I don’t often get the opportunity to pair up two people so deserving of each other’s company, so when I had the pleasure of matching up two social deviants on the last heinous night of my recent spirit-crushing research trip, I was so full of pride afterward, that I still think fondly of it almost daily.
I was at a dead stop at a three way intersection in the middle of the northern Romanian countryside at 11:00PM puzzling over conflicting road signs when a guy more or less let himself into the passenger seat of my car. I had seen him hitchhiking a few hundred metres up the road and seeing as how I was racing home to Iasi in pitch-black night, near-sleepless, in bad driving conditions in a car with headlights dimmer than most keychain lights, I figured I had a full plate without adding a weird hitchhiker into the mix.
I asked him where he was going.
“Falticeni?” I asked, naming the next big town in that direction.
Suddenly, I realized I needed to go south. “I’m sorry, I’m going to Roman” I said pointing to the right.
“You’re going to Roman?”
“Or are you going to Falticeni?”
“Well, in truth I am going to Pascani, then to Iasi”
“It’s OK. Don’t worry.”
“Are you going to Roman or not?”
Not surprisingly, I came to realize during this dialogue that the man was exceedingly drunk. How he’d gotten himself out to the middle of nowhere in this condition I wasn’t sure. I’d seen him standing next to an abandoned car up the road and wondered if it was his. In any case, I had figured out my way and I wanted to keep moving so I stomped on the gas and off we went.
As the car accelerated I felt a cold draft and realized that his door was still open. The door actually has a sticky latch and if you don’t perform a complicated ritual, it won’t close. I tried to coach Drunken Hitchhiker through this, but it was hopeless. He slammed it several times, ignoring my instructions and failing to get it closed. Finally he said he got it. As we started moving again, I felt the draft. “Are you sure it’s closed?” “Yes, don’t worry.” I asked twice more when the draft became strong on the back of my neck as we hit 100KPH. He assured me the door was closed. I was pretty sure he was holding the door closed to shut me up.
Twenty seconds later he was snoring. I tried talking to him to keep him awake, but this was only marginally effective. Like a true Romanian, he was not wearing a seatbelt and I felt that the odds were pretty high that sooner or later a scenario involving a sleeping drunk man, holding a car door closed at 100KPH could only end in him rolling out the door and pin-wheeling to his death into the ditch. With the near uninterrupted string of foul luck that I’d had on that research trip, I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before he died violently and I’d be detained for days in some countryside police lockup while the authorities tried to sort out what happened and how they could spin the situation into blackmailing me for every penny I’m worth.
Moreover, being totally directionless and having a fondness for unconsciousness, I knew if I didn’t do something, Drunken Hitchhiker would still be my co-pilot when I pulled into Iasi and then what would I do with him?
As it so happened, one of the numerous ongoing maintenance duties that keeps the car running needed to be attended to. After a total of 30 minutes of driving I pulled into a forlorn gas station, dozens of kilometres from anywhere. The car died as I rolled to a stop at one of the pumps. The maintenance would only take five minutes and the car would be as good as new. I was more worried about getting Drunken Hitchhiker to either buckle his seatbelt or get the door satisfactorily closed, preferably both.
The lone gas station attendant came out. I told him that I didn’t need gas, just a few minutes to fix the car. He told me to move the car away from the gas pump so someone else could use it. I looked around. There were four pumps and we were the only people at the station. There weren’t even any other cars on the road. The chances of four cars suddenly pulling up wanting gas in the next five minutes were about as good as the chances of me twitching my nose like Samantha on Bewitched and turning my 1990 Dacia 1310 into a Ferrari Testarossa, with Salma Hayek in the passenger seat (why not?). Furthermore I needed the light of the gas pump canopy to work by. Like virtually everyone in Romania who finds themselves in a position of authority, no matter how trivial, he was being an asshole for the pure joy of being an asshole.
I tried to push the car out of the way, but couldn’t get it moving. I woke up Drunken Hitchhiker (with supreme effort) forced him out of the car and made him help. We pushed the car exactly one car-length, so that it was out of the way of the pump, but I still had some light to work with. Satisfied, Asshole Gas Station Attendant backed off.
Drunken Hitchhiker stood back with Asshole Gas Station Attendant and watched as I worked, cleaning the little doo-hickie that would make the car go again. The two traded words, that I could not hear. I was irked at both of them; Drunken Hitchhiker for effing up my $hit and Asshole Gas Station Attendant for conspiring with every other person in authority that I’d met in the previous 11 days to make my life righteous hell. I suddenly had an epiphany that would rid me of my problem and exact revenge all in the same move.
I finished my work and cleaned up. I was still being closely watched by my nemeses. After lingering for several moments so that the “what’s-he-gonna-do-next” suspense had time to fade, in one deft move, I was behind the wheel and tearing out of the gas station, leaving them to spend the rest of the night hopelessly stuck with each other. I certainly hope it sucked memorable ass for the both of them.