A chance hearing of a bit of this song the other day put the whole thing in my head. I keep returning to it, and I keep wondering: “Why are we so afraid?” and “What are we so afraid of?” – I mean broadly and generally: could anyone hitch-hike from Saginaw to Pittsburgh today? Would anyone dare? I mean to say: it probably was not the most prudent course to take even in 1967, and the song’s character’s disposition is one of clear vision and disenchantment, so we cannot imagine that his choice should have been rooted in care-freeness or naïveté.
The man in the Gabardine suit may well have been a spy, you know, but Kathy’s traveling companion chose to poke fun – a deflection (is that the right word for it?) that as such did not directly challenge the premise on which the call to caution was based.
Then again: no candid mind can deny that the phenomenon we once unproblematically called “mass hysteria” is at least as American as (Mrs. Wagner’s?) apple pie. Think Witch Trials and Snake Oil and Utopian Separatism and EO 9066 and “safety-this” and “safety-that” and a hundred-hundred other things between.
Perhaps this is the reason for the journey and the deflection (if that’s what it was): it is as if the survival of America – wherever America is, and if America is out there at all – depends in any given moment on whether each of us – whether any one of us – will stick his thumb out and place himself in the hands of – a stranger? – a fellow traveler? – and laugh (not uncompanionably) at the lady afraid of the Man in the Gabardine Suit who might be a spy but is on the bus.
As one who has spent a lot of time counting cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, and traveled more than most through space and time in search of America, I wonder…