November 30th 2015

This is the transcribed version of a talk I gave at work on Nov 30th 2015 for lightning talks. I have edited it slightly to fit the written form a little better, but other than that it's fairly true to the original.

This was going to be a piece of advice on hitch-hiking, but I realise that at least for myself when it comes to advice, I don't extract the same value if I don't Know in the capital-K kind of way where the advice is coming from, but I can hardly drag any readers of this piece out on the road next to me to really show them what I'm talking about.

I'd recommend you to close your eyes to really let your imagination work but this doesn't work well in writing, so keep them open instead and picture in your mind's eye yourself at the side of a dusty road on the Argentinian Pampas. Behind you lies the snow-clad peaks of the Andes, and in front of you lays an endless expanse of undulating plains populated here and there by a few cows who occasionally look at you quizzically.

The road you're standing next to is shimmering from the heat and only occasionally does a cumulus cloud drift between you and the relentless sun to give you a moment of welcome shade before it drifts onwards over the endless steppes.

You trying to go somewhere. The destination doesn't really matter that much. It could be anywhere really that isn't right here.

As you stand there, you are probably experiencing an odd role-reversal if you're anything like me. You see, in my everyday life I'm spoiled you might argue in the sense that I shape the world around me to accommodate my needs and desires. If I'm hungry for example, I exercise my control to walk over to a Sainsburys to buy a sandwich and in matters of a few moments I have transformed the world I inhabit to a world that includes me eating a sandwich. Similarly I can transport myself to most anywhere just by jumping on a bus or a train without much hassle at all. Most of my basic needs and craving can easily be satisfied by paying a small sum and so I have grown used to reshape my environment to suit my needs.

However as you stand there on the Argentinian Pampas you have no control. In fact it would be more accurate to say that the world is exercising it's control on you at any giving moment, be the shade of a passing cloud that toys with you or the momentary gaze of a cow. All there's left for you to do is to wait and to hope.

So you wait and you hope. And you wait and you hope. And you wait and you hope.

And while you wait you might start to realize that ultimately in the big perspective the value of this hitchhiking advice you're still waiting for me to dole out is pretty pointless (like most anything, one might add), because no matter how good the advice is, it's not going to make a car appear out there on the horizon. It won't even make a cloud provide a bit of shade for a moment longer.

But because this is only taking place in your imagination so far, let's make a car appear on the horizon. You see it coming over a hill in the distance and get ready to put on your friendliest demeans, but most important of all you raise your arm and pull out your thumb. If you take a moment to do this yourself as you read these lines, you'll most likely find the gesture a little silly, and believe me: The first time you stand at the side of a road holding your thumb out you will feel silly as well, because the gesture is such a cliché of a hitch-hiker that brings the mind back to the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the like.

However, being in a cliché is probably our best bet as the car approaches because the driver will at least be clear about our intentions and the last thing we want to do is for the driver to waste precious time wondering whether we want a ride or we just happen to be standing there in the roadside alone on the Pampas looking at the cows.

The driver has an interesting decision to make and they will have to make it fast. In the couple of second that elapse from the moment he sees you standing with your thumb out until the moment he passes you, they will have to decide whether to stop and pick you up. It's seems like a no brainer from your angle, but try to think of the pros and cons from a driver's side. On one hand they get to help a stranger and might pass a bit of tedious time travelling over the Pampas with some nice conversation. On the other hand you could be all kinds of trouble from making the seats dirty to killing the driver and their entire family.

It's a tricky proposition and when I think about it, it doesn't really surprise me that most drivers choose to drive past without as much as a nod. It's hard to argue with a rational dose of 'what could go wrong'.

You are lucky though. The driver stops just ahead of you and pulls off the road, so you grab your bag and walk over to the driver side window to see who your saviour is. The driver rolls down the window and we reach this odd inflection where it's suddenly your turn to figure out if this is your chance of a ride in the direction of wherever you're going, or if this person will murder you and your entire family.

I usually ask him where they are going. I figure this will give me a tactful way of opting out if I don't trust them by letting them know I'm going somewhere else entirely and thank them for stopping. To this day I have never rejected a driver though, so I'm not sure if that approach is really buying me anything. On the other hand I have never been killed either, but my advice on this matter might just be a case of surviver's bias. It's hard to say, even if I would like to argue that most people who have stopped to pick me up along the way have been wonderful, and I have a feeling the same is going to be the case for our imaginary driver.

So you trust the stranger and jump in the car and the driver starts driving down the road and you're elated. Partly because you're heading to wherever it is that you are going or at least away from where you were, but more importantly because another human being decided to help you out of the kindness of their soul without expecting anything else in return but a bit of conversation along the way.

And even though the Argentinian Pampas doesn't give a shit about you, and even though we're all ultimately powerless in this universe, we're still significant, to each other.