wandering queer

brouillon, dans le désordre et au crayon gris

a day on the road 11 janvier 2010

Filed under: autostop,English — stupidfrog @ 17:42

J’ai retrouvé ce texte sous une pile virtuelle de papiers. Je l’ai écrit fin 2008, à la demande d’une fille qui voulait écrire une pièce de théâtre sur les filles qui font du stop, je crois. Elle m’avait trouvée par hospitalityclub. Je me souviens plus trop, mais je crois que pour une raison ou une autre, je lui ai jamais donné. Je me demande ce que l’idée est devenue…

I found this text under a virtual pile of papers. I wrote it at the end of 2008, for a girl who wanted to write a play about girls hitchhiking, i think. She had found me through hospitalityclub. Can’t remember why, but i think i never gave it to her. I wonder what the project has become…

It’s 6:30 when i wake up – still dark outside, but i want to make it up to the end of the bus line at dawn – today, i have 600 kms to go, and i’d really like to arrive before dark. Today will be a long day.
It’s cold when i get out of bed – i shiver. It’s not summer anymore. Most of us have disappeared for the winter, in trains, buses or even cars – some behind a desk or in a factory, yes, some even have jobs! Today will be a cold and lonely day.
I pack my sleeping bag, smile at the genderfucker drawing on the wall once again (I know that I know that Berlin person who drew that here – but who was that again?). look around me, everyone else is sleeping – i change my clothes fast and quiet, put a sleeveless but not sexy tshirt (yeah, i know i’d better wear tshirts, even if just to hide my armpit hairs and avoid some strange looks, but i tend to be too hot all the time, and i’d better be comfortable in the car), a long sleeve tshirt (black, too – i know i should wear brighter colors, some people believe you get a ride faster. But once again, i’d better feel comfortable, and it looks cleaner longer), jeans, a sweater (it is NOT black! Ok, it’s dark grey…), clean socks (the cleaner the better, since i will want to remove my shoes if i get a long and comfortable ride!) and hiking shoes (they’re beige – in the “woman” section, they only had that and light blue. Hey, that’s so cuuute with mud on it he! Thanks to that color, i feel more like a woman, and know where i belong).
I sneak out of the room. Other people in the kitchen are already making coffee – today, they’re hitchhiking too. Going west to work on a farm. They seem more relaxed than me – sure, it’s a “girl and boy” pair, the perfect combination! They will get all the fun rides, meet the interesting ones, one will get to sleep while the other does the talking, they will feel safe and comfort each other when they’re waiting too long – lucky they are. Vegan leftovers from yesterday, man, those people can cook!

Quick, i say bye and leave the squat, heading for the metro. Putting my backpack on reminds me very vividly of all of my articulations and skeleton. They’ve been hurting for a while. I know i should not walk with this weak ankle, should not carry heavy stuff on my back all day long. But hey! I really wanted to go to that festival! And now, i really want to go “home”! My hip has been hurting for a while now – i wonder if i cracked it somewhere – maybe last summer, somewhere in Greece, when i fell down and twisted the second ankle?
I’ve never been to this city before, but i easily find my way in public transport network – i’ve checked everything yesterday when i arrived at the squat. They let me use their internet, i checked the route, marked all the petrol stations on the way on my Europe map, drew smaller maps or the cities i might be stucked in, and checked how to get out of the city, as far as possible – metro then bus. Long ride, i have time to draw my first sign. Sometimes, it’s better to wait until you’re there to decide which city to write on your paper, according to the signs there. This time, it’s quite obvious which way i’ll be going. I like the looks people give me in the metro, while i’m drawing. Most of them are puzzled, don’t understand what i’m up too, with all those papers with names of European cities spread out next to me. I smile at an old woman and show her my thumb, try and say “hitchhike” in the local language. Now she looks amused and smiles back – good! She even tells me where to get off, and gets in a heated discussion about it with another woman (i’ll stick to my plan anyway).
Ok, i’m there. It’s 8. not too bad. I could have started a bit earlier, but hey, the spot is nice, so it’ll be ok. I like to start really early for several reasons. For one, i don’t work, so i rarely have a good reason to get up early, and i like the feeling so much. Dawn, no one’s there, you walk around the city and feel the day’s all yours. The light then always gives so much energy… Second, i really really don’t like still being on the road when it’s dark, and my day is much better and less tiring without stress. I used to be a very stressed person, and i’m trying to remove that aspect from my life, so now i try to listen to my needs ahead, so i can prevent any reason to stress. Third, if i were to drive a long way, i’d start early. Thus, i tend to think i’ll get longer rides early morning than around 10. i always try to put myself in the potential driver’s skin (choosing the roads, the hours, the station to stop in…), even if the more i go, the more i’m proved wrong. Anyway… that’s a good time to get people who are going abroad for some days, businessmen crossing Europe for a meeting, and, last but not least, truck drivers.

