Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A couple of months ago I told the story of how my morning commute turned sour. I am actually building up quite a repertoire of train stories, so I reckon I should put more of them in the blog before I forget them.

Most are really anecdotes. For example, there is the one about the clearly-drunk fellow who stumbled around the carriage one afternoon and went up the stairs and out of sight (some of my trains are doubledeckers). A few seconds after his disappearance, I heard what could only have been his urine splattering on some surface not belonging to the bottom of a toilet. I lifted my eyes from my book, exchanged a world-weary glance with a fellow passenger, and moved to another carriage just as the smell hit me.

See? No real story there.

There's also the one about how I got on the wrong train because I was talking on my cell-phone instead of paying attention to the train (mine was to arrive 4 minutes later).

Similarly, I recently got on the wrong train because I was reading instead of paying attention.

Today, however, brought a proper story, which I shall now attempt to relate in a crowd-pleasing fashion.

I boarded the train in Dortmund at 4:09 pm today. This isn't a particularly unusual time for me, but for some reason I had a regular train rather than a doubledecker. This isn't usually an important detail other than the fact that the doubledeckers are quieter and have more comfortable seats. I sat, as is my wont, near the back of the train. This is usually a good strategy for avoiding the riffraff (by which I mean everybody else), who tend to prefer the middle or front. I took my seat in a half empty compartment which featured a lack of people wearing headphones (I hate other people's music more than I hate them). I sat across the aisle from an older fellow.

Just after we got rolling, several folks passed through the compartment on their way a'fore or aft. Most of them, being average people, left the sliding door open after they passed through. You may be surprised to learn that this rarely draws my attention (much less ire). But it TOTALLY pushed Grandpa's buttons. He loudly grumbled about the lack of home-training on display and made a show of closing the door. I grunted my polite agreement, more out of general courtesy for a fellow misanthrope than anything else. I shoudn't have done that, though.

Grandpa saw this as a chance to tell me his story. Suddenly I was living in a John Mellencamp song. Or a Kenny Rogers song. Had Grandpa had a flask he would have taken a swig, wiped it with his tubercular hanky, and insisted I join him. He did not, however. He DID have a story, though. Or rather, lots of stories. None of which contained any wisdom (as they always do in songs).

Grandpa pointed out that our carriage was likely 45 years old, and so not equipped with automatic doors. In fact, he noted, the old carriages are difficult to maintain. They are also, of course, expensive to replace. They will soon be replaced, he's been told, due to next year's World Cup. Yeah. You can't get all that many folks in one of these old babies. What? 100, tops? But in the doubledeckers! Man! You could get 200 in them for sure. Yes sir. Of course (of course) it was all much worse just after The War. Back then the trains were smaller and always full. He once rode from Essen to Stuttgart (a long way) with a guy who climbed up and lay in the luggage net because he didn't want to stand the whole way! And that, of course, is NOTHING compared to what it was like DURING The War. At night, lest they be bombed or strafed, they had to keep the blinds down and instead of -- imagine! -- flourescent lights they had one little black light bulb per carriage. And to further thwart the Allies, the engineer(s?) would abruptly stop the train (to the extent that is possible), and the pursuing plane would fly, briefly, on in search of the train. Eventually the pilot might figure out the score and swing around for another run, but by that time the nearly-invisible train would be rolling again. And tunnels! They would sit in tunnels for hours sometimes.

[I would add, at this point, a train trip he seems to have gone on as a captured soldier after the war. It was REALLY hard to follow this bit of the story, though, and he never paused so that I could ask any questions. A shame, because this seemed like an interesting bit.]

{I WILL add that during the whole trip he harrangued anyone who left the door open, provoking a nasty look from one fella. Grandpa said "Don't you look at me like that you Caveman! Shut the goddamned door!" Funny stuff!}

After the war (when not riding overcrowded trains) he relocated to a sleepy village in Westphalia because his beloved Essen had been bombed to hell. He worked a farm for a while, but although he had plenty to eat it was too boring. He worked 10 years as a coal miner (somewhere: did he say?). Then he went back to Essen and got his commercial driver's license. He then drove down to Spain and picked up shipments of Spanish foodstuffs (fruit and the like) and brought it back up to market in Germany. He did that for 30 (?) years. The interesting part here is how he went into great detail about how he and his partner frequently stole things over the years. A case of oranges here, a Christmas turkey there. Mind you, this was the 60s and 70s (hardly the crisis years after The War). Brazen, he was. And then he retired. And then his friend called to tell him that the company seemed on the verge of bankruptcy and what should he do? Grandpa said "Sell the truck, dude! You've got all the paperwork!" So his friend did. And then his friend wanted a car. His friend asked him to help him pick it out. He picked out a silver _____ with lots of power. He (Grandpa) made a joke about needing to put a license plate underneath so that the cops could read it as he flew over their heads (I don't get it). Years later he saw this guy again and asked about the car. He had a new one now, but he still had the plates underneath (hahahah!)!

And then, as we pulled into Oberbarmen (and reached minute 45 of his non-stop story) he abruptly got up, said he'd see me around, complained to the conductor about people not closing the doors, and got off the train.


At 9:26 PM, Blogger shelley said...

HAHAHAHA!! You need to carry a flask for such occasions.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger wvbetty said...

And as he departed from the car you noticed his pensioner-home-issued slippers?

Sounds like someone wasn't keeping an eye on grandpa and he started up w/ that silly story about flying cars.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Greg said...

I must say that I could have really used a flask AND that now that Betty mentions it he did show lots of signs about being, um, sanity-challenged.


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