The Hitchhiker

Early 1990s summer camp: the place for Aquanet, rayon and adolescent entitlement…and the place of horror stories.  I’m not talking about a-bump-in-the-night scary story.  I’m talking cringe-worthy, sweat-inducing, I-want-to-run-and-hide awkward teen stories. I have many, but this one is called THE HITCHHIKER.

A few hundred kids were under the big tent, taking a break from singing “I Lean” and “Lean on Me”. Church camp teenagers in the 90s LOVED songs about leaning. I think because it was the only physical touch between a boy and girl that was not demonized.  If I were a flirtier teen, I might have tried to sit by the boy I liked so I could LEAN on him, or rub his shoulders when the inevitable conga-line shoulder-rub/karate-chop instruction came.  I was not a flirty teen, so I leaned on a friend and, I don’t know, the camp cook or something. I would do this while I watched the cute boy who looked like Zach from Saved by the Bell lean on another girl. (Skank)



In case you are unfamiliar with church camp, Chapel at camp always included:

  1.  Sing songs
  2. Play crazy games
  3. Lets bring it down and learn about the lord
  4. Everyone winds up in tears and two girls inevitably need to “work something out” at a different location.

As sure as the sun will rise, this will happen. Amen.

So this night, this horrible night, we had just wrapped up singing songs and one of the leaders broke the kids into 4 groups.  We were going to battle it out and try to defeat the other teams using whatever random crazy ways the emcee dictated.

  • Person with the longest hair!
  • Person who can recite all the words to “Fresh Prince of Bel Aire!”
  • Person who can recite all of the books of the Old Testament (wait for it…) BACKWARDS!

Oh, it was insane, crazy fun I tell you!

Categories came and went and I didn’t excel in any of them, so I couldn’t do much except cheer for my team and pray to God they didn’t forget Haggai.  I didn’t mind though because I always hated attention and eyes on me.

Our team was down on points and the emcee stated the next category: Person with the best Hitchhiker thumb – the thumb that goes back the farthest wins. My team captain told everyone to put their thumbs in a circle so we’d know who to put up against the other teams.  It was undeniable; I was going up.  I was scared but sanctified words washed over me…. for such a time as this.  Yes. I knew what I had to do.

I stood on stage, under the blinding white lights and heard my team cheer “Go Josie!” “Wooo!”

Oh my Gosh.  I have this.  I thought.  I can help my team win!  “Zach” might even be so impressed that he may come talk to me afterwards! This attention thing isn’t so bad after all!

I was the last in line on stage.  The emcee was asking each person one-by-one to hold up their thumb, let’s see their hitchhiker. After each I became more confident and thought “ch-yeah, like that’s a hitchhiker.” Their teams would cheer wildly and I thought, man, these people are going to be BLOWN AWAY when they see mine!

It was my turn, I quickly jabbed my hand out and stuck my thumb back with a proud smirk on my face and nodding a bit like, “How bout them apples?” Instead of the slightly tilted back “lame” hitchhiker thumb of everyone else on stage, my thumb was making a 90 degree angle backwards. BOO and YA.

Silence. The judge paused while looking at my thumb in confusion. “Wha…? Wow! That is, uh…. some thumb you have there.”

Uh oh.

Then I saw everyone in the audience craning their necks to get a glimpse of my, now realized, freak thumb. I looked to the left “Oh my GOD, Even ‘Zach’ was looking!”




I’ve made a huge mistake.

As they slowly realized what they were looking at, everyone seemed to be muttering in a mix of confusion and disgust.

“Wait, what? What are we even looking at? OH MY GOD!” Mouths were covered. The more squeamish turned their heads away. I’m pretty sure there was a dry heave.

I was declared the winner and there were some sporadic claps throughout the chapel. I walked back to my seat and nobody could even look me in the eye. My team said different variations of “Good job.” Someone took pity on me and patted me on the back.


And that, boys and girls, is how I learned that winning doesn’t always make you a winner.





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