I understand that everyone needs to make a living and likewise, I understand that a society needs law enforcement in order to stay functioning smoothly. That said, while trying to hitchhike from Slovenia to Czech Republic a couple weeks ago, I had the unfortunate encounter of running into a car full of Austrian police officers whose behavior could best be described as 'dickish.' Instead of using a golden opportunity to help a tired, lost, sun-burnt wander (aka me), they chose to power trip.
To set the scene, it was approaching dusk and I was standing off to the side of a highway leading from Vienna to Czech Republic. In the morning about 10 hours ago, I had started in Ljubljana, Slovenia and two nice drivers had already taken me this far (about 80% of the total trip), and now I was on a straight, long highway, easy to be seen as dozens of cars passed every minute. This was the only road going to Brno, so presumably every car was going in y direction, therefore it should have been easy for a ride... but it wasn't. Nearly two hours had passed and still no one stopped or even slowed down. That is, until a police car came by.
Almost as if it were a clown car, five large blonde officers stepped out, approached me, and began shouting in German. Having no idea what they were saying, I replied with the one German phrase I memorized (I'm not German). That's when one of the guys' eyes lit up with a sort of sadistic delight. "This is illegal in our country. Who do you think you are to just come in here, stand on our highways and expect someone to give you a ride?" Taking note of the fact they were all very large and with at least two (from what I could see) had guns in their holsters, I decided to reply as calmly as possible.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know it was the law. I started my day in Slovenia and was dropped off here. I'm just trying to go to Czech Republic," I replied, trying not to excite them.
"You know we could arrest you if we wanted," said the officer, now fully into his power trip.
"I will leave." I said. "Just point me in the direction of the nearest bus station and I'll walk there now."
He chuckled. "The bus station is that way. Very far," he said pointing towards a vague direction forward. "But you can't use the road to get there. It's against the rules here. You have to walk through the grass the whole way." The grass he was referring to was about waist high and full of pricker bushes. My raging spirit inside wanted to lash out and conclude with a stinging line like 'that one's for Poland!', but noticing they were armed, I had to go against Nietzsche's advice and restrain myself. I then continued to walk... and walk. As I did, the five officers stood there and watched for at least twenty minutes before going back into their 'clown car' and driving off.
Thirty minutes passed by, then forty. The setting sun beat against the side of my face, causing sweat to pour from my brow, all the while feeling like layers of skin were being torn from my legs by the countless amount of pricker bushes. 'What kind of sadistic death march did they put me on?' I thought to myself, looking up to see the last rays of light before the sun dipped below the horizon. I then felt a nervous chill run down my sweat-soaked spine. Soon it was going to be dark and I was alone in a random high-grass field just outside Vienna. I had no food nor water and I was supposed to continue this march to a bus stop that may or may not exist. I needed to act... so I did.
I ran towards the road. It no longer mattered to me what the officers said, I wasn't going to spend the night in this field with ticks and rodents. Luckily for me, the street I came to was no longer a highway, but a small side street where cars moved slow. Even though all the traffic was probably residential, I figured I could at least stop someone and ask where the bus stop was. I tried to stop the first guy that came by, but alas it was no use. Then came a smaller red car. I waved, jumping up and down. That's when it happened. For the first time all day in Austria, the car began to slow down and eventually stopped. I ran over the window, feeling about as relieved as I did when my doctor told me the heart murmur was benign.*
*(long story from my teen years)
In the car sat a lady of about 60, wearing a suit as red as the car. I quickly explained my situation and asked where the bus station was, hoping she could understand English. She paused and then replied, "Good news, the bus stop is right at the end of this street. Just about a two minute walk. You can get back to Vienna from there." It was as if the anguish of the day melted away and was replaced by euphoria. I thanked her immensely as she drove off and I ran over to the bus stop. It seemed pretty desolate, but then again it was about 8:30 on a Sunday night so that was understandable. I took a look at the schedule to see what time the next bus would arrive, but then my heart sank. Written in English and German (I presume they both said the same thing since I don't know German), it said 'DOES NOT OPERATE ON SUNDAY.'
What do I do? Just as I thought this was all about to turn around, my hopes came crashing down like Kevin Spacy's career. I sat down defeated, wondering if I would have to fully adopt the image of the hobo life and sleep on a bench at a bus stop. But then, something unbelievable happened once more. The red car came back and pulled up right next to me. The window rolled down, revealing the lady I had just spoken to, and she said, "I'm so sorry, I forgot there are no buses on Sunday. I can give you a ride to the central station in Vienna if you want."
Now I don't consider myself a religious man, but then I felt I had just found the messiah. "YES!" I happily shouted and got into the car. We drove off, the sun now completely gone and the sky dark. She introduced herself as Julie and I told her a little more about my day and how I got to that point. In total, it took about 20 minutes until we got to the station when she opened the door to let me out. "Check to see if there is a train or bus for you," she said, making sure I would be ok. I did, and thankfully there were many. She smiled and we said goodbye. That's when it all hit me. This whole thing was entirely worth it. The cops may have been terrible, authoritarian, comic-book style villains, but this lady was a legend of legends.