http://www.one.org Dixie Peach: So Much More Pleasant When Described In Song

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

So Much More Pleasant When Described In Song

I live in the center of the city, just a few blocks from the main train station. It's close enough that I could walk to the train station in about fifteen minutes - twenty if I'm feeling particularly pokey - and yet I never hear trains except in the wee hours of the night. Most nights around 3:00 or 3:30 AM I can hear a train's horn. It doesn't disturb me as I'm usually awake at that time. In fact were I asleep it likely wouldn't awaken me at all.

Every time I hear this train horn I think of the one time I was on a train in the middle of the night.

In March, 2001 I was taking a trip back home by myself to visit my family. I don't remember exactly all the reasons behind it but it was determined that my best flight would be from Frankfurt to Detroit to Memphis. Maybe it was the cheapest flight and that's why I took it. At any rate, I had to get myself to Frankfurt. Before when I'd flown out of Frankfurt I'd flown in from either Hannover or Berlin but this time B and I got the notion for me to take a train from Magdeburg to Frankfurt, take the commuter train from the main train station to the airport there I'd catch my flight. At the time it all sounded so reasonable. Fun even. Very Arlo Guthrie and City Of New Orleans. I now look back on the trip with the thought of "Exactly how far were our heads crammed up our arses?"

About a week or so before my trip I booked a seat on an overnight train that started in Berlin would eventually end up in Munich after meandering around the country for a painful amount of time. I believe you could book one of those sleeping berths but I wasn't interested in investing that sort of money in what would amount to a 6 1/2 hour trip. My seat was in a compartment in what was supposed to be an extra comfy seat that one could sleep in while sitting up.

The fact that the trip was scheduled to be about 6 1/2 hours should have tipped me off to something. The trip from Magdeburg to Frankfurt doesn't normally take that long but what did I know about such things? I figured the train went slower than normal or make a bunch more stops.

After spending the day shopping, packing and hiding and stuffing away clutter so my MIL wouldn't find it cleaning I tearfully left for the trains station around 11:30 PM. My departures are always accompanied by a crying jag and this, added to the fatigue I was already experiencing, was lending itself to me getting a grinding headache. Once I jumped on the train and found my compartment I found that my seat was occupied by the head of an man. I hated to awaken him but I figured my ass on his ear was going to have the same effect with less desirable results so nudged him and let him know he'd have to confine himself to his own extra comfy seat designed to allow you to sleep while sitting up.

On overnight trains they expect you to sit in the dark. This is logical, of course, but somewhat of a pain in the neck to me as I wasn't sleepy and fear sleeping while sitting up because I'm likely to snore so loudly glass in is peril of shattering. Curtains block out most of the ambient light from the aisles so I had to make myself content with just sitting and looking out into the cold March night. It was sort of soothing in a way until the compartment began to get stuffier and stuffier. I'm not claustrophobic but I don't feel comfortable being cooped up in a small room for hours. Finally I had to get myself out of that compartment.

I wasn't aware of this but evidently meandering aimlessly through a train is frowned upon by its employees. I'd walked quietly through a few cars when I came upon a Deutsche Bahn employee who asked me what I was doing. At this time my ability to explain in German that I had to get up and walk around or go crazy was sorely lacking so I ended up saying that I was just walking around. Yikes! Wrong answer! She chided me about my aimless wanderings and sent me back to my compartment.

I'd been out long enough that I could gladly take my seat again but my contentment was short lived. The train began going slower and slower until eventually we came to a halt. Not at a station but out in the middle of nowhere. Three o'clock in the morning in the middle of God knows where and for God knows what reason. I figured that the train has to stop once in a while in order to keep it's strange, long schedule and that we'd be going again in no time. What I didn't figure is that being at a standstill in a train compartment in the pitch dark with two strangers was going to turn me into the claustrophobe that I claim not to be. And dammit it was getting stuffier and hotter by the second.

Why is it that whenever I'm on a train or streetcar, the windows won't open for me without an extreme amount of tugging and/or a lot of loud clatter? I couldn't get that window to slide down and let in a bit of fresh air for love or money. That coupled with not moving at all was starting me to go into high wig-out mode. My run in with the Deutsche Bahn lady was keeping me riveted to my seat and this trip was starting to look like it wasn't going to be worth all this effort.

Finally the train started again and just knowning that I was getting closer to my destination was serving to calm my nerves. I sat quietly and I believe I even nodded off for a few minutes. Once again the compartment began to get stuffy and once again the train stopped - this time for about forty-five minutes.

The train started on its way once more and I took that opportunity to go out into the aisle. At this point I didn't care what the consequences would be, I had to have some fresh air. I made my way towards the end of the car, found a window to open and for a few happy minutes I stood on tip-toe in an effort to get a bit of fresh air on my face.

I now know why dogs love so much to hang their heads from a car window.

Around 7:00 AM my train arrived in Frankfurt. I grabbed my bags and wasted no time in getting out of that rolling prison. All I would need to do now is go down a level to the commuter trains and take the one going to the airport.

