On the train back to Mainz (via Frankfurt), two uniformed ticket controllers slipped into the train before we could slip out and wanted to know where our tickets were.
I opened my eyes wide in the universal sign for “What the hell did you just say?” and the man in blue repeated his request in the only word of English he knew, “Tickets?”
I nodded, looked through my wallet with a very serious expression on my face, and then handed him an unvalidated single-ride ticket from Mainz.
He looked at it, showed it to his partner, and they discussed, in German, if it was worth anything on this train. They decided it wasn’t and told me so. Besides, there were two of us, and only one get-out-of-schwarzfahren-free stampable ticket in my wallet.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German.”
The one who had been trying to play the alpha-bull didn’t speak any English, and his authority, his puffed up stance, shrank visibly as he tried to come to terms with the uncomfortable fact that he was no longer in control of the situation.
“Ausweiss,” he demanded.
I shook my head again. “I don’t understand. Do you speak any English?”
“Passport,” the second, younger man in blue translated.
Oh yes, oh yes, I nodded, handing him my American driver’s liscense.
They both looked at it, trying to decide what to do.
“Tourists,” the younger one shrugged, in German.
“Forty euros,” the other replied stubbornly. Forty euros is how much you have to pay if you get caught on a German train without a valid ticket.
“But we’re supposed to just sell tourists tickets.”
“Tourists, terrorists,” the alpha-bull said, chuckling to himself at his play on words as the younger man handed us our reciepts.
You see, if a tourist gets a 40-euro ticket, especially the kind of 40-euro ticket where they don’t take down your name and address, the Deutsche Bahn knows that they will never see a cent. So instead they “sell” tourists tickets in the train–tickets that are actually a “I paid part of the 40-euro fee already” reciept.
After a bit of discussion they found the price for a ticket from Darmstadt to Neu Isenberg–where I’d told them we were going–in a small book that one of them had in his pocket and charged us 3,70 a peice. The ticket, instead of a name and an address simply read, “TOURIST” in big black letters and asked us, in German, to transfer the remaining 46,30 to an account in Baden-Baden. Oh, but we don’t speak any German, they never explained, so we threw away our tickets, and had no idea, no idea at all (and ran off cartwheeling into the sunset.) Joke’s on you ticket man.
It took an hour and a half to get from Darmstadt to Mainz when it should have just taken the half, but we finally pulled into the Hauptbahnhof and caught the bus home.
“It’s cheesey as fuck, but I can’t help but think of it everytime I come home from a trip,” I told Mars later that night, wrapped in blankets in my own bed, the woodstove crackling beside us. “When I was a kid one of my favorite books was Pigs in the House. It was about these pigs who break out of the pen one day and run around the farm house eating cake and jumping on the beds and trying on the farmer’s wife’s dresses and making a huge mess. At the end of the book they make it back to the pig pen just before the farmer figures out they ruined his house, and–umm yeah, I basically still have the whole book memorized–the last line is: ‘Though it had been good to roam, it was good to be back home.’ And now that we’re home that line just keeps running through my head.” I snuggled deeper into the blankets and sighed, content to be home, astonished that we’d made it, again, on no money at all.
I told you it was cheesey. But that’s how the ends of trips are. Happy homecomings filled with fresh changes of clothes (I actually OWN clean clothes?!?!?!??), home-made soup (take that marriage-man, you want to know who’s going to bring me soup when I’m old? EVERYONE), and those buried-under-three-down-blankets-next-to-someone-I-love fuzzy feelings of being back, Back From an Epic Trip.