Back on Track

memoryMy husband and I traveled together, way back before we were a “we”. We spent the month of December on what we were sure was the adventure of our lives. I wanted to see the world and experience history and splendor and he was a safe and fun person, with travel experience. We traveled together with a third friend and we all had Inter-Rail passes that allowed us to go anywhere in Europe for a month on the same train ticket. We used the train as our hotel, sleeping in the cars to wake up to an exciting new spot to explore.

After a particularly rough night spent on cold marble floors in a train station in Italy, we headed back into Austria to find trains whose engineers did not strike in the middle of their routes. We were so tired that we fell asleep on the train, missing our transfer stop. We flew out of the train car with our stuff hastily gathered together and spilling from our backpacks in time to meet the conductor, who told us we could get off at the next stop, and we would have only ONE minute, to run across and catch the next train going the other way.

At least, that’s what we understood—since he only spoke Italian and a little German and between the three of us we spoke English, Spanish and high German. He repeated “one minute” and windmilled his arms several times so that we surely understood that stupid Americans who sleep through their stops must run to make up for it.

So the three of us weary travelers perched by the door of the last car, awaiting the moment of slow down. We weren’t going to make that conductor mad at us. Hissing brakes alerted us and we stood, double checking the floor for our stuff and braced for our exit. Brakes squealed and we launched forth. The three stooges descended onto tracks devoid of any other human being, staring at nothing but forest. What?

We about faced and found the conductor, yelling something we probably wouldn’t want to translate, even if we could, his windmill arms going faster than last time we’d seen him.

“No, no, no!” he shrieked from way down the track.

Just past the man, we could see another man adjusting something and suddenly the rails at our feet shifted. Oh. They were just flipping the switch on the tracks. The little flailing conductor ran at us yelling “No!” and gesturing to the train. He herded us back on, muttering something about Americanos under his breath.

We sat while he lectured us again about the “one minute” change. Again we perched on the seat. Again brakes hissed and squealed and we stood up, looking at each other. We were eager to disembark; still, we just weren’t sure we were in the right place. Out the window we could see town and people and the man who had been adjusting the tracks, so we pushed out the back door again and stumped down the steps onto the tracks.

“NO!” Another shout from the red-faced windmilling conductor. He continued to shout and again raced towards us with his arms waving frantically! “No, no, no!” he huffed. “Verona!” (at least I think that’s what he said) and pointed with great exaggeration. We had exited the wrong side of the train.

We started to walk around. “No!” he repeated. Again the arms flailed toward the train. The three dumbest Americans in the world stomped up the steps onto the train with the little conductor muttering and preparing to launch into space behind us. We reached the platform of the car, and I felt a hand at my back. “Verona, Verona. You go now!”

We shuffled and bumped our way back down the train steps on the other side, which really looked no different from the other as we still had to cross tracks to get to the station platform. We climbed up the platform, and another train burst around the corner screeching into the station and barely missing us. In between each car, as they clicked past us, we could see the little conductor, still waving his arms, pointing at his watch and telling us that we had “one minute” to catch this train. I’m sure there were other words in his stream, but again, we didn’t speak his dialect.

We fell onto the right train, headed back to the town we’d missed, laughing hysterically at how utterly stupid we must have looked to that conductor.

It was so simple really. Our travel plans could not go wrong. We simply had to get off the train when the schedule said we had to get off. We blew that. But that was okay. We had a helpful (if not dramatic) conductor to help us. We were so blundering. My husband and I still laugh about that, because somewhere during that trip we had the conversation that went something like this, “If we can survive this trip, we will either be best friends or mortal enemies.”

That was a long time ago. We chose the “best friend” route. The memories of my travels that year still make me smile and wonder how I went that long without showers. But I’m so grateful for that time.

Sometimes we still don’t know where we’re going, where we need to get off and when we do try to obey sometimes we get off on the wrong side of the train. I’m so glad our conductor is a Big Man who does more than flail His arms and bellow in a language I don’t understand. Sometimes I misinterpret God’s perfect instructions and He has to chase me down the tracks and put me back on the train. It’s not because He told me wrong, it’s because I’m one of those dumb humans!

Life travel. The destination is real, the adventure is unparalleled but in certain moments the trip is not very fun. However, we’ve got a great Conductor and our destination is amazing! Get on board! No, don’t wait for the next stop, get on. Right here.

I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant and other writers to share our Not So (Small) Stories.  Join us!