Aleksandra Mir

We Shoot Black Birds

Hitchhike conversation with anonymous driver, Wrong Times, #1, New York, 2004
By Aleksandra Mir

Hey, how far are you going?

Reykjiavík!

Can I join you to Skaftafell?

Jump in.

Thanks for stopping. It's getting dark.

No problem. I normally don't pick up anyone, never any backpackers, but you only have a small bag so it's OK. Where are you from?

New York. I am in Iceland for a month, but I came out here to the glacier for a week to look around and take some pictures, photography. I stay in Skaftafell but I got a lift out this morning with some Italians who had rented their jeep in Hamburg and brought it over with the ferry. She was a professional Mime. He, a controller at a glass factory in Florence, 33 hours on a boat, but it was half price that way they said. They dropped me off in Höfn, to check my email, and I completely forgot about the time. I walked back 4km to the junction, waited 1/2 hour, then just got a very short ride to this gas station from some locals who were laughing. I really appreciate this. What are you doing?

This is the mail truck. I drive the ten-hour route from Egilsstadir to Reykjiavík 15 times a month.

That's like driving across the US every week!

I like it, it's a good job, easy, well paid. We are three men who share the southern route. I only have to work on every third weekend. The northern mail gets flown out of Akureyri.

Where do you live? Show me on the map.

Here. It's an hour further away from where my route starts. They are building a tunnel through this mountain so it will get a bit shorter. Should be ready next year. I've just recently started this job, needed a change. I was a fisherman for five years. Before then I worked at a net factory. Both my parents work there. They are from the opposite ends of the same fjord.

A fishnet factory?

Yes.

Look out.

Sheep, I hate the fucking sheep. I hit one once with this truck.

What did the farmer say?

They don't care, let them run loose like this, but I didn't tell the farmer. If I told him, I would have had to pay for the sheep. Its 15 000 kroner, one sheep, so I didn't tell him. I've got to stop here to pick up mail.

OK.

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So when you live here, do you spend a lot of time on the glacier?

Yes, sure, and down by the sea. The goose hunting season just started.

Where is the goose?

Everywhere. We are just not allowed to shoot it until this time of the year. Just before Christmas we hunt a small white bird called Ripa. Then we go out to the sea and shoot black birds. It's great fun.

More fun than fishing?

Fishing is just fishing. It's fun to shoot.

You shoot the birds on the sea? How do you catch them then?

They fall down and float on the water, you just pick them up.

So you shoot your birds at sea and hit your sheep on the roads.

Exactly!

The people you went to school with, what do they do?

Everything. They live all over. I know someone in every town all over Iceland. This is Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon where they shot the last Bond. Very beautiful place. All the icebergs here, they break loose.

I know, I was there earlier today, and yesterday, and the day before. It's amazing. I also saw something really funny there: A crew from London was doing a photo shoot for 'Wedding Magazine'. There was a blonde ice princess model from Denmark and three people attending her makeup and hair and dress. The photographer had thin slacks and a Burberry hat. They had a whole stand with fabulous clothes and jewelry laid out in the open. They put a dog sledge with six beautiful dogs in front of it the ice, and the freezing model in her transparent wedding dress was supposed to be standing on the sledge casually holding the ropes to the dogs with her left hand and smile. The six dogs needed three menders who were shouting commands to them all the time so they would behave, because the whole situation made them very nervous. I thought the dogs were trained to be really aggressive, to run through heavy snow for hours. So when the photographer asked if the dogs could please stand up and pose for the camera, they thought they were getting a signal to get ready and run. So they pulled the whole sledge violently forward. The poor terrified model almost fell over. Luckily, she was wearing her Eskimo seal boots and had a bit of a grip, the stylists hadn't gotten her to wear the strappy high heel silver sandals yet. They only used the lagoon as a backdrop anyway. They could have done the same picture in a studio with some stuffed dogs and a wind machine. Then it started to rain. I don't think the photographer got a decent shot out of the day, but 50 tourists dressed in really warm waterproof clothes were laughing all around and taking pictures of this scenario. It was just really cheap. I mean, It must have been very expensive, to arrange all of this, bring these people out here, rent the dogs, but it was like a bridal fantasy gone totally wrong on the outset.

That's so stupid.

I think the Bond people had it more together. I was told they arranged to have the lagoon blocked off so that salt water couldn't get in. After a week, the salt water in the lagoon had reached the bottom and the glacial fresh water had frozen to 1m thick ice and they could drive their fast cars over it, interact with the icebergs, get cool angles. A real Bond trick.

It's quite popular. They shot Tomb Raider here as well, with Angelina Jolie.

The last one?

No, the first.

I havn't seen that. Now I want to see it.

It doesn't look very real. So do you think the people of California will vote for Schwarzenegger?

Well, they did vote for Reagan, didn't they. Schwarzenegger is cool and almost a Kennedy, although an Austrian Republican, which is all a bit strange.

