Hungry, Foolish, Hitchhiking.

Posted by

“The frame of mind of the young hitchhiker is one of the freest frames of mind there is,” Stewart Brand told The Guardian in 2013. “You’re always a little bit hungry and you know you are being completely foolish.”

Brand coined the phrase ‘stay hungry; stay foolish,’ for the back cover of the last Whole Earth Catalog in 1975, along with a picture of the open road. Steve Jobs made it famous with the finale of his 2005 Stanford commencement address: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish: I have always wished that for myself, and now… I wish that for you.”

cf59cfa77f6f1e9512dde4065ed89fae

For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot about hungry and foolish lately. I hitchhiked a lot in the 1980s (see my interview and City Paper article), and had some pretty wild (and frequently foolish) adventures.

So on the advice of Brand and Jobs, I dug out an old journal from my 1985 hitching trip around Europe and started reading it… below are some excerpts. In total I hitched about 3000 miles in Europe and another 3000 in the US, during and after college. It was great.

As context, Reagan was President then, and the world seemed doomed by the spread of nuclear weapons and Reagan’s authoritarian government. But that didn’t stop me, and the friends who joined me along the way, from feeling the infinite possibilities of the road.

From my 1985 hitchhiking journal:

“In car with two Spanish girls – Carmen and Magis – heading south to Cordoba. Going there to sell jewelry, then on to Cadiz. They mix hash + cigarette tobacco, smoke en route. We stopped for gas and I had my first 30 cent beer, then for another 30 cents, and iced coffee w/Cognac. Countryside is now plains and mountains. Horse running free by side of road. Man with whip and herd of sheep.”

“Just passed Alcala La Real, one of a series of villages along the winding, mountainous road from Cordoba to Grenada. This is my fourth (and hopefully last) ride on this 150km journey. One rowdy trucker, with suspension so bad my head hit the roof. Two fancy cars with businessmen, and one nice architect who spoke una poco French. Pointed out Roman ruins, reviewed Spanish history.”

“Got a ride to Sevilla with a fat Andalusian Adidas rep. 3/4 of the way there, right front tire blew out. Hard time fixing it – jack fell over and car fell down. Nice guy though, and we still got there by 3pm. I gave him some Anacin.”

“Very tough hitching out of Sevilla. Walked one mile out of city, saw ox-drawn horseshoe shaped carts. Very elegant. First ride with a German who lives in Portugal and just spent 18 days in a Spanish jail for bringing too much $ into the country.”

“Rough time hitching the short distance to Segovia – through mountains and we got lost somewhere after El Escorial. A guy even stopped and picked us up when we weren’t thumbing. Stood in rain for awhile, and Jean taught me how to whistle with reeds.”

2017-02-20 11.48.55.jpg

“Got ride to Avila with guy who said he had six kids and is a trade regulator for eggs, and photographer of pinball machines (for permits). Got ride to small town of San Pedro with psychiatrist, then rest of the way to Salamanca with weirdo with big nose in big stickshift car.”

“Still pouring. San Sebastian. Staying in Youth Hostel here on outskirts. Took bus in from Bilbao, one of the scummiest cities I’ve ever seen. The river is brown, literally. Got ride there from two jet set Spanish my age in fancy red car with great stereo playing ‘Amie, I’m in love with you.’ We smoked two joints en route. Left my red sweatshirt in their car by accident.” 

“Ate half a barbequed chicken overlooking the Pyrenees. Two ladies picked me up today (one who told me a story about how a hitchhiker invited himself to her house and asked to sleep with her). The first ride was with three hash-smoking Basques playing Spyro-Gyra on their VW bus tape deck. Then came an aluminum plant worker.”

“Got picked up by two old ladies – sisters. Upon learning I was American they told me their parents had both lived in America awhile, and met there. Their sister lived nearby, and they invited me to stay at their house. I accepted after hearing there was a German girl there my age studying French (she later turned out to be cute). I arrived to find a bustling farm, complete with wine press and barrels, geese for pate, three dogs, an incredibly old house, two overworked sons and a TV going constantly with tennis matches. We ate cherries direct from the trees.”

“Everybody goes out of their way. The farm family made me a sandwich with that tender thick ham, for the road. They, too asked me about my religion. This is really the only annoying thing I’ve encountered.”

