3. 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.