The International Writers Magazine:Travel Tales
Uncle The Agent
Kyle MacDonald on the road to hell
think hes stopping for us?" My girlfriend Dominique
said, pointing to the car pulled over 500 feet down the road.
"Nah, hes just taking a leak," I said as the passenger
hopped out and did just that.
were stranded at a piss-poor location on Autoroute A63 just south
of Bordeaux, France. The previous ride was a let down of only
ten kilometres that came after a three-hour wait.
Our only chance
of getting a ride was to convince a passing motorist that we were worthy
enough to ruin a faithful marriage with his gas pedal by committing
an extra-marital affair with the brake pedal. "Wait, check it out!"
I shouted, picking up my backpack. Clearly using his right hand for
the call of nature, the man waved his free left hand our way. Hed
apparently halted for more than simple roadside relief. Having never
been waved at by a urinating man, I assumed the custom was to wave back.
I did. He continued his activities with both hands. Leery of taking
a ride from somebody so blatantly shameless,fs I looked over at Dom
"Whatcha think? Its gonna be these guys or a long wait"
"I dont know...looks kinda sketchy," she squinted and
watched the man zip up his pants.
"Well, the next ride might be worse. Grab your bag."
When hitchhiking, its smarter to err on the side of caution when
accepting a ride. Its better to be stuck somewhere than take a
suspicious ride. Having said that, each ride is sized up according to
your current situation. When youve got slim pickings, you take
what you can get. "Bonjour," said the passenger in Portuguese-flavoured
French as we approached the two-tone Peugeot. Top burgundy, bottom rust.
"Bonjour," we said as he offered his right hand. I weighed
hospitality versus hygiene and hesitatingly returned the gesture. Hygiene
could wait -- we had ground to cover. We peeked in the window of the
car. A moustached driver sat in the front seat holding the collar of
a growling white pit bull. "Do not mind him. My dog is a friendly
friend." as the dog tried its best to eat his way through the passenger
window. Gesturing towards our backpacks with his now-famous right hand,
the passenger offered, "Give me your sacks. I will put them in
the trunk, no?"
"No, Its okay. We will sit beside them in the back seat."
"Mais no! There will be better comfort if you use the trunk. I
"No really, were cool with them between us. No problem."
The driver screamed at the passenger in broken Portuguese/French, visibly
upset at our refusal to place our bags in the trunk. I sensed this was
a huge problem bringing our bags into the car. The passenger explained,
"My uncle wants to show you our hospitality by placing your sacks
in the trunk. There is no room in the car for your backpacks. He insists"
Granted, the bags would take up a fair bit of room in the tiny car,
but I was much more keen to be sitting beside my backpack than having
it in the trunk. If our stuff was in the trunk, the driver could simply
speed away from us when we got out of the vehicle, leaving us in the
dust without any of our belongings. The ride was dicey enough as it
was. I put the ride in jeopardy by giving the driver an ultimatum. "No,
we will bring our bags in the car with us. If you will not let us do
that, we will not take your ride."
The driver argued with the passenger briefly again, raised his hand
in defeat, and motioned to the tiny rear seat.
"O.K., but it is then your discomfort, not mine!" He said,
in disbelief of our priority for backpack security over back seat comfort.
Comfort could wait, we had ground to cover.
"On y va" choked the driver as he stood on the gas pedal and
lit the cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth. The vehicle lurched
onto the highway with us wedged into the rear seat upholstered in shedded
dog hair. The passenger rolled a joint with his right hand and held
back the snapping pit bull with his left.
"Friendly dog, non?"
"Non", I thought.
Running on a set of what was surely oval-shaped tires, the car shook
violently as we picked up speed. As the speedometer nudged past 165km/h,
the plastic dashboard couldnt hold on any longer. It leapt from
its moorings and cleared the steering wheel and the dog, landing on
the two mens laps. The driver recoiled forcefully causing the
back of his seat to snap off its supports, and fall onto my lap. The
dog barked and the passenger looked for his dropped joint. Traveling
at more than one hundred miles an hour in a vehicle visibly held together
by duct tape with a dog barking, a man looking for a burning joint and
a reclined driver against my stomach, I glanced quickly over at Dom.
