by William, Age 15
, Grade 9, Shekou international school, Shenzhen, GUANGZHOU CHINA
Teacher: Clayton Dowty
Junior Hitchhiking in Spokane, Is it Safe?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie depicts the life of Junior, a 14 year old Native American boy who lives in an Indian reservation. Junior’s life is certainly not one that people dream of; his life is full of harsh conditions: racism, poverty, violence, alcoholism, poor education, brain disorders, the list goes on and on. Despite his life full of ordeals, he doesn’t lose hope and decides to transfer to a white school outside of the reservation to seek more hope. He does manage to change schools, but some difficulties still remain. One major problem is finding a transportation that will take Junior from his reservation in Wellpinit to his school in Reardan.
Several times a week, Junior’s parents or relatives are unable to drive him to school. As a result, his only option is to hitchhike, which is asking for a ride to vehicles that are usually driven by strangers. This is an extremely risky behaviour that can lead to numerous perilous situations, especially in Spokane, Washington.
The Spokane public radio describes hitchhiking in Spokane in a fairly positive way, telling the story of a university student using hitchhiking as his only transportation while traveling. The story emphasizes that it is safe to hitchhike around Spokane("Thumbs Up, Then And Now: Hitchhiking Stories From The Road.”). Nevertheless, other media platforms tell a different story.
Spokane is one of the most dangerous cities in the Washington State. Its average crime index in the twenty-first century is 536.8, hovering way above the US average crime index, which is 286.7. Every single category of crime such as murder, theft, rape, assault, and arson exceeds the US average by huge numbers. On the other hand, there are fewer law enforcement employees that include police officers compared to the whole Washington State("Crime rate in Spokane, Washington”). In other words, there are more criminals, but less people defending the innocent.
The risks of hitchhiking in Spokane can be observed in the experiences of people too. People have shared their experiences of hitchhiking in Spokane online; the following are some excerpts from hitchwiki.org/en/Spokane:
“The nearby truck stop is unfriendly to hitchhikers, and even has a ‘No Hitchhiking’ sign in the window(the first I can ever recall seeing in a business).”
“Avoid the whole city, unless you have a very good reason to be there.”
“I did not try downtown, but be advised that there is little room to pull over on downtown onramps, and locals warned me that police harassment is common.”
Clearly, the hitchhikers describe hitchhiking in Spokane as an unpleasant experience. One of the postfaces also points out that even the police who should be the ones protecting the citizens often harass people.
As mentioned before, hitchhiking is asking ‘strangers’ for a ride. There is no guarantee that the driver of the vehicle Junior hitchhikes is friendly. Once Junior enters a vehicle, he is leaving himself vulnerable to the driver and the people inside the car in an isolated, confined environment. This means that Junior has nowhere to escape as soon as he is inside the vehicle. It takes roughly 29 minutes for a cab to drive from Wellpinit to Reardan, which is enough time for the driver to harm Junior if he or she wants to(“Google Maps-Wellpinit to Reardan.”).
Can Junior defend himself? Certainly not. Several parts of the book show Junior constantly getting bullied in all sorts of ways by all sorts of people, due to his odd features like his uncomfortably skinny body, huge head, and his brain disorder called hydrocephalus(Alexie). Overpowering a skinny, physically disabled kid in a small space wouldn’t be a tough job for grown men and criminals.
The dangers of hitchhiking are also shown in the other writings of Sherman Alexie, the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The short story, Happy Trails starts with this sentence: “Forty-one years ago, my uncle Hector said he was hitchhiking to Spokane, walked out the door, and disappeared.”(Alexie). In 1999, Alexie wrote The Toughest Indian in the World, also revealing the dangers of hitchhiking in Spokane. The book illustrates the main character getting involved in sudden unexpected homosexual activity with the hitchhiker he picked up(Alexie). There are a lot of parts in Sherman Alexie’s work where it emphasizes that hitchhiking in Spokane can result in grave consequences. This indicates that the author himself is well-aware of the risks of hitchhiking, and he is trying to warn the people about this through his writing.
Even though it is clear that hitchhiking in Spokane is a foolish action, Junior has to hitchhike several times a week in order to get to school. He and his family might be ignorant of the perils hitchhiking in Spokane can lead to, since Junior has been using hitchhiking as his main transportation without any incidents. Or they might be aware of this fact, but have no other choice. Regardless of which situation, both of them portray the difficult lives of Junior and his family.