If you want people to think you are homeless, the best way is by walking. I took the train this morning to Klagenfurt, a small town in Austria, which is redundant.
I have read so many travelogues waxing eloquent about the joy of train travel, but my appreciation of trains is limited to toy trains, which I hate. The worst thing about train stations in Austria are the bicycles. You see all these happy people pushing their bikes through the station, and there you are knowing you are going to wind up sitting on the stupid train, and then taking a taxi, or a bus, or some shit like that when you reach your destination whereas they will get on their overloaded bike, ride 20 miles, park in front of a sunny café, get drunk, eat too much food, and call it a day.
I had a knapsack and a paper shopping bag from the grocery store with bread and salami in it, along with Austria’s number one homegrown product, bitter chocolate for a bitter nation. Somehow my hotel was 3 miles from the train station, so I mistakenly walked in the wrong direction to downtown, realized it was like every other Austrian downtown, filled with restaurants, cafés, and people who had stopped working on Wednesday, begun drinking, and who weren’t about to take their foot off the gas until late Sunday night, if then.
I realized my mistake and returned to the station. There was a family of five on touring bikes; the parents had gone to check the train schedule, as they were finished with their tour and were going to take the train back home.
“How far have you been riding?”
The middle kid, a girl, said “250 km.”
“Where did you go?”
“We started in Italy, in Tirol, and we are finishing here, and taking the train home to Graz.”
Just then the parents reappeared, and were not pleased that their kids were talking to a homeless guy. I moved on.
The walk to my hotel was through a very nasty industrial area filled with putrid chemical odors. Since I hadn’t eaten lunch, I got very hungry and spied a train station after walking a couple of miles. I figured there would be a bench where I could sit down and eat my bread crust and salami. As I walked up the stairs a rat-faced boy and his tattooed girlfriend hurried by, eyes averted, obviously up to no good, which gave me hope for the younger generation. The platform was deserted, so I sat down on a bench. My foot pressed down on something squishy as I sat, and I noticed that it was a freshly used condom.
I tried to shake it off my foot, but it stuck good. Of course at that moment a pretty young lady with her young child walked up and sat down just as I was madly shaking my foot, with the gooey condom on my shoe whacking the ground.
It is precisely for such moments that small children were invented because the little boy asked, “What is on the man’s shoe, Mommy?”
The young lady was embarrassed, but pretended it was totally normal to have a wet condom dangling off the end of a shoe. “It is a piece of chewing gum, honey,” she said.
The little boy looked at the condom with the suspicion of a child who is accustomed to being lied to by adults and who knows damned good and well what a piece of chewing gum looks like. “What flavor is it, then?“ he asked.
At that moment the condom came free and went sailing over the bench onto the wall where it landed with a “fwap.” The little boy was impressed. The nice lady realized she had to go somewhere, and quickly left. I reflected that freshly used condoms in daylight mean that you are definitely staying in a fun town, and even if you aren’t, that and an endless hike through poison gas plants means you are for sure losing the Four Seasons crowd so, winning.
I continued on and after a long time got concerned because I didn’t have the address of the hotel and I wasn’t sure if I had remembered its name correctly, or the street it was on. A guy was coming my way on a scooter so I shouted at him, “Is this Ebenthalerstraße?”
I think he was afraid of me because he veered, but as he passed he shouted, “Yes of course it is!” as if I were a complete fool for not being able to read the giant sign in front of my face that said Ebenthalerstraße. It started to rain but I had a small umbrella that didn’t work except to keep the remainder of my bread crust dry, which was all I really cared about. I got to the hotel, which was shaped like a giant square, painted pink, and the room was super porny, actually a nice change after the spartan quarters in the dormitory room. By 2 PM I was dead asleep.
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