How to hitchhike to Paris in 18 hours with the magic flag

I managed two or three hours of sleep in the airport, which was two or three more than I anticipated. I got on the road at around 6:15 and until 7am I think there were two flight departures and only about ten cars passing by.
Somehow I got to the highway rest area and with my raccoon-like tired eyes I waited a long time. The weather was great, but it also meant my hay fever was in full force and I sneezed and had a runny nose all day long, which isn’t conducive to getting cars to stop, plus again I dumbly turned down rides I should have taken. The Rhein-Ruhr area can be scary to hitchhike through, it’s Los Angeles-like dense network of freeways can be a nightmare if I get stuck in the wrong place, so I waited until I got a ride to Leverkusen. Then a trucker took me to Aachen on the Belgian border.
I’ve come across lots of German truckers who have the dream to drive a truck in America. He showed me a photo on his cell phone of an American-style big rig he had his eye on. (“American-style” just means a long front end. It doesn’t exist here because in Europe you pay tolls by the length of your truck.) His first plan, he said, was to get a Chevy and drive Route 66 through Las Vegas. Technically, Route 66 doesn’t go through Las Vegas, but who am I to pour cold water on his dream?

I prefer pouring cold water on anyone’s idea of driving across America. It’s almost always a bad idea. First of all, just about everything east of I-5 is scary, and second, people make the mistake of driving east to west. They are so discombobulated from underestimating how much of an endurance test it is that by the time they get to the promised land of California, they are frazzled beyond repair. A better idea is to drive San Diego to Vancouver along the coast.

From Aachen I was driven to Leuven, just east of Brussels, by a man with his five year old son. They were in Germany to pick up a remote control helicopter that he had bought on eBay, though curiously he didn’t test it while there. One of the reasons he picked me up was because of the USA flag on my pack. I’m telling you, it’s the magic flag.

Just a photo of my friend's artwork to make this entry less "texty".

From the Leuven rest area, lots of traffic was going into Brussels and Antwerp, but not south, and again I waited. I had been in this rest area before, but this time I noticed men kept driving in circles and then parking and going into the thick bushes. I could only draw one conclusion.

A motorcyclist stopped and asked if I had a helmet in my backpack. I guess it isn’t the craziest question, and it has since given me the idea that maybe I should bring one to expand my hitching options. Then three young people and a big dog in a small car stopped. The driver was a bleary eyed guy who looked like he had been awake all night, but then I noticed the can between his legs was beer, not Coke. “Sante!” he toasted with a swig. Oh boy. Here we go.

He had his sister-in-law and a friend in the back seat. I found it hard to think in French, so the exuberant guy in the backseat eagerly gave English a go, but the words only came to him sentences later, so every comment came apropos of nothing. We all had to scream because the windows were down and he drove like a madman. Belgian highways heading south aren’t nearly as good as Germany’s and at high speeds it feels less safe. That together with my driver hitting 177kmh at his maximum and some close calls rattled me. I was balancing my undeniable satisfaction at finally being on the main road to Paris with wondering if this is how I am meant to die in this world, going 105mph with a drunk driver as he tries to light a cigarette with one hand.
“Is crazy!!” the guy in the backseat yelled.

I was dead tired all day and I fell asleep in every car except this guy’s; he was more tired than me. I saw on his keychain a photo of a little girl, and he said he had three kids. As we tailgated dangerously closely to the car in front of us I tried cajoling him, saying, “You have three beautiful kids!” and “I’m too young to die!” The girl in the backseat began to stir a little, asking the driver to be more careful, but otherwise she just smiled at my pleading looks while the dog abstained from comment altogether.
“He has 3 child!!” shrieked the backseat crier.

Weird hitchhiking situations like this often happen to me in Belgium. Last year I climbed into the back seat of a two-door car and as we pulled away the guy in the passenger seat says, “OK, now we take all your money and rape you.”

I was left near the French border and waited too long there, but a guy drove me about 40km south to Cambrai. Somehow I stupidly let him talk me into not leaving me at a highway gas station, but on the edge of town leading to the highway. Big mistake. Again I waited a long time, 160km away from Paris, this time with no food, my water running out, darkness coming, and it was already 9:45pm.

I was miraculously saved by a young couple in a fast BMW who had to get to Paris quickly. I was immediately plied with a Subway sandwich, a stop to fill up my water bottles, a call to my friend that he refused money for, and some very fast driving. I was so thrilled I wasn’t even bothered by their horrendous taste in horrendously loud music. Even if they started a drive-by shooting spree, it would have been fine by me.

They drove out of their way to drop me off at Porte de Maillot (could be translated as “Bathing Suit Gate”), doing hellacious speeding and weaving on the Periferique ring road, which felt like I was in a scene from a movie, then he gave me a metro ticket he said he didn’t need. The only thing I did was to heartily thank him for all of this, but when I clumsily reached to pat his shoulder, he turned, and I poked him in the eye.

In the metro I studied a map and a couple of tourists came up to me and gave me their day pass that was about to expire, then the pass worked to get me on the RER train out to the suburbs and in Le Vesinet I did like everyone else and hopped the turnstiles. When in Rome…
Made it to my friends just after midnight as the last of their dinner guests was leaving.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *