“Overbooked!” My German Railway Journey: A Stand(ing) Up Comedy

“Push, push!” My mother yelled.

I pushed obediently, as she pulled.

Many European subway networks that we had encountered in the past had deemed our suitcases “children”, meriting a legitimate child’s metro ticket (Traveller’s Tip #1: illegitimate suitcases are offered no concessions). The German rail network was not one of them, and our suitcases had not taken kindly to this. Determined to utilize their commendable method-acting skills to prove that age is just a number, they had internalized the qualities of any ordinary child. They were annoying and stubborn and fell over a lot.

“PUSH!”

With an unintelligent thud, the suitcases fell face first into the Bahn – the Deutsche Bahn if one wanted to make it abundantly clear that the impending four-hour train journey from Berlin to Prague was a munificent return gift from the Fatherland. Two more unintelligent thuds graced our own elegant ascent into the train, face first. Those genes are potent.

Standing up, I gingerly hauled up my suitcase and looked around. As fate would have it, the restaurant car was right next to ours, nice! The washrooms looked spacious too, in case I decided to faint there. I admired the perspicacity and foresight of German coach building for a few minutes until I was politely ushered along by some nice people shouting at me in German, and my mother, shouting at me in English.

We are small people, and Europeans are kind, which meant that we were amongst the first in the train, and the first to find seats. We collapsed into our seats, strapped in Alejandro and Alice – that is what I shall refer to our suitcases from now on – and I was halfway through my first Oreo when it happened.

Like Moses parting the Red sea, the coach door opened.

And They walked in. The People. So many People. I have never seen more People in my life.

The train screeched into motion.

The mob fell forward, face first, with an unintelligent thud. I had to hold Alejandro and Alice close to me to protect them, and to keep them from bursting into tears. All right, it was more to keep me from bursting into tears. What was happening?

“That’s my seat.” I looked up to see a young woman standing next to me. “That’s my seat,” she repeated.

I was confused, so I did what any sane, well-adjusted person would do – I said “Huhhh…?” and a little bit of drool pooled around the corner of my lips.

She looked at my mother and said, “I’m very sorry, but this is my seat. I have a ticket right here, and it says that this seat is reserved. By me.” My mother was confused too, but she is better than me in crisis situations, so she looked over the ticket and realized that the woman was right. “But they told us it was free seating!” she exclaimed.

Traveller’s Tip #2: There is no such thing as a free seat.

Up and down the aisle, people like us, all victims of the free seating scam, were relinquishing their seats. Rosa Parks would be disappointed. I was shoved into the two-foot wide aisle, Alejandro and Alice in my arms, with about twenty others, all clutching terrified suitcases. The lucky ones had managed to find fold out seats – another example of the foresight of German coach building – and were clinging to them for their dear life. Literally.

Because that’s when The People started to move.

As it turns out, some people with reserved seats had ended up on the wrong end of the aisle and now had to push their way through us, the free seating scapegoats with suitcases, to get to their seats. And get to their seats they would, even if killed them. Which it probably would.

I have romantic notions of myself being a misanthrope, like Dr. House, making the occasional sarcastic comment about mortals and mortality from the confines of my bedroom. But honestly, you’ve never truly hated people until you’ve been smashed up against a window with your face in their posterior region and their carbon dioxide in your oxygen.

After plenty of pushing, shoving and some cries of “Schwein!” (all from me), it seemed like everybody had found their place. We were still packed in the aisle, but at least no one was moving. My mother even found a fold out seat for herself, while I – and it pains me to admit this – sat on Alejandro.

Then Jesus arrived.

A two hundred pound American with tattoos and a bandana and a Jesus beard, the type who looks like he carries a surfboard to the grocery store (the American, not Jesus) had somehow found himself on the wrong side of the train. He appeared to take immense pride in this achievement. Hauling his backpack over his head, he recited joyfully “Two hundred pound American coming through!” “Make way for the two hundred pound American!”

And then he pulled the emergency brake.

To quote the astute Australian backpacker next to me, “He did not just do that [mate].”

The train screeched to a halt.

The aisle groaned. The American grinned. “It was my backpack,” he informed us proudly.

Overhead, the speakers began crackling and a German announcer began rapping in either Klingon or Sub-Saharan click language – it was hard to tell, because the sound system kept breaking down. I was a little worried that the sound would disturb the man in the foldout seat next to me, a thirty-year-old German who had survived the countless posteriors, the turmoil of the previous hour and the resurrection of Christ by taking refuge in a seemingly exhilarating Mickey Mouse comic book. But my fears were unfounded; he remained completely unfazed, burying himself deeper into the turbulent romance of Donald and Daisy.