I couldn't do it. Even if it was just a fifteen or so minute ride, I couldn't face another train. I took up my bags once again, walked out the main doors of the station, found a taxi and took a rather pricey ride to the airport. With the window down.

Now when I hear the lonesome sound of a train's horn in the middle of the night I think of the folks who may be sleeping in those swaying cars. And that one poor tired person who would give her eye teeth to get off that train.

11Comments:

Blogger marshamlow said...

You know I do all the rides I have taken on planes, trains, and automobiles have been with a gaggle of screaming monsters. Which is rather frustrating in a different way. I have never traveled alone, the time must really drag, I imagine that the plane rides after such an arduous journey were another layer added to the infinite trip.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Belinda said...

since the age of about 7, I've loved train trips. Overnight train trips were preferable. I couldn't get enough of it. I would sit and write in my diary about all the sights that were whizzing by the window. I took blurry photos with my little plastic camera. I loved sitting in the private compartment with my family playing cards, going through 3 different countries.

The DB totally ruined that romantasized love of trains for me lol

The moment they let a dog crap in our wagon, I was like....yeah thanks DB :o\

8:30 AM  
Blogger Jemima said...

I've been stuck on a not moving train in the day, and that had me convinced all of western civilisation had collapsed and it was now dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest. This turned out not to be the case.

But you survived it, yeah? You grew from it? The suffering was worth the trip?

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

I'm a claustrophobic who can most times control the panic as long as I see I have some measure of control over my environment. Like your being able to decide between staying in the compartment or going out into the aisle.

My worst experience of late involved going through The London Dungeon on vacation. In short it was a dirty trick. The man at the hotel where we stayed said it was a boat ride in a little canal, very easy.

It turned out to be a walking trip in the dark, pressed elbow to a**hole in a tiny space with 20 other people. You're treated like a prisoner, and at one point they locked us in a tiny, dark, low-ceilinged, mirrored labyrinth and we walked in a figure eight pattern over and over (with a frightened baby on my arm!) for at least two minutes without knowing when this little joke was going to end. I thought I was going to die. Right before they let us out I was weighing the consequences of damaging the mirrors and going through the wall.

I do NOT recommend that place to claustrophobics or anyone who doesn't enjoy close spaces. It was two hours of horrific endurance, and I'm not talking about the actors or the ride - which were wonderful and worth way more than we paid to get in. The environment, though, is oppressive and unknowingly designed to give a claustrophobic the maximum freak-out experience possible. Halfway through the tour I quit paying attention to the the view and was concentrating on deep breathing and relaxation techniques which were not working. By the time we left I was wet through from head to toe with sweat and shaking like a leaf. I'd almost prefer an MRI to going through it again.

12:56 PM  
Blogger cncz said...

I LOVE night trains. Then again, narcotics help. They are better if you go with a friend.

Nice Husband, Fork Wielding Cornflake Eater, also believes that taking the night train to paris from zurich is the most cost-effective way to do something. I am not sure I agree.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

Wow. I met you during that trip, and yet I don't think I'd heard the train story until just now.

Clara Jane and I did an Amtrak trip to my hometown shortly after her first birthday. It's a 3-hour drive, but took twice as long on the train. We had fun, though. None of the crazy rules and compartments that you experienced. I would have lost my mind if we hadn't been able to move around, or had been curtained in.

5:55 PM  
Blogger zoe xx said...

Oh dear. Not fancying our proposed Paris - Barcelona train journey next year! Thought it would be all glam and "Some Like It Hot"

*sadly puts ukelele and cloche hat away*

9:46 PM  
Blogger Dixie said...

Marsha - While I don't ever really want to travel with a screaming gaggle, traveling alone is horribly boring. You just wish you had someone to talk to the entire time.

Belinda - I normally love being in a train but this one trip was terrible. Maybe I was doing something wrong.

Jemima - Well...I don't know if I'm a better person for it but I know that I can force myself to sit quietly when I absolutely have to.

Lisa - Okay, the London Dungeon gets crossed off my To-Do-In-London list. It'll leave me more time to sit in pubs anyway.

cncz - Everything's better with a friend! :)

Robin - I think we were too busy eating ribs to talk about my train journey! Heh!

Maybe I'd wandered my way into first class and that's why the train lady got all up in my grill. Normally I don't have a problem with wandering around.

Zoe - Get a sleeping berth. It'll be just like the movie. And don't forget your hip flask!

10:25 PM  
Blogger cncz said...

Zoe, I have done Paris Barcelona (well I got off in Montpellier, but it was the morning by then) and it does not stop that long AND it stops in a real train station (lyon perrache) for about an hour and not in some godforsaken field. In fact, the Paris Barcelona and the Mulhouse Barcelona are my night trains of choice.

9:26 AM  
Blogger LeaderOfMyPack said...

I still wanna know why they stopped in the middle of the trip for so long....

9:11 PM  
Blogger J said...

You could join the rest of us in the We Hate DB Club.

5:57 PM  

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