Talking about that, that mercedes is parking. For me? Yep! I grab mybackpack and walk fast to the car – not bad, i had been waiting on that spot on the side of the road to highway for, like, 20 mns. Fair. The licence plate is polish, i’ll try my best czech.
me(czech) : good morning, you are going to poland?
Him (in his early 50s, i think. Looks clean and nice, smiles, small glasses. Seems friendly. – polish) : yes i’m going [and things i don t understand]
me (cz): could you drive me a bit, then?
Him (pol): yes, yes!
We put my backpack (70liters) on the back seat, i keep my small backpack (a “school” type like jansport) with me. In there, i have my wallet and camera and passport, my (big) bottle of water, my harddrive and anything else i don’t want to lose. A map of Europe, a notebook with my notes for the day (buses and all, contacts for the person i’m sleeping at tonight) and all the personal stuff i’ve written, maybe a book or an apple. Maybe some candies from the country i left a couple of days ago – easy thing to “share” with people who are so kind to you. My phone is in my pocket. I know some people say i should keep my stuff on me, but hey, i have too many (i really don’t want to lose my camera and harddrive, with thousands of important pictures among other things), i need a space for my bottle of water… and as she says in the hitchhiking guide for girls, that’s good that they don’t know what i have in there and the reason why i want to keep it close to me. Actually, i do have a knife, but it’s not sharp and i don’t want to use it. It’s there because that day, on the polish border, Lien found it on the floor, and gave it to me cause she already had one. We had just had a scary experience, so i just slipped it in my front pocket, and it’s been there since then – i still haven’t decided what to do with it. My best friend reacted very negatively when she learnt i had one. Anyway… that way, there’s nothing i care about in my big backpack (clothes, phone charger, books, gifts for people, some food, things i need but i could always buy back) and i can leave it in the trunk or wherever, it’s more practical for them and for me, it shows them i feel safe and makes them feel the same. And if necessary, i’d abandon it without a thought. My jansport, though, stays with me even to go pee, even if i’m with friends in a friendly environment. I don’t do the same arrangement when i travel otherwise, though.
The guy has a weird accent, and doesn’t seem to understand my Czech so well – well, after a minute, i understand : turns out the guy is Belgian, and just lives in Poland! So we happily switch to French for the rest of the trip. It happens to me more than often that i find people i share a language with in the most improbable places – but other days, on the contrary, everyone seems to speak only German and Turkish…!
He left early from the Hilton, where he had a meeting yesterday and slept. Going home now. Despite his spending 500euros on a hotel night and 300 on a speed fine on the way, he’s a very nice and simple guy, and talks about the loneliness of hotel nights, one after the other. He is SO not alluding to sex while saying that that i’m surprised. That’s usually when the topic comes up – just after loneliness on the road and before asking me about my boyfriend. He is so not, and then talking in loving words about his wife, that I bring the topic of hitchhiking as a girl. I had a very bad day the day before, i need to share it a bit, and after all, he has asked me how dangerous it is. Instead of the usual answer “the biggest danger is people who drive like mad”, i tell him about the one who directly asked me if i wanted to have sex with him yesterday. And about the one who showed me porn on his phone while laughing. And about the one who kept saying “hashish” “sex” and “çok guzel” (very beautiful in Turkish) to me for 3 hours. And above all, how they felt it was ok to do that.