The inspectors arrived. They were exactly how I’d imagined them – rotund, big moustaches, and thoroughly confused. They walked across the coach seeking out signs of any potential crisis situation. They stopped at my thirty-year-old German for a moment, and I thought they might be contemplating whether he was the one who pulled the brake. But then they saw that he was reading Mickey Mouse, which is a perfectly normal thing for a middle-aged man to do, and moved on.

Nobody tattled on Mr. Two-Hundred-Pound-American-Coming-Through, who was standing in the aisle sheepishly, having realized that accidentally pulling the emergency brake on the Deutsche Bahn wasn’t exactly something he could put on his resume. I would have told them, but my reasonably average math skills told me that that two hundred pounds of American means at least twenty pounds of posterior.

So we stayed quiet, united in our silence, until the inspectors decided that they too would rather be reading Mickey Mouse. They gave the all-clear sign and left, the train screeched into motion for the second time, and our entire coach breathed a collective sigh of relief at having been left scot-free.

But we were not scotch-free.

The conveniently positioned restaurant car, which at one point was the highlight of my life, now turned into the bane of my existence. Just as those of us in the aisle had become reasonably comfortable and had reconciled ourselves to sitting on our children, the people in the seats became twitchy. Taking a cue from emergency brake Jesus, our seated co-travellers decided that water would have to be replaced with wine and, because it was Germany, beer.

Every time somebody on the far side of the aisle decided that they needed quenching, all of us, content on our suitcases, would have to stand up to make way – like very, very dysfunctional dominoes. And then they’d come back with their bottles, and we’d have to stand up again, and try very hard not to trip them on purpose. The people flowed up the aisle. The beer flowed down the aisle. I switched between Alejandro and Alice.

Beer on the bahn had certain consequences. It made the uninhibited even more uninhibited, and through clever eavesdropping, I was able to learn of the Australian gentleman’s failures with the opposite sex (“I don’t remember what I said to her, mate, but she ran away”). It made the magical more magical – one American backpacker attempted to perform a particularly raucous magic trick requiring playing cards. He did not actually have playing cards, but the British spectators were awestruck regardless. Worse of all, however, beer made the small-bladdered even smaller-bladdered, triggering another wave of trips down the aisle.

I don’t know how I survived the journey. It was all a blur – figuratively and literally. I think I got a glimpse of a few trees. Maybe a river? I don’t know, but apparently the scenery was nice.

Finally we arrived at Prague. The train drew slowly into the station. My mother and I looked at each other – WE HAD MADE IT! And we were in the aisle already, which meant we’d be the first to get out of Nightmare Express. Waiting for the moment that we’d be able to throw ourselves back into the clutches of civilization, we hauled up our suitcases.

Alejandro didn’t make it.

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Babies On A Plane: Sit Back, Relax, and Try Not To Cry (Too Much)

I’ve finally made it to my 50th post. After two years of blood, sweat, tears, anxiety medication and more sweat – I live in a tropical country – it’s finally happened. This blog was my baby, and my baby is all grown up *sheds single tear while staring into the distance in a powerful, masculine way*.

On that note, lets talk about babies.

As a rule, babies aren’t too bad. A little bit overrated (come on, they’re just overgrown potatoes) and I certainly wouldn’t buy one unless I got a good discount plus a free coffee mug, but from a distance I wouldn’t feel the need to throw sharp objects at them. That’s generally a good thing, I think.

There is only one exception to this rule. There is one place where baby-hating would be fully justified and even encouraged. Yup, you got it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why they don’t allow sharp objects on flights.

Disclaimer: I did not/ do not have any babies of my own. I am not closely acquainted with any. I have concluded a business deal with a few but it ended in a lawsuit. The only credentials I have to speak on this matter is the fact that I was a baby once – something that I am not very proud of and would prefer not to speak about. So parents, do forgive my lack of empathy. My mother says that I am a vengeful person.

Anyway, BABIES WERE PUT ON FLIGHTS BY SATAN WHEN HE SAW THAT HUMAN BEINGS WERE ACTUALLY ENJOYING THE HELLFIRE AND SETTING UP DECKCHAIRS AND TOASTING MARSHMALLOWS AND TRYING TO SELL HELLFIRE ON EBAY. BABIES WERE MADE TO SLOWLY LEECH THE LIFE OUT OF YOU, 10,000 FEET UP IN THE AIR. THAT WAY, YOU’RE ALSO CLOSER TO HEAVEN, SO SATAN HAS MORE YUMMY CAMPING TREATS FOR HIMSELF. WHAT A DOUCHEBAG.

