12. Fade Out

*It’s all true – except this – I didn’t spend the first night at a service station, because I didn’t leave on Thursday evening.

I left at around 11am one morning, and made it to my friends in Munich’s place by that evening. I then got to tell them the whole story too, and they felt at once inspired and potentially conned by the ‘inszenierung’, the staging, that was taking place. Cheers. Its wonderful though, to stop off for a lovely meal (some of which was grown on the same terrace upon which we sat), a warm warm welcome, and a good dose of art criticism. All the other stories of being picked up are true.

And perhaps you would like to know more about what did happen when I got there. You can here one story by listening to what I recounted to the guy in the call centre during the second performance. Apart from this, I’ll just leave you with this image of the sky, shot in a park in Le Puy En Velay.

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11. The Ending

The following text was projected on the wall at Kunst Raum Richard Sorge in Berlin, during Part 2 of the performance lecture on the Sunday 48 hours after I broadcast live from the petrol station during the Part 1 of the performance. Below you can hear part 2 of the performance lecture below.

It was all true. Nearly all. I did meet someone in Istanbul, I did hitchhike, and I did get there (more on that later). But not now. Now I’m in Berlin, and I have been since Thursday.

On Thursday, I was in Nikolassee, south of Berlin. I did get a hitch, and they would have taken me to Leipzig. But I had already been; I surprised the girl I met in Istanbul two weeks ago.

During the first performance, I mentioned that there were two audiences: one in Berlin, and one in Lyon (an audience of one). They knew nothing about each other – the audience in Berlin was told they knew more than this girl. But they knew less. She, too, was surprised, shocked to see me arrive, and tap her on the shoulder. We stood two metres apart for ten minutes, laughing. So the surprise was genuine, but it didn’t happen when Berlin was watching.

Maybe you no longer trust me, maybe you feel cheated. Maybe you trust me more, because you understand what I had to do. I didn’t choose to go earlier because of a fear of failure. I had to see her earlier than the performance date; life was taking over. It didn’t wait for the date of the performance; it couldn’t. There was a conflict between art and life, and my aim was to please them both.

And the second reason to leave two weeks ago was to avoid my cliche. Not completely – we spent a selfish week together, and I forgot about art and life. But the Berlin audience was denied the Hollywood ending it expected.

This isn’t a fake. Everything you thought was real, was. I really did hitch, I really did surprise her, and I really did get a lift live on Thursday night. But the timing was shifted, and the two audiences were offered different things, each for its own needs, each understanding little of the other.

To the friends and critics who were concerned about my making this into an artwork – don’t worry, she understood.

This evening’s performance will take the form of a live audio piece, in which I will attempt to relocate the story within the everyday.

The visitors then heard a telephone conversation broadcast live on the sound system. It was not accompanied by any images, they were simply presented with an eavesdropped, and somewhat awkward and uncomfortable, conversation.

As STA travel invite you to ‘Call (800) 836-4115 if you need assistance while traveling’, and I needed advice on love (and travel to a love interest) I thought they might be the people to call. I made repeated calls to the same number (in the US), each time explaining slightly more of the story to a new call centre worker: a stranger, and a part of our economic fabric. Each time I had to negotiate a different person, building confidence, and using the same skills I would use to sell something, or, indeed, to charm anyone.

You can hear the full version of the first conversation here:

At around 8 minutes I ask the call centre worker if he has ever had a long distance relationship.

Or you can listen to a short version here:

This clip of this evening’s live event gives you a feel for the piece, and my attempts to explain my story to several call centre employees, with varying levels of success.

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10. Thistle stop

With the sun getting distinctly low in the sky, I had a scout around the petrol station on the road where they dropped me. There was a trimmed hedge on the edge of the forecourt which might have been able to conceal my tent, or the thistle infested slope behind that. Luckily a woman picked me up as I was deciding which of the two seemed better, and – she was going all the way to Le Puy en Velay.