Yesterday evening, i talked about it with another female hitchhiker. We concluded the worst is not what they say, but the way they act after that. Like it is nothing. That man yesterday. He picked me up on the side of the road, where i had been waiting for too long, and after that ** policeman had kept me and my passport for an hour (out of European union, not speaking the language…what do i know?…). He picked me up and i was glad. Relieved. I asked again where he was going (i think i remember we spoke “slavic” together, i.e. he speaks his native southern European language very fast and and i try and explain that i speak some Czech and maybe i would understand if he spoke slowly) and again didn’t get the answer. Then he does a half turn at the end of the road, obviously doesn’t turn where I need to go, says it’s ok, and then looks at me in the eyes and says “so, do you want to have sex with me?” i say what?, puzzled and shocked (faking the looks, since i’ve understood very well – but it gives him a chance to change his sentence, and gives me a minute to find a solution) he repeats. I say no way, what is he thinking, i am TRAVELING, and i want to get off NOW. (i’m obviously uncomfortable but still assertive. It’s the first time i do freak out a bit. Usually i’m calmer. Must have been tired) He says hey,calm down, it’s ok, i’ve understood. I’ll drive you, don’t worry, why are you afraid?
He eventually leaves me on the (wrong) side of the (wrong) road (on purpose?) and says bye in a friendly way.
I felt like puking and crying for the whole day. He was surprised that i was afraid?? he wanted to go on talking? At the moment when i felt the closest to being “a girl hitchhiking”, i.e., trying to escape and find a solution for it not to end up with a rape (that’s what i m taught, right? That ‘ what i even read on the net when i look up things about hh. It’s all about safety and how to get the car to stop and get off before he actually physically forces you), he was just asking a harmless question as a regular consumer of porn and media fantasies about girls saying yes to any random guy asking straight forward. I don’t know what the worst is, that i’m taught to be scared even if the guy has no intention of forcing me, that the guy thinks it’s just a random sentence that he can ask anyone, that the guy is so not able to have a fulfilling intimate life that he thinks asking like that is the way, that even in daylight, in Europe, i was not safe, i don’t know… what i know is we were in different worlds, at that precise moment. The sentence and the act soooo did not mean the same thing for him and me. I thought “the end” and he thought “a random natural everyday minute”. Maybe if the guy had actually physically tried something, i would feel less like puking. that would have been more “normal”, in my world.

