So, I must admit–I’ve had some trouble writing lately. Sitting down, in and of itself, in any kind of pseudo-stationary and focused way that writing often requires if it’s actually to be done, has felt a little bit like, well, I guess like those last few days of school when it’s already becoming dead hot outside and your mind and your body and your soul are all adrift, somewhere beach-y and far-off.
Nothing is really so bad here in Brooklyn, even though the streets in summer tend to smell of rotting fish and boiled trash. That being said, sometimes I’d rather be rolling around in a pile of dead fish, outside, than inside pulling words out of my brain when it feels wiped and sore. And it’s times like these when I like to distract myself with travel plans…look at pictures of past travels…rehash them until some kind of fix has been satisfied, if only superficially.
I mean. GOD. SHIT. I want to be here right now. Right on the ocean. Everything so green. Huge sky. Cliffs and mountains and sheep. Overcast in the way that makes both going for long, ambling walks by the misty sea and cooking ambitious meals, drinking tea, and watching movies equally appealing. Perfect weather (in my opinion, at least!)–like Fall, all the time.
This picture was taken in a place called Malin Head, in Co. Donegal, Ireland. My friend and I had plans to farm somewhere further west, but those plans changed, and so we traveled north instead. Ended up staying in this little cottage on the northernmost tip of the country, right on the sea, with a big kitchen, wood-burning stove, and lots of old video tapes. It’s the kind of small town where even the old couple who owned the place recommended we hitchhike to get around. Everyone did, unless they owned a car, or wanted to walk a very long way to the grocery store.
I was raised with the kind of parental cautioning that demands you be suspicious of pretty much everyone; my mother would click on the automatic locks in the car every time we drove through the city; she also told me the same story, again and again, about the time she and a friend hitched a ride to Washington D.C., about how the driver ended up making a pass at her friend, in the front seat, and how at the next stop light my mother and her friend threw their doors open and ran out–and this was in the early seventies, when everyone hitchhiked. This was her definitive reason-you-don’t-hitchhike tale, but it just didn’t seem quite serious enough to warn me off the business.
I can’t help but picture the man my mother took a ride from as an obvious person-you-don’t-take-rides-from–a featureless, beer-bellied, leathery-skinned cowboy type, way older that she was. Maybe he was chewing tobacco when he pulled his truck over and had a little rip of it stuck against one of his teeth. Maybe he leered openly at them, or maybe he was one of the more silent-creepy types, darkened by the witnessed horrors of some past war that still visit him nightly in dreams. Either way, I always liked to think that my own ventures into hitchhiking were marked by a certain quality of discernment that my mother’s wasn’t.
When my best friend Rachel and I hitched–we’d stand by the boulevard near our houses, flashing cars until one pulled over–we made sure our ride-givers looked at least close to our age. Besides, we didn’t really have anywhere we needed to go–we always needed to get back home, at some point, anyway. The first time it happened was in the cul-de-sac of our street. A car was pulling around and we flagged it over. The boys inside told us they went to a local high-school, and this comforted us, and they drove us around for a while.
The second time it happened, maybe a month later, I recognized one of the boys in the car from elementary school. We rode the same bus. He was a fifth grader when I was a first grader. They drove us down the street to this same boy’s parents house, where we watched them play video games and drink beer in the basement. Rachel and I walked home not too long after. It was only two or three blocks away.
It was probably dangerous–my parents had very legitimate reasons to caution me against accepting rides from complete strangers–and when I think back on it, I feel very lucky that I didn’t get into the cars of any really creepy dudes who ended up raping/mangling/killing me, dumping my body in some far-off ditch. But I also never quite bought into the idea that every single stranger out there was fundamentally ill-intentioned. And, I was a teenager, so I also didn’t think anything bad could actually happen to me. I was too young for that kind of reality to have set in in any real way.
But Europe seems devoid of these cautionary tales of distrust and suspicion. Maybe it’s simply that things are just literally safer, and smaller, and more compact. Lower crime rates. Fewer people with guns. Maybe it’s just the kind of very-small-town life, where you’re accountable for every single thing you do because everyone knows every single thing you do, that makes hitchhiking a thing a seventy-year-old grandmother-type can recommend without batting an eye. If you stuck your thumb out, you were pretty much guaranteed a ride; many times, we were picked up by mothers with children in the front seat.
So, listen, if you are interested in hitchhiking, don’t do it here. Go to Malin Head. Stay with Rodney and Carol. They’ll tell you the best spot to stand, and give you movies to watch when you’re delivered safely back to the cottage via Nun or mother or some other kind Irish citizen.