A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with. -- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
I first read the Hitchhiker's series in high school. I began with The Restaurant At The End of the Universe, loaned from a close friend, then borrowed the rest of the books, in turn, returning to read Hitchhiker's then moving on to Life, The Universe, And Everything and So Long And Thanks For All The Fish. The universe Adams created filled me with joy and accompanied me throughout my high school years. My friend and I created stories around it, sometimes claiming we ourselves were not actually from Earth, but from somewhere else... perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. I have fond memories of riding in the back of that same close friend's family station wagon, listening to the Simon and Schuster audio production of Hitchhiker's and Restaraunt. Those are still the definitive productions for me, and the reason I can recite passages of both books from memory. I listened to the tapes over and over again.
Douglas Adams is one of those authors whom I am deeply saddened to know is no longer with us. I am more deeply saddened by the fact I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, to look him in the eyes, shake his hand, and say with the power and emotion of someone many many light years from home, "Thank you."*
Douglas Adams was one of the truly gifted writers in this world, and I am proud to tote a towel about today in his honour. So long, Douglas, and thanks.
"In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth it is never possible to be more than sixteen thousand miles from your birthplace, which really isn't very far, so such signals are too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born six hundred light-years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse." -- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy