The Vanishing Hitchhiker

the vanishing hitchhiker

I have this sudden need to create a pie chart of my reading data, so this year I have started an excel spreadsheet and I’m adding books as I read. This morning, after I finished The Vanishing Hitchhiker by Jan Harold Brunvand, I opened up my file and added my latest book. And then I spent thirty minutes trying to intuitively add a pie chart of the books I’ve read so far. I didn’t get anywhere. Excel is not “intuitive” to me at all. I’ll need to look up a how-to article.

I’m so obsessed with it that I am considering spending time entering last year’s data and making charts, just for fun. Yeah, I have a problem. I’m a geek when it comes to data charts. Last week, I took a screen shot of gas prices from Simply Auto, an app I use every time I fill up my truck. Check it out.

This is five years of gas prices all in one picture. No rumor, my actual data.

Back to business!

Yes, I finished reading The Vanishing Hitchhiker. It was a short book and a little old but not outdated (1981). There were a lot of the classic stories I heard as a kid, brought back some great memories. I think what struck me most was the fact that those stories are so universal across the country. It feels like a bond between us.

Urban legends are cautionary tales warning us to about the dangers our society faces, well…we THINK we face anyway. The old ones were about young women staying away from strange men, babysitters lacking in focus, technology or big business fears, and keeping an eye on your children. They are the same now, but they spread in different ways. Some of us believe them as real more than others.

There are a few that have circulated around social media: they’ll take your data if you don’t copy paste this statement, random violence acts against specific people, poisoned Halloween candy, etc. I used to love going over to Snopes and seeing what they had uncovered about these so called “reports,” but recently I haven’t felt like they were that credible either. There were so many pop-up ads and shared articles from other sources, it made me feel like they weren’t doing the work.

I’d also heard that Snopes had become biased politically, leaning to one side or another depending on who was telling me the story. So maybe that’s an urban legend as well.

I spent some time searching the internet for “modern urban legends” but found only the old ones I heard as a kid; pop-rocks and diet pepsi, grandma died on vacation and they had to get rid of the body, and ghost stories about a person that died in the area harassing the neighborhood. What about the crazy stuff that’s passed around social media? The so-called “fake news” and “misinformation?”

This book reminded me that this kind of stuff has always been going around. Rumors and gossip, even when shared by a reputable source, are not something we should be basing our decisions on. They are just stories. The internet only shares them faster and more widely. It makes even the real and most isolated incident feel as if it’s happening everywhere, all the time, and we should take immediate action.

What can we do? I like to presume that anything I read online is probably not based on fact. I also don’t “copy, paste, and share if you care” or “pass along a warning I heard from…” I don’t lament the invention of the internet or argue that the world is going to hell in a handbasket because people just don’t have the common sense they used to.

I take that part back. I have lamented and argued, but I know I’m only being dramatic. Reading books all these years has shown me that human nature has not changed much in thousands of years. The fact that we can now speak to each other all over the world, instantly and constantly, only speeds up and emphasizes what we already know: we’re all a bit irrational and crazy. We love a good scare story, no matter the source. And we all think the other side is out to destroy us all.

Do you know any modern urban legends? Can you remember any recent posts that might be considered an urban legend if researched? Do you still use Snopes?

If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on The Vanishing Hitchhiker, I posted a little about it in Lunch Date Leads to Self-Discovery and One Big Life Lesson?

What’s next?! I’ll have to find a new book off my TBR shelf before tomorrow morning comes!


  1. You’re way more geek than I, Michelle! I just like putting my read books into Goodreads so I have an idea of how many I read. Good enough for me 🙂
    As for the stories that get spread around, it’s disheartening how many people do not verify. I use “Truth or Fiction” as well as “Snopes”. And if I do share stories I think worthwhile, I remove the “share if you care blah blah” or the veiled threats.
    Happy searching for your next read!

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