Sunday, December 16, 2018

Detained by the French Authorities

by alan handwerger (editor), Providence, R.I., January 02, 2010

Credit: self
french flag as seen from my cell

Soon I was the only one at the border who was unaware of the existence of this bag of pot, as the guard, feeling under the carpet, produced the bag in question ... and arrested us with glee.

Judging by photographs taken of me in 1971, you’d have to say that I was a hippie. I had long hair like a hippie. I dressed like a hippie. And at least one snapshot of me attached to the business end of an elaborate Moroccan hookah testifies to the fact that I smoked pot like a hippie.

But funnily enough, I never liked hippies: didn’t like their attitudes; didn’t like their politics; didn’t like the way they spoke – man.

Western Europe, back in the Seventies, was littered with American hippies – come to “do Europe”, often at that moment in their lives which divided their years of formal schooling from the years ahead that would find them burdened with responsibilities.

Unlike the Grand Tours taken by privileged American youth of a bygone era, the American hippies of the Seventies bedded down in youth hostels, lived on a pretty steady diet of bread and chocolate, and got from A to B in the third-class train compartments to which they were entitled access by their Eurail passes.

But there was at least one American hippie in Europe in the spring of 1971 who never slept in a youth hostel, ate chocolate only if he felt like it, and drove all over the continent in a shiny new Mercedes. That hippie was me.

As my reward for having sat around for the better part of four years reading novels, my arguably over-indulgent parents had seen fit to fill my pockets with traveler’s checks and send me off to Sindelfingen, Germany, home of the Mercedes Benz factory, to pick up a ‘good, safe car’ for my trip. From there I would set out to tour Europe for several weeks before flying home.

My plan was to spend most of my time in France. Back in high school I had fallen deeply in love with my French teacher, and, in an effort to win her heart, had actually learned to speak her language. Things never worked out between us, her husband and three children having proved to be insurmountable obstacles. But the fringe benefit was that I had become bilingual, and was now anxious to test my powers.

My chosen route was to take me through Germany and into Belgium, in order to enter France from the north. I was traveling alone, and things were going quite nicely. Until I met Buddy Hix.

Buddy was an impressive figure: six-six, huge blond Afro, scraggly beard and, to complete the picture, a ridiculous pair of pink sunglasses. There he stood, on the side of Belgian national highway E40, his thumb gesticulating wildly.

“Thanks, man,” he said as he opened the car door. “I’ve been out there for hours.” Hurling his backpack into the rear seat, he hopped in front, adjusted his seat into a reclining position and settled in. “Where you headed?”

“Paris,” I said. “You?”

“Wild, man. Me too. What a groove. You got any weed?”

“No,” I said, somewhat abruptly. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t stopped.

“Me either, man. Drag. Such a great day to get high.” Buddy now started using his thighs as a drum pad, beating them wildly with his hands to the rhythm of the song that was playing on the car radio. He turned the volume up. “I’m Buddy,” he shouted, offering his hand. “Buddy Hix.”

Buddy, I learned, was from Ohio, was a junior at Ohio State, and had taken the semester off because, to put it in his vernacular, “things had gotten too heavy”. He was going to “dig Europe for a while, and then see what shaked out”.

“These your wheels?” he wanted to know.

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Dig it, man. How do you, like, justify that I’m f’ing hitchhiking all the f’ing way across f’ing Europe, and you’re like driving a f’ing new Mercedes?” Buddy was adjectivally challenged.

And there was no doubt about it -- I didn’t like him. “Well if I wasn’t driving it,” I said, hoping to communicate my indifference to his world view, “you’d still be hitchhiking.”


I definitely needed to work on my dissing skills.

We were approaching the French border at Malo-les-Bains, and I was about to learn that Buddy had not been totally honest with me. I refer specifically to our earlier conversation regarding the possession of marijuana.

“Step out of ze car, please. Bose of you,” said the French border guard. One of the disadvantages of being twenty years old, having long hair, driving an expensive new sedan and having as your traveling companion a giant hippy from Ohio is that it subjects you to an above average level of scrutiny by the powers that be. Unbeknownst to me, Buddy, when we had stopped for gas a few miles back, had taken advantage of my trip to the men’s room to stash, under the front rug of the car, his “stash” -- the very stash he had recently bemoaned not having had.

Soon I was the only one at the border who was unaware of the existence of this bag of pot, as the guard, feeling under the carpet, produced the bag in question, rallied his border guard cronies and arrested us with glee.

I watched out the window of my cell while they ripped the car apart. Finding no additional contraband, they returned to the jail to interrogate us. “Il est autostoppeur,” I pleaded with them. “He’s a hitchhiker.” I will never know why, but for whatever their reasons, they chose to believe my story.

A bargain was struck. In exchange for my freedom, I was to stay on in Malo-les-Bains to serve as an interpreter between the French court and Buddy. I was put up at a small hotel directly on the beach, courtesy of the French government, and given an allowance for three meals a day.

It was three days before the case was heard, days on which I divided my time between thanking my lucky stars and worrying that the French authorities might change their minds with regard to my innocence. The trial itself lasted just ten minutes. Buddy was found guilty, fined 2,500 francs, and given forty-eight hours to leave France forever.

“Ask him if he has anything to say in his behalf,” the judge said to me.

Which I did.

“Tell that mother- #@%!!, @#$%!!!-sucker, he can take his goddam country and……”

“What did he say?” the judge wanted to know.

“He said that he’s really sorry, and that he hopes that France will find it in her heart to allow him to come back one day.”

Case dismissed.

I drove Buddy to Paris and put him on a train bound for sunny Spain. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, even after what he’d put me through. Later that day I bought some new clothes. Then I found a barber and got a short haircut. Life, I decided that day, might be easier if I were to make myself invisible.

About the Writer

alan handwerger is an editor for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Detained by the French Authorities

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By S. Vaughan on January 03, 2010 at 12:00 am

Enjoyable reading. Any chance you might still win the heart of your French teacher?

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By Teresa Montez on January 03, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Great Story, and happily the penalty was very mild unlike today in the US where you would both probably be facing inflated charges, jail or lengthy probation, and permanent records.

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By Theresa H Hall on January 06, 2010 at 02:26 am

Alan, when Buddy sat down in the mercedes and leaned back to recline, I saw where this was leading. I was sorry you didn't expound on what foods you tried during your unexpected three-day layover. Please tell us more of your delightful stories.

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By slbts2011 on November 05, 2010 at 09:26 pm

Cunning baffling and powerful - people will go long distances to reserve their right to party.

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