Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 72: Hitch Hiking to Toulouse

The open road!
Europe has a new roadside attraction – a fool on the side of the road with his thumb out, doing a dance. Let me tell you about my first hitch hiking experience.

Hitch hiking has always been a forbidden fruit for me. My parents warned me about picking up hitch hikers and told me to never hitch hike. "You never know what type of person you're going to meet," they said. They might stab you. While I wasn't afraid of getting stabbed, I was slightly nervous as I walked towards the highway. Little did I know, I was about to meet some beautiful people.

My hitch hiking career began with a severe lack of knowledge. After saying goodbye to Zoë I hopped on the tram, headed to what I thought was the right location. I knew that I needed to be by the highway to Toulouse and in a spot where a car could pull over.

Zoë still looks cute, even when she's tired and in a hurry.

As I began, I was feeling good. This was new and exciting. My nervousness mixed with my excitement as I repeated the French phrase Zoë patiently taught me. "E'st que vous allez a Toulouse?" Decked out in full traveler regalia, I danced on the side of the road.

Who wouldn't pick this up?

The universe rewarded my hour of dancing with two cars. Unfortunately they were both headed in the wrong direction. I found out that I was at the entrance to the highway that I needed, but the A9 headed North instead of South. Frack. Feeling discouraged and unsure of where to go I started the walk of shame, following the tram line back to the city center where I could take the train. I felt lame because I psyched myself up to hitch but without knowing how to get to the Southbound A9 my situation was hopeless. Walking along the tram line. I mentally consoled myself, "At least you got two cars to stop!" At that moment a miracle happened – I saw a sign for the A9 to Barcelona. Yee ha!

I followed the signs, walking down the road for about 45 minutes. When I tried hitch hiking by a bus stop and one of the drivers motioned for me to keep walking. So I headed towards a gas station which I thought might be a better place.

Resuming my hitch hiking shimmy, it wasn't long before I got my first ride. I was on my way. The intrepid traveler. Backpack hitching across Europe. I was doing this. Fun. Exciting. New. People. The Universe. France. Synch. He brought me to the Toulouse highway entrance.

People that stop for hitch hikers either genuinely want to help or skin you and stuff you in their trunk. Thankfully, everyone that I met while hitch hiking was friendly and helpful. All of the people that picked me up had hitched before so they wanted to help other hitchers. For example, this first dude I got in a car with gave me a big piece of paper so I could make a sign. Even the woman who dropped me off in the middle of the highway thought she was helping.

Having been deposited just passed the toll booth, I laughed to myself. This was an absurd situation. Cars slingshotted out of the toll booth like dragsters. I could feel the suction of huge transport trucks as they barreled down the road. I was standing on the side of a four lane highway where that woman dropped me. The chances of someone pulling over seemed slim. Holding my sign high and dancing I couldn't help but think, "I'm going to die here."

Hitch hiking is my new favorite way to get around.

I only waited a few minutes before a young, chain smoking manager of La Post, picked me up, and took me from Montpellier to Toulouse. He said he liked my hat. He runs a handful of post offices around Toulon and Marseille and is in charge of over 200 people. He was friendly and spoke enough English to have a great conversation. We chatted the whole time about ourselves, my travels, people, politics, the environment, differences between France and US, gun laws, language, hitch hiking, Sarkozy, French girls, music, work strikes – I even learned a bit more French. Our brains grooved as we rocketed down the highway towards Toulouse. We were there before I knew it; our two hour ride passed too quickly. Luckily his meeting had been delayed for an hour and a half. Bar!

One of the four bars we went to.

Actually, it was time to go to many bars. The next morning, my head asked me "why did you mix beer, rum, vodka, and pastis?" That's the kind of night we had. A good 'ol time. Two dudes hanging out, rambling on about this and that, pounding back the alcool. I called my CouchSurfing host to let him know that I would meet him in about an hour. That hour may have turned into three, but nonetheless, I got a ride to his apartment. Parting from my new friend was a bummer. He dropped me off and we went our separate ways. My way was a drunk climb over a fence to get into my host's apartment complex.

Thank goodness, everything worked out. A perfect way to end a day that I will never forget. My host, Aras gave me a warm welcome around 22:30 with a bowl of grilled mushrooms in stroganoff sauce. I was way too drunk to dwell on my distaste for mushrooms but they were delicious. We chatted while I ate, but afterwards I crashed almost immediately. I had a long day. Once again, proving that investing my trust in the good graces of strangers always makes life interesting.

Au revoir!

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