A woman and her little son have picked me up for the last stretch into Frankfurt. The son looks out the window and says, “Mommy, look! That police car is blue and yellow!” The woman explains that it isn’t the normal colors because it is for the autobahn police.
The funny thing about the conversation is that we were doing 200kmh (125mph) and blowing by the police car like it was going backwards. She was as relaxed as could be, breezily telling me something funny she heard on the radio, discussing where she could drop me off.
Where else but Germany would you see someone drive so fast and yet be so calm, talking with her child as if in a park? If the same happened in USA, well, first of all the feds would take away your kid for driving 200kmh (No, they wouldn’t. Would they?) but surely her palms would be sweaty and she’d be anxiously scanning the road for police, potholes, other cars, maybe wondering if it was rough on the engine, but here it’s normal. Normal! What a country.
As you leave Budapest going west, there are two McDonald’s with two gas stations one after the other to hitchhike from. The second one in Budaors is bigger and easier, nevertheless, I still tried from the first one and regretted it. The second one is infamous, though, because in Hungary’s Wild West days of yonder in the big parking lot you would see prostitutes “working the lot” full of truckers.
I got a late start and then I dumbly turned down a couple of rides that I shouldn’t have. A young couple stopped and offered to take me to the Austrian border, but first they said they had to stop for 10 minutes to shop at an IKEA on the way. Even though you can’t get in and out of an IKEA parking lot in 10 minutes, I didn’t say anything. They missed the exit and it took time to come back and nearly an hour was wasted, all told.
Then they informed me that they were going to take the back road the entire 160km, claiming it was only going to be 20 minutes more. It’s a total impossibility, (“Don’t corn with me!”) but again I was quiet. The back road is interesting only in that again you see prostitutes working tiny parking areas in the middle of nowhere far from anything. It’s strange that Hungarian life is becoming incrementally more regulated and restricted like in the west, and yet women can stand openly by the road to sell themselves and nothing happens.
The news on the radio added to the misery, saying that the recent rains have caused flooding and the highway was closed halfway to Vienna. We wasted a lot of time on the back road and then had to deal with all the traffic with us on the detour. It took forever to get out of Hungary.
Know what makes me crazy? I will hitchhike and as the car approaches me, lots of drivers or passengers will gesture to the stuff in their backseat and throw up their hands as if to say, “Look! All full! Otherwise, you know we would take you. Really!” But they never had any intention of picking me up as often it would take 30 seconds to pile all their crap to one side. Let’s hope there’s a special place in hell reserved for those people.
At the Austrian border there was a not insignificant wait before an older slovenly guy took me halfway to Vienna. He was missing some teeth on his right side–on my side–so every time he spoke, he would spit a little. And he liked to talk. Upon discovering my origins he would change the music and cackle, “American music! From last century!” and I would recoil back into my seat to avoid a heavy mist blast. But he drove much faster than his age would suggest, and I needed the speed, so, let it rain, brother!
The last rest area before Vienna isn’t one of my favorites, and a biting wind was killing me. More waiting. A Hungarian trucker took me to the south side of Vienna, and then in the dark a Romanian took me back to St. Polten. St. Polten! The same place I found myself stuck on the way to Hungary two weeks ago. I didn’t want to stay there again, but it was late and rain was coming, so I trudged back into the truck stop restaurant, starving, cold and hapless. Not the proudest moment in my life, you could say. One of the waitresses from last time was there. It wasn’t exactly, “Sir, your table is waiting for you”, but she was as nonplussed as before and I skulked into my corner booth.
It might have been incongruent that an apparently impoverished traveler of limited means would have a laptop in his backpack, but again the sight of it passed without mention. The truck stop had free wifi. Hey! Suddenly it’s great to have a laptop! But when I checked my email, my plan for the next month was thrown into doubt as an American friend coming over to meet me said he had to change his plans. So, I changed my plan and decided not to go to Paris at that moment. (The next morning, after I had changed everything, I got another email and saw there was some miscommunication. Now everything is a big mess.) The immediate destination then became Germany, especially when I saw that big yellow sun and “20C” in the forecast. If I couldn’t stay with the Wiesenbarts, I would stay anywhere that had a big yellow sun in the forecast.
Sleep was harder to come by this time in the restaurant and I was a wreck the next morning. I awoke to horrible December weather. It must have been the coldest wind ever recorded by mankind. I let another Hungarian trucker take me to Germany and slept as much as I could. Finally, a guy in a gigantic Mercedes driving at high speeds took me from Passau to Wurzburg–Dirk Nowitski’s town!–though I could have gone with him as far as Hamburg. Where are these speedsters when I need them?
When Germans do road construction on one side of the highway, they block off that side and squeeze two lanes for each direction out of the other side of the road. I see it in Austria and Germany, places where people are disciplined enough to drive on narrow lanes. The guy who drove me through a long stretch around Wurzburg made me very uncomfortable as he couldn’t talk to me without looking at me and then he also wanted to see my reaction to everything he said, all the while we are on a narrow bit of road passing Bulgarian truckers with centimeters of room to spare.
The 200kmh woman was the last driver. It was exhilarating to go so fast. I kept one eye on the digital speedometer and another on the road, marveling out at good old Germany. I got left downtown and took a train to the suburbs. It always strikes me to see people drinking from open containers on the German metro and trains, though it’s not as jarring as seeing Asian girls speaking fluent German.
I had called the Wiesenbarts a few hours earlier and they were happy to see me, and not five minutes after I walked in the door, a pizza had arrived. My timing was perfect food-wise, and it’s great to be back with old friends after such a trip.