A lot of things haven’t been going very well for me lately. I was almost reduced to accepting a job that I really don’t want to do, but when you’re down to your last hundred dollars, with no way of paying your bills, you end up doing things you never thought you could do. I might have a tiny, tenuous grasp of integrity left, as I refused to work in a Bikini bar, though I did think about it very hard.
Of course, this is far from the first time things have looked so hopeless, and I’m reminded of the time that I went to visit my little sister in France and we took a day trip to Baden Baden, a place in Germany with natural hot springs. I don’t know why the universe picked that day to screw with us, but things kept going terribly wrong.
So my younger sister Claire was taking a semester abroad in Strasbourg, France and I went to visit her. She has always been a perfect hostess and wanted to do something special for me during my stay. She had been to Baden Baden with her fellow exchange students the previous month, and thought we could take the trip just the two of us without too much difficulty, even though neither of us speaks a lick of German other than, “Gesundheit.”
The day started out fine. We woke up late morning and grabbed a mozzarella sandwich from the delicatessen. Immediately Claire and I got into a bizarre conversation.
We started chatting about allergies and how it would be hard in a country where you didn’t speak the language to tell someone you’re allergic to strawberries. What would you do if you saw someone go into anaphylactic shock? How would you diagnose that and how could you save them?
This is when the conversation took a sharp turn for the worse. I blame medical TV shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy.
Claire: I would perform an emergency tracheotomy and save their life.
Me: Claire, you don’t know how to perform an emergency tracheotomy.
Claire: (getting more eager) Yes! I could get this pen I have in my bag and remove the end bits and the ink in the middle and save their life!
Me: That could go horribly wrong.
Claire: I would do it to you!! If you were dying and needed me to do it I would take this pen and jab it in your neck!!!
Me: … *blink* … Listen to me. No, focus and listen. … I would rather die.
It was like some kind of nightmarish roller coaster ride, and the more she thought about it, the wider her eyes got and more excited she became, like a very enthusiastic and pretty lunatic.
It took all my conversational skills to talk her down from this idea. For a good half hour she was convinced that I might need an emergency tracheotomy and even took out a writing utensil to show me exactly how she would stab me with a pen. Let the record show I have no food allergies.
At this point, my internal warning signals should have been blaring to cancel the whole trip from this obviously insane start, but I knew how much it meant to Claire so I went along with her, though I will forever be a touch afraid of the woman.
We navigated the public transportation of Strasbourg to make our way to the train station. Turns out what should have been a 15 minute ride took us over an hour, and we arrived at the train station with only 5 minutes before the train to Baden Baden was scheduled to leave.
We realized that we would probably not make this train, as we still had to purchase the tickets, but decided to not worry and wait for the next train to Baden Baden leaving in another hour. It wasn’t a direct train, but Claire and I thought we could handle one little transfer. Feeling a little deflated, but spirits still high, we chatted and listened to music on my iPod to pass the time.
We got off to transfer, and proudly read directions and communicated with the conductor in his broken English and our abysmal German to find which platform to go to. Once located, we found some chairs to relax on, as we would probably be waiting for another half hour.
My sister and I have very similar taste in music, and we were getting really into singing along to my iPod. After a particularly rousing rendition of Queen’s Somebody To Love (and since there was no one within earshot to mock us) we decided to use my camera to videotape our performance. We can get really into the music…
… and being naturally gifted performers we were so involved with the music and video that you can actually see the train we were supposed to catch pull up behind us, and leave again without us the wiser. I wish I could post that video here, but alas I think it is forever lost on an old laptop of mine.
When we realized our error we looked for someone to blame, but as we had only ourselves we managed to shrug it off and wait semi-patiently for the next train to arrive in another hour. The rest of the journey there was fairly uneventful, and our time in Baden Baden was relaxing and fun. We even splurged on dinner (a delicious spaghetti bolognese) and the only other minor hiccup was when I saw a full frontal of a 60+ year old man coming down the stairs in front of me.
Claire had neglected to mention that the upper levels of the establishment were clothing-optional.
After the harrowing journey getting there we made sure to know exactly what time we had to leave to make the train back to France. We made the train in plenty of time, but started to become concerned when 15 minutes after the “departure time” we were still in the station.
After a while we heard some announcements, but as neither of us speaks German we were at a loss for what to do. I began making calculations in my head as to how much a taxi would be from Baden Baden to Strasbourg and panicked when I realized it would come out to approximately 600 American dollars. I was halfway convinced it was a necessary expenditure, though, because Claire had a final exam to take the next morning.
Then, an angel of the universe appeared in the form of an old German businessman who spoke English and let us know that there had been a suicide on the tracks and that if we were to make it back to France, we needed to high-tail it out of there and catch the last train of the night on the opposite platform. Now, some of you may say that this person was not an angel, but trust me. At this particular juncture in my life when looking at spending the night in a German train station, he was.
Claire and I hastily grabbed our belongings and sprinted to the other platform. It was a cinematic movie ending, with the doors closing just as the back of my heel cleared.
By the time we made it back home it was 2am and Claire and I were both exhausted and picking on each other. I won’t get into the fight that ended our night, it was mostly petty and we forgave each other by morning. Suffice it to say it was a memorable trip, and even now when things seem to be darkest I know the dawn will come.