The last time I got stuck and spent the night at a service station, to kill time, I came up with the idea of writing about service stations, from a hitchhiker-sociological perspective. Maybe also including photos or drawings. I scrabbled some observations on my notebook, but in the end I didn´t have enough, nothing interesting. For a long time now I wanted to write something for our project breadcrumbszine.tumblr.com/, so I kept it in mind and now tried to transform my thoughts in some kind of coherent text.
I´m sure a lot of truck drivers or business travellers have told you about the comments they get to hear by friends or acquaintances on their romantic travelling life. Of course they answer that the motorways are the same everywhere, so are service stations, at least in Europe. It´s pretty boring. There also exists a huge Wikipedia article dedicated to them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filling_station
Here I wrote down some thoughts on the hitchhiker in space – not in the galaxies, but public space here on earth. First, I would like to present you a theory by the anthropologist Marc Augé. His hypothesis on our modern social life, he calls it supermodernity, suggests that there are places and non-places. It’s like a game of thoughts. Although both never come to exist in pure form, but serve as a model.
“If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with
identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or
historical or concerned with identity will be a non-place.”
Augé suggests that supermodernité produces more and more non-places. Whereas places define themselves through their social history, non-places are impersonal, they are not themselves anthropological places, but stereotyped spaces. Examples are motorways, clinics, supermarkets, shopping malls, ATMs, airports, hotel chains. In 2015 Marc Augés theory will already be 20 years old. I stumbled upon it and asked myself, what role would we hitchhikers play in this concept?
The traveller moves from place to place. What is in between? In between there are service stations. As I am currently hitchhiking the 2800km between Portugal and Germany up and down, every month, I am familiar with almost all service stations (and I m sure you, too). Many hitchhikers are commuting. Often non-places are transitional spaces, places the proliferate in supermodernity, with society´s growing acceleration and movement, therefore it´s clear that non-places are to a great deal anonymous, it´s hard to be individual when you, for instance, pass a toll boot. Just think of globalization, everywhere you can get along, the airports and similar institutions work the same all over the world. They have their own aesthetic. Access to non-places is usually limited, for example you are requested some kind of ticket, or might need a car, or you can only stay certain amount of time. There are rules of behaviour or roles you have to play, there´s a lack of human history, communication and interaction is not done between people, but largely limited to signs, of informative or prohibitive character, put up by institutions. No smoking. Stand behind the line. You are now entering the… region. Bienvenue sur nos aires. No Autostop.
What if we, as nomads, entirely live in non-places? Do we turn them into places? In my opinion the hitchhiker interrupts this anonymity, turning the airport or gas station in his sleeping place, eating place, place to hang out and talk to strangers. The hitchhiker is an exception to the rule. We make friends with employees, sometimes we arrive there by foot, crossing fields. This thought could be developed further.
I´m currently reading “The Autonauts of the Cosmoroute” by the Argentinian author Julio Cortázar and his wife, the canadian photographer Carol Dunlop in which they wrote about a trip in their red Volkswagen Combi on the Autoroute du Sud starting in Paris, going to Marseilles in 33 days. It was their way of breaking with the expected use of highways and gas stations. Also of distort the relation space/place and time. They set up their own rules, in a humourous way, cientific conditions they have to stick to. They took it serious and observed flora and fauna, they also compared their expedition with Christopher Columbus’s or Marco Polo´s.
Augé, Marc (1995): “Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity”
Verso. London. New York
Cortázar, Julio y Dunlop, Carol (1983): “Los Autonauts de la Cosmopista o un viaje
atemporal Paris-Marsella”. Muchnik Editores.