Just to make it even better, she wanted to talk about the project. She herself seemed really content in her relationship. She told me about a friend of her’s, who ‘was in love with two men’. She was (still is, I presume) married to one man, and had just recently told her husband of the affair she had been having for a year, and how she loved the two. I felt awful for the husband, and the other man too actually, and almost hoped she would lose them both, but maybe they are Hollywood morals. My driver and story teller agreed: she didn’t hope, but it seemed likely that neither relationship would work out.

I also asked her more directly, as it was now a pressing issue for me that I hadn’t previously thought too much about: when I get there, how should I surprise her? I mean, ring her (mum’s) doorbell? She herself had had two experiences of this when she was younger, both of which had ended badly: when she rocked up, the boy she had come to see was, well, accompanied. She must have been gutted. One was when she was a teenager, and he lived in another town. The second was when she was a student, and she took a night train all the way up to Paris, and fell asleep in the doorway of his flat, for him to stumble across a sleepy her… with his Paris girlfriend in tow.

Apart from the disastrous results of her stories, it was a great ending to my journey, she was again charmed by my story, gave me lots of stories in return, and drove me not only into Le Puy, but across the town to the camp site. Couldn’t believe I made it. Not only that, but a school friend I hadn’t heard from for six months called from the States the moment I walked up to the camp site, waving goodbye to my last hitch. ‘Sounds biblical,’ he said, after hearing where I was. Funny though, everyone just seemed to be going about their business. It was around 9pm. More tomorrow.

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9. ‘Le Puy en Velay’ sign in sight

Le Puy* sign number 1, outskirts of Saint-Etienne

Le Puy* sign number 2, outskirts of Saint-Etienne

It was getting pretty late, so every time someone drops you after around 5pm, you have to have half an eye on whether there is anywhere out of the way to spend the night. I still felt confident I could make it further today, despite some advice from some workmen making their way home that it wasn’t going to happen.

Around half an hour later, two young guys picked me up. One of them didn’t have any legs. Now I feel a little uncomfortable mentioning this, as if its something worth commenting on – in a politically correct world, I wouldn’t. The thought went through my head that perhaps they didn’t need to be helping someone else. But that’s one of those thoughts you shouldn’t necessarily share – I didn’t feel this strongly enough to act upon it, thankfully.

A little techno later, they dropped me on the outskirts of Saint-Etienne. After the Neuchâtel experience, I made 100% sure to be very clear about the drop off point whenever I was picked up. With these guys I persuaded/they offered to drop me on the far side of Saint-Etienne, so I could catch traffic leaving the city (I had been dropped just before Zürich, and then had difficulty finding anyone who wasn’t simply driving into the city).


 

*She lives in Le Puy en Velay, south of Saint-Etienne, not in Lyon. I just said Lyon because it’s the nearest big city.

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8. The God of hitching rectifies the Neuchâtel wait

I was told by a middle aged Spanish couple in a petrol station outside Zurich that you can’t hitch in Spain – too many murdering hitchers. I heard similar stories about France (not the ones about stab-happy hitchers, but that people are scared of hitchers). But I just got picked up by a single woman, and I got a several genuine ‘I would take you, but I’m not going that way’ responses too. Sometimes you don’t know if its true, it could just be an excuse. The first night in Berlin it was – there was another guy trying to hitch there too. I told him why I was hitching and he said he was hitching for love too – to put up an exhibition of his late father’s paintings. He was hitching West, and I went South. So when I told him that I’d just asked one couple for a ride and they told me they were going West, he told me, ‘hmm, they just told me they were going South’. Shame. Maybe its nicer that way, better than everyone saying, ‘no, I don’t trust you’. But with the last woman who didn’t take me in Zurich, it was clear it was genuine – she spoke to me, not vice versa. I even said to her ‘wow, would you have taken me, as a woman on your own?’ She said she wouldn’t have taken everyone, but she seemed to be able to judge me pretty quickly (I mean I know I’m not a murderer, just have to persuade everyone else to agree).