So what do you think about Bush?

I think people originally judged him by his father.

Probably so.

The strangest thing, you think in a democracy it would be statistically impossible for a son of a ruler to become the new ruler. It's like a kingdom. The son of the king becomes the new king.

And he is king for sure.

Yes, and what do you think about that?

Well, I do like him for one thing. I think Saddam had to be stopped. You can't have nutters like that on the loose.

But it's not over yet.

No it's not. I hope they catch him.

Ever been to America?

I have an uncle living in Modesto, California.

Have you been there?

Haha, I've never been abroad. I am 30 but I have never left Iceland. Last year I went to Barcelona for three days, but that's all. It was for work, I only saw one street in Barcelona.

But you speak perfect English! You sound like you have lived abroad for years.

Movies.

Don't you want to go?

Sure, I'd like to, but I am always too busy, working, working, working. I am a workaholic. I need things to do or I go crazy. I just bought a house. I got up today at 9 and worked on the house all day, then the mail route starts at 5 when the post office closes. I can't leave earlier than that. I'll be in Reykjiavík by 3am. Stay one night and then back.

Take some time out, see the world. Or, maybe not. Save your time and money, you can see the world on TV.

Right.

Yesterday I got a lift with a family from France. They had two small kids, 8 and 6 years old they had traveled all over the world with. South America, Asia, wanted them to develop "a passion for travel". The father was speaking Italian, the mother, French. The youngest girl was adopted from Vietnam, she goes to an international school in Lyon. I think they picked me up so they could practice their English. The kids were exhausted, slept most of the way and completely ignored me. When the dad said they might take the little one back to Vietnam one day, she said, "Papa, can we please listen to some music now?"

I have two daughters, 7 and two years old. They live in Keflavík.

That's a lot of travel, how often do you see them?

As often as I want. I have a very good relation with the mother, or the mothers, I should say.

Seems to be the Icelandic way, everyone is spread out with kids all over.

Yes, haha. How old are you?

36 this year in September. But I feel like 22. I was married for 13 years, so I've lived an adult life already. But now it looks like I am back to where it was like before. I think I'll never get older than 22 in my head. That's probably why I hitchhike. I want this kind of ease, no worries, small bag, not care to spend an hour in the rain waiting. I've got a very expensive camera in my bag, but that's pretty much it. I can also do whatever I want now. I always used to work for other people, but not anymore. I can be here and work for myself.

I just turned 30 this July, but I've always felt like 60 years old. I don't know why. I've always been like that, really old.

Maybe growing up here you learn to take responsibility fast?

Maybe.

So were you here during the eruptions and floods in '96?

No, I was in Keflavík, but it will happen soon again they say.

Around here?

Yes, they say the next one will hit Vík, down there.

Are people ready for it?

Always ready.

What do they do?

Run up the hills, haha. No, they are just preparing to leave their homes if they need to.

It doesn't happen overnight, you get warnings?

Yes. I need to stop here at the gas station for 15 minutes to eat. It's where all the truckers break. You can wait in the car. It's just eat and go.

OK.

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Back. You should get one of those.

What?

One of those.

Where?

See the truck with the 6 brand new jeeps on.

Oh those are very nice, where are those new cars going?

Icelandic interior.

What's the most popular car on Iceland? Toyota?

Probably

And how long have you had the monster trucks on Iceland?

Oh, almost 30 years.

It's like Mad Max around here.

Haha. You like Iceland?

I like that it's easy, dramatic but easy. I am staying in one place for a week and there is so much to do in this one small area around the ice. Most people I notice stay one night and move on, but I like to slow things down and look closer. Oh here we are, here's my turn. Do you normally pick up mail from here?

No, but I'll take you there, I've got time.

Are you sure? I need to get up the mountain as well, to the farm house.

What is it? I have never been there.

It's an old farm, from 1920. After that really big eruption you know, that killed everyone, the farms were moved up not to be drowned by the floods. The family has had it since and now they run it as a B&B. They are very cool. The son is married to a Maori woman from New Zealand. We had coffee together, she told me her story. She had been a widow for 12 years when they met, raised her children, never looked at another man. They now live here part of the year here and part on New Zealand. I guess Islanders must understand each other.

Hilly road.

Yes, thanks so much. There is a shortcut down through the woods, but this is really the only decent way up. I really appreciate this. You can't see now for its too dark, but there's a great view, mountain on top and down to the sea, a black prarie, like in the wild wild west. And down there in the delta, they built some curled ridges of lava rock to redirect the water from the glacial river when it floods. There are 18 semi-spiral jetties in the water there. I've walked out on 6 of them.

Yes, this is a great place. I better turn the truck here.

Thanks for the ride. Here's my address in New York if you'll ever make it over to America.

Good bye.

Thanks again.