The phone rang. It was Jan. We were a few hours from leaving. I had messaged him on Facegag an hour before.
“We’re coming to Bonn next week. Let’s get lunch.” I hadn’t seen Jan since 1990.
“Man!” He said. “I can’t believe it’s you! My house is your house. Stay as long as you want! When are you arriving?”
That was pure Jan.
“Uh, I’m not sure.” That of course was pure me. “How’s Wednesday?”
“Perfect! Call me when you get to the station or wherever and I’ll come get you! Fantastic to hear your voice, old friend!”
Many hours later I was standing in front of the economy pooper with a bladder overburdened by ten cups of coffee. A woman ushered her young son in front of me. “He’ll be done in a jiffy!” She promised.
A few moments later he emerged and I dashed in. The boy, clearly preparing for a career as a gardener, had done a stand-up watering job of the entire compartment. I was in my socks and didn’t realize the state of affairs until I’d entered and the warm pee soaked into my heels.
Thank goodness I had two pairs for the 21-day trip. I backed out and stood in front of the other one. I stood there for ten minutes, my teeth chattering, as groans followed by flushes came from behind the door. Eventually a rotund old fellow who had been in there long enough to finish a biography of Churchill emerged, looking very pleased with himself.
Inside it was clean except for the overpowering fumes, which had a bouquet of curry with hints of corn and undertones of dead goat.
We had begun our cross-Germany bicycle ride the old-fashioned way; walking. I saw a great teaching moment and seized it with both fangs. “Son,” I said to my 17-year-old as we walked down the hill with nothing but two small backpacks, “from time immemorial this is how mankind traveled.”
He looked at me funny. “Really? Uber?”
The arrival of the shiny white minivan spoiled the effect somewhat but I ignored it as we climbed in.
“This is my first day,” said the driver. “I’m from Armenia. Which airline?”
“Uh, Turkish Air,” I mumbled. It was very quiet the rest of the ride.
Aboard the plane and wedged tightly in the seat next to me was a woman going to Serbia, or Slovenia, or Srbrenica, and she was unhappy with the seat, the food, the service, and perhaps her neighbor. “Isn’t this terrible?” she asked. “I don’t know how I’ll survive thirteen hours in this trash compactor.”
I could only think about General William T. Sherman, when he hot reassigned from Ohio to Monterey, CA in 1848. His trip to the West Coast took two weeks …. to get to New York. Then it took another 220 days to sail around the tip of South America, where they had rough seas for “only” forty straight days. When they reached Monterey Bay their ship sank and all would have drowned had a boat not seen them and rowed out two miles to rescue them.
I looked at my neighbor. “Oh, it’s not so bad.”
We reached Istanbul and no one got their throat slit. As we sat in the steel prison chairs during our five-hour layover, I started thinking about our bike trip. “Hey, Woodrow,” I said.
“We’re gonna need some bikes.”
He sighed. “Ya think?”