this 104 year old woman in South Carolina. She and her 77 year old daughter usually had to cut all their firewood themselves.

Their shack resembled the medieval houses in the Open Air Museum in Copenhagen, but it did have a well though many others do not. The daughter's husband was 97 years old and all three slept in the same bed to keep warm when the fireplace turned cold in the morning. Their house was owned by the white landlord (living behind the trees in the rear) whom they paid $30 a month.

Later that day, although I had torn a big hole in my pants while cutting wood and wasn't wearing my short wig, as I usually did on such occasions, I managed to get into a press conference with Julie Nixon in Charleston. Nixon's daughter, who was visiting a home for handicapped children, walked around shaking hands with crippled children.

Afterwards the press asked her friendly questions. I managed to spoil the entire press meeting by quite simply asking her whether she didn't think it was hypocritical to visit these handicapped children after Nixon had just vetoed a bill to aid the handicapped. Julie Nixon became so embarrassed that she was unable to answer and the manager of the institution interrupted the performance with all possible diplomatic speed. At night when the visit was broadcast on TV my question had been censored out.

Letter to Mog, an American friend.


Copyright 2005 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.








the show
the photos
the reviews
Jacob Holdt