2017-02-20-11-49-49

“I’m very tired, from walking miles and miles along the side of the highway, uphill, and across the whole city of Poitiers. First ride was with some sort of mechanic, 50km. Second ride was great, 250km Brive to Poitiers. Professor of farm machinery repair. We bought stuff to eat in supermarket – esp good pate. He had a five speed Ford Escort with an American Graffiti tape.”

“Had a short ride yesterday from a florist, who said he didn’t like rainy weather because in the sun, all his customers flowers would wilt and die, so he’d sell more. Another short ride from lady in van with three kids with runny noses and two dogs equally shabby. The dogs attacked me as soon as I got in the van.”

“Every time I have to wait and hour or two for a ride I curse up and down, and say how much hitchhiking sucks. But then when I get a good ride with things pointed out along the way, I think isn’t this great!”

“Am sitting in a truckers (routiers) bar drinking un petit cafe and waiting for the rain to stop. Walked 5-6km along the autoroute, then got a good 100km ride with a coffee salesman. Next a trucker with military band cassettes, and the everpresent question: “is there much unemployment in the U.S.? Truck cabs bounce up and down a lot.”

“Fred and I stayed in an Auberge de Jeunesse, where there was a New Zealander whose opening line was ‘we’re banning your nuclear ships from our harbors.'”

“Got the classic ride (which happens a lot)… a sleek sports car going 160km/hr pulls over, with a young couple and a kid, puts our stuff in the trunk, we squeeze in and they tell us they did a lot of hitching themselves a few years ago.”

“Also got a ride this morning from a guy driving an ice cream truck with bells on the top, part of a convoy of 11 or 12 ice cream trucks going to la plage in Narbonne. These guys were from Tunisia. Fred asked them to teach us some Arab phrases, which they did. They also launched into a long discourse on the Muslim religion and the problems  of Arabs in Europe (crossing borders, etc). Very nice guys.”

“Totally lousy auto-stopping yesterday… took us 11 rides to get from Reze to Toulouse. First three were students, then a gas station attendant for 4km, then a weird couple in a huge Chrysler – the guy couldn’t drive it right. One short ride to get to a service station in a tiny car that already had fours kid our age in it. Fully loaded with us and our packs, it went about 55km/hr. We had a ride with a nun, who said she knew many religieuses from the states. Our final ride was a sporty car with two 30 year old women, one of whom was a doctor in laser physics and had spent a year in Berkeley. They gave us chocolate crackers and we listened to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.”

2017-02-20-11-51-13

“Arrived in Genoa after crossing the border in a deux-cheveaux with two Italian students – cute couple. Traffic jams, people coming back from the beaches. After Cannes, hundreds of miles of long tunnels – gallerias – and then bridges between the tunnels. Lots of houses and greenhouses stuck into the mountainsides.”

“Got let off on the highway several km from Genoa exit.  Very scary walk along side of highway with no shoulder, cars whizzing by in dark tunnels, etc, at sunset.”

“Took many bus rides in Florence without paying. During one long ride, I got up to get near the exit because we were reaching our stop, and a lady who had been standing next to me beamed and said ‘oh thank you,’ in Italian.”

“Hitched north to Padova (Padua) with German couple in a Volvo, a pasta delivery man, and rich salesman in white diesel Mercedes. Debating whether or not to go through Yugoslavia. Money running low.”

“This morning left Padova, meeting a couple listless hitchhikers en route to the highway who’d been waiting five hours. We immediately got two short rides past Venice at service stations – both from possible mafioso with fancy cars (sporty Volvo, Mercedes 240).”  

“Ride to frontier (Yugoslavian border) with van driver who taught us a few words. After frontier (simple visa issue, no problems), ride with French couple in van, avowed communists, well travelled in Eastern Europe.”

2017-02-20-11-52-09

“On bus to Ljubjana, Yugoslavia, after two fruitless hours of thumbing and two half-liters of beer each, one given to us free by some friendly Italians, and the others purchased for a whopping 40 cents each at a touristy restaurant where lots of soldiers were sitting. Idea of going through tip of Yugoslavia to get to Munich, last week only a dim conception of a possibility, is quickly developing into a full-blown Eastern European tour scheme.”

“Writing from my makeshift bed, on the floor of a Yugoslavian chemistry student’s dorm room. Her name is Maya, and she’s the first person Fred and I encountered when we took the bus out of Ljubjana to the alleged youth hostel, which nobody had ever heard of. Maya speaks English very well, having studied it for eight years, and being able to buy magazines like Newsweek. She at first flinched when I said I was American, but later explained that the typical Yugoslavian negative to reaction to Americans is simply because they see us as being so rich. It was sort of awkward talking about politics, o we only grilled her for a little while. She seemed fed up with communism.”

“Left Zagreb after getting visa photographs for Hungary. Went looking for Yugoslavian t-shirts, but all we could find were ‘Break Dance,’ ‘College Style,’ and ‘Name that U’ shirts. Same for what Zagrebians were wearing. Little U.S. flags and ACDC-type patches were all over the place.”

“Found hopping Zagreb new wave video nightclub with 60 cent cover, 30 cent beers and all music in English, as usual in Slovenia and Croatia. I discovered some bars even have tapes of California radio station broadcasts.”

“Got ride to Djakovo with a thermoelectric engineer named Peter, later took bus to Osijek. He lived in a slum-like neighborhood (and we went through several) with mud streets, worn down houses packed along each side of the main road, horses pulling carts, and cows running loose. He complained constantly (in German) about the Yugoslavian system, which he said works well enough so the standard of living is higher than in other Eastern European countries, but still encumbered by such bureaucracy that every farmer has ‘one tractor, a hundred bosses, and a hundred secretaries.’ He invited us to his house where he cooked some pasta and beef from a can. The supermarket we went to with him had a cashier who was eating nuts out of one compartment of the cash register and putting the empty shells in the other one. Peter took a while to warm up to us… like Maya, he had an eagerness to speak a language he’d learned only in school combined with a suspicious curiosity about [our] mysterious, decadent culture.”

2017-02-20-11-51-43

“Arrived late in Osijek, found only expensive hotels so went up to a group of students. They all spoke English well, and invited us to stay in their apartment, even made us eggs and cucumber/tomato salad for breakfast. Law students. Said there’s no political opposition here, and they’re unhappy about that. By law a picture of Tito – who died five year ago – hangs in every office.”

“Today hitched to border, getting rides in a huge baby blue truck with bird shit on the roof, and a bus that we flagged because we thought it was the one for the border and we were ready to give up, but it turned out to be only a private vehicle taking workers to a farm.”  

“Budapest. Pitch black dirty, crumbling, nouveau utilitarian. Spartan buses, cars, emission control-less trucks on the wide avenues. Squares are Terraces. There is a Roosevelt Terrace, and even a statue of Washington, erected in 1906 by Hungarian Americans. Subway cars made in CCCP. Escalators move incredibly fast. Everything incredibly cheap. Pissed off bridge into Danube. Many soldiers, military types around. Bela Bartok is on the 1,000 Forint ($20) bill. Saw drunk in car smash into another car while trying to park. Now on boat heading up the Danube to the point where we can hitchhike to Wein.”

“Now in American van (big and plush) with a group of Swedes on way to Salzburg. They came down from Stockholm via ferry to Poland, where they said the black market is so strong the accepted procedure is for cab drivers to pull up next to you waving a wad of bills… and give you six times the official rate. The Austrians east of Linz are very aware they’re surrounded by communists on all sides… they were in fact occupied by the Russians until 1955.”

2017-02-20-11-54-30

“Got ride into Bamberg in a cement mixer, and then with a U.S. military platoon leader from Chattanooga. East Germany is known as West Germany’s dumping ground because they can do whatever they want with industrial waste, which they are paid hard western cash to get rid of.”

“Having finished partying with Uli in Bamberg, am now 270km from Paris at 9pm, careening home in a taxi which picked me up on the side of the autoroute. Off schedule today because I screwed up and took a ride through congested Frankfurt. Did get a ride in a U.S. army truck, though. It is pretty obvious that German students are frustrated that their country has no alternative but to follow along with the U.S… and (especially) with Ronnie in power, always spewing frightening rhetoric.”

‘Now on Jet Am charter flight home, arriving in 75 minutes. Figured out I hitchhiked 5,000km. I don’t know exactly what I want to write right now. I have a great tan.”

2017-02-19-21-09-43

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s