I was standing beside the highway about 5 miles outside of Napier, New Zealand. I was headed north towards Rotorua and eventually Auckland and on the power of my thumb I’d made it out to the highway proper. Every car that passed was now going the way I needed to go and so I knew I’d have a ride soon enough. There was nothing to do but stand around and enjoy the world until it turned up.
Now, the benefits of travelling in a country where hitch-hiking is a reliable, practical means of transport are obvious to the penny counting backpacker, but the people are by far the most entertaining part. Freaks, geeks, hippies, parents; a whole plethora of personalities, all united in the fact that they are good-natured enough to give a helping hand to a random stranger on the side of the road. They come from all corners of life and the world and, whether they’re irritating, inspiring or somewhere in between, they are almost uniformly the nicest people you could ask for.
But almost uniformly is not quite uniformly.
I’d been waiting less than an hour when a streamlined silver number pulled up. I heaved my backpack over and opened the door.
The first impression I got of my ride giver came from a burst of very loud, very heavy, heavy metal. I might of been a bit disappointed by this (heavy metal is definitely not appropriate for driving down the stunning highways of New Zealand), but one thing I have learned from hitch-hiking is that you cannot judge someone’s personality on their taste in music, and so I hopped. The guy seemed alright by first impressions. A bit suspicious looking and with a slight intensity that, while not quite worrying, was definitely noted, but he seemed ok.
It was about 5 minutes into the ride when I noticed the swastika tattooed on his forearm. At first I thought I must have been mistaken; it must be lines or a pattern that somewhat resembled a swastika. But no. It was a swastika. A dirty great swastika tattooed on his arm. Brilliant I thought. Here we go. I finished whatever I’d been saying and drew in a deep breath. I figured I’d probably be holding it for a while.
One of the indeed many problems with Neo-Nazis is that they’re quite outspoken. Let’s face it; most of the real news about our modern day hate-mongers comes from what they say instead of what they do. If they just kept their mouths shut they’d get along a lot better. But they can’t. They just love to hate, and they love to let people know that. And so it was that I was sat in that car, listening to this man’s hateful madness. The urge to ask to be dropped out, to pretend you’re where you’re need to be, is pretty hard to muster when you’re flying down the highway at 160km an hour in the middle of New Zealand nowhere. When your ride quite happily tells you that he spend the week you were born killing a man in his basement and the following sixteen years in prison for it, the urge to keep this man appeased until you can get away from him quite outweighs all others.
And so we passed the ride in a sea of one-sided discrimination. He asked me where I was travelling next; I said Thailand. He said he didn’t like Asians. I told him I like Jimi Hendrix. He asked me, as if I was mad ‘Isn’t he black?’ He put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan. I thought it best not to point out that the blues is famously African American music. Horrible, torturous, offensive uncomfort.
After an age, we were genuinely where I needed to be. He let me out, I grabbed my backpack, said thank you (after all, he did help me out) and watched him with glee as he sped off down the highway. I crossed the road, considering what had just happened to me, and found my place. I stuck out my thumb, let out my breath and was, warier but wiser, on my way.