I’m standing southwest of Berlin at the end of a highway gas station rest stop, trying to hitchhike to Frankfurt, cursing my bad luck on not having shaved the night before.
An old sedan pulls up. The man leans out the window and says, “Turkce?”
Turkish? That’s funny. I was in Turkey two days ago, but I don’t speak Turkish. I say, “American”.
He’s surprised, even though between us is my backpack with a big American flag on it. “American?”
“Yes,” I confirm, and then I notice a woman wrapped in Old Country clothes in the back seat. I assume it’s his wife.
The man is unconvinced. “Poland?”
“No!” I laugh. “American!” and I point to the flag. “California!”
He hands me a business card in Polish that I can’t read and starts a rambling story in hard-to-follow English about losing his documents in a McDonald’s and needing money. I shrug my shoulders helplessly and gesture to my backpack, trying to convey that I’m not his target demographic. Undeterred, he fidgets with a big gold ring on his finger and when he pulls it off, he makes a final, desperate flourish by trying to put the ring in my hand while asking me to give him something for it, anything.
Is it a wedding ring? I pull my hand back and snatch a glance at the woman in the back seat who stares blankly ahead, revealing nothing. I step back, shrug again, and say “No thank you, sorry.”
He gazes at me for a couple of seconds, crestfallen that I’m not going to be his savior. He then stares out the windshield like his wife is, perhaps realizing that I’m the last person before the open road. He puts the car in gear and pulls away, slowly, into the abyss.