I hitchhiked with a 5-kilo backpack and a 6-kilo Spanish guitar that I bought in Zarauz in Spain. Everywhere I went, I dragged this heavy guitar for a reason explained in this memoir. The true stories below are excerpts from a book I subsequently wrote, Wings and Wanderlust – the Art of Discovering Your Inner Self. (send the book as gift to friends anywhere in the Philippines, Php450 all postal charges included, received via JRS in 2 to 3 days, no credit card needed. Email request to firstname.lastname@example.org).
sometimes it is good to keep your windows open during a storm a nice leaf may drift in and make your day ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ idleness is the preparation to meditation when new insights, discernment and serendipity steal across the vestibule of your haggard soul
COPENHAGENSomewhere north of Hamburg, I picked up a ride from a stately Mercedes Benz. They were an elegant Danish couple and spoke perfect English as most Scandinavians did. “So you are on an adventure, young man,” the woman said. “Yes ma’am. Bound for Copenhagen.” The man hardly spoke. “You must play the guitar well. I mean, this is the first time I see someone hitching with a heavy bulky guitar. Don’t you get tired of dragging that around.” “I do ma’am, but I can’t do without it. It’s my magic wand.” She laughed, “A magic wand, eh?” “Are you from Copenhagen, ma’am?” “Yes we are, and you’re lucky to get your ride straight to your destination.” The man spoke in Danish and the woman replied tersely. It seemed she was in charge. Later, she mentioned that they owned a big food company, one of the biggest in Denmark. “Where are you staying in Copenhagen.” “I have friends in Christiania, ma’am.” “Christiania? That is a terrible place. Very dangerous. A lot of drug addicts.” “No choice, ma’am. But I will be alright. I know how to take care of myself.” “No, no. You don’t understand. You must stay in the youth hostel. Stay away from Christiania. That will bring you trouble.” “I’ll be alright ma’am.” “Maybe you are just trying to save money. Copenhagen is an expensive place, you know.” “As a matter of fact, ma’am, I am. I have been travelling more than a year now.” “You must stay in the youth hostel. I insist. I will give you 200 croners, okay? “Okay,” I said, knowing I would take the money and stay anyway with Jansen and Marijke in Christiania, a couple I met somewhere in Portugal, I think it was. Lying was the lesser evil. The other choice was to disappoint her with defiance. She spoke in Danish to her husband who pulled out his wallet. He gave me 200 croners without saying a word. That was about $40 then, if I remember right. We reached Flensburg and crossed the border to Denmark, headed for the car ferry boat that crossed the narrow passage that separated the North Sea and the Baltic to Copenhagen. The car slid into the car ferry. We went up for a sumptuous dinner in a nice restaurant at the upper deck of the boat. After dinner, wanting to please the kind and sweet lady, I said, “I would like to play some Filipino songs for you on the guitar. Is that alright?” “Sure,” said the woman and the man nodded silently and smiled for the first time. So, I played a Filipino song and two numbers of the Beatles for lack of anything else. They listened intently and clapped after my solo concert. I was proud they liked it. At least, that was my impression. The lady took out another 100 croners and gave it to me. In a few hours and for a few songs, I earned about $60, more than I did in Andorra on hard labor for two weeks. And it was at a time my money was running low.
