Hitching A Ride
Fall up out of the grave at 8am (last time I saw the clock it read 04.54). Nervous look underneath the curtain and there’s wind, sovaldi sale look down to the street, no rx pools of rain as far as I can see. The room’s cold. Leave it to put the kettle on, then back into the frost (window’s been open all night by accident).
Lift up my backpack and it’s heavier than the night before. Toothbrush goes in last, then tie on the sleeping bag – borrowed from my housemate and light. Almost forget the map of Sweden on loan from Stefano the Chain Smoking Jesus. The route’s all the way drawn, all way cross country (and down it), in horrible red upon the paper roads. Throw on a heavy coat – not great if it rains, but I’ve no waterproof and it will get me warm. Map into the big hippy pocket. No time to shave. Lock the door on the way out.
Sad jazz (Cat Power) plays quietly on the pawned out mp3 (bad headphones). Hot drink and cold toast make up morning’s meal. Feel like I’ve got up for one of those worse-than-midnight, ghost-time morning, stuffed up nose, into shitty weather flights. ??Mark on the corridor calendar that I’ll be gone, no return date yet, be in touch.
Change the music over to Dylan, I gotta go. ??Look tired in the elevator mirror – things worse than I thought when I step out the front door. I’ve been in Stockholm for one month. Today I’m trying to hitch to Gothenburg.
Seeing my bus go across my narrow view as I take the alleyway shortcut to the bus stop means a walk to the Underground and a rush to meet Arian Elias at central station.
Shin splint my way through shortcut fields – skinny cows look confused. Nearly ruin my coat in a close shave slip by the most muddy, hilly part of the route. Make the train with a minute in my pocket (ah ha!) and ahoy! there’s Elias checking his watch as I get off. He’s from Germany and mad capped enough to come on this maybe-to-nowhere journey. Poor fella’s bag is much bigger than mine, although he’s got a great waterproof North Face jacket. Offers me a malteaser.
Plan is a free bus to the outskirts of the city. There’s a point just before the fast roads split into lake passing, city bound directions north and south, where they run together for about a mile and a half mixed in with roundabouts and industrial warehouses. There’s a petrol station there the Scandinavian Sam’s (a wild blonde couple I’d met) told me is a good starting point for any hitching trip.
Swedes talk freely when they’re drinking and the moment I mentioned my idea for the trip they burst out of their slicked back stylish skins and became bearded hippy hitching beasts right before my eyes, fighting each other over the advice. It all happened in the cold light of a night time café last Tuesday. Not long after the transformation they fell on top of each other across the wooden bench by the café window, like the lovers they were. I left them there sleeping a bit happier than before we’d met.
Here come’s the rain as we bundle are bags onto the bus. Elias is over on the idea of hitching. ??“We are going back in time. My Dad did this when he was young, it’s how he met my mother.”
We mix in words on football before the map gets folded out from it’s 8 times creased shape in my coat pocket. He has ideas about talking to the drivers who pull into the station for gas. Giant cardboard appears out of his bag tailed by a big thick ink marker. Who can write the clearest? I get the vote and our steadiest hand scrawls something like our destination across the brown sheet – GOTHENBRG?. Glad I’m not going out on this alone.
Off and out into the day as it wakes up. Crazy license plates fly by and we look like we’ve just arrived on earth as we plod across the turf in the direction that seems sanest.
Into a market for food stores then skirt along a big fast lane about 200 meters the wrong way. Double back on ourselves and 400m to go to the petrol station. Conversation flows with the rain but I‘m keeping an eye on the sky hoping it clears before our spirits are soaked from us, away onto the road. The sides are swept strokes of grey paint warehouses, the backlog of swedish industry, seems far detached from the sights of the city centre.
We make it to the station and it’s a good spot. Just after a slow turn in the road, room for a car or even a truck to pull in, safe, dry. If we’re going to get a lift, this is the place.
Right, PLAN. Elias to stand near the pumps asking most politely for lifts as the unsuspecting travelers leave there cars to go pay. Brave to take on that, he’s more social than I who stand side of the road, sign held huge across my chest, right hand out to my side, arm straight – thumb up, traditional.
Fifteen minutes and no lift yet. Shift the feet to keep the blood pumping. The drivers look, they see the sign, they drive on by. Some look confused, most smile, some are fast car driving business men bastards racing home from their mistresses bed. Rain’s still falling. Early days… Check over the shoulder on Elias and he’s walking away from a tall skinny trucker hat. He shakes his head. I turn back to my post. Every car that accident indicates I think might just pull in. Every one that slows down even a beat seems like the one.
After a while the sun comes out and the cars pulling in a are few and far between. Elias comes over and stands on the road too. We share a chocolate bar to cheer ourselves up cause it’s starting to seem like there’s no lift coming, that this ain’t the done thing anymore, that people don’t trust two students standing on the side of the road hoping to get just about any distance down the road, that people are too busy with their own lives to join in on life. One big truck slows right down only to give us the peace sign ( /) but it’s nice. A hippy van drives past in the wrong direction and we’re clutching to stereotypes as a big bus driver wheels past and laughs as the sky turns dark and falls down on us again.
Wet socks. Bad sign. What can we do? Neither of us wants to say give up. But we’ve been standing for 3 hours. We left and tried another spot I’d heard of, but there was no hope there. We’d came back and were standing where we started. A few miles outside Stockholm. Wet and tired. It’s time to go and we both know it.
As we start walking once more, skirting along past all these no-lift damn you to hell cars I feel a bit lighter. The bag’s on my back but it feels like it’s been left behind. Elias seems to feel it to. “Actually” he says with a big german grammar pause “my morale, it’s quite high!” Me too, I realise. We’d tried it! We’d took a long look at the means told to us – fifty euro trains and 10 hour buses – and tried another way of our own. Today it hadn’t worked, but tomorrow it might. Maybe this trip won’t fly, but another might. The thing about it is, every four wheels is another maybe, another roll of the dice.??We arrive back in the city in better spirits than we’d left it that morning.
Head to a bar for a drink. Into the warmth and a great first gulp.
That’s hitch hiking in Sweden. A great fantastic failure. ??I can’t say I regret.