The following is a short story reflecting on my first hitchhiking experience. A journey that took place from Leipzig to Copenhagen between the 27th and 29th of December 2017. The intention was to get out of town and spend a week or so with a close friend.
Bank balance far below zero, travel by more orthodox means was not possible. However, I predicted the New Year would be a tough one. A difficult anniversary of the previous New Year, which brought about the end of a relationship, really the end of life as I used to know it. Need good friends around when anniversaries like that come around.
The Pros (+) and Cons (-) of Hitchhiking:
+ The people that reach out to help you. They pick you up, shoot deep shit with you over a few hundred kilometres. Thank you for listening.
+ Or maybe aren’t going your way but get you some food anyway, a smoke, a hot drink from the gas station’s attendant.
+ The gas station’s attendant is Serbian. He works here because he makes money, has bills and kids. There is no money for the people in Serbia.
+ Meeting other hitchhikers on this bitter bank holiday in December. Happy to see you just-add-water friends, form an orderly queue, share stories. Not as lonely at the Michendorf-Brandenburg pumps as the map might suggest. Five Catholic Poles all ride to Switzerland for a Jesus meet. One Berliner going where I was coming from. He does this all the time, says that’s all it is: just a matter of time.
+ Old Dutch truck driver drives without English, exchange rudimentary German. When my old man gets tired, he naps with cold coffee, a glass of wine, and a 90-minute alarm in a part of Brunswick that only sleepy truckers can see. I am also there.
+ Cross-town black-riding the Hannover Metro. Smelling like a boy that woke at the side of the Autobahn.
– “Fahren Sie nach Hamburg?” is a question that appears to produce glottal expulsions of spit from drivers of BMWs. Splat on the pavement next to me. Conscious of avoidant eyes and ears closed like I’m a problematic beyond help, even dangerous. My request can be someone else’s problem.
+ Diane is driving back from Christmas in Göttingen. There is no money for the people in Göttingen.
“Do you pick up hitchhikers often?”
“No-one ever asked me.”
+ Diving the Niendorf bins for food at the northern edge of Hamburg. I eat the oranges and bananas there and then. I haven’t means to cook the potatoes, so hand them to the Nigerian magazine vendor standing at the front of this Rewe. He tells me that we have a lot in common but he doesn’t believe that I’ve come from Leipzig. He does not believe that I’m on my way to visit my friend in Denmark because I am currently in the Niendorf bins.
– The wrong town, the wrong gas station for hours now. No-one is stopping here and the night is getting colder.
– An Egyptian man and his German wife are heading from this freezing border stop all the way to Copenhagen. My heart skips and beats. However, their car is filled with Christmas gifts and sleeping infants. It’s not physically possible to take me unless they wake the children. Pained glances are made between all three of us. We have already bonded too much. Now it’s hard for them to leave me here and it’s really hard for me to watch them go. I sip my hot drink and light a smoke.
– The night is getting colder. The wrong town, standing at the junction as time moves through the night. Middelfart is sleeping and the trucks are not stopping. They do not see me.
– The important thing is to stay dry. The moment freezing rain touches your skin it just gets harder to keep standing here.
– Try to keep warm filling my clothes with the refuse from a paper recycling bin and chase away the foxes. The important thing is to stay dry but I can’t fit all the way inside the bin.
– Under the picnic bench of a drive-thru McDonald’s to stay dry, but the wind is picking up. It’s getting to me. Take the trash into an indent corner of the McDonald’s and try to bury myself there out of the wind, but the CCTV cameras and the hard white lights make it nervous to really remain here for too long. I think I resemble the kind of person that one would wish to shoo away, and I am cold. I am not dry. Now I can see a car passing the junction and this car is unaware that I am here and need help soon, it is five hundred metres away.
– The spitting rain is freezing on the pavement. It is inside my gloves.
– I return to the junction, follow it down to the slip road. The next car, I tell myself, will be the one. It is just a matter of time.
+ It arrives at 7am. A Lebanese boy coming from nightshift. He tells me that he saw me there at midnight, and asks what I’m doing standing all night with my trash-filled clothes and my numb-hands waving my sign coloured red, written København. I tell him that I couldn’t find another way.
© Adam Carrington. Originally published on the 30th of December 2017.