The Residents made me hitchhike throughout Europe!

The Residents made me hitchhike throughout Europe!

February 3, 2014

Written by:

Dragoș Rusu

Edited by:

Dragoș Rusu

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A bar and a wildcat thought

I stumbled upon the entrance of a basement bar in Sibiu and a wildcat thought came to my mind; there would be no other way to get to The Residents concert in Leuven. You can call it Louvain, to give it an extra French twist. Anyway, the only way to get there was by hitchhiking through four countries. I travelled 2000 kilometers in three days. I rode on three lorries, a Golf 5, another Golf 5, a two-door Opel and an Audi. I have the feeling you might rush into thinking I'm the kind that goes backpacking to concerts around the world, but the funny thing is I'm a hell of a newbie.
You'd think it's all a joke, but I assure you it's not, it's goddamn serious. Everything. Music is filling my uselessness void.

The Nădlac border

From Arad to Nădlac there is a regional train that leaves several times a day. The website says six times, but there's a chance they've cut down on departures. We make a full supply of beer and we go up in the first rail car of a '65 French Caravelle X 4500 motor railway engine. The look of it is grilled minced meat rolls-barbecue-smoke-beer-and-mustard inviting. But the vis-à-vis lady’s cereal snacks is all we have. Plus beer and biscuits. The only place we can go to in this train is, naturally, the conductor's cabin. But not from Arad, from Pecica, the fourth small station, where they even have a ticket office. Until then, the woman offers us cigarettes, we give her some beer, she tells us she works in Arad as an upholsterer and that she's poorly paid (800 lei – less than 200 euro per month). At destination point, two local kids, along three grinning tiny tots, are waiting to help her with the bags. We then make our way to the conductor's cabin, ol' man Ștefan, where it' s steaming hot.

We give him a beer; he puts it aside to warm up and looks at us in an amused way. He keeps honking, although there's no one passing by. The sound is killing our ears. The train is rocking back and forth. Old man Stefan is a bit over 60. He used to be a stoker in his early days; he poured tons of coal into the steam engine. "If I punched a cat, it would immediately drop, I was that strong. In the last years though, I've grown a belly". He was also a folk music dancer for 14 years. He would dance to almost anything. He toured the country with the dance company. "This dance artist's world is great, but only when you have a partner. To make it in the art world, you have to be self-confident. I had a remarkable memory. My grandparents taught me to connect every word to an image. That helped me a lot in my life". He honks once in a while just to fill in the silence, when the conversation comes to a standstill. In the Nădlac station, we come across a gipsy wedding and see them lumping a bunch of musical instruments into a Dacia 1310 car.

The truck drivers

We bashfully pass the frontier, no questions being asked, just a cheerful "hello" to the two customs lady officers who pass the time in a booth. They tell us that trucks can't be allowed in traffic before 11 p.m. I check the time and it's 8 p.m. Indeed, I remember that we passed a long line of pulled over trucks that were obediently waiting to get out of the country. Having nothing to do till 11, we try our luck using a piece of cardboard with "Vienna via Budapest" written on it. I catch sight of a young man's figure. He's wearing a tracksuit and a large bag in one hand. He is coming our way and as he reaches us he reveals his teeth in a shady grin.

"Do you really want to get to Vienna", he asks. "Yes, come join us, maybe we'll be more fortunate". "I'm heading that way too, driving my truck. I can take you there if you want, but it will take two more hours until we leave". The news flows onto us like a soothing balm. We just found our first ride, which will take us straight to Vienna.

In the young truck driver's cabin, Avram, it smells like tea. He doesn't drink coffee, nor too much Coke, but likes tea instead. On the way to Budapest I find out that Avram is 31 years old. He didn't like school that much, so he gave it up after the fourth grade. He was beating up his teachers, sneaking in the girls’ bathroom to pour water over their heads, breaking the school windows, wasn't listening to any of the teachers and wasn't learning a thing. He had a girlfriend once, that he beat up till "she shit herself", because she was too jealous and wouldn't let him see other girls too. While he goes on and on telling me about all sorts of horrific events, he shows his ivories and turns the volume louder on the manele CD that's been played in the cabin three times in a row already. One of his front teeth has a slight crack in it. I get all panicked now and then, but at the end of each of his early days "pranks", Avram keeps adding that he's a good guy now. He's got a wife and two boys, one is 10 and one is 11. From time to time he has a word with a fellow truck driver, who is at about half a kilometer behind us and who keeps playing manele to us using the walkie-talkie. Do we like manele? I don't mind, I say, we'll listen to anything! Both of them are very surprised that we're traveling to a concert that's at the back of beyond, all the way in Belgium. "And for an American band! I bet you wouldn't go there for a Romanian one!'' At one point "Take My Breath Away" starts playing.

I keep hearing bits of conversation between other truck drivers. Anyone can join the "conference". Jokes and music to pass the time. We hear that some pricks have stolen some buckets full of gas from Iulian's truck tank. The truck was parked in his own yard.

Avram asks on his walkie talkie for a "mate" (they're all mates) who can take two young men up to Germany. That's us. He would dearly take us there, but he stops in Austria to deliver a load of ski boots. Shortly after, a truck driver from Maramures offers to help, so we stop in a parking lot to change the ride. As easy as changing a pair of socks. I feel just like I'm swimming through strangers, on dry land. Strangers have mothers, brothers and friends too. Everything looks unknown, all is unpredictable and fragile.

I keep thinking that, although I would have liked to get a haircut before leaving, it's better that I keep my hair all messy and unkempt.

In a car park at the Austrian-German border, two Romanian truck drivers are having a conversation. One of them is drinking a very strong cherry wine, the other just coffee.

"None of them speak English. Well, of course they don't, they're pretzels, they learned it in the Second World War." Where are we going? To Belgium. What are we doing here? Well, we were looking for you, two good-natured drivers. And why didn't you take a bus or something? Why are you hitchhiking? What if I take you just like that, I jab you in that toilet and smack the shit out of you? And leave you there, dead on the floor, with nobody knowing a thing? How on earth are you traveling like that, among strangers?

We deal with the one that's drinking coffee and is about to depart and can take us with him. The other truck driver is drunk and aggressive, but our hippy indifference is baffling, so we shake hands in the end. He fatherly advises us to take care and tells his mate to drop us off in a safe, populated place, not in the woods.

We are now in Germany, at about 50 km of Nurnberg. Everything is green outside, but the weather is grey. Shadows of dark clouds are creeping on the highway. I woke up drooling, after an hour's sleep in the cabin of the third truck. Good thing I slept, I hadn't in almost two days. The truck driver on my left seems like a nice guy. He minds his driving. Orange T-shirt. Softhearted look. He's the quietest driver so far. He trucks furniture in France and he intends to get to Belgium on Wednesday. He doesn't offer to take us there and checks me out with some sort of concern mentioning he takes a poor view of our trip from now on. "Germans are cock-suckers and they don't stop to pick you up." Every now and then I find myself in a position to answer his questions. Why didn't we take a train? Maybe a plane? Or a bus? Only answers that truly lack logic come out of my sleep-clenched mouth, but at least they shut the driver up.

Roaming on the road

In Nurnberg we spend the night at a guy we found on Couchsurfing. In the morning, we catch the (no ticket) train to Koln. The ticket collector takes our heart out and takes us off too at the first station, in an incredibly green and aerated town, Wursburg. We don't have money for the ticket on the train, therefore there's two police officers waiting to identify us on our descent. They tell us it's a delinquency to travel without a ticket in Germany, but after a five-minute talk, we each get away with just a 50-euro fine. We get to Frankfurt on a luxurious Audi, driven by a 50 year old French man, an ex college professor, now a businessman. He seems to be riding high. "I don't meet a lot of hitchhikers and I travel this road daily to work to Wursburg from Frankfurt, where I live. I ride alone and I enjoy the company. Plus I tried to put myself in your position and came to the conclusion I'd like the help if I were you."

In Frankfurt we meet up with Uță, a childhood friend, who takes us to Dortmund, where he lives. We spend the night there, and we rush to the highway behind time.

It's Wednesday evening 7 PM in Dusseldorf. There's no train to Leuven. The concert is about to start around 8 PM. Uță dropped us off at the train station and left, and now he's not answering his phone. Panic again. True panic this time, grudge better said. There's only 220 km to Leuven, but we seem to have swamped. I ask a taxi driver, who says that he won't move a muscle for less than 300 euro. Meanwhile, after the 16th call, Uță picks up the phone. He turns round on the highway, picks us up in Dusseldorf and we rush back, in a two-door Opel, on the highway to Leuven.
Randy - The Residents live
Randy - The Residents live

We are here

The concert starts an hour later than planned. We earn some time and we only miss on 20 minutes of the show. We confoundedly enter a concert hall, Het Depot, gasping for our breath. It's half dark inside, three figures on stage, vaguely lit. Christmas is the theme, although it's the 24th of April. Bob and Charles (Bobuck) are wearing weird masks on their faces. Randy is wearing a Santa Claus costume and they sing 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' at the end of the show. Between songs Randy does his theatrical interventions. You'd think it's all a joke, but I assure you it's not, it's goddamn serious. Everything. The show is truly unbelievable. The music is filling my uselessness void.

We wander around in this incredibly vibrant city, that's mostly inhabited by students. While we are sitting under a tree in the park (because the mission was a success, this seems to be the first moment of relaxation), a group of students come our way. They are looking for a pen to write a message on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle and throw it in the nearby river. I give them the black marker pen I used while hitchhiking, and one of them writes down everyone's names and draws a penis with balls underneath. Message in a bottle for humanity. We quickly make friends with them. They think Romania is exotic and so is the fact that we came all the way hitchhiking. As they sit on the grass, one of them, who's more fair-haired pulls out a cigarette rolling device. The other one takes out a pack of empty cigarettes and, with amazing speed, starts making cigarettes for half an hour. One of them says we look like nice guys and invites us to sleep at his place. We're outlandish, them as well.


Full speed. The whole trip. I'm digesting it again now, objectively. Everything unrolled so fast; all went on by the skin of our teeth, the last places, last minutes and the last people. I slowly unreel everything, like when I used a pencil to rewind a cassette. I feel like in geography class, back in secondary school. I would spin the cripple teacher's globe and put my index finger randomly on the map. Where it stopped, there I would build myself a home. And in the light of all the new things that have happened, it seems that I'm not far from it.

translated from Romanian by Mioara Mihai
About the Author

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic, sound researcher and allround music adventurer, with a keen interest in the anthropology of sound.

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