FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Busted in Barcelona (Almost)

I heartily supported the Catalonian referendum on secession even though I was almost arrested the only time I visited Barcelona.

I hit Spain as the next-to-last country in a 5000-mile hitchhiking jaunt in the summer of 1977. Within 10 minutes of getting dropped off south of the French border, I realized that my two years of Spanish classes in Warren County High School were not worth a busted piñata. (Admittedly, I was the worst student in the class.) Barcelonans spoke so quickly while thrashing the air with their hands that I could only nod or sigh. Seven hundred words a minute was brisker than I had heard growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.

I spent four pleasant days roaming Barcelona while staying in a dirt cheap pension where I was the only guest without a thunderous TB-cough. Spain was definitely the most backward country I visited (dictator Francisco Franco had died only two years earlier). The clearest proof it was still in the Dark Ages: hitchhiking was illegal. But I tried not to let that bias me against Spaniards. I viewed such prohibitions simply as transaction costs, the 1970s equivalent of traffic speed cameras.

When time came to head back north, I staked out a spot on the last street before the Autopista (motorway) entrance. Traffic was light and relatively slow so my thumb posed no safety hazard to drivers.

No luck in the first hour. Then I got more fraternizing than I wanted. A finger-wagging policeman with the glummest face I saw all summer descended on me. I reached deep within and retrieved my entire Spanish vocabulary – Lo siento (I’m sorry), No comprendo, and Que lastima (That’s too bad). I didn’t know enough Spanish to ask him if he got his job ‘cause he was a pal of Franco. But by the time he walked away, it was clear that I understood I’d be jailed if he caught me out there again. And from my prior experience in the U.S., I knew that regulation-size handcuffs fit poorly on my large wrists.

I respectfully waited two minutes after he vanished before resuming hitchhiking.

Half an hour later, I glanced up and saw the same cop a block away, closing fast, and looking too irate for his own good.

In the nick of time, a sickly orange British car (with a wrong-side steering wheel) pulled over and the driver signaled me to hop in. His vehicle could have fit in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental. I jammed my pack into his back seat and had 15 seconds to spare before I got busted.

As we sped away, the pasty, tussle-headed driver announced: “I’m not going very far tonight. I’m really tired.”

“Is that because you’ve been working hard?” I asked.

“No, I’ve been drinking for three days.”

That explained the empty liquor bottles on the back seat. Unfortunately, the car was heading up the Pyrenees Mountains – not the easiest stretch of driving on the continent.

Twenty miles later, I was still comparing the risks of riding with a besotted driver versus being gamahooched in a Spanish slammer when the Brit announced: “TEA TIME!” He pulled off the road, stepped out of the car, and fetched out a large plastic cup. He retrieved a fifth of gin from under the seat, poured eight ounces into the cup, and topped if off with two ounces of orange juice – “to make sure I get my Vitamin C,” he explained.

“Would you like a sip?” he jovially offered.

“I’ll pass.”

He slugged it down, smacked his lips, and proclaimed it was time to forge on to France. As we ascended steep mountains, he was driving in the right lane much slower than most of the other traffic. I kept leaning in his direction, ready to seize the steering wheel if he lost control. But he had plenty experience driving smashed.

I kept the conversation rattling along to keep him alert. He told me that his family remained at their home on the Isle of Wight while he vacationed in Spain. He explained that he drank too much because he was having a very rough time letting his college-aged kids leave home and go their own way. Or at least that was the excuse this 45-year-old guy offered for not weaning himself from a bottle. I eventually persuaded him to pull off the road so we could get some beer and chips.

After we entered a roadside bistro, an 18-year-old British lad came over to our table and was instantly bosom buddies with the driver.  The driver was a Conservative Party member and the young guy supported the Liberal Party but the two agreed that England was the greatest, freest nation and that everybody in the world learned democracy from Britain. The only thing necessary to transform one’s country into utopia is to leave it briefly and drink heavily. The young guy related how Bobbies in his hometown used their nightsticks to pummel teenage miscreants and he and the driver agreed that was a good thing because the boys usually deserved it.  I was mystified that anyone would idealize official beatings.

The dipsomaniac launched into an anti-Teutonic tirade, swearing that the only good German was a dead German. He declared that he’d fight any German in the room. But he didn’t say it very loud, so I didn’t have to dissuade anyone from stomping him. When he wasn’t slurping down ale or boasting about his homeland, his eyes radiated a desperate fear that he had failed in life. (An Englishman later told me that the Isle of Wight was known as “80,000 drunks on a rock.”)

As the evening ended and we went our separate ways, I noticed the young Brit had no knapsack. I asked about that and he declared that he didn’t want to be bogged down carrying a lot of things. He slept on a concrete slab at a closed gas station that night. I felt like I was traveling first class because, after finding a nook in nearby woods, my knapsack was as comfy as the best pillow in a four-star European hotel.

Forty years down the road, I’m still waiting for the United Nations to recognize anti-hitchhiker bias as a human rights violation.

This article is adapted from James Bovard’s book Public Hooligan.

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail