Hitchhiking

In the summer of 1968, my Paris (and by extension, also my first-to-Nice-thence-a-French-poet-in-Saint-André) plans were shot to small and not so small pieces by recalcitrant Sorbonne students. Marie was off in London, and I had already (and way too thoroughly, as it turned out) quit my computer operator job in order to become a deep and revered French poet (the dream I steered my life by at this time).

When I got the news that there was to be no bus journey to Paris, I saw some sort of painting on a ditto wall and the most immediate message was that I needed money to live (which, apparently, would not have been the case in France). So, time to get my job (as a computer operator) back.

But no can do. Sorry. Already been replaced. And, I strongly suspect, they had been quite happy to see me go—the in-love-crazy poet.

I tried the one other computer center in town that operated the same Bull/GE 301 system which I knew, but no, sorry—I think my reputation had found its way to this place too. In other words: jobless.

I could always go home (tail firmly placed between legs) and ask dad for a job in his factory, but things were that desperate, not yet anyway. I asked around among those I knew, jobs? A week later I was washing dishes at one of the towns more famous restaurants. The late shift: starting four in the afternoon, washing until midnight, seven days a week, if I wanted.

Yes, I wanted, for about a month. Then I had had enough of that and decided to try to find a (much better paid) computer operator job in some other town.

My reasoning ran like this: Stockholm, Sweden’s largest city, had quite a few firms that used the Bull/GE 301 system. The larger the city, reason logically maintained, the better the chances of finding such a firm and landing such a job. However, since I did not want to return to Stockholm, I would hitchhike to our Swedish cities by order of size, which now meant Gothenburg (2nd largest) and, if no luck there, Malmö (3rd largest) in that order. If I could not land a job in either of those two towns, well, then, it was either on to Norrköping (4th largest) or back to Stockholm or, perish the thought, back up north to Hudiksvall and my parents.

I remember the day I left Linköping very clearly.

I had packed my few belongings (mainly books as I recall) in my travel bag and said goodbye to the dilapidated building that had served as home for the last month and I was taking a coffee at the discotheque (which was a café during daylight hours) run by an older guy (old from a nineteen-year-old standpoint, probably in his thirties), Danish. We called him, quite appropriately, the Dane.

I’m sitting by a small table, the Dane is working behind the counter doing something or other that Danes do, I am writing in my daybook about leaving yet another town, about Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, about the rain outside (or the about-to-rain outside—it was moody and gray and a little depressing).

A friend of mine came in and showed me this great album he had just bought. He knew I was a Moby Grape fan and he had just gotten his hands on an import of their new double album Wow/Grape Jam. Oh, man. What a lucky guy. And here I was, about to set out on god knows what kind of adventure in god knows what kind of weather.

Play some of it, I wondered? The Dane did have a decent turntable and stereo even in the café (the disco portion lay farther inside the building and in the basement). All, right. A track or two.

He did. I remember, Murder in my Heart for the Judge. And another track, I don’t remember which. Then my friend had to go, took the album with him, obviously, and I was back to contemplate the impending rain and what on earth was going on with this life of mine.

All right. Time’s a-wasting. I paid the Dane for my coffee and shouldered my bag, and headed up the street for the E4 South, the road I’d take.

Hitchhiking. Thumbing. The cheapest and most unreliable of modes of transportation; it took me the better part of the morning and all of the afternoon to cover one third of the distance to Gothenburg. This was not a good sign.

Evening now, and fewer cars.

Night now, and fewer cars still.

Drizzle.

Not ridiculously cold but not pleasant either. It’s July. Not freezing. But wet. Harsher rain threatening, however.

After about another fruitless hour I decided to try to catch some sleep and climbed up into the forest (most of Sweden is forest, so no surprise that I’d find one by the side of this road as well) looking for a comfortable, and hopefully shielded niche to curl up into and catch some winks.

Found one.

Curled up.

Discovered that water (in cahoots with gravity) will seek the lowest level it can find and gather there. The lowest level this particular water could find was at the bottom of my little pine-needle-covered niche.

Now not only miserable but now also quite wet, I scrambled out of my little hole and slid back down to the road to try my luck some more.

And here, after ten or so minutes, finally, came another car. A truck as it turned out. Lumbering by. Me thumbing, thumbing, thumbing: and, yes, the driver saw me. And stopped.

A ran to catch up with him and climbed in. Thank you, thank you. Thanks so very much.

“Where are you heading?” he wanted to know.

“Gothenburg,” I told him.

“Well, you’re in luck,” he said. “That’s where I’m going.”

I thanked my lucky star.

And then the strange—front and center: turns out, this guy, who was trading in horses and was just now on his way to Gothenburg to pick up a couple of them to bring back to Hudiksvall.

Hudiksvall? I said. I’m from there. Where in Hudiksvall?

Sanna, he said.

Sanna? I said. Oh, man.

As it turned out he was in fact a neighbor. I could see his house, and his fields, and his horses, whenever I looked south out of our kitchen window. Not that we were close, or anything. But still, I knew his name:

“You’re Torsten?” I said, just to confirm.

“Yup.”

“Well, I’m Ulf,” I said.

He knew my name, too, and found this as strange as I did, and laughed. “I’ll be…”

We talked for a couple of hours before I fell asleep. Torsten woke me up at the outskirts of Gothenburg. “Almost there.”

He dropped me off pretty much mid-town (there’s not much to the city, so mid-town is pretty much anywhere, was then at least). I thanked him so very, very much again and wished him good luck with his horses. He wished me good luck with finding a job; and we said good-bye. Even shook hands, I think.

I found a phone booth and went through the directory for all computer centers in Gothenburg. Called each of them. Only one or two used the Bull/GE 301 machine, and they were all set employee-wise. So, thanks but no thanks.

I also called their local employment agency, who could only confirm the not so very good news.

Struck out, in other words.

Malmö next.

Since I wanted to improve my odds of catching a ride south, I found a large trucking depot with several trucks currently loading up for the night’s or early morrow’s run.

I’m not sure how permissible it was to check the truckers for rides, but no one seemed to mind (no one said anything, anyway) and that’s how I found this guy who was going to Helsingborg later than evening, only an hour or so north of Malmö. I shouldn’t have a problem catching a final ride from there.

Great.

Come back in a couple of hours.

I did.

We set out at dusk, and as the wheels and hours rolled on he had pretty much convinced me that Helsingborg was a much better town than Malmö, and that I’d be much smarter to stay there and look for a job. Malmö, in his not so very humble opinion was, well, just so much garbage—compared to Helsingborg, anyway.

We arrived Helsingborg in the early morning hours and I decided to take his advice. Thanked him so much for the ride as I climbed down from the tractor and then headed for the town’s train station (always open, always some warm, if hard benches in train stations) where I spent the rest of the night trying to stay asleep.

Come dawn, I bought some coffee and a cheese sandwich and then proceeded to strike out as far as Bull/GE 301 was concerned. Not a single company used them.

Malmö next then, after all?

No, the truck driver had convinced me. Helsingborg was it. So instead of hitting the road again, I tracked down the local employment agency and stepped in to see what other sort of jobs might be available for a nineteen-year old almost-poet.

Which is how I came to know Leif.

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