I was out and about over the weekend delivering Xmas gifts to friends all over central Alberta. The weekend went well except for one annoying incident.
As I was trucking down the highway Saturday, Dec. 21, I saw a hitchhiker ahead, trudging through fairly deep snow piled up on the shoulder. As I passed the hitchhiker, ignoring his thumb in the air, I looked back in the rear view and saw the idiot was giving me the middle finger. I guess he was angry I didn’t stop for him.
With the amount of violent rural crime going on right now, stopping to give a ride to a stranger who obviously has an attitude or mental problem would be stupid. And I’m not stupid.
Also, I don’t recall seeing on my driver’s license, registration or insurance a note to the effect, “You are required to give free rides to freeloaders.” Don’t recall that at all.
The main thing that crossed my mind was this, though: seriously, no vehicle?
You have to walk the highway expecting handouts from strangers? And the most likely explanation is something to the effect, “I can’t afford a car.”
After I spent 1993 to 1995 in college getting my journalism diploma, I left Calgary with loads of debt, but a pretty optimistic attitude towards the future. I’m broke, I thought, but I have my education and I can’t wait to put it to work.
My first job was to secure reliable transportation, because every reporter who works for a community newspaper needs transportation. Maybe the city reporters can get away with using the transit train or city buses, but there’s nothing like that in rural Alberta. So many of your assignments are in out-of-the-way places too. Your own wheels are mandatory.
I managed to secure a brand new Geo Metro, a small, hatchback car made by GM that only had a three-cylinder motor. Not powerful, but extremely good on gas. The best part? I only had to pay about $90 a month for a brand new car. It was fortuitous that I found wheels that were cheap, because I had no idea what my pay rate in the world of community journalism would be.
After spending a year working in B.C. I moved back to Alberta and got a job in southern Alberta in 1996. It was in a nice town that had lots going on, so a great place to be a reporter.
However, my boss wasn’t exactly the most generous guy. It turned out after taxes I was bringing home about $800 a month. Not kidding. That’s what I was netting. With this budget I had to pay a student loan, car loan, rent, insurance, utility bills, groceries, fuel and have some kind of social life on top of that.
Even with that pathetic pay rate and all those bills, I still managed to keep my head above water. Plus, I managed to pay for a car and all the expenses associated with it.
So if you’re moping down the highway giving the finger to strangers who don’t stop for you, thinking “I’m doing this because I can’t afford a car,” I only have one response (other than the middle finger I returned to you through my back window).
Y’all aren’t trying hard enough. Put in a little effort, get a job, pay your bills and you’d be surprised what could happen.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.