Jonn thumbed his way from Germany to Morocco and back again, two weeks it took him. “Here’s some cardboard, take this map and you’ll do good. Stay optimistic and oh, don’t forget to smile.” He told me reassuringly through his coarse German accent. We met in a fully booked hostel without a bed for the night, being in the same situation we joined forces to split a cheap hotel room, quenching our budget needs–the same reason hitch hiking was on both our agendas the next day.
Car 1: BMW: Best Mom in the World
Metro line D in Lyon took me close enough to the East to West bound freeway towards Chambéry: my goal for the day. From the metro exit, a steady stream of traffic was the sign I needed to find my first spot. Follow the crowds, a pretty good rule of thumb when traveling. Being it was my first time, I was nervous. Passing commuters stared and honked, like I was some sort of traveling entertainer, it was altogether degrading. A slight wave of a hand was their way of saying, “No I won’t help you, even though it would take no effort for me to pull over and let you in.
I just don’t feel like going out of my way to slowdown for a quick second before continuing to drive in the same direction I plan on traveling anyways.” Car after car sped by me until finally, my prayers were answered. A mother of three, her youngest born 40 days earlier, extended a mother’s love to me. I like to think it was the universal love that mothers, from all over the world, share for their children that saved me from the circus ring I felt trapped in. Regardless of why she pulled over, she was the shining light that showed me it was possible. Hitchhiking. A confidence booster that renewed my hope of reaching Chambéry before dark.
Car 2: Peace, Love and House Music
Standing alone by a forgotten tole booth I tried to stay optimistic. The key for successful hitchhiking is the spot. Is there consistent traffic? Are you visible? Can cars pull over without running you over? And my spot did not fulfill any of those requierements. So in the name of self preservation, I went searching for a spot that did. First I crossed the freeway, no good. Next, I returned to my spot. Self doubting I went back to the tole where I was dropped off to find a map of the area. 45 minutes down the drain. Okay, it looked like there was a street that would lead me to a road traveling parallel to the freeway; dead end. Another 45 minutes wasted. I was hot and out of water and a restaurant, carrying the promise of a quick respite, was five minutes down the abandoned lane.
After the all too short R&R I was back on the road, showing off my cardboard sign for Chambéry and Geneva and hopefully thrusting my thumb out only to face denial. I thought to myself, if Frodo and Sam can carry the ring to Mordor, I can bear another kilometer. While walking along a road parallel to the freeway a small 1980s rust bucket slammed the brakes and shot open it’s door. Inside were four questionably looking characters covered in tattoos, piercings and groovy t-shirts. When they explained to me they were going to a music festival I was not surprised, for I could hardly hear them over the thumping beat they bobbed their heads to.
The back seat had three seat belts but it was obvious the row was really on for two. To fit three was a cry of desperation, which, I was altogether too eager to shout. Of course on my back weighed a 40 pound sack which hardly fit on my already squished lap. The ride was as comfortable as sitting on the NY metro squished between two hippopotamus in their birthday suits with a poacher across the aisle. And I’ve heard weirder things about the NY metro. All said and done, my head danced to the catchy tunes and I was extremely grateful for the inches of leather my tiny ass got away with.
Car 3: That moment when you realize you can’t communicate so you don’t talk for the whole ride.
Before saying goodbye to Jonas he explained a German word to me: ASDFGHJL. “You’ve got it Eric, you’ll make it as long as you’ve got it.” It had been about an hour since I was dropped off at the freeway toll and no one was stopping for me. I was very surprised too because I had found quite the spot for thumbing and there was no shortage of traffic. Fed up with my misfortune I did the opposite of what most people might do: I started dancing. You know when you’re driving, and you see people waving signs for car washes or hair salons or big sales, waving their arrow sign like zombies in a sad attempt to grab your attention? Well, you know when you see that one guy rocking his sign on the corner and the car in front of you has a camera out the window because the sign guy is so awesome? I needed to be that guy.
So I started awkwardly thrusting my hips from side to side and kicking my legs to the reggae beat flowing through my mind. Sure enough, one minute later, my first stroke of luck… Only the guy was going in the opposite direction. Then Again! It was like everyone wanted to know the crazy dancing! Another minute, the very next car picked me up. My third saving grace was a gardner who made a living as a mechanic. After the cordial introductions and mandatory livelihood explanations the car was silent except for the “Snoop Lion”, formerly known as Snoop Dog, CD he had on. He didn’t speak a word of english and I only spoke one word in French: Merci. (That’s not true, I can say I am from California, the girls love that!)
Car 4: Family Love
There I found myself again, standing before a freeway entrance, sun baking my neck, thumb out like a beggar holding a hat, and dancing childishly to the song no one else could hear. It took a while but eventually I caught one. I had a few bites before, none were heading the right direction. This time it was a family of four. Pointing at my map was my secret weapon and we learned that they were driving right through Chambéry. Not only that, but they were driving all the way to Annecy.
Scribbled in all caps on my pizza box were the town Chambéry and Genéve when that was my end goal. Thanks to everyone’s favorite search engine: Google, I fell in love with it’s sunken lake reflecting the barren teeth shooting up out of mountain jaws on all sides and Chambéry was only my half way point. Conversation rolled on as we cruised down the freeway between rolling hills.
“Do you think France is beautiful.” asked the youngest boy, he being 11 and his brother 14.
“Very much”, I spoke slowly for his english ear was very young.
“I love the green hills very much; especially when there are churches on top. I think that is very beautiful.”
“Do you believe a religion?” I just love how touchy topics like religion hold no weight for youth, who are open to talk about everything.
“I do.” And in simple curiosity about the stranger sitting next to him he responded.
“What do you believe”
“Well, I believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins because he loves us so much.” Silence.
“We do not have a religion but we respect everyone’s believes.” The young boy’s words conveyed a youthful wisdom.
“I think that is important for everyone.”
I liked this family, they reminded me of home.
So that’s kind of the whole story. Of course, there’s a lot more glamorous and extravagant details I left out. Personally, I give hitchhiking one thumbs up. I’d give it two but the other thumb is too busy holding a pizza box .
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