Rennes, Capital of Brittany, February 1992. For the last year or so, I found myself crossing the city, heading towards my favourite hitchhiking spot on National 24, just outside the Citroën car assembly point; yes, plenty of room there, nice and safe for the generous soul that would bring me closer to Vannes and my Rock’n’Roll mates from the Cactus bar and like the chorus of a song I once wrote, looking forward to “ walk down Butcher Street, with my black leather jacket”; I was just 20, leaving behind for a couple of days my life as a musician for the “Smoking Dogs” theater company, swimming in a pool of doubt and uncertainty like most of my peers, dark, fun and life loving, hopeful. I am always hopeful, even in my most pessimistic days. The anxiety of a young adult then, now and to be… I don’t really know why I was making that weekly journey, partly because I wanted to see some of my friends who weren’t really friends, partly feeling guilty for moving to “The Big City”, afraid of being judged and secretly weaning myself off the provincial town that saw me grow, unfriendly to our lost kinds, “them Rockers”with long hair and short ideas, guys and gals who had to hide in the back streets of this self proclaimed pseudo bourgeois town, to entertain our love and hunger for rebellion, music, identity and art… We were beautiful, we didn’t care… Rennes fed us and nurtured us in a way our home towns and villages couldn’t anymore.
Every week or so, I did my pilgrimage to the Citroën place, and like a false joy I always fell for an unmarked beige Peugeot car that stopped for me. “No lift for me this time” I thought, the first time them three large guys came out of the vehicle, heading for me and flashing badges in front of my nose… I had nothing, I couldn’t reproach myself of anything, I was “clean”; yet my left leg was dancing the gig on the sidewalk, to the sound of heavy traffic passing by me… Probably because I had too much coffee and was under nourished, more likely because I was hoping to avoid this encounter.
“French Customs, show me your I.D and empty your pockets on the boot of the car please!”
“Sure” I said, freaking out inside. I opened my wallet and gave my I.D card to the older officer scrutinising my every moves which were very little apart from my dancing leg.
“Empty your pockets here” as his index finger pointed at the top of the “unmarked” car boot. Since Renault car company collaborated with the Germans during the war, cops used Peugeot vehicles as per tradition, or something like that; always beige in colour for an unmarked car and the last number plate “35” was a dead giveaway as it was the number for the region’s district code. Still… I emptied my pockets and stated that I wasn’t a Marijuana smoker despite my long hair or even my black leather jacket. In France, it’s called the “wrong face crime”, as if you look it, you must be it. Don’t judge a book by its cover I always thought in these moments of deep solitude… Futile really! I emptied the lot on the back of the squad car, few coins ( I was broke, hence the hitchhiking… Dah!!!), a packet of Gitanes cigarettes, a couple of condoms and a small tear gas canister. I thought I was done for when he saw that; my cousin gave it to me, just in case as there are a lot of weirdos when one thumbs the road. I never had to use it, but the officer didn’t care as it was legal enough in France. He was more concerned by the amount of cigarette buds I had in my pocket.
“Why and what is that?” he said genuinely puzzled.
“ Well, I smoke, but I don’t smoke if you get me? So when I smoke cigarettes, I don’t throw the buds in the streets, I find it disgusting when people do that! So I wait until I get home, burn them or dispose of them correctly, I have an environmental conscious you know!” I said with a bit of humour.
The main custom officer looked at me, the scruples from his eyes had gone and he tried to control his smile while handing me back my I.D card. I put my miserable belongings back in the pockets of “my black leather jacket” and hoped for a lift. This episode happened a few times after, and we built a certain level of trust to the point that when they stopped, I only had to show my I.D and that glorious day when they drove by and the three officers just waved at me from their passing car… One even gave me a “thumb up”. I must say, and looking back, those guys were alright… Right until that day in February.
Yes, it was a beautiful day, February 1992 and my old pal Sergio was with me; we had to head back to our own town, for the reasons I have explained earlier. It was bitterly cold outside, and Sergio gave me a sleeveless fleece he got in India, to put under my thin jacket. I saw him put some grass in a roll of film canister.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“It’s cool, I have it well hidden”.
“For fuck sake Sergio! I hate when you do that! I get checked by the “Gabloux” (French slang for custom officers) every other week!
“It’s cool, let’s go!” Sergio said, ignoring my plea.
And there we were, sitting ducks hitchhiking off the N24, attracting as much attention as one wouldn’t really like… Sergio was cool and confident, I was nervous and realistic. And of course, like a perfectly timed and predictable French administration, the “Three Wise Men” turned up in their beige Peugeot…
“Well Franck, how are you today? I see you have a friend with you this time?”
“Ah yes, that’s my buddy Sergio”
We were just by the “Horizon Towers”, Sergio looked cool, with his usual placid Poker face. The boss of the squad asked me to empty my pockets… Again. Same old story, no sweat… Then he pointed his finger at the inside jacket I was wearing, it had a wee pocket on the right side. I didn’t even know… I put my hand in the pocket and felt some cigarettes buds. Sergio had the same philosophy as I did; we were Greenpeace Wanabees once and after all! Unfortunately, as I opened my hand to prove my honesty, Sergio forgot to tell me about the giant spliff hiding in there, in a zigzag amongst the wasted tobacco… My face turned to disbelief, the officer’s face to anger and deception…
“ C’mon now! You’ve been fucking us about for all that time?”
“ Sir, I swear, it’s not mine, a friend lent me that jacket, I didn’t know it was there”… Lame excuse, but in this case true. And No one wants to grass one’s best friend especially if that friend is being frisk searched right next to you! The younger officer found Sergio’s dope, who just replied: “ Hey, it’s only 2g of grass, no need to go “Starsky and Hutch” on me! And the spliff there is mine too, Franck doesn’t smoke…” I got away with it, and Sergio too, with just a fine and lighter of a beautifully crisp 200 Francs note ( £20 then).
We continued our journey, in silence this time; real friends don’t need to be told “I told you so”. We made it to Sergio’s house, for his “Toastie Special”, involving sourdough bread, banana and Comté cheese… It had saved us in the past after sneaking out for late concerts and it sure repaired our souls from a day where we were just made of happy youth and careful carelessness, when cops and customs interfered in our plans, just wanted to be… Us!
Keep Well and Eat Happy