Sunday, February 01, 2004

Interesting Hitchhikers

On my way to Prague for the IWAP meeting I passed a woman, laden with shopping, trudging from a small town. She wasn't hitchhiking and I didn't stop for her, although this is the sort of person I sometimes do stop for. I soon felt guilty when I saw how far away the next village was.

I've become something of a pick-up artist, you see. Often buses don't run, at least not at convenient times, to all villages, so often little old people trudge along country highways, lugging heavy bags of groceries. Some entertaining guests have shared the passenger seat in my car.

Such as the old woman who started talking about how terrible life is today: "There is something called the C-O-L-D W-A-R going on." She was very firmly told the Cold War is Over, and the communists Lost. "Ha. If the communists lost, how am I getting my pension!?"

A young woman was walking to her village, 6 km. from the long-distance bus route. We chatted - a bit - and she told me that for someone who's lived here for over 10 years I speak very bad Czech! I thought, "Just a minute, chickie, I'm giving you a lift!" Luckily for my ego, another Czech later told me that my command of his language is great.

My husband has also played the good Samaritan. One day he saw, he thought, two young women whose skirts billowed in the breezes. As soon as he'd stopped however, two travel-soiled monks wearing supposed-to-be white robes entered the car. He delivered them to their monastery.

Another time he picked up a man on the way to Mlada Boleslov who immediately informed him that he had just been released from jail. The man said that he at least had not had to string tiny glass beads on wires like the junkies; he'd only had to sweep up all the spilled beads. When he heard my husband was going farther south, he wanted to go there. At that town, he wanted to go to a village, 20 km, more. My husband delivered him, and then went for a very late lunch at a nice hotel in Sazava, and thought about his day's experience.

Just once I hitchhiked. In our first or second week of living here in August 1991 a daughter & I hitched to the nearby town. A little tiny driver, dressed all in brown, drove an old, old car. A large basket of mushrooms sat on the back seat. After we got out we stared at each other: "Do you think he was an elf?"

Our riders sometimes muse over us as well. There's a summer disco about 2 km. from our Zamek, and one evening we gave two girls a ride. Realizing we were a bit different, maybe from Prague, they asked if we had "some kind of a cottage in the village". "Ah, yes, some kind of cottage", said my husband, casually. We did live in the Zamek, although at that point -- back in 1991 --it was nearly unlivable.

Or there was the snockered father and son on their way to a funeral. Usually men go to the pub after a funeral, but these had obviously gone beforehand. They wanted to be dropped at another pub. I think they're still trying to figure out how a foreigner had given them a ride.

You get plenty of advice, too. One day a friend and I stopped for a man who lived in a nearby village. After I dropped him at the turn, she told me, "Don't ever give him a ride again. He lives next to my relatives, and he's always stealing things!"

We've even had hitchhiker stay beyond the ride.One came in for coffee. He told us his uncle, a research scientist in Corning, NY, where my husband and I had lived would sponsor him to the States when he finished studying. Later we talked with Corning friends, a PhD. ceramist and his wife, a curator at the Glass Center. They know this Czech-American scientist very well. What a small world.

Students are the biggest group of hitchhikers, I think. One beautiful spring Friday the roads from Humpolec were lined with students out for the weekend. I stopped for three boys. One said, "Hello, Mrs. Homolka, it's nice to see you again. Thank you for stopping." I did a doubletake; he had changed so much in three or four years. I remembered him snooping all over the Zamek when he'd come with his parents for tea.

We often pick-up young soldiers. They have a weekend, say, but are far from home Their military salaries are too small to pay for buses or trains. Now that the draft is one year, instead of the former two years, it's easier for them, but still not easy. And the roads are still lined with soldier boys heading home for a visit on their free days, so I suppose there will be plenty more opportunities to stop and give a ride to strangers.

Disclaimer: Now don't think that I recommend that you go hitchhiking, or that you pick-up hitchhikers. Personally I have passed by many who really seemed to be just fine - such as the laden-down woman I passed on my trip to the IWAP meeting. Obviously I am a little nervous about hitchhikers. On the other hand people do things which I think are highly dangerous and which I would never do. Hang-gliding and rock climbing come to mind. These are often written up, with pictures, in perfectly nice magazines.