Anyway. I spare the Belgian driver the details, of course, over some lunch he offers (not vegan, but important for the relationship, the rest of the trip, and my stomach – and still vegetarian), and rather take a second coffee. We get going, the rest of the trip is nice. We talk about his problems with his son, i actually get to know a lot about how to build a crane and where in Europe all the materials come from (wow, shorter distances than i thought. Definitely, it takes less transport to build a crane than to make and pack a yogurt!), we talk about traveling through Europe without actually getting to know the cities again (from festivals to squats, i’m not closer to everyday people than he is from hotel to business meetings…). And he drops me at the last gas station on the highway before the last big city before my destination. I was lucky today. It seems to work like that for me, one bad day (wet, late, scary…) one amazingly good day.
I sit down for a minute, grab some bread and a tomato in my bag. It’s ok, it’s still day light, that car was nice! I’ll be there quite soon.
I drop my bag and walk toward the cars. When i approach one, i check the license plate, both for an idea on which way they’re going, and to choose an appropriate language to address them. Traveling, i’ve learnt to say hello and good bye in most (all?) European languages. I know excuse me and thank you in some of them. I can speak English, French, Czech, and thus i understand Italian and Spanish perfectly (and can speak with them if they’d make some effort), and i can have a conversation with slavic speaking people – that makes most of Europe. German would be useful, though. Hello, excuse me? Can i ask you where you’re going? I’m going there (show my sign), would you drive me some of the way? (take out my map, check with them)… lots of cars are full, with children or luggage. But it’s worse in the summer. At the end of the summer, if you’re going north, you’ll meet a lot of families coming back from a summer “home” in Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria. If the man is alone (they often come back later than the rest of the family), they’ll be glad to take you and share with you the sun they still have in their heart. Music, food, and memories of the summer… if you’re going south though, you’ll meet Dutch people going camping with the family, and oh, man, those are so unfriendly. Yes, i can see your car is full, but did you have to be so rude with me? When you ask at gas stations like that, contrary to standing on the side of the road, you might even get women to take you. That is so relieving and encouraging (yes! Some women are not scared and do trust people! Yes!). You get a lot of ex-hitchhikers, anyway. I’ve convinced a couple of people who really didn’t feel like taking me at first – i thought the experience would show them they should not be scared. I’ve met more interesting people than from the side of the road, anyway. Less lonely men. More couples, and overall, nicer people. I like it so much better! Even waiting is nicer, you get to talk instead of standing there, feeling like an object someone needs to choose to pick up… talking about waiting, i’ve been asking an awful lot of cars and i’m still there. The employee of the small shop smiles at me. I go have a coffee inside. Yeah, well, you always have the truck option. Slower but less random. You know the thing, how they work and all. You know you can sleep if it’s a long trip, they won’t mind and the seats are comfortable. I even see it as safer, both about driving style (although that Turkish driver that day, stuck the pedal with a plastic bottle and went on driving with his legs crossed on the seat…) and personal safety : they’re working, they know their boss knows where they are, they don’t want to stop in a dark corner and rape me – that would show on the “driving record”. And overall, they are much less scary than random male drivers.
The second one I ask is ok to take me. Break finishes in 10 mns. Want a coffee? I’ll go get my bag. He’s Czech, i m lucky. I can do some talking. I’ll ask where he comes from, where he’s going today. What he’s transporting, if he does only international. I’ll make a joke about how long he has to wait at borders, and understand he is tired of the job. He will ask me what i do, we’ll talk about it a bit. Then he’ll ask if i have a boyfriend. If he’s ok enough, i’ll say no. if i’m a bit uncomfortable, i’ll choose to lie, avoiding questions. I’ll say i like traveling and no, i don’t want kids. He will look puzzled, so i’ll ask about his kids. He will have 2 (they always have 2 kids), and he’ll be sad not to see his wife more. He’ll ask if i see my boyfriend often enough/how do i do without a boyfriend. I’ll pretend not to understand, underline i’m interested in traveling for the moment, and ask more about the kids. He’ll get the message and i will relax. I’ll check with him on the map where he could leave me, but he’ll call a colleague on CB and find one who’s going to my city. I’ll take a picture of him and jump off, and on the other truck.
This one smells a bit more, and is more grumpy. But he drops me, fine, where i want.

Here i am. It s 8pm. It’s been a long day, but it’s ok. I’ve arranged with my hospitalityclub host that i’ll come directly to their place, or send a text if i’ll be there after 9. it’s not such a big city, and i can see a bus station from here, so i’ll be there on time. I take the bus without paying, which i don’t like doing, but i won’t withdraw in the local currency for just one night. I’m leaving this country again tomorrow, continuing my way home.

The host is nice. We share a couple of beers, i’m relieved they drink alcohol and i was right to bring that bottle of local spirit as a gift. They’ve never hitchhiked, they re amazed that i do it so much (wow, from Istanbul to Prague last summer, then from Prague to Toulouse! Alone??), ask me if it’s dangerous. I just answer “in general, it’s not. And i know self-defense!” and close the topic with a laugh.
CrimethInc.’s article on hitchhiking says “asking an experienced hitchhiker how to thumb is like asking a 110-year-old woman how to live long. She’ll say something like “I’ve drunk a fifth of gin every day since i was 10!”. Some other 110-year-old will swear it’s the companionship of cats. And that’s as close as you’ll get to the secret of living long and riding with strangers”.
Exhausted, i’ll go to bed at 11, thanking my host. I’ll set my alarm at 6:30.

(october 2008)


2 Responses to “a day on the road”

  1. dykesexarsenal Says:

    This is a really fantastic bit of writing about things that are very familiar to me.

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