November 20, 2009

Moral Grey Zones: Roller-Hitching

Category: Debian,Geek,Geekitude,Humor,Uncategorized — Biella @ 2:58 pm

Moral Grey Zone

Many moons ago while doing fieldwork I went to a radical tech activist camp sponsored by The Ruckus Society to give a presentation on Free Software (which I actually still have online in the gaudy orange I so loved. I could only stay 2 days as I had to go to Debconf2 in Toronto for fieldwork but it forever changed my life in pretty significant ways.

One remarkable thing about Ruckus was that for the first time I meet a particular kind of geek I had yet to come across: the crunchy and chewy granola/environmentalist/hippie hacker– a type of hacker that can be found world over but is likely to be (unsurprisingly) living, sometimes in the trees (literally) in the Pacific Northwest. They are one of my favorite kind of people as I can talk endlessly to them about 2 of my great passions: Free Software and environmental justice. Comfrey, pictured above, was one such hacker from Portland who I met at the Ruckus event and now routinely shows up, usually unannounced to our house at least 1-2x a year.

I woke up this morning to find him on our couch, got a bunch of knot-weed to chew on compliments of his foraging, and took the afternoon off to share some food. Among many stories, he told me of a new transportational pursuit of his, Roller-Hitching, which he uses to get around the country. He uses old school roller skates to skate along the road, even highways, until he gets picked up and get where he needs to go.

Naturally, these old school states are not just functional in the sense that they are faster than two feet in motion, but since they signify a particular spirit of the 1970s–you know, the groovy, dynamite, free love spirit of things, they draw positive attention and apparently when he roller-hitches, he gets picked up frequently (and made it from Minneapolis to Portland in 2 hours and 2 days: not shabby).


In California while on the 101 north of Arcata, California, Comfrey got stopped by the highway patrol and basically the cop wanted to kick him off on the grounds the he was a pedestrian (apparently prohibited on this patch of the 101). Comfrey, being a bright fellow, basically noted that roller skating is not really a pedestrian activity, that he was using, much a like a biker, a transportation device of sorts, so that he was in a grey zone between bikes and walking.

At the time, the cop was convinced enough but did tell Comfrey to look up the law in the library cuz the next time he would give him a ticket and the next time after that throw him in jail. Comfrey has yet ‘sourced’ the law but soon will. When he does, since I like to report on geeks and the law, I too will report on whether one can roller skate down or up the highway for those that might want to give Roller-Hitching a try.


  1. [...] First Tweet: 44 minutes ago biellacoleman Influential Gabriella Coleman Roller-hitching and moral grey zones: how to get around on skates and stay out of trouble retweet [...]

    Pingback by Twitter Trackbacks for Interprete » Moral Grey Zones: Roller-Hitching [] on — November 20, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  2. Good post! And thanks for sharing the picture. Kitchens make for excellent pictures.

    The police officer was most likely correct. I believe that most highways specifically require the vehicle or mode of transportation to be able to maintain a certain speed and pass safety tests to be legal. I’ve seen many road signs excluding horses, tractors, and bicycles.

    He’s luck he wasn’t arrested, and more importantly, wasn’t run over.

    Regardless, hitching needs an upgrade. A friend of mine recently traveled from Boston to Mesa for a wedding using Facebook to hitch rides and posting his progress along the way. While his trip was more about adventure than efficiency, it could become more commonplace.

    Are you aware of any social-networking commute / travel pools? A modern day caravan, perhaps? Something like will probably materialize one of these days…

    Comment by Albert — November 21, 2009 @ 5:30 am

  3. glancing at your bright orange page (*puts on shades*), I noted you list ‘the new york linux scene’. Ever since I have gone to NYLUG(1999), I have been acquainted with the fellow (Ruben Safir) who runs that group. And was surprised that you included him vs NYLUG. Interesting choice.

    Comment by Kevin Mark — November 21, 2009 @ 6:46 am

  4. Hi Albert,

    Thanks for the comments. This is all I found :

    Also, we promptly had a discussion on this question of the law on IRC and here are some interesting bits we found online from a quick and dirty search:

    “18< 20comfrey>
    18< 20comfrey>
    18< 20comfrey> nothing about roller skates.
    18< 20micah>
    18< 20micah> 6.Every person operating any roller skates or skateboard upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by chapter four of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all supplements thereto, except as to those provisions thereof which by their nature can have no application.
    18< 22rex> rock
    18< 20micah> sadly: # 39:4-10.10b The state isn’t obligated to construct “skater-only” lanes on roads.
    18< 20micah> only jersey
    23* 23biella has quit (23Quit: Leaving23)
    22* biella- is now known as biella
    18< 22rex> comfrey: I think roller skates count as “nonmotorized traffic”
    18< 20micah> # Section 1050.7, k-2: Wearing roller or inline skates in the subway system is disorderly conduct. (Section 1050.10 lists fines of $25 to $100, or imprisonment up to 10 days.)
    18< 22rex> yeah there are also sometimes strange exceptions for state and county roads where people sometimes DO have horse-drawn carriages
    18< 22rex> perhaps if you added small motors to them?
    18< 20micah>
    18< 20comfrey> rex: motorized skates are the skate of the month at the national museum of roller skating
    18< 20comfrey>

    Comment by Biella — November 21, 2009 @ 7:11 am

  5. Cool Biella, thanks for the additional information! Back in the day when I was a wanna be skate rat the mantra was “skateboarding is not a crime”.

    Comment by Albert — November 21, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  6. “(roller skates) signify a particular spirit of the 1970s–you know, the groovy, dynamite, free love spirit of things, they draw positive attention and apparently when he roller-hitches, he gets picked up frequently…”

    Use “free love” and “picked up” in the same sentence, and one might be justified in assuming that more interesting things then transportation are involved. Can you get some of those details form him next time?

    Comment by asp — November 22, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  7. haha asp: well, some things are best kept on the other side of the blog in the conversation where the blog post was indeed born/e :-)

    Comment by Biella — November 22, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

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