This was a good hitch. I asked one woman, and by the time she’d said no, I’d looked down and seen that her baby was taking up the back seat. Then I asked another woman, who agreed to take me to Chamberry. Had to wait roughly 45 seconds.
She was pretty quiet. I kept trying to bring the conversation back to the subject at hand, but it wasn’t working. I was a guest in her car, as I am in all the driver’s cars, and I have to behave like a guest, respecting their space.
She dropped me at the entrance to a pay booth for a toll road. I thought it could have been terrible; although the cars were stopping, I was technically standing on a motorway, and the officials all wore hi-vis jackets. I played out a conversation in my head, in which they asked me to leave, and I explained that was just what I was trying to do.
One person stopped after 2 minutes to tell me I needed to stand four booths further over to be at the right exit, and two minutes later another woman picked me up. She made recipes for supermarkets, and was content with her partner, but still liked the idea of the trip. She had test packets of ready-made pasta in front of the passenger seat, at my feet.
This is getting exciting now, I’m getting close. When I shut pulled my bag out of her car, I had to bend down and share my excitement – ‘I can’t believe it’, I said, peering through to catch her eyes in her rear view mirror -‘I’m really going to get there’. Its going to happen. Fuck.

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7. Still Neuchâtel

St Blaise: A lovely place to spend 4.5 hours standing on the road, if you're ever in the area

I’m never hitching from the side of the road again. Never.

Four hours, and I’ve moved from one end of the high street to the other, about 600 metres (with a lift though, I didn’t walk).

After standing by what I thought was a turn off for the motorway for about 20 minutes, a nice driver stopped and told me a was standing by the wrong exit, and suggested I get the bus to the other and of the town (its actually not Neuchâtel, but a town before it, the very first one where they speak French). I said I didn’t have any Francs, and after looking noticing that he didn’t either, he drove me to where I needed to stand… which I did, for a further four hours, until another nice guy came up and suggested I try the petrol station 10km up the road, which he drove me to. He not only drove me there, he tried to help me find a hitch there, but I said I would be fine. Sure enough, after maybe 20 minutes, I was on the road again, with a documentary film maker (or ‘a professional tourist’ as he called himself), heading to Geneva.

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6. Neuchâtel!

Ah, what a perfect place to reach for the night – the first French speaking town in Switzerland.

I made it far as just before Zürich, and it was going dark, so, I was scouting the service station for a place to pitch my tent (suitably hidden). I asked round the service station for lifts for quite some time. The problem is, I was just before the city, not after, so everyone was on their way into the city rather than leaving. I met a German who asked ‘so, do people still hitch in Germany?’ He had hitched between Berlin and Munich more than 50 times, but now had a car and a job, and didn’t do it anymore. Then I told him it was part of an art project, and he was disappointed, slightly annoyed even – ‘das ist zu künstlich fur mich’ (that’s too artificial for me). I tried to persuade him I was still doing it all genuinely, but it didn’t matter.

Then I got a ride from an Italian Swiss guy to Neuchâtel, a couple of hours up the road, which was lucky as it was already dark. We spoke German again – after complaining about everyone in Germany speaking to me in English for years, it was now proving difficult to shift conversations into English, I’m so used to German and it seems unfair to try to push English (I wanted to for the sake of the recordings).

As we got closer to Neuchâtel, he called his sister, who he was going to visit, to ask where he should drop me, where I could pitch my tent or be close to the motorway to leave in the morning. It was all in Italian, and it wasn’t clear. I felt a bit like I was putting him in an uncomfortable position – I mean, would you know where to throw someone out for the night? It had started raining too. Anyway, we noticed a sign near the ‘port’ (it’s on a lake) which said ‘no camping’. which sounded good – if it says no camping, it means there is a place people would like to camp. So he dropped me and I wandered off towards the lake. Perfect! A quiet picnic site on the lakeside, complete with trees to hide my tent, and a toilet block. Couldn’t have asked for better.

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