I think I should clarify that this post was provoked by my recent travels on a domestic flight, graced with the presence of not one, not two, but three spawns of Satan. For the purposes of gender-neutrality (#Equality) let’s call them Satan’s Spawn 1, Satan’s Spawn 2 and Satan’s Spawn 3. The SS, for short. Like the original SS, the infant SS too enjoyed committing what can only be classified as crimes against humanity. One of them looked distinctly like Heinrich Himmler.

SS1 was a troublemaker from the start. It had grabbed my hair and thrown its Binky at me in the airport before boarding the flight, so it’d already made it clear that it had something against me. The minute the flight took off, it began to bawl. Its parents pretended that it had a earache because the change in cabin pressure (yeah, right) but I know it was doing it specifically to irritate me. Irrefutable evidence of SS1’s devious mind came from the fact that it began to cry the minute its parents sat down in their seats, and started to giggle almost as soon as its parents took it for a walk up and down the aisle. It wanted to watch its victims suffer. You don’t get a good view when you’re sitting down.

SS2 was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It pretended to be the most angelic, holier-than-thou little human, an incarnation of Gandhi himself. I almost expected it to launch a non-violent protest and spin cotton. It blinked at everyone with these annoyingly perfect big blue eyes and smiled like it was in a beauty pageant. All the air stewards and stewardesses wanted to take pictures with it, like it was a celebrity or something. For some inexplicable reason, SS2 provoked my mother to say, out loud, “Aww, I wish I had another little baby.” This was strange for two reasons:

  1. How on earth could these screaming devil-children stir up her motherly instincts?
  2. She has me. What more could she possibly want?

I hate SS2.

SS3 was nowhere near as pretentious, but my God, he had the lung capacity of Tarzan. One would think that the flight was entirely powered by the sound energy being singlehandedly generated by that one-year-old. One saving grace was that, to make it easier for his audience, he had a wide range of frequencies to convey different messages. ‘Hungry’ was two screams followed by a prolonged cry. ‘Still hungry’ was one constant long wail. ‘Get that damn air stewardess out of my personal space’ involved a complex combination of short, angry screams and Binky-flinging. By the end of the flight, each and every one of us could help write an autobiography of SS3’s life, simply by interpreting its screams.

The situation was finally brought under control by one huge, terrifying-looking man (let’s call him Archangel Gabriel, God’s special messenger), who turned around and roared “QUIET” in the most fearsome voice he could muster. For a moment, both baby and parents were stunned, while the rest of us considered nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize and making him our Lord and Saviour. From then on, He became Enemy Number 1 for all babies and toddlers on that flight, with parents whispering “shush” and subtly gesturing towards Gabriel every time their babies tried to feign colic.

My trip got my thinking: Everything in a plane is supposed to be terrorist-proof or installed for safety reasons, but I think it was originally meant to keep us safe from babies. The huge metal cockpit doors? They ensure that the wailing doesn’t reach the pilots. Seatbelts? Without those, who knows where those squirmy toddlers might crawl to? In-flight magazines? Look, look, they have pretty pictures.

There’s only thing that we’re not utilising properly: the overhead storage cabin.

If you know what I mean.

When a blogger becomes a poet

I have thought about this,
And now I think it’s time,
Today I am going to write
An entire post in rhyme.

I’ll admit, it’s just to distract you
From my inactivity,
And the fact that I haven’t written a post
Since all eternity.

You see, I’ve been quite busy,
I’ve had lots of homework to do;
Tests to take, priceless items to break,
Multinational corporations to sue.

And yes, I’ve been travelling,
The packing took a while.
Let’s just say, it ended with
A body bag in a rubbish pile.

And on my travels, I chanced upon
Mr. President – Barack Obama,
From behind the curtain of snipers and rifles
He appeared to be quite the charmer.

Then of course, I had my homework,
Tons of it! (I’m not lying)
This took up most of my time.
It involved a lot of crying.

I also tried to start a diary,
Just in case I’m ever famous someday,
But I only managed one entry:
“Nothing much happened today.”

In a fit of misplaced enthusiasm,
I did some landscape painting,
And when nobody understood it,
I called it “a modern art thing”.

I suppose I should apologise now
For not writing in so long,
And then trying to make up for it with
A poor excuse for a song.

And now I think I’m running out of rhymes,
I just called a poem ‘a song’
I’ll end before this gets any worse,
Goodbye, readers! So long!

(Applause)