Laurie Bennett showed me how to hitchhike. We were both bellhops at Britannia Hotel on Lake of Bays in 1963. Ben, who remains a good friend, wanted to get home to Meaford to see his girlfriend. I tagged along, promised a blind date. Neither of us had a car, so at his urging, we set out to hitchhike. The twenty minutes to Huntsville was an easy ride with someone from the hotel. But so was the remainder. We’d hardly put out a thumb when we were on our way to Barrie, then across Highway 26 to Meaford. The travel time was about the same as driving ourselves. I was astounded.
Over the next few months, I put my newfound skill to good use as I went to my hometown of Guelph as well as hither and yon. Sometimes I’d have a hand-lettered sign saying, “Student to Huntsville,” but for the most part just stuck out a hopeful thumb. Most of the rides were with men on their own. Maybe they were looking for company. Only once did I feel awkward. A man talked a lot about a bellhop he knew at the Royal York Hotel who seemed to have homosexual tendencies but that was as bad as things ever got.
During the next summer, when I worked in the newsroom at the London Free Press, I wrote an article about what I called “riding the golden thumb.” The feature was given great play and stretched all the way across the bottom of a section front. Hitchhiking was popular at the time but a few years later seemed to fade. Perhaps more young people had cars or maybe the world got riskier.
In 1967, my final year at Western, I was interviewed on campus by the head of personnel at Maclean Hunter. Our talk seemed to go well but I never heard back. I decided one night to go to Toronto the next morning and present myself at his office to precipitate an answer. I had only enough cash in hand for a one-way train ticket and arrived at his office at 9 a.m. He set up appointments with four other colleagues and I was hired, the only graduate they took on that year. I had just enough money left to take the subway north as close as I could to Highway 401, walked to the highway, and hitched a ride back in good time for my 5:30 p.m. evening shift at the Free Press. The Golden Thumb never worked better.