Published Feb. 8, 2006. Reprinted with permission.






Hitchhiking through Europe

Hitchhiking through Europe: A comical, endearing and sometimes historical tale of self-discovery

By: Lindsey Pendola

“The day begins as another cool, foggy, summer morning. After walking to the cloverleaf, I simply turn around, face oncoming cars, and stick out my thumb. I need to be the lucky guy. Without luck, I could easily be waiting many hours for my first ride of the day.”

And so begins 1968 And I’m Hitchhiking Through Europe, a true-life adventure. I certainly expected from this opening that the next few hundred pages would be filled with fun anecdotes from a young man’s adventure through Europe, offering little depth or reflection, but I got a little something else I hadn’t bargained for and a little bit of what I had.
I’ve always been a person who believed that societies and the world in general were constantly moving forward, advancing not only technologically but intellectually and socially as well. That’s why I was completely taken aback after reading Joe Mack’s novel. It’s safe to say, that after reading tales of America fighting an unpopular war, soldiers dying, rioting in Paris, and politicians caring about their personal interests more than their country’s, the world really hasn’t advanced all that much in nearly four decades. This revelation made me feel both relieved and a little morose. Luckily, Mack limits the dismay one may feel about an unchanged world by illustrating funny and personal accounts of the adventures and sometimes misadventures of Europe for him, a 21-year-old man hitchhiking alone.

In one rather bizarre situation, Mack gets into a car that he has no choice but to and realizes that this ride may be more than he bargained for.

“Squashed inside this car built for two adults...were five men and all their stuff...The man was driving way too fast, swerving around corners and using the gears for breaking. I was sitting in the backseat being tossed around...too often the diver twisted around and started yelling at us...The four of us were whispering about getting out, but how? The car never stopped.”
Mack’s story can often be comical, iterating scenarios about getting too drunk in a Kronenbourg brewery or missing his train to London. They lift the mood of the book, making it a journey for the reader to endure too.

Now, if you’re a history buff, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a transparent amusement of a book, suitable only for those who mistake General Lee for the car Jessica Simpson gave a rub down to. Oftentimes Mack’s fondness of history interrupts the flow of a storyline with pages of historical accounts that give a side not shown in typical history books, but nevertheless distracts the reader from the story at hand, making it difficult to develop a connection with Mack.

After catching a ride with a Danish man, for example, Mack is involved in a conversation with his driver about being a college student, when it leads to the topic of protesting, which Mack then precedes to give a five-page account of the reception Vietnam protestors received during a demonstration in the United States. Even though the stories Mack tells do reflect the turbulent air of the time, they almost make it seem like he really wanted to write a history book but couldn’t decide, so he combined his two efforts.

Mack’s writing does, however, show us cultures in a past time, which allows readers to rekindle a spark of youth while recognizing the same imagination and inspiration they see reflected in Mack’s personal stories. Even when Mack gets lost in the history lessons, you still get a sense of his free-spiritness and genuine appreciation of culture and people.

On his train to London to catch his flight back to the States, Mack reflects on his romp through Europe.

“Yes, it was part luck, and it was part humanity.”
Each story within the novel shows a distinctive side of human nature that we seldom here about today: kindness and compassion for one another. In spite of cultural and language barriers, the men and women of Europe stopped for Mack and other hitchhikers, whether they were in the middle of a forest or on the side of a busy highway through Paris.

While it would have been nice to have Mack dig a little deeper and share more of himself with his readers, his novel is still an entertaining account of his times in Europe. Even though Mack’s stories are disappointing evidence that the world isn’t as far ahead as we’d all like to hope, it’s certainly refreshing to see a time when people had a sense of wonder with the world and the people in it.

Taking a ride with Mack may tell a tale of a world speeding past at 140 mph on the Autoban, but it also lets us know that even the simplest acts of kindness stay with us for a lifetime


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