The look on her face confirmed our suspicions: "Pot laced with
crack? -- Check." Without slowing, the driver miraculously grabbed
the dashboard from the jaws of the hungry pitbull and refastened it
while the passenger triumphantly held up his undamaged, lit joint. The
seat was deemed beyond repair and rested on my knees. My legs began
to fall asleep and the men posed the four questions asked to every hitchhiker:
"Where are you going?"
"What are your names?"
"Where are you from?"
"Do you want to smoke?"
Declining free drugs for the tenth time in as many days, Dom replied
in Quebecois French "Were from Canada." This answer
brought the strongest reaction from the men.
"Ahhh, foreigners." they replied in unison, "It is not
easy for us foreigners to hitch-hike in France. The driver looked at
us in the cracked rear-view mirror "We are from Portugal. We know
the difficulty of finding a ride in France. A Spanish man or a Portuguese
man? He will pick you up. But a French man? Never. I will find you a
It was settled then. We had ourselves an agent.
"We are going a different direction from where you are going, but
my uncle will make a detour for you." Said the passenger, looking
at his uncle with admiration.
I quickly offered, "Nah, thats okay, we can get out at the
junction up ahead and find another ride there." "No. I will
go further in your direction," replied the driver sternly.
When a drug-induced duo toting a hungry pitbull insist on making a detour
for you, two thoughts run through your mind: They might be on a happy
high or they are about to tie you up and steal all of your
stuff. You will either soon be waving goodbye to your driver reflecting
on their generosity or you will be soon be standing on the side of the
road in a foreign country possessing little more than the dirty pair
of underwear you have on.
The driver, correction, our agent added, "We will take you to a
rest area and I will find you a ride" Dominique and I exchanged
glances. We might be lucky enough to leave the car with our backpacks
but we knew first-hand the difficulty of getting rides at rest areas.
The previous month, we spent the better part of a day stranded at a
rest area south of Munich. Still in the grips of twitching hangovers
from five days at Oktoberfest, we passed the morning with our thumb
extended towards German-engineered vehicles attempting to break the
sound barrier. Fetching little more than a sore arm, we changed our
tactics for the afternoon by canvassing the picnic tables, bargaining
for a ride with sausage-eating Bavarians. Nobody gave us a lift. We
ended up taking a taxi to the next town. Based on our unsuccessful rest-area
experience soliciting rides from lederhosen-clad Shumachers
bound for the Alps, our future seemed dismal.
The wounded Peugeot limped into the absolutely worst place to be stranded:
A deserted tree-lined rest area. No toilets, no food outlets and worst
of all, no stopped vehicles. The wall of trees made it impossible to
indicate our ride-seeking intentions to passing motorists. Our hearts
sank, but as we followed a bend around a thick grove of trees, a large
tractor-trailer truck with an encircled letter P on the
rear bumper came into view. A man sat beside the truck eating a bagged
lunch. Our agent exclaimed energetically "Portuguese! Portuguese!"
Obviously excited about finding the promised Portuguese driver, he brought
the car to a quick shuddering stop and used all his might to pull his
hefty body from his demolished seat.
The agent strode confidently towards the trucker, winking back at us.
The two men acknowledged each other like old friends and the agent took
on the persona of a professional negotiator. The case was pleaded for
giving us a ride South and the trucker seemed to offer little resistance,
looking in our direction and nodding frequently. Amazed by the agents
comfort under ad-libbed third-party hitchhike negotiating, Dominique
observed and whispered quietly, "It looks like hes talking
to his uncle!" The two men shook hands. The agent called us over.
As we approached, the agent took on a serious look and motioned to the
truck driver: "I have kept my promise. I have found you a Portuguese
man. Now you must promise me something."
"Sure, what is it?" I asked, hoping he didnt want our
backpacks as a signing bonus.
"You must promise me only one thing." Pointing his finger
at us to drive the point home. "You must promise me that you will
go to Portugal!" His face broke out in a wide grin. "This
man will take you there," gesturing to the nodding truck driver
stuffing his face with a baguette.
We assured the agent that we would keep our promise and visit his homeland.
We shook hands to seal the deal and moments later we waved goodbye as
our agent and his nephew started out of the rest area in a whirlwind
of blue-smoke. After brushing the last traces of dog hair off our backpacks,
we turned our attention to the amused-looking truck driver. He sat there,
finished his bread and shook his head as if in disbelief at our agents
negotiating prowess. He cleared his throat, pointed towards the fleeting
Peugeot and said in flawless French:
"He seems like a nice man, your uncle"
© Kyle MacDonald 2004
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