The visit to Dresden was long walks around the Neustadt. It was Katey getting over a cold and sharing a mattress in Anton’s old room. It was comfortable and cozy, and there was a party in the party cellar.
“This used to be an old meat cellar,” they had told me when I had first come to look at the place. The ceilings are low, curved, cement, and there is a row of meat hooks hanging on the far wall. I’d written my former housemates when I found out Katey was coming, to ask them if they wanted to put on a show in their basement. They did. We came. Katey got sick, but she played anyway, in between hot toddies, the best saver of lives since the Irish coffee. There was even a disco ball. Ain’t that something.
Afterwards, we slept off our hangovers and colds, played speed rummy, and left on a Sunday morning.
We took the tram to Elbe Park, the McDonalds known as the usual mitfahrgelegenheit meeting point going west. Katey took the sign, and I asked everyone gassing up. It wasn’t twenty minutes before a young dude with bad taste in rap picked us up and took us to a rest stop on the highway.
This time a red-eyed Turkish man took us along. He made me nervous; he’d been awake for over 24 hours and wanted someone in the car to talk to, to keep him awake.
“How old are you, how old are you?” he asked, in fragmented German. He was an (unconjugated) verbs and nouns kind of guy. Here I’m translating what he meant, not exactly what he said.
“26,” I told him reluctantly.
“Ugh. Four more years! Four more years and then you’re useless. You better get married, think about the future. Who do you think is going to bring you soup when you’re old?” I shrugged, he went on. “I’ve been married three times. Seven kids, three women. Women trouble, women problems, women make problems.
I said nothing, boiling. I had a similar conversation with a taxi driver once upon in Dubai, who had told me that he married his wife when she was 16, and that at 30, I wouldn’t be worth anything to anyone anymore. He also told me that he wanted to take me shopping and insisted that I take him number. I’ll never quite understand why in the year 2009 there is still so much blatant sexism. But that’s another story.
I managed to keep my mouth shut until the next rest stop, where I asked him to drop us off. He could have taken us to another rest stop, he said, but gave in when I insisted that this one was perfect. He understood, wasn’t that kind of creepy. We got out of the car and he drove away.
“He was a trip,” Katey said.
“He was an asshole,” I said, translating our conversation into English while we scouted out our next ride. It turned out to be a high school kid with shaggy brown hair, whose car we abandoned without a goodbye while he was buying wiper fluid (sorry nice dude!) for a car going all the way to Darmstadt, the train station where we had tried to get a train and had gotten lost in the woods.
In Darmstadt, I thought, we could find someone with a five-person group ticket, hitch onto that, and be home in a half hour.
But, as we now know, Darmdstadt is not just a one time Wrong Spot. It’s one of those spots you should avoid at all costs if you ever want to get anywhere hitching or scamming group tickets. It’s a town with four or five wagonplätze and apparently, some really bad karma.
Katey stood on the platform while I wandered the regional train heading for Mainz. Everyone seemed to be a student, and students travel free in Germany, aren’t allowed to take guests. In the second decker of one car I asked an older woman, hoping she had a monthly ticket, which allows you to take one person with you on weekends and weekdays after 7 pm. I didn’t notice that the men sitting behind her were the train personel, and when I asked, a round, unhappy looking fellow bellowed at me, not even looking up, “You know it’s forbidden to ask people for group tickets in the train.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him politely, “I had no idea.”
“Everyone knows that,” he spat back, still not looking me in the eye.
“Well, I didn’t know that. I’m not from Germany, I’m sorry. I’ve never heard that before.”
“Hmm, well, bad luck, bad luck, bad luck.”
The old woman tried to come to my defense (“Now I didn’t know that either,” she said, “And I’ve been asked by people on the train before.”), but he just ignored us both, still looking at the peice of paper in his lap, avoiding our eyes. Everyone I know hitches on group tickets, but he was the conductor and could throw us out if he wanted. I walked past him and out of the train.
“So, the conductor is being an asshole and I don’t think we can take this train,” I told Katey when I found her on the platform. “We’re going to have to take a really round-about way, on the S-trains through Frankfurt, but they don’t control them very often, so it should be fine, it should be just fine.” (This is the part, in movies, where you turn to the person next to you and, eyes cynically wide, tell your friend “Well, they’re about to get fucked, eh?”)