I ended up staying for two weeks with Jansen and Marijke anyway in Christiania. The next day, in the evening, I went through the bars, talking to managers if they would need a ‘folk singer’. I brought my guitar with me. Some didn’t even bother to audition me. On the fifth try, the manager asked me to play. I was a bit nervous. I played Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pass’. It so happened it was the manager’s favorite. I was hired instantly for $25 a night, three times a week, on a trial basis. I was excited. I practised the whole evening the day before my first performance. I knew I would earn more on the streets based on my Munich experience, but this was another type of adventure, singing in a bar. I had to try it out. On my maiden performance, I was jittery. I prepared a small twenty minute repertoire of Simon and Garfunkel and Beatle songs and chucked in a few Filipino songs. And so I played the first professional concert of my life. The crowd was noisy. They were not even listening. I was drowned out by the din of everyone trying to talk to each other all at the same time over their frothing beers. I suddenly realized I had an illusion of being a great star, whom they would applaud till their hands turned red. I kept on playing. I did not feel ridiculous. At least, if I made a mistake, they wouldn’t even notice. So I kept on playing to the ‘wall’. I had three 20-minute sets per night. On the second set, I played the same repertoire. This time, I started feeling ridiculous. After three nights, I gave up. I couldn’t do it anymore, not even for good money. That was the end of that. When I told this to Jansen and Marijke, they laughed, but said at least I earned some money, which was true. I earned exactly $75 which was not bad. But it was not just the money. A backpacker rubbing elbows with the gentle super-rich, and singing in a bar for the first time were a good adventure.
At the hostel, an American from South Carolina just came in. He had a clarinet. One evening, I took out my guitar and we started jamming. He was good. I would give a set of chord progressions and he would build a tune around them impromptu. We had an instant two-man band. His name was Jason. We played until early morning and the Arabs listened in amusement. One day, I suggested to him that we play on the streets for some money and split it 50-50. I could use the cash. He agreed. We practised for a while. Our intro number was ‘Oh When the Saints Come Marching In’, a Harry Belafonte tune which had easy simple chords. You could just keep repeating the tune endlessly. So off we went out to the street. We boosted each other’s morale as we hesitated, not knowing how the Greek crowd would react to a couple of dodos. I suggested to him that we go and play inside the subway station. It was too open out in the streets and we might attract a crowd we would not be able to control. At the subway station, we waited for a train to unload its passengers before playing our first tune care-of Belafonte. Immediately, a few coins fell on my guitar case which I left open in front of us. That broke the ice. We kept playing for about twenty minutes and the coins kept coming. A couple of dirty gypsy children, about five of them, came up to us and were listening intently. After awhile, one started dancing. The others followed. By the time I knew it, we were having a real show. We were attracting a crowd. More coins were coming. It was great. We never imagined to draw such a big crowd because of the kids. My hands were getting tired and I signalled Jason for a break. A man came up to us, “Hey, guys, you better get out of here. This is not aloud. I am a policeman. Go.” “You’re not a policeman,” I said. In a huff, he left. We laughed and played some more. The kids started tumbling upside down. The crowd was applauding. We hoped to give half of the money to these wonderful kids. The coins clinked with a magical sound. We were getting ‘rich’. In five minutes, the guy was back, this time with two uniformed policemen. So he was for real. It was not a bluff. I grabbed the coins and gave some to the leader of the kids. They arrested all of us, including the kids, and brought us to the police station. “F–k Nixon, heh?” one policeman said to Jason while looking through his passport. “F–k Nixon, sure,” Jason answered, shrugging his shoulder. “I also hate Nixon, you know.” He looked over my passport, “You a seaman?” “No sir.” “Tourist?” “Yes sir,” I said politely. “I better not see you again playing in the streets, what more the subway. Is that clear?” “Yes sir,” Jason and I said in unison. “Now go, before I change my mind and jail you.” We left quickly but as we were going, I saw them beating up the kids. The girl leader to whom I gave the coins was crying. I turned around to go back but Jason collared me. “You really want to go to jail, don’t you? Have you ever been f–ked in the ass? The Greeks like it that way, you know,” Jason whispered to me. “Poor kids. It’s actually our fault,” I said. “No its not our fault. The Greeks hate the gypsies. They are dirty people to them.”
