Humans are but stories. Through different religions, we have been conveying the same messages – the same stories. Some characters would be changed, the environment varied; yet the stories remained.
If you’re a bookworm like me, you must be familiar with many stories. Love, friendship, crime, adventure. Or even if you’re not so fond of reading, you must have come across stories. Be it in the aforementioned religions, or even in life, we hear about and go through stories of our own.
What a strange feeling it is when you become a story yourself. Usually, we go through life, face our challenges, have our experiences and some people around us. At one point, you might come to realize that the present – the now – is a story. You suddenly become aware that your next few choices and your latest memories will turn into a story. At this moment, you become a writer.
Decades later, those stories will stay with you, and the best ones you’ll share with the friends from your youth during a high school reunion, or maybe with your children. If you’re like me, you’ll hope that your story will reach more ears and eyes than those in your immediate environment. Who knows, perhaps you’ll decide to write an article, even a whole book about your story?
My story started at 4.30 a.m. Okay, in fact, it began way earlier, almost twenty years ago (what a shiver does this thought send through my spine), but the one I wish to tell you right now started at exactly 4.30 a.m., the first time I clicked the ‘snooze’ button on that Monday morning.
Two more clicks and it was already fifteen past five. Gradually, it was getting bright outside, hence it was time to leave the cosiness of my bed and get ready for the journey; to get ready for my story.
My rucksack was packed, my head was full of excitement (which somehow covered all the concerns). Besides, my parents were worried about me anyway. What good would it bring if I worried for myself too?
A bus, then a tram, and I found myself on the outskirts of Berlin. With two cardboard banners in my hands, a backpack, and a camera, I managed to cross the busy morning streets in the suburbia of Germany’s capital. One jump over the short fence and I was on the road.
Oh, on the road. I like this expression. My spontaneous decision to go out and travel was mainly inspired by Jack Kerouac. His life – and his works – would always come back to me, as I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Beat Generation and the Dharma Bums. With hardly any experience (none, in fact), I packed my things and decided to hitchhike to Bodensee and back to Berlin. To give you an idea, the distance I had to cover was roughly 800 kilometres (500 miles), which would take around 8 hours by car.
A happy idiot, I was walking along the Autobahn, waiting for my first ride. The plan was to get to Leipzig, then Nuremberg, Munich, and Bodensee. Having heard stories from my father’s youth, I knew that the lake Bodensee was beautiful, as was the area surrounding it. But I’ve had enough stories, I want to have one of my own! Take it down with my own footsteps; not just hear about that exquisiteness, but experience it on my own skin.
Hardly a few minutes passed when I saw my first ride – with the siren on. I stopped at once, smiling, waiting for the inevitable.
“Du kannst hier nicht gehen,” said the police officer after leaving the car. He then started telling me off, and that’s when my command of German ceased to be useful.
“Sorry?” I was looking at him in bewilderment, waiting for an explanation in English. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt that 90% from my majors in German wasn’t enough to communicate with the natives, at least not that police officer.
“You cannot walk here!” The officer approached me, talking in a patronizing way. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Poland,” I replied. “Well, where can I get off?” I had to figure something out off the cuff. Wasn’t that how hitchhiking works? Walking along the street with your thumb and a cardboard banner up? That’s how Kerouac described it, and that’s how it was in the movies. But hey, it wasn’t the sixties – it’s 2020.
“No, no, no,” he shook his head. “You’re coming with us.”
Without much ado, I sat on the backseat of the car and chatted with the two officers. They’d ask me some more questions and told me that it’s forbidden to be on the highway. They smiled when I mentioned Bodensee.
The officers dropped me off at the closest petrol station and told me where I could and couldn’t stand. So that’s how I got my first ride. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for free, which seemed against the idea of hitchhiking. I had to pay a €10 fine. Not too bad, and cheaper than a taxi, but still – it hurt.
Looking for the sweet spot near the entrance to the highway to Leipzig, I walked around and changed the places where I stood. Goofing around and smiling at each driver, I felt happy. Most of them wouldn’t give me a ride, yet I knew that I made their day jumping around with my banners, dancing, cheering.
Time flies when you’re having fun. Some three hours later, a guy came near to me. I smiled and said hey.
“Hi, I’ve seen you here like an hour ago,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ve been here for a while,” I replied.
“Listen, I’m not going to Leipzig, but I can drop you off to a parking lot near the highway. Maybe you’ll have more luck there.”
“Brilliant!” After a shadow of the thought of giving up, high hopes filled my mind again. In his car, we chatted for a bit. Hie offered that he’d get me back to Berlin if I got stuck on that parking lot. That was a fine plan B for me. We exchanged numbers and had our good-byes.
From that point on, the journey went quite smoothly. Not a quarter passed, when I got my third ride. The driver was with his daughter, they were on a road trip, getting to their next stop after visiting Berlin.
“Oh, you’re a smoker,” he said, opening his car window.
“Sorry,” I mumbled and started a conversation. Another quarter later I got off, thanking them for the ride, and wishing I had prepared gifts for my drivers beforehand. I made a note to myself to do so for my next journeys – create some kind of a souvenir, a gift of gratitude for the drivers’ sincerity.
A Lucky Bastard
On the other side of the road, I could see my next goal – yet another parking lot for resting drivers. Sure, I am crazy, but I wanted to make it to Bodensee in one piece, hence I gave up on the idea of running across the highway. Walking over a nearby viaduct seemed like a more reasonable idea.
This time, I decided to take the initiative instead of waiting for luck. I approached drivers asking them if they were travelling south and could give me a lift. Many people declined my offer, but I couldn’t be put down. It was around 10 a.m.
Couples, businesspeople, long-haired hippies – they either weren’t going to any of my destinations or didn’t have enough room for me. When a van with military-clad men arrived, I took my chance.
“Hey, are you going to Munich and could give me a lift?”
“We are going to Munich,” said the crew-cut man, “but we can’t take any civilians.”
I tried to come up with a clever joke, maybe give him a salute, but thinking about all the ways that man could break my bones, I gave up on this idea. I wished him a good day and walked away.
Standing there, seeing yet another opportunity passing right in front of my face, doubt appeared again. It’s been four hours already, and I’d barely left Berlin. As it turned out, I’m a lucky bastard.
“Where are you going?” I heard a voice and turned around. A smile appeared on my face.
“Leipzig,” I said, raising my banner high. The man shook his head. I turned the banner around. “Nuremberg?” I asked, but he wasn’t going to Nuremberg that day. “What about Munich or Bodensee?”
“Look,” he said. “I’m going to Stuttgart, so I can drop you off on the highway near Nuremberg or Munich.”
“Stuttgart,” I said. “Perfect, that’s exactly where I’m going.”
Keep reading – How to Become a Hippie #2: Bodensee.