The day starts around 5 with me getting up before my phone can wake me, up the street to the Bahnhof to catch the 5:57 to Frankfurt. But they announce (in German) the 5:57 is delayed by 10 minutes, cutting into my 20 minute connection time in Stuttgart. And then, it’s 30 minutes. Eberhard suggests I take another train to Stuttgart but it will likely be full when it comes and you just have to push your way on. Eberhard is growing his hair out since he retired a year ago from die Polizei, and he hasn’t gathered it in the back this morning with a band, so it’s sticking out like Einstein or a troll pencil topper.
There’s a blind guy trying to get on the train and we step back and help him; he’s not good with his cane and it’s hard transitioning through the wagen. It’s the first time I’ve left Europe with just an overnight bag — no kids, strollers, bottles of wine, chocolates, et cetera.
In Stuttgart, I run to the nearby gleis for the ICE but it’s left, and the readerboards flip over to the next sequence of departures. So I buy a coffee at a kiosk and she laughs at my accent. They haven’t figured out how to design cup lids here, yet: the hole is in the wrong place and it spills each time you take a pull.
I eat the butter bretzel Eberhard bought me on the train, and the conductor says it’s OK with my ticket: she’s only five feet tall, but something about German train conductors scares the hell out of me, with their uniform and that gadget they use to take your credit card, with the heavy shoulder strap. It seems everything about rule-following comes to bear on German trains.
In Frankfurt, the kiosk won’t scan my passport but the Lufthansa lady with the scarf helps, and I’m through Passport Control and onto the people-moving belts, with an estimated four minutes walking time to the gate, the sign says. People are drinking beer and I overhear an American giving a cafeteria worker a hard time: she says, “It’s been longer than two minutes now already,” and he kind of shrugs and half-smiles.
I reread my manuscript on the plane, this time with my pen out, but can only get halfway through and wish I’d brought something else to read. I’m stubborn about watching movies, won’t do it, but instead, I watch the neighbor’s movie and imagine what’s going on, the arc in the plot, how the characters are changing. She is a teenager from Hungary with a visa as a camp counselor and next to her, a Scot who works for Amazon in South Africa, Ireland, Regensburg (Bavaria).
Miriam tells us about attac, an anti-globalisation organization and how some locals in my mom’s town are involved, passing out literature in their shops. Why allegedly they don’t like Amazon for their mistreatment of workers, or ignoring certain union rights.
But they have the same phrase in German, “work-life balance,” Miriam explains. I practice German with her over lunch and at times, it’s disappointing much of what was emphasized in our tapes and our class at the community college doesn’t seem to apply here. Everything is different in the south, she says. And mom and I get into arguments about how to pronounce things and then pull some poor German into it, to mediate. When they speak to me it’s like that Far Side cartoon with what dogs/cats hear when we talk: “Blah, blah, blah GINGER blah, blah, blah GINGER.” I understand the meaning of some of the words but not how they like, connect.
Back in Washington now after 24 hours awake, I take my first walk to the lake without Ginger and feel her absence; the more they give you, the more you feel their loss — which I can’t say about the cats.
Eberhard looks like a German Deniro as he’s looking after me on the train to make sure I got on OK, to wave goodbye as it’s pulling away. But I slipped through to a different car and he waves his hands in the air in some internal dialogue, and disappears down the stairs.