HITCHING AND LEARNING
I began hitch-hiking out of necessity, but before long it became an obsession, and then a serious research project. It all began last fall when I took a job as an unpaid Media Advisor (really a PR person) for “No Nails Left Behind,” a small non-profit in the upper reaches of the Bronx that provides jobs for formerly incarcerated residents of the Borough.
(The organization’s name was a play on the wildly successful, much admired education program, “No Child Left Behind.”)
Basically NNLB’s workers scour construction sites for damaged nails, which they collect and then straighten out for resale. I thought it was a great story that more people should know about–and perhaps contribute to (because the income from the sales of one-used nails alone, we feared, might not be enough to keep the program operating).
The public transportation from our apartment in the upper east side of Manhattan to the northern edge of the Bronx was inadequate and time-consuming, and so I ended up taking a Lyft or Uber twice a day, five days a week. I couldn’t justify that expense, and so I decided to hitch-hike.
Standing on the corner of 79th and 3rd–for what seemed like hours–was beyond frustrating, and so, in desperation, one morning I made myself this sign:
Within minutes I had a ride! I think on that first day it took three separate rides to get to NNLB’s office with only about 10 minutes of waiting. Getting home was equally easy. So that’s how I traveled to work for the next few weeks, saving big bucks and working on schemes to publicize NNLB.
Unfortunately, that all came to a screeching halt when one morning the organization’s Director called us all together to say that she had to close the operation. It wasn’t the nails sales, she said. It was the fact that seven nail gatherers had been arrested the previous day; it turns out that going on construction sites at night was illegal, something no one had thought of.
So I was out of a job, but the effectiveness of hitch-hiking intrigued me. I always asked the drivers why they had picked me up. What was it about my being a retired teacher that led them to stop? I heard great stories and began taking copious notes, not sure of what I might do with the information.
It was my wife who suggested a comparative study, a way to measure the status of teaching versus other professions. Viola! I began making signs:
That’s just one. I also posed as a Retired CPA, Doctor, Lawyer, and Politician. The results were stunning. Whenever I displayed the “Retired Teacher” sign, I got a ride within minutes. By contrast, most drivers ignored me when I self-identified as a retired lawyer or dentist.
Posing as a retired dentist got me a mouthful of nasty criticism of my profession.
EVERY driver who saw my “Retired Politician” sign seemed to speed up; a few gave me the finger. In 40+ days of trying, I didn’t get a single ride!
This complex chart shows the average number of cars passing me by, per occupation.
|CARS PASSING ME||TEACHER||CPA||LAWYER||MD||DENTIST||POL|
I also kept track of time, devoting one hour of hitching to each profession every day. I went “off the clock” while in a car, and I limited the rides to about 10 minutes. I carried both a stopwatch and a clicker to keep count of passing cars. I used the audio recording app on my smartphone to keep track of results.
A sophisticated Chi Square analysis of my research results shows statistical significance to the 99th percentile, meaning that if one repeated this experiment 100 times, it would produce the same results 99 times. A longer and more formal version of my peer-reviewed work will appear in the highly regarded quarterly Annals of Digital Mobility (ADM) this October.
I have no doubt that, had I pursued a career in academia, this research would have resulted in my being awarded tenure.
That’s why, when the pandemic passes, I will continue my research project, which I’m calling ‘Thumbs Across America.’ This research involved only New York City, but I plan on doing field research in the entire Lower 48, if my wife will allow me to hitch-hike around the country.
I am certain that I will discover that all of America cares about public school teachers as much as New Yorkers do.