I had Derek’s address in Munich. We embraced as good old friends. It was a strange reunion. Now, he was married to a Japanese woman. The tables were turned. I was on a backpack and he was working his ass off to support a new family. Before, I was in a bank and he had his Westwind of sorts. Now, I was on Eastwind and he was the ‘slave’. His Japanese wife, Teiko, was kind to me for Derek’s sake but underneath her hospitality, I could discern that she hated the counter-culture world and that she was pulling Derek away from it. For her, it was her enemy in a jungle of survival. “I feel like playing the guitar in the streets but I don’t have the courage,” I said to Derek and Teiko. “Why not?” Derek was excited. “You can do it. C’mon. The money would be good here.” “I was arrested in Athens together with an American for playing in the subway,” I countered. “The Germans are not like that. They are the most open people in Europe.” “Yeah, I know. This is a hitchhiker’s haven,” I said. “You know why, Bernie?” Teiko spoke. “Why?” “Because they suffered a lot during the war.” “Buddha said pain is the greatest teacher,” I said. “Of course,” Derek answered. Teiko suddenly stood up, snapping her finger. She took out a woollen blanket from the closet, got a pair of scissors and began making a slit at the center. “What are you doing? Don’t ruin a perfectly good blanket,” I said. Derek said, “Don’t worry about it. She can sew it back later. It’s for you.” When she was finished, she came over to me and put the blanket over me. It was a poncho, a perfect fit. I looked like a Mexican version of Clint Eastwood in “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. We all laughed. “It’s cold out there in the streets at this time,” Teiko commented. “I have a ski-jacket.” Derek said, “It’s not the same. The poncho attracts attention and money. It’s really a costume.” “You need gloves for the cold.” Derek added. Teiko stood up and took out a box from the closet. There were a dozen gloves. She began scrounging for an old soft knitted pair and found one. “You wouldn’t mind a pair of old gloves, would you?” Teiko asked. “But how can I play the guitar with gloves?” I countered. She got a pair of scissors and cut off the fingers of the left glove except the thumb. I put it on. I took out my guitar and started playing. It was perfect for the winter air. I could wear gloves on my left hand which handled the frets of the guitar minus the finger portions. I sang for them an old Filipino tune and they clapped. When everything was ready, I said, “No. Forget it. I can’t do it. I look ridiculous.” “No, you don’t. You look like a troubadour from the east. No way. You have to pay for the blanket and gloves you ruined if you don’t use them. If you use them, they’re for free,” he laughed jokingly. “No, Bernie, no guts no glory. Do it, do it, do it”. Teiko added, “Did you not come here for adventure? Here is your chance. You won’t regret it.” Reluctantly, I left. I was too conscious, just like my first hitch in Brussels. I stood there on my spot at the platz Derek told me to go to for a long while, scared to open up my guitar case. People walked around me. It was a busy day. Then I remembered Vicky playing for me and I remembered the gypsies the Greek police were mauling and I said to myself I would do it. I placed the empty guitar case open in front of me and started singing a song. Like in Morocco and Portugal, I played the Filipino Christmas song first. Then I tried a Simon and Garfunkel song entitled ‘El Condor Pass’. That got them. I saw a few five mark coins fall into my case with a sweet clink. I did some Beatle songs and achieved the confidence of John Lennon. Five marks was about $2 then. Ten of those and I had a treasure, $20, which could last me two weeks on the road. But it was not the economics that drove me to go on. It was the fact that I was appreciated for my song. My ego was buoyed. They did not stop to listen. They stopped momentarily, dropped in a coin or two, and left. I did not draw a crowd. So what? In a span of an hour, I was tired. I looked through my coins and mentally counted about 22 marks or $44. Not bad for an amateur. Teiko, Derek and I had a big celebration. We finished two bottles of white wine over a sumptuous Japanese dinner Teiko cooked. I basked in glory under the winter sun. It was my second baptism of fire as a troubadour after Athens. From then on, singing on the streets was a cinch. I did another stint the next day for two hours and got 31 marks or $62. A hundred dollars in two days. I earned more than my stint at Andorra as a construction worker for a week. If I did this everyday for two weeks, I would have enough money to be on the road another six months or forever.
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