Roadside Americans: The Rise and Fall of Hitchhiking in a Changing Nation

Roadside Americans: The Rise and Fall of Hitchhiking in a Changing Nation

by Jack Reid


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Between the Great Depression and the mid-1970s, hitchhikers were a common sight for motorists, as American service members, students, and adventurers sought out the romance of the road in droves. Beats, hippies, feminists, and civil rights and antiwar activists saw "thumb tripping" as a vehicle for liberation, living out the counterculture's rejection of traditional values. Yet, by the time Ronald Reagan, a former hitchhiker himself, was in the White House, the youthful faces on the road chasing the ghost of Jack Kerouac were largely gone—along with sympathetic portrayals of the practice in state legislatures and the media.

In Roadside Americans, Jack Reid traces the rise and fall of hitchhiking, offering vivid accounts of life on the road and how the act of soliciting rides from strangers, and the attitude toward hitchhikers in American society, evolved over time in synch with broader economic, political, and cultural shifts. In doing so, Reid offers insight into significant changes in the United States amid the decline of liberalism and the rise of the Reagan Era.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469655000
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/30/2020
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 77,192
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jack Reid is a scholar of American culture. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Jack Reid's Roadside Americans is a high-octane adventure into hitchhiking culture and automobile devotion. The amount of historical research Reid undertook is astounding. Every page rumbles with fine writing and fresh insights. Highly recommended!—Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race

Hitchhiking may have been replaced by ride-sharing services like Uber, but as Reid shows, its disappearance is a symbol of the reassertion of traditional values in the face of social fracture. This book calls these values into question by asking what Americans have lost in their unwillingness to give a ride to a stranger by the side of the road.—Susan S. Rugh, author of Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations

It turns out that hitchhiking has been about a lot more than moving from place to place. In this smart and engaging book, Jack Reid asks why hitchhiking went from being a socially acceptable practice in the 1930s to one associated with danger and criminality by the 1980s. In the process of answering this question, he reconstructs the rich stories of the men and women who thumbed rides, the drivers who opened their doors to them, the authorities who policed them, and the critics who tried to understand them. Along the way, he shows how the fall of hitchhiking tracked a larger decline in trust and social reciprocity by the closing decades of the twentieth century. Roadside Americans is a major contribution to the cultural history of the open road.—Natasha Zaretsky, author of Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s

This rich and provocative history collects fascinating real-life experiences and anecdotes from nearly a century of hitchhiking. It is a unique lens through which we may better understand the changing nature of mobility, identity, political resistance, and inequality in America.—Randy McBee, author of Born To Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

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