My traveling companions claim I exaggerate, but I was there and saw it happen. Not once, but on two separate occasions, they tried to ditch me at a crosswalk. They insist it was not deliberate, but I wonder. It had been nine days since our journey began and quite possibly patience was wearing thin amongst the travelers. Just maybe my fixation with strudels and kaffee, weather updates and historic architecture was beginning to be a source of irritation.
That might explain the crosswalk quick step. I blame it on a poor travel bag selection on my part. Cautious with my post-holiday Baker’s back, I opted not to be tangled up in a backpack. No matter how I carried it, my small overnight bag was unwieldly, impossible to juggle. As Master/Master summed it up, “Even if you carry the bag on its side, it’s still a rectangle.” As they dashed across the intersection towards the Prague train station, I was fumbling with my mittens, my bag, and desperately trying to unearth a package of Kleenex from the depths of my coat pocket. In the distance I could see Blondilocks’ curls against her navy blue coat and dashed to catch up with them. As we waited on the chilly platform, I forgave them, focusing instead on 4 o’clock, Kaffee hour in Vienna. I wondered if we would be back in time for strudel and schlag?
It never occurred to me to check my ticket, but apparently we were seated in the “Free For All” entertainment car. The opening act was the child seated behind me singing the Barney theme song in Czech. The second act was Cutlery on Empty Water Bottle and Metal Luggage Rack playing from their greatest hits LP, Dinga, Donga, Ding. The main attraction, and by far, the most irritating, was Read Aloud Story Hour, a selection penned by Czech novelist and horror writer, Milos Urban. I knew this because the book was inches away from me. I could not understand a word of it, but it sounded very dramatic, a tale of loss and longing, of moose and squirrel. A 20ish year old woman was reading the story to her travel companion, another young woman, who feigned sleep. They took up four seats between the two of them and were oblivious to the world. The reader barely paused for a breath between sentences, speaking in her outdoor voice. I looked directly in her eyes, silently pleading ‘přestat!’ She ignored me, her voice a touch conspiratorial, louder, more annoying with each word.
I turned my attention to the green landscape unfolding beyond my window where the sun was peeking through a blue-gray sky. Wide ribbons of olive then emerald then celadon created a patchwork of farmland. A border of post-season corn stalks huddled together for warmth. Dimpled rooftops the color of cinnamon and nutmeg exhaled little puffs of chimney smoke. A meandering stream hugged the countryside, interrupted by an occasional farmhouse, a neglected barn. The sun brightened the vista and then it was gone. Sadly, the woman to my right was not.
Was this any worse than a cellphone over-sharer on Amtrak? Probably not. Master/Master had reached his limit and politely but firmly implored the storyteller to lower her voice. She interrupted her narration for but a moment, offered a curt “Sorry” and continued. Master/Master decided to fight Czech literary fire with Hemingway literary fire. Not even his interpretive reading of “To Have and Have Not,” helped drown out Milos Urban. Two rows behind us, curled up next to a young man, was an over-sized shaggy dog who barely fit the confines of his seat. The Czech horror novel had lulled the animal to sleep. On the Euro Rail bound for Vienna, it’s a dog’s life. For me, not so much.
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