After sitting on the toilet for twenty minutes, your legs fall asleep. It’s an easy enough fix, any PhD in common medicine will prescribe a couple quick shakes to get the nerves moving again. But with David wrapped around me, groin in my face, pinning me, there was nowhere to shake, nowhere to extend. And so given the option of focusing on my dead leg, the swampy pelvis in my face, and the undoubtedly wretched misconceptions running through the minds of the other passengers on the train, I chose the latter.
Some of them must’ve seen us go in together. We had gotten on the train at the abandoned yard and ran straight into the tiny water closet – that may as well have been an upright coffin, by the way, with the amount of space they allowed. If I were taking a shit my knees would be banging the opposite wall even if David weren’t currently trying to contort his body to fit the contours of the toilet. I don’t know. If the tables were turned, and I was sitting politely out in that car, reading the newspaper, small children across from me, I would think a couple of backwoods prostitutes had just caught the train towards Amsterdam for a weekend of work in the less-prestigious windows of the Red Light District.
Hopefully nobody saw us go in together. We weren’t supposed to be on the train in the first place.
It was an act of desperation, hopping it. We had been stuck at the abandoned train yard for two hours with nothing but two layers of clothing and a slice of pizza between us. It was somewhere just outside the city of Liege, or somewhere just inside the border of France, at that point we couldn’t be sure. All we knew was that it was the middle of February, the landscape was a palette of brown, grey, and darker brown, and the rusting hulks of unused shipping cars didn’t stop the biting winter wind for shit. They’re fun to climb on, but a poorly clothed mind from Los Angeles can only be distracted for so long.
The little three car rattler had popped into the scene without fanfare, clack-clacking up to the little concrete island like a shopping cart unsure of what it needed. We almost missed it – but that was the third, and final, time I managed to snap to attention from a daze that day. David saw it first, leaping to his feet with an energy he hadn’t shown in hours, flapping his arms like a bird. It passed us by, and I almost laughed as I watched it go. A nuclear hangover, the sleep pattern of an asylum patient, and the stress of a morning spent jumping from one crisis to another doesn’t make the most stable of mental cocktails. But David’s feet pounded the concrete, his backpack dangerously close to toppling him, and the train slowed to a crawl, shuddered to a stop.
We had already missed two trains that day. We couldn’t afford to miss a third.
David had been teaching at a small boys’ school in Wales, and I elected to join him on his Spring Break tour of Amsterdam, Bruges, and Cologne. It was supposed to be simple – after all the cities are not too far apart, and the possibilities of transportation are great in terms of possibilities and connections. Cheap, too. There shouldn’t have been any need for hopping and thus no need for any legs falling asleep. For example, going from Amsterdam to Bruges with GoEuro would take us less than 4 hours and only set us back 24 EUR each. It’s a pity we got ourselves into the position we did. Our schedule had been carefully curated and the only thing holding us back was an early start and a young man’s propensity for finding trouble more entertaining than a commitment. Try as we might, the cards were stacked against us from the moment we arrived.
Watching that train was the last of three times I woke up that day. Dragging me kicking and screaming from unconsciousness. The first was at 9 in the morning. The fog of whiskey and truffles was blown away by the shining beacon of our 9:20 am departure time – this was also the most intense of the three, having the advantage of novelty. Our bags were packed in a flurry, the innocuous sock or underwear left behind, and every finger tapped the counter at 160 BPM while waiting for the hapless employee at the front desk to check us out.
“Ow, fuck. Move over, dude!” David’s elbow was digging into my ribs.
“Shut up, the ticket guy will hear you.” Even still, laughter hissed through his teeth.
The train station in Amsterdam is about roughly a fifteen-minute walk from the Flying Pig Uptown. Running, with full packs awkwardly bouncing against your adrenaline, it can be managed in about eight. Adding it all together, from eyes open to train station bench, was approximately just long enough for us to watch our first train’s door slam shut. Of course, it didn’t leave right away. The bastard of a conductor let us bang desperately on the door for about ten seconds, passengers shrugging their shoulders – “what do you want us to do? Go slightly out of our way and tell somebody?” – before slowly trundling off along the tracks and out of sight.
It took an hour for the next train to depart, and by the time we reached our connecting terminal in Liege, we were so late that we hopped on the first train we found that remotely resembled the one we were meant for. We shoved ourselves aboard just as the doors closed, high-fiving and ferociously biting our own lips, faces as if we’d just smelled burnt hair, in defiance to the gods who would deprive of us our transport.
And so we fell asleep, smiling blissfully in our ignorance as we headed the wrong way. The train we were supposed to be on had been late as well.
I’ve always been an advocate of saying, “fuck the plan.” I’ll say it now. Fuck the plan. But the important part is having a plan to fuck. Choosing to diverge is an empowering moment, and it’s in those times where you learn the most about yourself. When that choice is made for you, it’s a madcap dash to recover, your stomach dropping out from under you as you desperately try to juggle contingencies, hoping that one lands relatively unscathed in your hands. The second time my eyes snapped open (two out of three down), we were halfway to Paris. As we scrambled to decide our course of action, conversations overlapping, we only had one real choice: jump out the next time the doors opened.
Which was, of course, in the middle of nowhere.
And thus, to the bathroom. We hid from the ticket-taker for what seemed like an hours worth of numbed legs and hamstring cramps. And while I could tell you that we evaded him successfully, that our chameleonic powers were so great that, even on a three car train, we were not found, the truth involves much more pleading and a needlessly sympathetic ear. By the time we spilled out into the station we originally left, we were beaten, broken, cold, and hungry.
But we were on our way.