Samantha Perry

The man looked lonely and pensive. Standing beside Route 460 in Princeton, he had a small bag by his feet and his thumb outstretched toward traffic.

I pondered if he was local, or a stranger traveling through town. And, I wondered, what was his story?


It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a hitchhiker. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this once-common practice seems to have subsided in our modern age.

Who needs to stand beside the road when there’s an app for Uber?

Of course, there are also headlines.

“Murder.” “Rape.” “Malicious assault.”

In this day and age who wants to be one-on-one with a random driver who may, or may not, be a serial killer?

Yes, I have trust issues.

I worry that anyone I meet might have kinship with our front-page stories that detail unspeakable deeds.

Is there a gun in that bag? Or, possibly worse for the imagination, a knife?


It’s “stranger danger” epitomized.


I began hearing warnings about hitchhikers as a teen. My mother was adamant that I never allow an unknown person in my vehicle, nor was I to ever get into a car with a stranger.

Around the same time, my father would regal us with stories about hitchhiking from Baltimore, Md., to southern West Virginia. His family had moved from the coalfields, but he was determined to see his high school sweetheart.

With no car, his thumb provided transportation. He met many interesting people, and was never harmed in the process.

Funny how times have changed — or at least our perception of it.


I recall walking to school in junior high because it seemed cooler than riding the bus. Trudging the short distance down the appropriately named River Road, neighbors would often stop and offer a ride.

I never hesitated to accept.

These were long-time friends — members of our community family. Evil didn’t lurk in Duhring — or Bluefield or Princeton, for that matter. If it did, we sure didn’t know about it.

Drugs were not rampant, thievery was not the norm and sexual assaults, if one occurred, were whispered about in hushed tones.

We lived in a picturesque postcard of Americana. and we didn’t know how lucky we had it.


As a youngster, riding bikes in the neighborhood was the norm. We would pop wheelies, drink Coke and dine on chocolate candy bars in a wide spot beside the road.

There was no fear, except when telling each other campfire stories and urban legends from the past. In those days, we had to work to be scared.

In this era, the biggest drug story was a rumor about someone’s uncle, cousin or college-age sibling smoking — omigod! — marijuana.

There was no Oxy. Or meth. Or heroin. In our naivety, peach wine coolers under the age of 21 was the biggest crime imaginable.


And now we’re here in 2023. It’s still a slice of Americana, but one laced with a seedy underside.

At times, druggies mar the view to the river and prostitutes walk the streets.

Law enforcement does a remarkable job of cleaning up the crime, but it’s a never-ending battle. How many arrests can be made when it’s our culture that has become askew?

There’s money in not being married and having babies.

There’s money in not having a job.

There’s money in being a druggie and not contributing to society.

What message are we sending?


I will not hesitate to pick up a stray dog or cat, but a stray human — well, it’s not going to happen. It goes back to those trust issues.

I read our headlines. I know what’s out there.

What if it’s not a gun or a knife, but a chainsaw in that bag?

The imagination goes wild.

And the cars continue on.


The hitchhiker seems safe, and I recall my dad’s recollections. What if he is trying to meet up with a long-lost loved one?

It’s a sweet thought, but one not strong enough to override the cautions of youth and breaking headlines of today.

As journalists we share stories. I wish the world were such that I could have known his tale.


The light turns green and, in seconds, the hitchhiker is a blur in the rear-view mirror.

I hope he got a ride.

(Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at Follow her @BDTPerry.)

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