Roadside Americans

The Rise and Fall of Hitchhiking in a Changing Nation

By Jack Reid

264 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5500-0
    Published: March 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5501-7
    Published: February 2020

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Awards & distinctions

One of Smithsonian Magazine Ten Best Books About Travel of 2020

Between the Great Depression and the mid-1970s, hitchhikers were a common sight for motorists, as American service members, students, and adventurers sought out the romance of the road in droves. Beats, hippies, feminists, and civil rights and antiwar activists saw "thumb tripping" as a vehicle for liberation, living out the counterculture's rejection of traditional values. Yet, by the time Ronald Reagan, a former hitchhiker himself, was in the White House, the youthful faces on the road chasing the ghost of Jack Kerouac were largely gone—along with sympathetic portrayals of the practice in state legislatures and the media.

In Roadside Americans, Jack Reid traces the rise and fall of hitchhiking, offering vivid accounts of life on the road and how the act of soliciting rides from strangers, and the attitude toward hitchhikers in American society, evolved over time in synch with broader economic, political, and cultural shifts. In doing so, Reid offers insight into significant changes in the United States amid the decline of liberalism and the rise of the Reagan Era.

About the Author

Jack Reid is a scholar of American culture. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
For more information about Jack Reid, visit the Author Page.


"Weaves together anecdote, interviews and historical record to present a nuanced look not just at hitchhiking's ebb and flow but the socioeconomic and political reasons behind the shift in public thinking and behavior."--Arizona Daily Sun

“An essential look at history that isn't often examined. . . . A decent, even delightful, read that's perfect for trippers, former hippies, and history buffs. If you’re armchair traveling this summer, it gets a thumbs up.”—Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

“Taking a more particularized approach . . . Reid, an independent cultural scholar, explores hitchhiking in the US. He highlights the heydays of the phenomenon from the 1920s to the 1980s, emphasizing that hitchhiking always maintained various proponents, opponents, and practitioners. . . . Roadside Americans provides a thoughtful and at times intriguing examination of a once storied, if controversial, cultural practice.”--CHOICE

“This rich and provocative history collects fascinating real-life experiences and anecdotes from nearly a century of hitchhiking. It is a unique lens through which we may better understand the changing nature of mobility, identity, political resistance, and inequality in America.”--Randy McBee, author of Born To Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist

"Hitchhiking may have been replaced by ride-sharing services like Uber, but as Reid shows, its disappearance is a symbol of the reassertion of traditional values in the face of social fracture. This book calls these values into question by asking what Americans have lost in their unwillingness to give a ride to a stranger by the side of the road."--Susan S. Rugh, author of Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations

"It turns out that hitchhiking has been about a lot more than moving from place to place. In this smart and engaging book, Jack Reid asks why hitchhiking went from being a socially acceptable practice in the 1930s to one associated with danger and criminality by the 1980s. In the process of answering this question, he reconstructs the rich stories of the men and women who thumbed rides, the drivers who opened their doors to them, the authorities who policed them, and the critics who tried to understand them. Along the way, he shows how the fall of hitchhiking tracked a larger decline in trust and social reciprocity by the closing decades of the twentieth century. Roadside Americans is a major contribution to the cultural history of the open road."--Natasha Zaretsky, author of Radiation Nation: Three Mile Island and the Political Transformation of the 1970s