In the late 1960’s I did a lot of hitchhiking with friends. We did get into trouble sometimes, but nothing we couldn’t get out of. And the stories of the astonishing variety of people who picked us up and took care of us would make a novel in itself. I note that it is still common in Europe.
In the spring of 1967 we didn’t have backpacks. My friend Jeane Olson and I, just 21, left Oxford, England in April for a few open-ended weeks, planning to visit friends stationed in the Army in Germany, and hoping to get as far south as Greece. We each carried a train case, with a change of clothes, a student hostel membership, and the Let’s Go: Europe guidebook. What I can’t remember is whether we actually wore nylon stockings! Skirts, flats, for sure, but nylons? Maybe.
Although, With One Hand Waving Free is something of a Bildungsroman, it doesn’t have a lot of space for a three-week trip on the continent of Europe. Marty hitchhikes with a friend down to Greece and the openness she gains from it definitely goes in the book. With little experience of the world, what unfolds in front of her is full of terror and delight. But here is one story from my trip with Jeane which won’t make it into the book:
After a few days on Corfu and in Athens, we got rides with truckers on the long haul up through what was then Yugoslavia. One of them deposited us at the Hotel International in Zagreb (now Croatia), where we rested. We had been up all night in the cab of a truck, regaled with a big slab of chocolate and Turkish coffee for breakfast!
The next day we made it to Ljubljana (now in Slovenia), but as we stood that afternoon on a busy street, thumbing, we were approached by two girls, one of whom spoke excellent English. “You’re not going to get a ride there,” she said. “It’s Sunday! Come with us to a coffee house and stay with us tonight. Tomorrow we’ll show you where we usually hitchhike from.” They liked to go up into the mountains to the north to ski.
The two blonde girls took us to a large room open to the air where, at round tables, with many small glasses in front of each of them, people sat talking. Musicians played in a corner, accordion and fiddles, and often people got up to dance. Rounds of liqueurs began to be set in front of us, astonishing me. I had never had these small brandies and spirits, flavored with all kinds of fruits and herbal infusions. “Try this one, try this one,” we were asked. Exotic Americans as we were at the time, many wanted to talk to us. Places at the table kept shifting and the light settled into evening in the festive, open cafe.
When it grew dark, we were taken to dinner at the younger girl’s apartment. She spoke less English and it was a little hard to understand who lived there, but certainly her father and siblings. Fed meat (though our pale girlfriend didn’t eat any) and given beds with embroidered linen coverlets in the guest room, we felt we were getting the royal treatment in this odd, socialist country.
The next day, the girls indeed found a better place for us to hitchhike. Their only request was that we send them sunglasses. We did try, but we never heard whether the sunglasses arrived at their destination. All through the Bosnian War, I wondered about these girls whose faces I haven’t forgotten. Where were they and what happened to them when Yugoslavia split up into so many countries?
I no longer have any documentation for this trip, but many of the faces, the smells, the places, our fears and our delights are as vivid as anything that happened recently.