Flaming Dangerzone

Thumbing to Amsterdam

“Into the middle of things” — taken from the poet Horace, this refers to the poetic technique of beginning a narrative poem at a late point in the story, after much action has already taken place. Homer makes use of this in The Iliad, making this trope Older Than Feudalism — and Aristotle diagnosed it in Poetics, making it one of the first identified tropes.
— In Medias Res, at TVTropes

I woke up. To the left, Krzysztof still driving; in the back seat, Yimu still sleeping. I wondered where we were. Probably still in Germany, I thought. Then it hit me that I was in a stranger’s car, whereabouts unknown, and hundreds of miles from anyone I had ever met. I met Yimu three months ago. Does that count?

Despite the sudden realisation of alienness, I didn’t feel apprehensive. Krzysztof seemed to be a nice chap. He told us about his family and even showed me a picture of his wife. His down-to-earth attitude, his openness, and the exciting feeling of adventure overcame any anxiety I might feel from being in an unfamiliar environment.

I didn’t speak. Krzysztof was focused on his driving, and I started to think about the events of that day so far.

A narrative technique in which we’re shown elements that took place before the episode’s main action. Said events may have taken place on-screen earlier, but may also be new scenes depicting things hitherto only referenced.
— Flashback, at TVTropes

We left the bar at 5am. The original plan was to start off in the early afternoon, but Sumi convinced Yimu to head off now. We stopped by our respective homes to sort out some kind of travel backpack, got ourselves on a train to Michendorf, and walked to a service station by the Berliner Ring highway, hoping to get ourselves a ride to the Bundesautobahn 2.

Once at the service station, we worked to produce some signs. Yimu broke into the closed garbage compound and took two sheets of cardboard from the paper trash container. I wrote the names of several cities on our way on them: Madgeburg, Hannover, Dortmund, and then our intended target, Amsterdam. With our freshly made hitchhiker tools, we sat down in front of the fuel pumps with the signs propped up by our feet.

And there we sat, staring at the drivers as they filled their tanks, hoping one of them would gift us a few hundred kilometres, out of shee—

A Smash Cut cut occurs without warning in the middle of a scene and transitions abruptly to another, and is often intended to startle the audience. Very often, it goes something like this:
— Smash Cut, at TVTropes

Out of what? What drives someone to pick up a hitchhiker?, I asked myself, interrupting my recollection. Maybe they hitchhiked before and do it out of a sense of reciprocation? Or they enjoy having company while driving hundreds of kilometres? Or they’re just as silly as I am; I’d totally pick up a hitchhiker just for the experience. Or…

I looked at Krzysztof once more and started thinking up unhealthy reasons for him to pick us up and drive us as far as he did without showing any sign of ill intentions. Back then I was reading Under the Skin, a story where the protagonist drives around Scotland picking up hitchhikers and doing bad things to them. With that in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of our helpful drivers might have less than good intentions.

Nah, there’s no reason Krzysztof would pick us up, go out of the way to drop off that other guy, and then get back on the highway for miles and miles if he had ill intentions; it’s just stupid, I assured myself. Hah, that other guy… that was not what I was expecting when I thought about meeting fellow hitchhikers.

Exposition is a literary tool that is used to give information to the audience through dialogue, description, flashback, or narrative.
— Exposition, at TVTropes

Krzysztof had picked us up at a small service station some ten miles before Brunswick. A fellow hitchhiker had joined us there, on his way to Kassel. I am still unsure whether I can count that one as a hitchhiker. We found him at the gas station sitting by the air pumps. He lacked a sign, but had all the looks of expecting to hitch a ride. Yet, he didn’t even approach any drivers passing by to pump their tires. He just sat there. When we talked to him, he told us he had been there since the day before, and couldn’t get a ride. When we told him he should have a sign, he produced his from a back pocket: a flimsy A4 sheet of paper with “Kassel” written on it.

I wanted to laugh but held back. Our signs were cardboard squares about 70cm wide, folded in three, with different city names written in big capitals with a red marker on each of the three outward facing sides. Compared to his flimsy A4 sheet with a barely readable “Kassel” in it, our signs made it look like we were professionals. When we were not thumbing, we carried them around on the outside of our backpacks; some people at that service station had noticed them on our backpacks and approached us with potential ride offers. Despite our null experience, having a sign that signals properly had always been on our minds as a very important thing for winning rides, and it was hard to understand why this guy wasn’t even bothering to hold his up.

He didn’t really seem interested in taking our advice, so we left him to his own devices and went to get some food at McDonald’s, the only eating option available at that station. After that meal, we went back to thumbing, and that was when Krzysztof picked us up. As we were entering his car, the Kassel guy ran over and asked if he could join. Krzysztof was kind enough to take him in as well; Kassel wasn’t far and more or less along the way Krzysztof was going. At least that’s what he determined after glancing at his foldable map of Germany.

Krzysztof had no navigator, not even a simple GPS receiver. He always checked his route by looking at road signs and quickly glancing at the map. He sorted out a detour from the highway to avoid a traffic jam around Hannover, and at the same time to drop off that other guy at Kassel with ten seconds of looking at his map. That was truly impressive.

In most narratives, there’s an element of trust that the person telling you the story is telling the truth, at least as far as they know it. This trope occurs when that convention is discarded. The narrator’s facts contradict each other. If you ask them to go back a bit and retell it, the events come out a little differently.
— Unreliable Narrator, at TVTropes

Yimu woke up and asked where we were. Krzysztof told him we were near Dortmund, but Yimu had no idea where that was. He cheered when I explained that it was not too far from the Netherlands.

The three of us chatted in our three differently broken brands of German for a while. Krzysztof told us about his work as a truck driver in Eindhoven, and about his family in Poland and we told him about our lives in Berlin. At some point the conversation steered into politics and the hardships of trying to live with minimum wage in Poland, and then it eventually died off and we were back to Krzysztof driving in silence while people on the radio kept talking about something in Dutch.

The Dutch border was, as expected, very unceremonial. The only indication that we were crossing a border was the usual blue sign with the European Union stars and the name of the country. Yimu actually missed it and asked how long it would take to get to the Netherlands about half an hour after we crossed the border. Soon after, Krzysztof had to drop us off and head towards Eindhoven. He had brought us almost all the way across Germany, and we gave him a six-pack of beer we had bought at a service station earlier. He felt the need to reciprocate, and gave us each a can of some Polish beer, which we stored in our backpacks for later.

He left us at a gas station some fifteen minutes south of the city of Nijmegen at around seven o’clock, and after using the bathroom there, we went back to thumbing, hoping to get a ride to Amsterdam.

After a fruitless hour and a half of that, we decided it was time to change plans. Amsterdam was some two hours away, and we were not expecting much luck getting a ride there after eight-thirty. The chances of finding someone headed fifteen minutes away willing to give us a ride seemed much better. Once in Nijmegen we could find a hostel to spend the night and resume our journey the day after.

And so we wrote “Nijmegen” on my sign, and resumed our thumbing efforts…

A commonly seen caption at the end of serial installments, especially when there’s a cliffhanger. Like The End, but not so final. Contrast To Be Continued Right Now.
— To Be Continued, at TVTropes